Samuel Shore, the quiet reformer (1738-1828)

Samuel Shore by Chantry

believed to be of Samuel Shore by Francis Chantrey

Samuel Shore was one of the 18th century’s influential reformers. Yet it would appear from his obituary that few knew the extent of his involvement.  .

The Shore family appear to have started on their road to being Sheffield’s wealthiest family by being quarry men and stone masons. Three Shore brothers are mentioned in a document as demolishing the stonework of Sheffield Castle. A descendent of one of those brothers appears in documents as  owning the first cementation works in Sheffield in 1700. Samuel’s father married a rich heiress from Liverpool.  By the time Samuel Shore was born in 1738 the Shores were one of the richest family in Sheffield.

DSCF2672The Shore family were founder members of the Upper Chapel built to house  dissenters who split from the established church. At the time of its building in 1700 they called themselves Presbyterians but over the years their beliefs changed to what became known as Unitarian.  Unitarian beliefs were not tolerated and Unitarians along with Catholics were unable to worship.

Education for dissenters was problematic as they were banned from the Universities so Samuel was sent first to a French College in London which taught science, and then to a college in Brunswick in Hannover for three years.  In 1759 Samuel married the heiress Urith Offley and with that marriage gained possession of the Norton Estate.

In 1761 Samuel  became Sheriff of Derbyshire and  a local magistrate. The posts were unusual in that under the law non conformists such as Samuel were refused entry to the Universities, politics and government posts due to what was called the test act. Samuel did not take the test yet became Sheriff.

The Test act excluded from public office (both military and civil) all those who refused to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and  refused to receive the communion according to the rites of the Church of England. Those who would not conform were also barred from the Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Samuel now had position and status that most manufacturers in the North did not have, or most dissenters either. Samuel Shore knew London well, was multi-lingual, and with a keen interest in science.  As a Unitarian Samuel was forbidden by law the right to worship.   Samuel began a fight to change the law, bring about electoral reform and establish equal rights for all under the law. This was dangerous talk in Britain. It could be construed as treason. But Samuel was gaining respect throughout Yorkshire and beyond.

One good friend was Joseph Priestley. Priestley had tried unsuccessfully  for a job in the Upper Chapel but had been turned down.  A lifetime relationship formed between them with Priestley dedicating one of his religious books to Samuel.  Priestley’s research led to the discovery of oxygen but Joseph Priestley’s radical views would eventually lead him into trouble with the government.

In 1774  Shore backed their mutual friend  the Reverend Theophilus Lindsey to set up a Unitarian Chapel in Essex street London. At the opening ceremony Priestley, Shore, and Benjamin  Franklyn are among the guests. Though Unitarian chapels were illegal at the time Samuel Shore was friends with the Attorney General who turned a blind eye to it. Through the chapel Samuel Shore was to meet William  Smith from Clapham, and in 1779 they formed a committee to fight for the abolition of the Test Act.  At about that time   Benjamin Franklyn having met Thomas Paine, the great radical writer and inventor offered him sanctuary in the USA.  It is not known if Paine and Shore’s paths crossed in London but they shared a number of mutual friends so it seems likely he at least knew of Paine before Paine became famous or infamous for his republican views.

In 1775 Samuel Shore’s sister married Thomas Walker a cotton mill owner from Manchester. Thomas Walker was very much a radical thinker with strong  links to the Lunar Society in Birmingham  Samuel had many links including  Rev Samuel Blythe junior, from Bishops House, who had sold off the Blythe’s lands in Norton to the Shores, and Benjamin Roebuck in 1759  to go to  Birmingham and set up a meeting house. In 1780 Joseph Priestley shared the pastoral responsibility with Blythe who was growing  blind. In the same year Samuel Shore. supported by Major Cartwright, he became chair of the Yorkshire Association.

Cartwright called for annually-elected parliaments, equally-sized constituencies and manhood suffrage. Cartwright recognised  manhood suffrage would involve enfranchising the lower orders, recognising that those without landed property had a right to a vote.  Cartwright also called for the abolition of under-populated rotten boroughs and their replacement as constituencies by more populous parishes. He also believed that  open polling should be replaced by the secret ballot. In order to achieve these democratic reforms, he suggested that a campaign of petitioning be launched so that the force of popular feeling be brought to bear on the corrupt, self-interested ruling order.

