The Roscoes of Liverpool; Love, fame and family misfortunes 1753-1816

 A synopsis
In 1796 William Roscoe, an obscure lawyer in Liverpool, achieved international literary fame with his book The Life of Lorenzo de' Medici. A best-seller in its day, it introduced readers throughout Europe and the USA to the history of the city of Florence, the Medici family, and Lorenzo the Magnificent. It had a significant bearing on the emergence of the idea of the Italian Renaissance, and it was translated into French, German and Italian, selling thousands of copies.
   The reading public was staggered by the fact that William Roscoe was the largely self-taught son of a publican, and a mere attorney. They were stunned too when they discovered that he came from Liverpool, the British empire's 'second city', then better known for its slave trade than its literary culture. Yet the western world would have been even more amazed to discover that William, his wife Jane Griffies, and their close circle of friends were also among Liverpool's most detested inhabitants, reviled for their religious views, their opposition to the slave trade, and their support for the French Revolution and Parliamentary Reform.
  This book follows the family through the childhoods of William and Jane, William's life as an attorney, his early poetry, and his and Jane's courtship and marriage. In the 1770s and 1780s William was involved in creating the first art academies in Liverpool. In the 1780s and 1790s the Roscoes, along with their  friends the Rathbones, the Curries, the Binns, and the Shepherds, as well as a handful of Quakers such as the Rushdens, and a trio of local poets Eliza Knipe, Edward Rushton and Hugh Mulligan, were among the few people in Liverpool who openly supported the abolition of the slave trade. In the years of the French wars, the Roscoes and their circle were again out on a limb as William wrote songs and poems in praise of the French republic, and he and his circle argued for peace and prosperity rather than war.
         William in this period was a regular visitor to London, where his close friends included Henry Fuseli, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the bookseller and publisher Joseph Johnson. He self-published his book on Lorenzo through Edwards and Sons, London. The celebrity and money which came with the publication of Lorenzo enabled the Roscoes to purchase Allerton Hall, a local country house and estate which became the centre of 'Romantic Liverpool', an image reinforced in the 1800s by the Roscoes' literary and artistic salons, and by the creation of the Liverpool Athenaeum and the Liverpool Botanical Gardens. 
       In the same period, William left the legal profession, becoming a partner in the bank of his friends the Clarke brothers. In 1806 William was elected to Parliament, and in 1807 he took part in the historic debate that ended Britain's slave trade. Defeated in the snap election of 1807 for his abolitionism and his support for Catholic emancipation, William nevertheless became one of Liverpool's most prominent political managers, organizing campaigns, writing pamphlets, poems and songs, urging action against illegal slave traders and promoting the idea of a 'fair trade' with Africa.
   Throughout these years Jane was busy raising a family, an aspect of the Roscoe's history which is examined for the first time here. William meanwhile was spending vast sums of money not only on Allerton Hall, but also on a project to drain thousands of acres of bog on Chat Moss and Trafford Moss, near Manchester. He was also expending significant amounts on collecting art, books, and botanical specimens, vying with some of the country's most famous collectors and bibliophiles, and making Allerton a treasure house. The family's business interests were looked after by his eldest sons, Will, Edward, James and Robert, who went into banking, mining, maritime trade, agriculture, and the law, making the family ever more prosperous... on paper at least.
  The Roscoes' finances became increasingly complicated after the general election of 1812, when both candidates put forward by William and his campaign team were defeated. William retreated to Allerton Hall, where he began to write again, this time on his art and literature collections. His expenditure soared, but he neglected his various projects and his banking business. When the French Wars ended in 1815, the Roscoes' and Clarkes' bank crashed. Unable to meet their creditors' demands, the Roscoes had to sell up all their belongings, including their art and books, and leave Allerton, bowed though not yet beaten.

The book ends with the sale of Allerton; the story will be continued in a second volume. 

The Roscoes of Liverpool
Love, fame and family misfortunes,



Prologue: Remembering William Roscoe
Introduction: Liverpool in the eighteenth century

I. A sentimental education
  1. On Martindale’s Hill
  2. Sensible choices
  3. Love, marriage and mortality

II. Limited improvement
  4. Climbing Mount Pleasant
  5. In the company of artists

III. Here we stand
  6. ‘This little circle around us’
  7.  Righting wrongs
  8.  A visitation
  9.  Against the slave trade
IV. Finding a voice
10. Writing Lorenzo
11. Citizens
12. Ballads and broadsides
13. Money, Mary and the rights of Jane
14. Draining resources
15. Roscoe the Renaissance man

V. Romantic affinities
16. Futures
17. An uneasy truce
18. The Roscoes of Allerton Hall
19. Liverpool Romantica

VI. Reforming Liverpool
20. The contest
21. The member for Liverpool
22. War, fair trade, and Captain Cardoza’s slaves
23. Reforming politics
24. Organizing the arts

VII. Family business
25. Children’s stories
26. Crash


Extracts (minus footnotes and hyperlinks)

The Roscoes of Liverpool
Love, fame and family misfortunes


Remembering Roscoe

There is, indeed, no spot of earth so hallowed to the contemplative as that which holds the ashes of an intellectual benefactor. What a grateful tribute does the Transatlantic pilgrim instinctively offer at the sepulchre of Roscoe at Liverpool, of Lafayette in France, of Berkeley at Oxford, of Burns at Alloway Kirk, and of Keats, and Goldsmith, — of all the bards, philosophers, and reformers whose conceptions warmed and exalted his dawning intelligence, and became thereby sacred to his memory for ever! How fruitful the hours, snatched from less serene pleasure, devoted to Stratford, Melrose, and the Abbey! To realize the value of these opportunities, the spirit of humanity enshrined in such ‘Meccas of the mind,’ we must fancy the barrenness of earth stripped of these landmarks of the gifted and the lost. How denuded of its most tender light would be Olney, Stoke Poges, the vale of Florence, the cypress groves of Rome, and the park at Weimar, unconsecrated by the sepulchres of Cowper and Gray, Michael Angelo, Tasso, and Schiller, whose sweet and lofty remembrance links meadow and stream, mountain and sunset, with the thought of all that is most pensive, beautiful, and sublime in genius and in woe!”
From, The Christian Examiner (1856),
a Unitarian journal published in Boston, Massachusetts.

