Research Spotlight

Research Spotlight: Caitlin Kitchener

  • Studying: PhD in Archaeology (full-time)
  • Supervisor: Dr. Jon Finch
  • Thesis Title: ‘Unite and Be Free’: The Historical Archaeology of British Political Radicalism, c. 1815-1822. 
  • Research Interests: political radicalism; landscape; early modern material culture; queer theory; archaeological theory 
Thesis Overview

The post-Napoleonic period was one of lively political activity. The emerging working class protested against a parliamentary system which failed to represent them and limited the vote to around 3% of the population. One leading reformer, Henry Hunt, promoted the mass platform meeting as a way of physically demonstrating the demand for reform through occupying public spaces. William Cobbett and Richard Carlile published radical literature which had a nationwide distribution. Others sought a more radical approach. Arthur Thistlewood decided violence was the way forward, he and fellow conspirators aimed to assassinate the cabinet. Peterloo features as well as an important material event with its bloodshed inspiring a wave of protests and banner making. Female reformers were important political activists who participated in radical literature, meetings, and crafting material culture. My thesis includes the stories, experiences, and identities of such leading figures, groups, and influential moments. I am analysing their spatial and material experiences through exploring public meetings of 1816, the female reform societies of 1819, and the prison and punishment experiences of 1820.

My thesis is interdisciplinary in nature.  I am interested in how archaeological methods can incorporate theory and practice from other disciplines to create a historical archaeology that not only studies the historical period but combines history and archaeology together to better understand the past. The thesis has been influenced by sociological, art historical, and queer methods and theory too in order to design and undertake a methodology that can account for using various strands of sources and data: material culture, cartoons and caricatures, radical publications, and other text based evidence. Rather than having text and material separated, or arguing that material culture should be ‘read’, the thesis aims to promote archaeological study in areas typically dominated by history and demonstrate how text can be considered a form of materiality.

What are you currently working on?

Following the completion of my first major case study on female reformers, I have begun to examine the experiences of punishment that radicals underwent in 1820. Part of this analysis focuses on the executions of the Cato Street Conspirators and the Scottish Insurrectionists who were the last people in England and Scotland to be hanged and beheaded. The other half explores the prison experiences of Henry Hunt and Samuel Bamford after they were found guilty for their leading involvement in the Peterloo massacre. They were tried in the York assizes in March 1820. So far, I’ve particularly examined Hunt’s experiences in Ilchester Gaol. 

Whilst imprisoned, Hunt wrote his memoirs, fought for prison reform with his pamphlet A Peep into Prison, and published addresses to the male and female reformers of the United Kingdom. As well as busying himself with correspondence, Hunt turned his hand to a business venture: breakfast powder. This was an alternative to tea and coffee which according to Hunt (1821, 15) was ‘a wholesome and nutritiousbeverage’. It was made from roasted rye. Hunt had previously promoted the idea of abstaining or boycotting certain taxable goods to fight back against the government and their dealings with Peterloo. Kevin Gilmartin (1996, 108) has highlighted the excitement by radicals on boycotting certain goods and discussing alternatives. Morton (2004) has demonstrated how in this period the mouth can be understood as a ‘barricade’. Recently, Ruth Mather (2018) explored how Peterloo was remembered and outlined how the boycott was experienced by radicals, although not all radicals were sympathetic to this idea and decided to continue to partake in taxable goods. John Saxton was one such individual who elected to forego temperance (Bamford 1844, 182). 

Hunt’s Breakfast Powder was sold around the country, including Mr Henry Dunsford in Cornwall (Royal Cornwall Gazette, 20th September 1823), and breakfast powder appeared to be coming into general use with the price of rye going up in price (Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 20th December 1823). It appears that the breakfast powder was still being sold by at least 1834 as the Leeds Temperance Society recommended it as a substitute for coffee (The Leeds Times, 10th May 1834) and breakfast powder continued to have a connection with radical politics (The Northern Star, 12th February 1842). This makes breakfast powder an interesting radical venture which highlights how food and consumption were utilised for the reform cause. 

The machinery and goods were seized several times over the course of its production. Before the 1822 Excise Act, tea and coffee were protected imports and selling alternatives to them was technically illegal. In typical Hunt fashion, he saw the legalisation of breakfast powder as being connected to his efforts: 

But if I had not invented the Breakfast Powder, or rather restored and put in practice an old French recipe for procuring an substitute for coffee, this Act would never have been passed. (Hunt 1822, 18). 