William Wilberforce became an Independent MP for Hull and bought a pew in the Essex Chapel and joined the Yorkshire Association. .   In April 1780  Samuels friend Cartwright  also helped establish the Society for Constitutional Information, which Samuel became vice chairman of.   Granville Sharp joined the organisation. Other members included John Horne TookeJohn ThelwallGranville SharpJosiah Wedgwood, and William Smith.    William Smith became MP for Sudbury in Suffolk in 1784 the same year that the Yorkshire Association financially backed  William Wilberforce’s campaign to  become MP for Yorkshire.

Clapham was steadily becoming famous for evangelism and Methodism.  It is not known when Samuel changed his London address to Clapham but gradually his links with Clapham were more evident. The Clapham Sect became known as the heart of the anti slavery campaigns led by Methodist Selina Hastings otherwise known as the Countess of Huntingdon.  In 1773 , Phillis Wheatley 20 years old became famous when her first  book of verse, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published, by  Selina Hastings,  In publishing it, Wheatley became the first African American  woman and first U.S. slave to publish a book of poems.  Selina introduced Phillis  to high society where  she proved that the common belief that Africans were somehow inferior and could not be educated was undoubtedly false.

Samuel’s motives for being in so many committees for constitutional change is obvious. As a Unitarian and from a Northern manufacturing family there was very little opportunity for him to obtain high offices. There were no MPs for Sheffield. In 1736 there were around 7’000 inhabitants. By 1801 there were 60’000. Those eligible to vote for a Yorkshire MP were few and also meant a long  journey to vote in York.   But equally strong was the drive to make all men equal under the law with the right to worship how they chose.

As chair at a Midland  dissenters  meeting  Samuel Shore was to say.

It is not the province of the Civil magistrates to direct, or to interfere with the religious opinions or practices of any members of the State, provided their conduct be not injurious to others. 

That all the subjects of the State, conducting themselves in an equally peaceable Manner, are equally entitled not only to Protection in the possession of their civil rights, but also to any civil honours or emoluments, which are accessible to other subjects without any regard to their religion or practices.  

Desiring nothing for ourselves but the same equal and liberal treatment , to which we think all other persons in a similar situation, are equally entitled,  it is our earnest wish that an equal participation in all civil privileges may be obtained for Dissenters of every description, to whom nothing  can be objected, besides their religious opinions or practices , and who can give that security for their Civil allegiance which the state ought to require.

  That the protestant Dissenters of this country,  have always had reason to complain of unjust treatment  ie being disqualified to hold offices of Civil Trust or Power, though their behaviour has ever been peaceable, and loyal, and though they can even boast peculiar merit, as friends to the present government.

That it becomes Dissenters, as Men feeling their own disgraceful situation and the opprobrium which that reflects upon the country, to adopt every constitutional method of procuring the redress of their grievances and thus retrieve the honour of the nation.”

In 1786, Shore was a member of the Application Committee that applied to Parliament for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act and when that motion was defeated, he resigned from his post of High Sheriff in protest

Also in 1786 a young printer called Joseph Gales moved to Sheffield to take over the newspaper. The previous paper had been a local paper and not a very large circulation. Joseph had a vision of a more radical paper, which Samuel was keen to encourage, persuading William Wilberforce to support the paper as that meant the paper was exempt from tax.

In 1787 Sharp, Thomas Clarkson and William Dillwyn formed the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Influential figures such as John WesleyJosiah WedgwoodJames Ramsay, and William Smith gave their support to the campaign. Despite pressure from members of the Clapham set Wilberforce held back joining till 1789. Suggestions were made that petitions should be raised across the country.

Samuel and his friends and relatives set up branches of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery across the country. Joseph Gales support with the rising popularity of his paper proved invaluable to publicising their cause.

In Samuel’s personal life after seven years as a widow  Samuel married Lydia Flower from Clapham and moved into Meersbrook Hall.