The most impressive of the early memorials to William Roscoe was created not in England, where he was born, but in the USA, where he was very much an adopted son, and where in 1831, the year of his death, the town of Caldersburgh, Ohio, was renamed Roscoe, in his honour. The prime movers of this project were Leander Ransom, chief engineer and surveyor on the Ohio Canal, and Noah H. Swayne, a young Quaker who was then attorney for the county of Coshocton, Ohio. Anticipating a canal-driven economic boom, the two men had purchased a tract of land to the north of Caldersburgh, and laid out a sizeable extension of the settlement. They followed this up by successfully petitioning the state legislature to change the town’s name to Roscoe, in order to commemorate the celebrated, recently deceased Englishman. In this way Roscoe’s name became associated with one of the busiest hubs on the canal network, a town which by the late 1840s was described as ‘a great wheat depot...and an important place of shipment and transhipment’ on the Ohio Canal, whose ‘capacities for a large manufacturing town are ample.’
             The main reason behind this re-branding of Caldersburgh was admiration for Roscoe’s support for the abolition of the slave trade. Swayne himself, for example, had moved in 1824 from the slave-holding state of Virginia to Ohio, which had been ordained free of slavery after the War of Independence. Later he was appointed by President Lincoln as an Associate Chief Justice to the Supreme Court. But this American enthusiasm for Roscoe was by no means confined to the abolitionists. The Liverpudlian was also known as a historian, a philanthropist, a Unitarian, a banker, a botanist and a poet, and in such roles he was praised to varying degrees by his many admirers in the USA, where he had come to represent the sort of, self-taught, self-made, pioneering spirit which the New World liked to promote as its image. This characterization of William Roscoe as a dynamic individual worthy of imitation is exemplified in a lecture given in the 1830s by the American essayist and critic, Henry Theodore Tuckerman, to ‘a mercantile association of young men’ in his home town of Boston, Massachusetts. ‘The life of Roscoe is peculiarly interesting in this country,’ observed Tuckerman, ‘ as it furnishes the example of one who lived and died the active denizen of a commercial community like our own; of one whose native endowments were by no means brilliant, and whose circumstances, as far as they were prosperous, were created by himself; of one who, thus situated, nobly won and modestly wore the wreath of literary honour, the credit of self-denying probity, the name of a philanthropist; and who accomplished this by the simple but sublime energy of his character, by the “ power of virtue in the human soul”. Roscoe, continued Tuckerman, had undergone the ‘natural canonization’ of death, and he urged his audience to pay their own respects by making the pilgrimage across the Atlantic to Liverpool, the customary port of arrival from the eastern seaboard. ‘Before we reach the sacred precincts of Westminster, or stroll along the green banks of the Avon’, he concluded, ‘we shall linger with respectful and moving interest beside the monument to the memory of William Roscoe, in the churchyard of Liverpool.’


From Chapter 1. On Martindale’s Hill
In Charnock Richard

…………… By the 1730s the Roscoes had also established a market garden at Charnock Green, on the same spot as the smithy and the bowling green, thus becoming one of several local suppliers of vegetables to the growing towns of Lancashire during this period. The market garden is recorded in a lease of 1736, by which time the innkeeper William Roscoe and his wife Margaret had several children. In 1760 their eldest son Edward, aged 50, was in charge of the market garden, living on the holding with his wife Dorothy and their children, and described in documents as a ‘gardener’. By the 1780s we can find documents relating to a Bowling Green Inn, in a lease in which the widowed Edward, now described as an innkeeper, is the holder of the cottages, bowling green and garden for his own life and those of his children, Millicent and William. The latter eventually took up the lease, becoming ‘innkeeper of Charnock Green’ by 1790, when he was prosperous enough to invest in other property, including a house in Chorley.
            Within the narrow compass of Standish, therefore, the Roscoes were fairly prominent as tradesmen and artisans. But it was a big clan, and so there was some incentive for the family to send its younger members out of the district rather than have them squabbling over ever thinner slices of the Roscoe patrimony. This process was evident early on, with a Joseph Roscoe, of Euxton, becoming a Catholic priest in the late seventeenth century and dying in Paris in 1709. Meanwhile, one of Edward the innkeeper’s brothers went to North America, while another went just down the road to Liverpool. It is that Liverpool brother whom we must follow, for he was to become William of Liverpool’s father. Born in Charnock Richard in 1714, and baptised William Roscoe, he went to Liverpool while young, but we know little about his early life. There were other Roscoes living in the town by the eighteenth century, among them potters and mathematical instrument makers; family tradition, however, insists that William became a domestic servant in Liverpool, a tradition backed up by a brief, and as far as I can tell rarely used, biographical account of William of Liverpool, printed in The European Magazine in 1822, which describes Mr Roscoe as having been ‘in the service of a bachelor, a gentleman of the most amiable and generous disposition’. The identity of the bachelor is not given, but it has been suggested elsewhere not only that this employer was the owner of Allerton Hall, a country house and estate near Liverpool, but also that William’s father was employed there as either a domestic servant or a gardener. Interestingly, in 1730 a John Roscoe married Margaret Hardman, daughter of James and Catherine Hardman, who were then the owners of a moiety or share of the hall; perhaps, therefore, the young Mr Roscoe was employed there by virtue of an existing family connection.
                What we do know for certain is that in 1752, at the age of 38, William struck out on his own by taking up the lease of a pub in Liverpool, and marrying, on 6 February, Elizabeth Stevenson (sometimes Stephenson), a local woman nine years his junior.