Although a pro-reform paper which was supportive of Hunt, The Examiner, humouredly remarked: 

“We are really surprised at this audacious and malicious attempt to pervert a matter so clear. Who ever mistook this powder for an “imitation” of coffee?” Mockery occurred elsewhere too. The conservative press enjoyed utilising breakfast powder as a means to undermine or chide radicals. Following the arrest of the Cato Street conspirators in their hayloft, reports decided to include the detail that upon the premises being searched, some Breakfast Powder was found (The Morning Post, 1st March 1820). In a summary of what radicals were currently ‘pursuing’ in 1823, Mr Preston was noted as ‘tippling Mr Hunt’s breakfast decoction” (The Westmorland Gazette, 4th October 1823). Hunt’s ability to produce foodstuff was summarised in a letter against him running for M.P, “Mister Hunt,late adulterating brewer and itinerant orator; inventor of the infamous burnt-rye Breakfaster Powder!” (The Morning Post, 14thMarch 1820). George Cruikshank caricatures Hunt, and various other political figures, within a horticultural show (figure 1). Hunt is represented by the ears of corn which stand in the blacking-bottle inscribed ‘Rye Coffee By Act of Parliament – Almighty Roasters!! – H H Radical Corn Doctor and Polisher of Mankind’. The blacking-bottle refers to another business Hunt had undertaken which was selling boot polish with bottles labelled with radical or reform slogans. Haywood (2013, 142) has demonstrated how the “matchless blacking’ shoe polish… had some become his dominant caricature trademark”. 

Figure 1: Exhibition Extraordinary in the Horticultural Room (Cruikshank 1826)

A Manchester based anti-radical newspaper, The Manchester Comet; or, A Rap at the Radicals, produced an engraving of a meeting of female reformers which includes a parcel of breakfast powder in the bottom left-hand corner (figure two). This small reference was an attempt to insinuate that the radical, Nicholas Saxon, was profiting from or funding the female reformers through distributing or selling the tax-exempt tea and coffee substitute. 

Figure 2: A Report of a Meeting of the Female Radical Reformers, at the Union Rooms in The Manchester Comet (1822)

There were also critiques, especially regarding its “low price of one shilling to the pound” [emphasis original] and 

This breakfast powder consists chiefly of roasted wheat ground, but the nutritious horse bean, and other cheap materials, are called in to complete the preparation and disguise the composition, that the purchasers may not take to making it for themselves… by mixing less expensive materials with it, after the manner of the “Breakfast Power” manufacturers, the poor may supply themselves for about fourpence a pound with that for which their friends charge a shilling! (Morning Chronicle, 27th January 1820).

These critiques were also made by William Cobbett, a fellow radical. Cobbett and Hunt clashed over how best to help the Irish. Hunt had sent over half a ton of breakfast powder as a form of relief but Cobbett argued that rather than partake of Hunt’s food, “That the Irish do not want this imposture sort of work”, instead it was better to send money so they could buy what they wanted and to not have the efforts of “bragging ‘charity’” (Statesman, 20th July 1822). There was a quick reaction from Hunt: 

To the suffering Irish, as a humble subscription from the Captive of Ilchester, has stuck in the gullet of a certain person… I have been often asked, what motive can Cobbett have for writing such bare-faced falsehoods, that every person who reads them must cry shame at his baseness? I generally answers, that habit is a second nature; but in this instance, envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness, drives him thus to expose himself. (Hunt 1822, 20-21). 

Breakfast powder captures the tumultuous relationship between two leading radicals of the day, this being one of several public spats. Figure three shows what Loyalists and conservatives saw as the two-facedness of Cobbett. 

Figure 3: Detail from This is the doctor, of grammatical fame in […] (1820). This figure mocks Hunt with his liberty cap/fool’s cap, James Watson with his pistol and an incendiary lamp, and the two-faced William Cobbett. In his Political Register (6thJanuary 1820), Cobbett announced that Hunt planned to open a house from which to sell his breakfast powder. This scene imagines what a house would look like. 

Examining breakfast powder allows us to explore the interactions between radical and conservative presses as well as understand the material and food experiences of reformers. It gives us insights into the competing identities of leading political figures and the various ideas on how best to drive forward the radical cause therefore helping us to understand radicalism’s and reform’s multifaceted identity. Further research on breakfast power is planned with archive visits but also with experimental archaeology to produce a batch of this imitation coffee. 

Bamford, S. (1844 [1893]). Passages in the Life of a Radicaland Early Days in Two Volumes. T. Fisher Urwin: London.
Gilmartin, K. (1996). Print politics: the press and radical opposition in early nineteenth-century England. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Haywood, I. (2013). Romanticism and caricature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hunt, H. (1821). To the Radical reformers, male and female, of England, Ireland, and Scotland [by H. Hunt. London: W. Molineux.
Hunt, H. (1822). Correspondence; consisting chiefly of Letters and Addresses on the subject of Radical Reform. London: T. Dolby.
Mather, R. (2018). ‘Remembering Protest in the Late-Georgian Working-Class Home’ In C. Griffin and B. McDonagh (eds). Remembering protest in Britain since 1500: memory, materiality and the landscape. London: Palgrave MacMillan, 135-158.
Morton, T. (2004). Cultures of taste/theories of appetite: eating Romanticism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 

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