This post focuses on Henry Monteith of Carstairs, a Scottish businessman and Tory politician who was twice the Lord Provost of Glasgow between 1814-1816 and 1818-1820. Monteith was frequently in communication with Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, who was Home Secretary for both of Monteith’s tenures as Lord Provost, as well as other Tory MPs who were concerned with the rise of Radical movements in Scotland after the cessation of the Napoleonic Wars. The selection of letters that I examined within the Monteith Correspondence are dated between the 1st of January 1819 to the 8th of April 1820 (the latter date being the end of the 1820 Scottish insurrection), although I did not read every letter within that timeframe, and there were a great number more letters that came after the 8th of April that unfortunately I ran out of time to read. However, I feel that I was able to get a wide range of content concerning the attitudes of both Monteith and others on Radicalism.

I began by examining a letter sent by Sidmouth to Monteith on the 1st of January 1819. Viscount Sidmouth’s reputation for holding reactionary ideals underscores not simply this letter, but indeed their entire correspondence. His time as Home Secretary was marked with several moves that served to crack down on advocates of reform, such as the suspension of Habeus Corpus in 1817 or the passing of the 1819 Six Acts in response to the riots brought about by the Peterloo Massacre. Although it was admittedly difficult to read, it certainly discusses the quashing of Radical dissenters. From what I was able to extract from the document, Sidmouth asserts the importance of restraining newspapers from the “publication of seditions and blasphemous libels” . Further documents discussed the renewal of the 1800 Police Act, which established a professional police force in Glasgow and were particularly instrumental in suppressing post-1815 Radical uprisings, as well as the “proposed statue labour bill” . The closest bill that I could find that was being debated in the Commons around this time was the ‘labourer’s wages bill’, which was proposed by Edward Littleton, 1st Baronet Hatherton (who was key in passing other reforms such as Catholic Emancipation and the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act). The bill’s objective was to “relieve the labouring poor in manufacturing districts from being obliged by their employers to take their wages not in money but in groceries and other articles of consumption, upon which the employer had a profit, and whereby the labouring man was deprived of his option in disposing of his earnings to what he conceived the best advantage for his family” .

Perhaps more significant, though, were two pieces of documentation sent to Monteith by individuals in Birmingham. One was a print of resolutions agreed in a committee meeting held by “merchants, manufacturers and traders” to aid the “severe distress” felt throughout the “manufacturing districts” . The other was an attached letter by Joshua Schofield, the High Balliff of Birmingham (whose son later became the first Lord Mayor of Birmingham) referring to the agreements made between the three parties. Schofield also requests Monteith’s help in “obtaining a petition from your town to cooperate with us, if it meet [sic] your approval in the object of our meeting” . This is especially notable because it reflects that reformist developments often involved both officials of their localities (such as Schofield) and others outside of their immediate vicinity. Indeed, in this case it is clear that reform was not solely driven by Radical, working class groups but that the resolutions were an agreement borne out of cooperation from various social strata as a result of a Parliamentary enquiry, and that Monteith was only made aware of the resolutions passed because of Schofield’s communication with him through his status as High Balliff. In the case of the Clydesdale Journal however, a Radical newspaper that supported “loyal and liberal principles” such as “universal suffrage, annual parliaments and election-by-ballot”, HM Borthwick (the founder of the newspaper) directly contacted Monteith asking if he wished to subscribe to the Journal for a discounted price. Yet both examples represent the hope of inspiring change that progressive movements felt, and the practical means in which they could achieve this change, such as corresponding with officials both inside and out of their vicinities.

Another insightful aspect of the Monteith’s Correspondence is the communication that he has with various individuals during the ‘Radical War’ in April 1820. For instance, a letter sent to Monteith on the 3rd of April explains that “the working classes here are all idle and assembled in crowds… several of Calton Mill began in the morning at work, but have struck since breakfast” . This likely refers to the general cessation of work in the morning of the 3rd of April. There is also a particularly interesting manuscript within the correspondence – namely, an announcement from King George IV – that was given to Monteith by Lord Sidmouth, which asserts that the printers and distributers of the proclamation that was placed around Glasgow in the morning of April 1st must be brought to justice. Moreover, the call to justice also reveals that the King will give a full pardon to anyone (including other printers and distributors), alongside a £500 reward, who gives information that leads to the “detection of the authors and printers” and their subsequent arrest . The final letter I examined was sent by an individual named Thomas Sharp. I am unsure as to what role he held within the city, but it is likely to be in an official and relatively high-standing capacity since he had prior communication with Monteith (he references a letter he sent on the 5th of April within his letter on the 8th) and is clearly far-removed from the events in Glasgow, not just in a geographical sense but also regarding his sympathies for the movement. For instance, although there were reports of a “general rising”, Sharp did not “attach much credit” to this, claiming that “[h]ad the workmen in Scotland abstinently held out the whole week, I have not a doubt that they would have deserted their work here… on Monday, but the accounts from the North… check that situation” . Although Sharp may not necessarily be providing a moral judgement here on validity of the strike, he is equally not expressing any pro-reformist rhetoric; moreover, his language, such as his constant use of “they” or “their”, further underscores his likely standing (not dissimilar to that of Monteith) as a council or government official far removed from any intimate or immediate relations with Radical groups.