From Chapter 2. Sensible choices
The Griffies sisters
Life for the Griffies sisters, though motherless, was relatively comfortable. Mr Griffies’s relatives were tradespeople in Chester—his brother Thomas Griffies, for example, being a builder in the city. The late Mrs Griffies’s family, the Laces, a multitudinous tribe from the Isle of Man, were even better off, with much of their money coming from maritime commerce, including smuggling and the slave trade. Over time, William Griffies, backed by his own capital and, from 1750 by his wife’s money, had become a ‘substantial barber and hairdresser’. But he had other ambitions, and had branched out into the linen drapery business, trading from his house in Castle St, and selling at local markets and fairs. This combined income underwrote his daughters’ education, first at home, then at a local academy for young ladies. Later, money was set aside to provide decent dowries when they were married. But having learned from experience that catastrophes occur, their father did not put all his faith in the young women’s marriage prospects, for he also taught them the basics of the drapery trade. Jane in the 1770s, for example, writes several times to tell her sisters, absent for various reasons, about work in the family business. Thus in one letter, she tells how she is spending time in ‘the shop’, where their father is busy with an order worth £60 from a neighbour; and in another letter she describes sending ‘coastwise’ a consignment of caps worth £30, having just received a parcel of the same. ‘Mrs Chilton has mentioned the quilts’, she informs Betty in yet another note, this time sent from their uncle Thomas’s house in St John St, Chester. ‘Don’t you think we shall want some cloths at the fair? You may choose them out. We made 36 beds of the pack of flocks and intend making up the other pack next week.’
The Castle Inn conversazione
            Frank Holden, a year younger than Roscoe, worked as a tutor at his uncle Richard’s academy, teaching maths and foreign languages while preparing to go up to university in Glasgow, supported by his uncle John, the musicologist. William must have met him in 1769 or 1770. He was immediately bowled over by the precociously gifted young man, and not just by his intellect, for the gods had also bestowed on Frank considerable physical prowess and good looks. ‘His figure’, recalled William, many years later, ‘[was] powerfully yet elegantly formed, his strength and agility such that he scarcely ever took a walk into the fields without exhibiting, for the amusement of his companions, feats of bodily dexterity which might have extorted the applause of a crowded theatre.’ To Roscoe he appeared an Adonis—it was clearly love at first sight.
             Frank was to become one of Roscoe’s first scholarly mentors, as well as his best friend. Moreover, he introduced William to a group of like-minded young men, mostly religious dissenters, who now became William’s comrades as well. In his memoir Roscoe styled them the Castle Inn conversazione, but it was a rather polite word for this band of disaffected, frustrated youths on the make. We know many of them by name and profession, for along with William and Frank were Will Clarke junior, the eldest son of a banker, Matthew Gregson, apprenticed to the furniture trade, Edward ‘Ned’ Rogers, another trainee banker, Richard Lowndes, intended for the law, William ‘Billy’ Neilson, working in his family’s merchant house, Robert Rigby, bound to commerce, and David Samwell—’stout, black-haired, pock-marked, fierce-looking, wondrous friendly in company and very fond of the cup’, as someone later described him—who was apprenticed to a naval surgeon but who was also an aspiring poet in both English and Welsh, with the pseudonym Dafydd Ddu Feddyg (Black David the Doctor). These young men were eager for self improvement, but they also liked to enjoy themselves in less passive pursuits. They wandered country lanes declaiming poetry, they huddled in pubs to complain about apprenticeships, clerkships, religious toleration, celibacy and low wages, and at the end of the evening they liked to sing, accompanied by Holden on guitar and Neilson on flute. They played absurdist word games based on Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759-66), but their bible was Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s best-selling Julie ou la nouvelle Heloïse (1761), a novel was set in the Romantic landscape of the foothills of the Swiss Alps, which told the story of St Preux, a penniless but brilliant young tutor at odds with society, and his clandestine love affair with Julie, a baron’s daughter………

From Chapter 7. Righting wrongs.

………..As abolitionists the members of the Roscoes’ circle did not always agree on strategy, but at this stage the consensus was to maintain anonymity and so, in theory, avoid trouble. This was not uncommon for the time; the use of anonymity in terms of authorship, for example, was widespread, and not only because it was the sign of the true ‘amateur’ and gentleman. The government could bring charges of sedition against authors, publishers and printers of material which was judged to be ‘inflammatory’; a minister might order a watch to be kept on suspects by the ‘Secret Branch’, its skills honed in pursuing Catholics, Jacobites and others, and in the interception of mail through the Post Office. On the streets, meanwhile, there was no regular police force to protect the individual from the mob. Anonymity, therefore, provided not just safety from authority but also from disgruntled individuals, safeguarding one’s family and property against the ‘popular clamour’ such as that shown during the aforementioned strike and election.
            But there were private reasons too for anonymity, and these have brought criticism on the circle in more recent accounts of Liverpool and the slave trade. The Roscoes and their friends lived in a small town, where families, social life and business were close knit. Slave traders, slave ship captains, and investors in slave voyages were relatives or friends or clients. Jane Roscoe’s relatives the Laces, for example, were involved in the trade, as were members of the Aspinwall family. Patients of both Dr Currie and Dr Binns were implicated. Pew-holders at Benn’s Garden and Paradise St chapels included people with interests in the trade. The families of old friends such as Nielson and Gregson were slave traders; the Clarkes, as linen drapers, supplied textiles to clothe the slaves. William himself dealt with clients involved in the trade; at the art academy, he met not only the abolitionist poet Eliza Knipe but also the Misses Earle, daughters of one of the town’s prominent Africa merchants, and the society’s patron Blundell, who owed part of his fortune to the trade. To advocate abolition, therefore, was to invite arguments and bad feeling among neighbours, and possibly social ostracism. More problematic still was the fact that one or two of the abolitionists themselves were also involved directly or indirectly in the trade. The Rathbones, for example, though attempting to extricate themselves from involvement, were still supplying timber which went into the making of slave ships; they were also sailing into deeper waters through their connections with slave cotton from the USA. The Yates family hid their ‘secret interest’ in the slave trading firm of France, Fletcher and Co, an interest which later helped their son John Brooks Yates to secure a partnership in the same business. Even Roscoe himself was to be accused in the 1810s of investing in slave voyages, a charge which he rejected, but which seems to stem from the period following the end of Britain’s slave trade, firstly when Edward Roscoe was in a partnership which sent ships to trade in African goods, not slaves, and secondly from his son Will’s later partnership with West Indian merchant and banker Thomas Fletcher and others——episodes which we shall look at later. (See Chapters 22 & 25).