DSCF2480

Meersbrook Hall, Meersbrook Park

In 1788 Samuel Shore as chairman of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery together with Rev Willkinson, John and William Shore, Mr Tudor, and Mr Watkinson (master cutler) and a Dr. Sutcliffe set up a committee to organise a petition.  Copies of the petition for people to sign were set up at Tontine Inn, the Cutlers Hall, and John and William Shore’s bank.

In thus endeavouring to rescue thousands of their innocent  and unoffending Fellow-Creatures  (innocent and unoffending at least to the Natives of this Country) from the miseries that are the necessary attendants upon such a commerce, your petitioners are, as men, influenced by the feelings of humanity; as members of a free  community, by the true principles of just and equal liberty; and as Christians, by a desire to act consistently with the Spirit of that most excellent religion, which does not confine good will and benevolent actions to a small part of the globe, or to any particular description , or complexion of men, but extends them to the whole human race.  

Your Petitioners therefore, humbly solicit this honourable house to proceed to a full and thorough investigation of this important subject: and if the most weighty and urgent reasons cannot be opposed to those advanced by your petitioners; and if those who are more immediately concerned in the question, cannot prove the Slave Trade from Africa to be agreeable to the dictates of humanity, conformable to just ideas of Liberty, and consistent with the precepts of religion, that then this honourable house will take such steps as in their wisdom may be deemed necessary, for the abolition of that inhuman and disgraceful traffic“.

The petitions strengthened William Smith and William Wilberforce’s hand to speak against the abolition of slavery.  In Gales Paper and elsewhere the pressure for boycotting sugar from slave plantations gained momentum. Many abolitionists were also campaigning for reform. Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine, and William Smith had all visited Revolutionary France. Samuel’s Brother in Law had strong links to the new French Government. The ideas of a more equal society were understandably exciting to many in Britain.

The government was getting exceedingly nervous, not helped by the publication of Paine’s Rights of Man, putting forth republican views, and the rise of the Corresponding Societies (more political societies for change) Samuel Shore had helped Joseph Gales set one up at the Free Masons Hall in Paradise Square. The new Corresponding societies were seen as radicalizing the “riff-raff” Many Unitarians including William Smith openly praised the Revolution.  Joseph Priestley said :-

The glorious revolutions in America & France have propagated truths which will never be extinguished for Truth is like a spark of Fire which flyeth up in the face of those who attempt to tread it out.”

However the fire that happened was in Joseph’s house,  meeting house, and all his scientific notes and equipment burning in Birmingham lit by a mob who stormed the homes of dissenters. Samuel called for calm in Sheffield but a celebration of the revolution took a violent turn when many of the towns people attacked the debtors prison letting the inmates out, and smashed the windows and furniture of the Duke of Norfolk’s agents house and then as the army presence swelled up went on the rampage at Broomhall  home of the Vicar Wilkinson, smashing windows and furniture and books and attempting to set fire to the House. Having failed to do so they set fire to six of his hay ricks. But the protest in Sheffield was not really about revolution but attacking those they deemed responsible for enclosing Common land.

The corresponding societies were enthused by Thomas Paines Rights of Man and helped publish special cheaper versions so all could read it. A million copies were sold.  The corresponding societies were not however preaching violence but what they saw was a return to constitutional rights.

 That it is no less the Right than the Duty of every Citizen, to keep a watchful eye on the Government of his Country; that the Laws, by being multiplied, do not degenerate into Oppression; and that those who are entrusted with the Government, do not substitute Private Interest for Public Advantage.

 That the People of Great Britain are not effectually represented in Parliament.

That in Consequence of a partial, unequal, and therefore inadequate Representation, together with the corrupt Method in which Representatives are elected; oppressive Taxes, unjust Laws, restrictions of Liberty, and wasting of the Public Money, have ensued.

That the only Remedy to those Evils is a fair, equal, and impartial Representation of the People in Parliament.

That a fair, equal, and impartial Representation can never take Place, until all partial Privileges are abolished.

That this Society do express their Abhorrence of Tumult and Violence, and that, as they aim at Reform, not Anarchy, Reason, Firmness, and Unanimity are the only Arms they themselves will employ, or persuade their Fellow-Citizens to exert, against Abuse of Power                 

In 1792 Thomas Paine escaped to France having been warned that the government were planning his arrest.   A trial was held in his absence. The government  argued that Paine’s work inflamed the populace and distributed radical ideas to those without the experience to understand them.  Paine was found guilty. The verdict was seen by the government as legitimising their repression of radicalism.