From Chapter 10. Writing Lorenzo

Friendly assistance.
…………..Roscoe’s request for assistance with the Medici documents proved a tonic for the consumptive Will Clarke, in Fiesole. He was, he told William, not only close to the libraries in Florence but also acquainted with the librarians, who were prepared to allow him to spend four or five hours daily looking at books and manuscripts. ‘I will try to make them suggest all that I can on the subject proposed’, he wrote, ‘though the subtle Florentine has little inclination to do anything where his interest is not concerned.’ He thought that buying old books might be a problem, especially those which were ‘termed del Quattro Centro or printed in the 1400s and before 1500, [for] Italy has been ransacked by your booksellers and scarce anything remains’; nevertheless he would do his best, and if he could not find them in Florence he would send for them to Venice, which he thought was ‘a better mart’. He added, in passing, that he had done a similar service for Edward Gibbon, having bought some books for him in Venice which he had then despatched to Lausanne. Will concluded by saying that he would need more money; would Roscoe therefore be kind enough to ask his father and brother at Clarke & Co. for new letters of credit, as his were ‘grown old’. Four or five notes for £20 each should suffice for the next few months and for his journey home to Liverpool—which would definitely take place soon.
            In February and March 1790, Clarke combed the archives of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (Laurentian Library) and of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, as well as hunting down documents which had been transferred to the Palazzo Vecchio (now the city hall) and to the Uffizi where they were housed ‘under the famous gallery’. ‘It is easy to have access to these depositories’, he explained to Roscoe, ‘by presenting a memorial to the Grand Duke, who never refuses applications of this kind.’ Everything was on a ‘most liberal footing … The palaces, libraries, galleries and museums are accessible to all strangers gratis, and they have every opportunity of gratifying their curiosity with leisure and convenience,’ a stark contrast with other countries where public collections were only opened ‘by dint of a bribe’. Still, at least such collections existed, not like in the North of England. In the Riccardi archives, at Clarke’s request, the librarian dusted off unpublished ‘memorials of the Medici’, with a manuscript of ‘700 leaves’ being among the first presented for inspection. In the Laurenziana, the catalogue which Will consulted ran to eight folio volumes, with 6,000 codices listed, forcing him to be very selective and to note items which he thought might be of interest but which could be copied later, including portraits and engravings for use as illustrations in Roscoe’s book. ‘There will be no difficulty in finding amanuenses here for the purpose,’ he reassured William. Illness brought a brief spell of inactivity, but by March Will had recovered, and thought himself sufficiently conversant with the principal sources to be able to discuss them with Roscoe when he returned. He commissioned copies of numerous documents, and in April 1790 he sent  Roscoe a large consignment of  books on various aspects of Italian culture. Time was passing however and both he and William knew that he would soon have to return to England.
From Chapter 13. Money, Mary and the rights of Jane

Meanwhile in The Dingle
…………On the morning of Sunday 5 April 1791, Jane Roscoe—hot, bothered and pregnant, with her four children, Will, aged 9, Eddy 6, Jim 3, and Bobby 2, for company— sat down and wrote a letter to her husband. The absent William was in London attending court, visiting book sales and spending time with Fuseli, Johnson and the ‘fraternity of irregulars’. Jane was left behind, short of time, money and patience. ‘I find myself in such an ill humour’, she told him, ‘that I can’t go to Chapel with a good conscience till it’s a little evaporated; and as you are the sole cause of it, I don’t see that it’s at all unreasonable to vent a little of my spleen in return for all the ills I am enduring shut up in a remote village in a remote corner of the kingdom, while you are enjoying all the gaiety of the Gay Metropolis—’tis not to be borne.
            For Jane, Toxteth, with its proud Puritan heritage and twitching curtains, was akin to Purgatory. It was too far away from Betty and Anne, the house was badly appointed, every day was a struggle, and without her husband it was even worse, for a woman on her own was inevitably a target of gossip. After berating William in her letter for leaving her in this way, Jane endeavoured to be cheerful, asking if he had seen Sir Joshua Reynolds, enquiring after his health and so on. But she could not help emphasizing that while he was spending money in London, she was in need of it in Liverpool.
            ‘When you open your purse, remember the many claims on it in Lancashire. What a selfish creature you will call me. I see nothing else around me, and Nature implants the principle of self preservation in us…The weather is delightful, all nature smiles around, but to me has no charms. The landscape wants the softening tints of your presence to render it acceptable, and I feel more inclination to sit with folded arms musing on the weakness and folly of human nature than to walk out with my poor little fellows and enjoy the salubrity of the morning air. I intend walking to town in the morning and hope to find a letter from you which may perhaps give me some dawn of hope. I command you to do penance for all your sins and instantly become the Companion of my Solitude.’
            After reminding William that his friends Henry Fuseli and Joseph Johnson had been critical of his poem The Wrongs of Africa, she endeavoured to finish on a friendly note by asking about another habitué of Johnson’s table. ‘I long to hear something of Mr Paine’ she continued. ‘I’ve only read extracts from his work but shall have it tomorrow. Mr Aspinwall is in raptures about it’, she went on, adding, ‘He is here and begs his respects’.

From Chapter 14. Draining resources

…………..Because his actual experience in large-scale agricultural improvement was limited, as indeed was his capital, William began the draining of Trafford Moss in partnership with Thomas Wakefield, a gentleman farmer and local entrepreneur whom he had known for some years. Wakefield had both commercial and agricultural experience, his businesses including a major sugar refinery in Liverpool as well as at least one dairy farm, the latter on Smeatham Lane. (According to one contemporary, about 100 cattle were pastured there in the 1790s). Roscoe also knew Wakefield in other guises, including that of vice-president of the art society in the 1780s and of political fellow-traveller in Whig causes. He was to be the major investor in these early stages; it may be the case that he and Roscoe formed their partnership through Wakefield’s calling on Aspinwall and Co. with money to invest. Wakefield was also to oversee the farming, having ‘very considerable practical information on agricultural subjects’, according to William, as well as on other matters including sugar refining, for which he later took out a patent, and on heating glasshouses by steam—a process in which he was apparently something of a pioneer. In these early stages, therefore, William was ‘associated’ with the scheme, putting in some of the money while providing legal and administrative support. As it turned out there was a good deal of paperwork involved, but it was Wakefield who was to be responsible for carrying out the reclamation work, even living for a time in a cottage on the edge of Trafford Moss. The two men intended to expand into Chat Moss if their project flourished.
            In January 1793, Roscoe and Wakefield went to London to negotiate leases with the Trafford family, leaving Jane in Birchfield. There is a sense of déja vu about these months, in that we see further tensions over money in letters between William in London and Jane in Liverpool, for although there were some notable differences—Jane, having left Toxteth, was now less of a ‘mope’, while William, in London, was more economical with the truth—neither party could entirely gloss over the fact that Roscoe and Wakefield were playing for high stakes. Writing to Jane, William mentioned visiting Henry Fuseli—with whom he was now back on good terms—attending sales, bookshops and print shops. He told her that she was not to listen to Dan Daulby if he told her that he, William, has bought ‘a large and magnificent collection of pictures’, for they were mere ‘trifles’ which he would sell on ‘cent per cent’. With equal nonchalance, on 26 February, he told her that on the previous Saturday he and Wakefield had been ‘£2,500 worse off’, in their negotiations, but he assured her they had ‘washed it away with a sponge’ and were now back on track.

From Chapter 15. Roscoe the Renaissance Man

Selling Lorenzo
………….In London, and in desperation, Roscoe’s publisher, James Edwards, advised him to forget for the moment those copies of Lorenzo coming by canal, and to send a fresh consignment—as many as possible, please—on the first available stage-coach heading south. William was also to tell John M’Creery to start printing an additional 500 copies, after which he was to set up and be ready to begin a second, cheaper edition, the quantity to be discussed. Once again Edwards stressed the importance of speed, but this time he also warned of the ephemeral nature of fame. If ‘people of fashion’ could not get hold of a copy of Lorenzo, he told Roscoe, they would begin to speak ‘slightingly of it’, even if they had not read it, thus putting off their friends from buying it. ‘This you will say is nothing to you, who seek the applause of the learned few. One, however, is corroborated by the other, and the mass of approbation … is the desirable reward of merit. Notwithstanding your other business, pray remember that I am fretting and harassed continually from the disappointment of being without a copy of your book.’ Later that same day he fired off another letter, telling Roscoe that having promised a copy of Lorenzo to a customer, he would be in ‘an ugly scrape’ if he let the man down.
            The replacement order, including several ‘presentation’ sets with full-size plates, arrived in London soon afterwards. Edwards sold all the copies within the week. On 12 March he wrote again to Liverpool, asking William not only to send as many as possible of the 500 copies ordered but also to print a jaw-dropping 1,000 copies in a cheaper octavo edition, to be bound in boards. Polite society, he told William, continued ‘to call for the Life’, especially as he had now sent sets to the royal family, including a presentation set for the King’s Library. On the financial side of things, he added that the recently formed London publishing firm of Thomas Cadell—whose father, Thomas Cadell senior had published Gibbon’s Decline and Fall— and William Davies, had asked to be put in touch with Roscoe, and had offered £1,200 to purchase the copyright of Lorenzo. Writing separately via Edwards on 1 April, these arrivistes assured Roscoe that ‘as young publishers’ they were motivated to approach him more by their desire to be associated with ‘so classical and elegant a work’, than by ‘expectation of considerable pecuniary advantage’. James Edwards, not entirely convinced by this outbreak of philanthropy, advised William that if he did accept this offer he should make sure that he retained the profits and copyright of the first edition.