In April 1793 Gales chaired an open meeting in Sheffield on parliamentary reform. At the meeting it was decided to start a petition in support of universal suffrage. Gales eventually presented Parliament with a petition signed by 8,000 people from Sheffield. By May 1794 the Sheffield Register was selling over 2,000 copies a week. Such a large circulation was extremely unusual for a provincial newspaper in the 18th century. Sheffield was now seen as the most radical town in Britain.

The government was also worried about the growth and tactics of the parliamentary reform movement in Sheffield. At a large meeting of the Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information, chaired by Henry Redhead Yorke, a resolution was passed that abandoned the policy of petitioning Parliament. William Pitt and his government feared that this meant that reformers in Sheffield would now resort to violence.

In 1794  Thomas Walker was prosecuted for treasonable conspiracy. Although the  treason charge against Walker was dropped he was brought to trial on a seditious conspiracy charge in 1794 in Lancaster together with ten defendants but the evidence was proved to be falsified  and they all walked free.

The authorities started arresting members of the Corresponding Societies. Thomas MuirThomas Fyshe PalmerWilliam SkirvingJoseph Gerrald and Maurice Margarot were found guilty of sedition and were sentenced to between seven and fourteen years transportation. Thomas HardyJohn Horne Tooke and John Thelwall were tried with treason but the charges failed to stick and they were released

Joseph Gales wrote articles in the Sheffield Register attacking the arrest of reformers. He also mounted a campaign against the suspension of habeas corpus. Gales was now considered a dangerous man and was charged with conspiracy. Aware that he would not receive a fair trial, Gales decided to flee the country. After publishing the last edition of the Sheffield Register on 27th June, 1794, Gales escaped to Germany. It is not known what Samuel Shore felt about Gales. Many have said that Shore was not a republican which was true, but what we do know that it was Shore money that was paid to Gales wife to allow them to escape to America.

In 1807 the aged Samuel Shore formed a Committee to support Fitzwilliam’s son Lord Milton who stood for the West Riding as a Whig.  With the Corresponding societies now illegal Samuel formed a new group called the Friends of Reform in 1810 which held a dinner for Samuel’s old friend John Cartwright in 1812.

In 1813 William Smith finally managed to have an act passed that  allowed for toleration of Unitarians worship. William Smith visited Meersbrook a number of times. No doubt as Samuel was now in his 70s the journey to London was becoming too much.  However there are signs that Samuel had not lost his campaigning spirit.

In 1819 Samuel Shore appears as Chairman at a meeting to protest at the Massacre at Peterloo  when the cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

Mr Rawson from Wardsend addressed the crowd

“Gentlemen, I have always been accustomed to consider it to be an inalienable  and an indisputable  right of the people to meet for a redress of grievances, and that too without any restriction in point of numbers. There are some who may object  to public meetings, alleging that they counteract, by their very violence, the cause which they are intended to support. This was not the opinion of our ancestors: if it had been so -where should we have been now? – in a state similar to that of Spain or Portugal. When our ancestors felt themselves aggrieved, they petitioned, addressed, fought, bled, and died for their liberties; and, dying, bequeathed us this right of meeting together on all matters as an heir-loom, to be preserved to our latest posterity, uncontaminated and unimpaired.” 

In 1824 Samuel Shore was seen in the news again at a meeting in the Town Hall as President of the Sheffield auxiliary  branch of the Anti-slavery society.

Sadly Samuel never saw the Great Reform Act which gave 2 MPs to Sheffield in 1832 or the abolition of the Slave Trade in 1833 as he died in 1828 at the age of 90 at Meersbrook Hall.

His obituary states

” Activity of body, no less than activity and energy of mind belonged to Mr. Shore. He enjoyed through his long life an enviable state of health and that eveness and elasticity of spirit which belongs peculiarly to those who are in constant action, and who have the hope which religion gives. He sunk very gradually into the tomb. He was truly a green old age.”

 

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