From Chapter 17. An uneasy truce

Not quite in from the cold
…………..The Athenaeum project, followed by the opening of the Botanic Garden, helped bring Liverpool’s ‘Jacobins’ in from the cold, and even gave them a certain legitimacy. So too did changing allegiances to France, as the transformation of the revolution under Bonaparte offered opportunities for a critical patriotism, even as the misdeeds and taxes of successive ministries in Britain bolstered the arguments of those who called either for peace or at the very least for a ‘defensive’ war. It was, however, a tightrope which the Friends of Peace walked, without the comfort of a safety net. James Currie’s experiences illustrated their problems. Ever a moderate, though under scrutiny for his ‘Jasper Wilson’ pamphlet, Currie moved closer to the middle ground by wrapping himself in the flag in the late 1790s, subscribing to the equipping of a regiment raised for the defence of the town and joining the ‘committee for conducting the armed associations’. Later he was invited to take command of a company of Liverpool fusiliers, an offer which he declined but which he found very tempting. Nevertheless, he continued to argue the need for morality in war, a stance which in 1799–1801 set him at odds with the corporation over the plight of a large number of prisoners of war from French and Spanish forces. These men were held in increasingly appalling conditions in the partially-built borough gaol in Liverpool, where they suffered not only extreme hunger but also a rising death rate from various causes. The authorities would not improve the situation because of the refusal by the French government to respect the custom of paying for the upkeep of one’s prisoners abroad, the enemy having passed this burden to the British on the grounds that such a policy represented the ‘progress of civilisation’. This disgraceful standoff meant starvation rations, bad bread, brackish water and rotten meat.
            A return visit to the ‘French prison’ by government appointed commissioners in December 1800 led to their hostile questioning of Dr Carson—one of the prison’s medical men and an advocate of better treatment for the French—who was asked, among other things, for how long he had been a member of the London Corresponding Society. The question was later withdrawn, but the commissioners nevertheless proved intent on ascribing political motives not only to Carson and his colleague Dr Cochrane, but also to Currie, who had ‘interested himself’ in the matter by visiting the prison and by writing letters requesting action. Currie stood by his principles, denying with Carson and Cochrane that they had talked politics but reiterating the case for improving the prisoners’ conditions. Cochrane later backed down on the issue of conditions in the gaol, but Carson stood firm with Currie. Ultimately, improvements were made. The death rate in the first half of 1801 declined and there were no deaths between June 1801 and the truce in March 1802, after which the remaining prisoners were repatriated, but during that time the commissioners also banned Currie from having access to the gaol, marking him down as a troublemaker who should be carefully watched. Yet even though extreme loyalists might curse Currie for his liberal sympathies, the good doctor was scrupulously even-handed, for in this same period he was trying to improve the similarly grim condition of some of the town’s poorest inhabitants, not just in his work at the Infirmary but also in his campaign to establish a hospital (‘fever wards’) for contagious diseases.
            Roscoe’s own efforts to escape the charge of Jacobinism were also undermined in part by the survival of his earlier songs which had celebrated the revolution in France, but which were now taken up and used to urge revolutions at home. Unfold, Father Time (Millions be Free!) was sung at the Crown and Anchor, in London’s Strand, at a banquet on 5 November, 1796. That same year a modified version under the title The standard of freedom, was published in a Philadelphia songbook, Paddy’s Resource, the chosen tune being the more lively Down, down derry down (although it was as Millions be free, to the tune Anacreon enters heaven, that it was noted as being sung at radical gatherings during the first half of the nineteenth century). Its sentiments were now adapted to a British or Irish context, and sometimes made more revolutionary, to endorse the breaking of tyranny’s chains; in some versions lyrics were altered to ‘Down with all kings/ And millions be free!’ In 1798, his song-writing came under further fire from The Anti-Jacobin, which published a satire of his Day Star of Liberty, re-titled, La Sainte Guillotine. ‘We have been favoured with the following specimen of Jacobin Poetry,’ the editor told his readers, ‘which we give to the world without any comment or imitation. We are informed (we know not how truly) that it will be sung at the meeting of the Friends of Freedom …’

La Sainte Guillotine,
A new song, attempted from the French;
Tune—"O’er the vine-covered hills and gay regions of France."

From the blood-bedew’d valleys and mountains of France,
See the Genius of Gallic Invasion advance !
Old ocean shall waft her, unruffled by storm,
While our shores are all lined with the Friends of Reform.
Confiscation and Murder attend in her train,
With meek-eyed Sedition, the daughter of Paine,
While her sportive Poissardes with light footsteps are seen
To dance in a ring round the gay Guillotine.
Etc., etc., etc.


From Chapter 20. The contest

…………..Roscoe was advised by Rathbone to decline the candidacy for the seat of Liverpool, but he was sorely tempted. He told the deputation that if the freemen could assure him that all legal and other expenses would be met, then he would consider the matter further. This put the onus on the freemen, for if they were to fund Roscoe’s campaign, they would have to raise a good deal of money. The cost of a seat in Liverpool at this time was estimated by the sitting MPs at around £3,000, but this was something of an underestimate, for as well as legal and administrative expenses, a candidate needed additional funds to buy votes, which were purchased by various means, such as ‘treating’ the voters to drinks, paying generous travel expenses to ‘out voters’ living outside the borough, and procuring jobs which could be doled out as patronage. Gascoyne and Tarleton were men of wealth, with some prosperous backers ready to fund their campaigns, and with direct access to the sort of patronage which the voters expected. Roscoe had neither ready capital nor clout, nor did he know if he had enough supporters willing to fund an election campaign.
            The answer to that question came on the afternoon of 30 October 1806, when the hastily assembled ‘Friends of William Roscoe’ convened a meeting at the Star and Garter pub in Liverpool. Those present resolved that ‘in case Mr Roscoe can be prevailed upon to offer himself as candidate’ they would start a general fund to cover all election expenses. These friends made it crystal clear that they were not interested in vague expressions of support, but required hard cash. Their serious intentions were evident from the start when banker Arthur Heywood pledged the considerable sum of £500 to Mr Roscoe’s fund. This generous offer set the ball rolling. Thomas and William Earle followed, offering £100 apiece, as did two members of the Yates family. The ‘Friends of Mr Earle’, who had tried to persuade William Earle to stand, threw in the £150 they had already raised. Josh Lace stumped up £100. Reading down the list, one suspects that a spirit of euphoria gripped the meeting. Numerous offers of £50 now came in, then a scatter of small sums. Mr Bullock, the artist, for example, gave 5 guineas, Wallace Currie, son of the late Dr Currie, gave £10. A lady, unnamed offered 20 guineas, through General Brammall, while John Daulby, one of William’s nephews, pledged 20 guineas, and Thomas Rawson promised 30 guineas. The pledging went on, so that by the time the meeting broke up, over £6,000 had been raised (a very large sum in ‘old’ money), with the promise of more to come. A deputation duly set out for Allerton bearing a request to Roscoe to stand, signed by Arthur Heywood, Wallace Currie, Thomas Earle and five other prominent townsmen. After a discussion, William agreed. By the next morning, posters announcing his candidacy were plastered over town, and Liverpool was in turmoil.

From Chapter 22. War, fair trade, and Captain Cardoza’s slaves

……….Peace was just one of the issues which took up William’s energies during these years. Another was his membership of the London-based African Institution, the most prominent of the various societies and charities dedicated to the task of ‘civilizing’ Africa—although as some argued, the effect of western ‘civilization’ was obviously that continent’s worst problem. The institution had a large contingent of the great and the good on its founding committees, the president being Frederick, Duke of Gloucester, the vice-presidents including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the lords Grey, Petty and Spencer, and MPs Canning, Perceval and Wilberforce, while the thirty-six directors included Henry Brougham (an MP by 1810) Samuel Whitbread, and a young Zachary Macaulay, who also filled the post of secretary. Roscoe, present in the initial discussions and at the inaugural meeting in July 1807, became one of the ‘governors for life’, paying a 30 guinea annual subscription; then in 1809 he was appointed as one of the institution’s corresponding members on the board of directors, to help implement the abolition laws and monitor the activities of rogue slavers. Two of the Roscoes’ sons, Will and Edward, became life members at 10 guineas each per year.
The Roscoes’ roles were initially those of fact-finders. They, along with other supporters in Liverpool and the north-west, supplied information, for example, on those traders who were flouting abolition, passing on news and rumours of ships carrying slaves. But William also continued as a champion of a peaceful trade with Africa. His support for this policy went as far as helping to finance his son Edward’s partnership with local merchants Edward Hamnett and James Parr Wilson, who intended to import African goods through Liverpool in exchange for manufactures and raw materials. The basis of this commerce was the establishment of a ‘fair and legitimate trade’, the profitability and comparative peacefulness of which would eventually encourage African traders to switch from enslaving their own people to dealing in ‘natural’ commodities. These included the sort of goods which Clarkson had promoted some years ago, such as palm oil, coffee, cotton wool, timber, pepper, ebony, ivory and ginger. Roscoe also believed that there was potential in encouraging more extensive cultivation of crops such as rice and varieties of fruit, as well as supplying the inhabitants of the coast with different seeds and plants to assess their usefulness in tropical conditions.
            Hamnett, Roscoe and Wilson’s first cargoes from Africa arrived in two ships which returned to Liverpool in 1810, with a third arriving home the following year. William wrote about the voyages and their purpose in 1809 in letters to the Duke of Gloucester, and these letters were reprinted, along with similarly encouraging material, in the institution’s annual report. This scheme led to William being accused of dealing illegally in slaves, which was obviously wrong. But it also led to his being taken to task for his emphasis on a fair trade with Africa rather than on ‘civilising’ its inhabitants. Among his critics was the interestingly-named George Harrison, one of the original Quaker members of the London anti-slavery committee in the 1780s. Harrison doubted whether free trade would sweep away what he deemed to be the savagery rooted in Africa by slavery. His own prescription (set out in 1811 in letters replying to those published by Roscoe), proposed the education of the children of the ‘higher ranks of society’ as being the African Institution’s priority. This would convince the powerful rulers in Africa of the Europeans’ good intentions, which would lead in turn to the ‘security of property’. Only then would it be desirable to introduce agriculture and commerce, although Harrison did not see these latter elements as being within the institution’s brief. ‘What … has the African Institution to do with the prosperity of commerce in the ports of London, Liverpool or Bristol? The merchants of those places will assuredly look to that.’ No, the task of the institution was to promote social and moral improvement of uncivilized tribes as a means of preparing them for the benefits of agriculture and trade (and this only in the maritime states, for the rest of the country, where the population maintained a society based on ‘fair dealing’, was surely outside the institution’s purview). This preparation was the necessary prelude to the Africans’ eventual acceptance of ‘the light and truths of that dispensation, which we all profess to consider as the greatest blessing of Providence to the human race.’ The principles of that dispensation, Harrison went on, ‘afford the strongest arguments for adopting and prosecuting the scheme of civilization, in such a way as will the most effectually disappoint the lust of dominion and the lust of wealth; for where these exist, whether in an individual or in a nation, it may safely be held that Christianity cannot possibly exist.’
            Roscoe responded by asserting that trade was neither the first nor the only aim on his own agenda for a free Africa. He acknowledged that there were many other factors which would need to be involved; but he also argued that Harrison clearly had his own priorities, which Roscoe in turn was bound to query. Could Mr Harrison show any countries where the population had been civilized merely by ‘persons sent as professed instructors’ (meaning missionaries and educators)? Could he show that ‘the production and interchange of the necessaries of life had no share, or at least a very inferior share,’ in producing ‘the civilization which has extended over no inconsiderable portion of the globe?…I shall leave it to others to judge, which of these different means of promoting the civilization and happiness of mankind has been found, by experience, to have had the greatest effect.’

From Chapter 25. Children’s stories
………It was James Roscoe, however, who was to bear the heaviest burden caused by his father’s increasing detachment from business interests, for it was he who gradually took charge of the draining and cultivation of Chat and Trafford mosses— work which had begun in 1792 and had proceeded fitfully ever since. William had bought out Wakefield, and then taken on all the leases in the early 1800s, but he had gradually lost his enthusiasm for the project, disheartened by the interminable drainage schemes, and diverted by events in in Liverpool, in Westminster, in Holkham—anywhere but the moss. James, therefore, became his father’s agricultural proxy, not only bringing in the crops at Allerton but also farming the moss. In some ways this suited him, for he was a willing young man, helpful in the extreme, if rather obsessive about keeping everything looking neat. … But this ever-helpful young man was occasionally beset by ‘nerves’, which made him sometimes depressed and sometimes volatile. William Smyth, writing to the Roscoes, recommended walks by the sea and horse riding; instead, James was sent permanently to the moss. It was a big estate for one person to manage—Barton Park Farm plus 400 acres, Barton Grange Farm plus 200 acres, and a huge tract of 2000 acres on Chat Moss—let alone one with limited experience; yet James was left there, living first in one of the existing cottages on Chat Moss, then at the renovated Barton Grange Farm. The sporadic interest shown by William is illustrated by the fact that in 1811 he investigated leasing even more land in partnership with an unnamed ‘friend’, this time on nearby Caddishead Moss, on the Bridgwater estates, ‘which without the interference of some adventurous individual’ he told the landowners, ‘may remain for ages in the state which it is at present.’ His approach was rejected out of hand, and his surge of interest waned. Two years later, with land prices fluctuating, he then tried to sell part of Chat Moss, the potential buyer being Willis Earle, a local agriculturalist and inventor whom the Roscoes also knew as a member of the West Derby Agricultural Association, a supporter of the Common Hall’s cause, and a member of the Botanic Garden project. Earle took the affair almost to its conclusion in 1814, and then refused to pay up. The sale was eventually annulled, leaving James to wrestle with the bog.
            ‘May its soil yield him guineas, as well as vipers and black water’, was the family’s toast to the venture in 1813, but it proved a solitary, mind-sapping and unprofitable existence, especially for someone who loved company as James did. He suffered accordingly, his only associates being the few workmen he oversaw and the cottagers who lived close by, his only outings being visits to a nearby small shop for provisions, and the occasional wagon ride into Manchester. He still supervised some of the activities at Allerton, such as the haymaking and sheep shearing, but gradually he was exiled to the moss. ‘I am …a hermit, become quite wild’, he wrote to his brother Will in the summer of 1813, ‘all alone in my cell in the middle of the Moss.’ His siblings went out to visit him when they could, with Will, Mary Anne and Jane Elizabeth especially solicitous, but it was a struggle even to get there, let alone to live there. ‘You had better draw lots for it’, James wrote on one occasion when the family members were debating as to who should come and stay. He was only half in jest, for as well as the leaking roof in his house, there were also problems with their personal safety, as the drainage works attracted protests from cottagers opposed to enclosure and other encroachments. In September 1815, for example, a local woman assaulted the workmen and ‘swore she would cut them down’ if they carried on draining. James had her arrested by the local police but hostility lingered.

From Chapter 26. Crash
…….The peace for which the Roscoes and their friends had campaigned brought mixed fortunes. The cessation of hostilities and thus of privateering and piracy, meant that maritime trade opened up again. Many of the town’s American merchants now began to make large withdrawals from the Roscoes’ and Clarke’s bank to finance their reviving fortunes. But while some sectors of the economy did well from the peace, others did not. The war economy had raised demand for raw materials, industrial manufactures and food, encouraging the sort of speculative investment in agriculture and mining which the Roscoes and the Clarkes had become involved in. Now the end of the war brought huge falls in consumption, as military spending was cut and contractors were ditched. Domestic and foreign consumption could not cover the shortfall; meanwhile the armed forces were demobilised, unemployment soared, wages fell, and demand slumped further.
            The bank of Roscoe, Clarke and Roscoe now began to experience real difficulties. On the one hand, those customers who were ruined by the economic downturn became bad debtors. On the other hand, those customers who had survived were eager to expand. Like many country banks, that of the Roscoes was under-capitalised, and so they did not have enough cash to balance these conflicting demands. Calling in bad debts proved partially successful, but there was still a shortfall. To increase funds, the partners arranged a swift merger with Thomas Dixon, their partner in Dee Bank collieries, thus creating the additional house of Roscoe, Clarke, Dixon and Co. Unfortunately, this this did not solve their problems; in the meantime, the Liverpool bank’s London agents, Jones, Lloyd and Co.—to whom the Roscoes and Clarke had just transferred their account from Esdaile and Co.—grew nervous. By the end of 1815 they had advanced £104,843 to the Liverpool house while holding acceptances for a further £104,788. Reluctantly in December 1815 they refused to make further advances—thus provoking rumours about the stability of the bank. To cover the potential shortfall, Clarke and the Roscoes tried to raise £100,000 in loans in Liverpool, but they secured only £54,110, another source of unease and gossip. In this situation, the bank had to stem the flow of money out of the bank, and so they informed customers that they would not in future pay their acceptances in London unless there was cash for the same. This squeeze on customers’ credit was not altogether unreasonable, but it was unusual. It was also ‘misreported or misrepresented,’ with new rumours flying about that the bank was declining payments altogether—hence the run on the bank.
            At the next meeting of the bank’s creditors, on 5 March 1816, the committee investigating the accounts agreed that Roscoe, Clarke and Roscoe’s debts stood at £314,626. Unfortunately, the money owed to the bank now stood at only £99,752, rather than the initial figure of £166,295, due to the writing off of more bad debts than originally accounted for. In the lists of the bank’s assets, the personal property belonging to John Clarke, which included Orrel House and Crook Hall, came to £135,278 after deductions. But ‘Mr Roscoe’s separate property’—Allerton Hall, Barton Park Farm, Barton Grange Farm, and 2000 acres leased on Chat Moss—was now only valued at £61,725. This low price reflected both the unfinished nature of the moss project and the lack of enthusiasm for buying farmland at this time. Consequently, the combined assets of the partners’ property, plus moneys owed to the bank, came to the low price of £296,755. This was further reduced by the loan of £54,110 which Roscoe, Clarke and Roscoe had taken out in January and secured upon their personal property. All that was left, when the final calculations were made, was £242,645, which exposed a ‘deficiency’ of £71,981.

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