Journals 1.4 – England in 1815 by Joseph Ballard (Part 4)

The following is the concluding part of my essay on Ballard’s journal.  See the earlier entries from 14th May 2015 for the first part, 18th May 2015 for the second part, and 22nd May 2015 for the third part.


ballardLeaving London for a month, Ballard embarked upon an extensive tour of the midlands and the north of England. He described in detail not just the places he visited, but also the people he encountered, such as this memorable character in an inn at Halifax:

‘Upon our entrance the landlord’s ruby-coloured nose was brightened up with renewed lustre and while rubbing his hands he congratulated us upon our arrival at his house “at (to use his own language) so fortunate a period; as he had a fine fresh turbot for dinner; an article that I do not have more than twice a year.” But alas! this “fine, fresh turbot” when it came upon the table, carried conviction to every nose that the landlord had been very much deceived with regard to its freshness, or had been like Roque in the Mountaineers at “wonderful pains for a fortnight to keep it sweet.”’

Making his way to a friend’s farmhouse one evening, Ballard sought shelter from the rain in a ‘miserable hovel’, the house of a servant of the Duke of Bedford, who had worked for him for fourteen years. There he discovered that wealth was not always necessary for a happy life in England:

‘He was mixing some oatmeal cakes for his supper, the materials for which were on his bed as he had neither stool nor table in the apartment, it being so small as to forbid the introduction of either. His fuel he kept under his bed, which of course was extremely dirty. On our jocosely asking him for his tap he told us that he had not tasted a drop of ale for six weeks. Amidst all this misery and wretchedness the poor fellow seemed to be cheerful and happy!’

On his return to Liverpool, Ballard was astonished at the ‘ignorance’ of the people he met concerning America, a fact he attributed to ‘the misrepresentations of the English tourists’ and the government’s attempts to ‘keep up these impressions’ to prevent emigration. This observation is a fascinating idea, but one that is not supported by any evidence; after all, the government could hardly have legislated against misunderstandings in the writings of tourists! A clergyman was of the mistaken impression that America was an expensive place to live, without any fresh food in winter, whilst fellow stagecoach passengers believed that America was a land of ‘impenetrable woods’ where English was not universally spoken. Ballard found another target of blame in the press, when he heard ‘prejudiced’ views about the Battle of New Orleans repeated by a cotton dealer in Manchester, from information ‘received from a publication entitled The Military Chronicle’, a source he described as ‘miserably corrupt’. He did find that Liverpool was an exception to the ‘ignorance’, due to the ‘great intercourse that is carried on between this port and the United States.’

Ballard formed mixed views of the British people during his stay. He was impressed with the widespread charitable work, observing that ‘there is scarcely a place where there is not some institution supported by private munificence for the relief of the poor.’ However, he found fault not only with the British propensity for intemperance, but also their violent tendencies, remarking that ‘no sooner does a little dispute chance to arise than an appeal to blows is resorted to, to settle it.’ He also felt that there was a lack of respect for the dead, when he saw a graveyard in Uttoxeter being used for ‘pedlars’ stalls’ and as ‘a common thoroughfare’, a sight he found repeated elsewhere on his travels. Nor did wealth always bring better behaviour, in Ballard’s view. He was particularly displeased by the London dandies known colloquially at the time as the ‘Bond Street loungers’, whom he observed attending the opera ‘merely because it is fashionable.’

‘One of them, dressed in the extreme of fashion, with a chapeau under his arm, took his station opposite to two pretty girls who sat upon the seat in front of me, and taking out his quizzing glasses he most impudently stared them in the face as long as he could keep one eye open and the other shut. I have seen these fellows represented upon our stage and thought it a caricature, but I now think the original a great deal the worst.’

The lives of the ‘fashionable young men’ was a source of great puzzlement to Ballard, who overheard the greeting of ‘good morning’ in St. James’ Park at eight o-clock in the evening, in imitation of the Prince Regent, ‘who never dines until nine at night.’ Even the manners of royalty displeased Ballard, when he saw Princess Charlotte, the daughter of the Prince Regent, at St. James’ Palace. Although he approved of her ‘pretty face and eyes’, he found much to fault in her behaviour during a service in the chapel:

‘She had not the least gentility of appearance and her manners were shockingly vulgar, particularly when she stood up. She had then a kind of rolling about, and kept her arms akimbo. She took very little notice of the service and seemed, from her uneasiness, to wish that it were ended.’

Perhaps the Princess had an excuse for her behaviour though, as the minister ‘preached elegantly for half an hour about – nothing at all’. The timing of Ballard’s return to London was impeccable, just before Wellington’s victory at Waterloo was announced on 22nd June, 1815, the day of Napoleon’s abdication and four days after his defeat. Public buildings were illuminated for two nights in celebration, including ‘the excise office, the Bank, Post-office, Somerset House, Admiralty, Horse Guards, Carlton House, Foreign and Home Department,’ along with many private houses:

‘One house in St. James’ was particularly fine. The whole front resembled a fortress, with cannon, flags, &c., formed by colored lamps. A publican who keeps a tavern with the sign of a cock, had a large transparency representing a game cock strutting over his fallen combatant, with the inscription “England the cock of the walk!”’

The streets of London were a constant source of fascination to Ballard. He was amazed by the inventiveness of Londoners in making money, which did not necessarily require a shop or a stall:

‘As I was coming through Finsbury Square one evening, I saw a man with a large telescope in the street, intent upon looking at the stars, and upon my expressing my surprise at its singularity, my companion informed me that this person stood there to accommodate any one to look through the instrument, for which he charges two-pence. This is one of the wonderful variety of ways they have of making money in London!’

When Ballard did find items offered for sale on the streets, they were not always of the highest quality; he visited a ‘rag fair’, selling second-hand clothing, ‘in all stages of decay’, and saw an ‘old hag’ trying to bargain down the price of ‘a pair of worn-out shoes’, a sight he found extremely entertaining Ballard was not so impressed by the entrepreneurial character of the English in the wake of Waterloo, when he discovered ‘half a dozen advertisements’ in the newspapers offering ‘mourning to the relatives of the deceased,’ and the recovery of bodies to England. He also had to offer a bribe of four shillings to obtain a licence to leave the country, despite being entitled to receive it without charge; if he had not done so, ‘it might have been delayed’.

After his second residence of over a month in London, Ballard set off one last time for the North. He passed through Oxford, Stratford and Birmingham, before arriving at his final destination in England, Liverpool. Discovering that he would have to wait for a couple of weeks until his ship was due to sail, he took lodgings and spent the time visiting the local area. In the village of Winwick he saw a bear bait, which would be a legal form of entertainment in Britain for another twenty years, until the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835. Initially upset by the cruelty of the sport, Ballard was pleased to find that the bear was more than equal to his adversaries, when it gave a dog an unfriendly hug and ‘sent him off howling’. This spectacle was repeated many times, until the bear obviously decided that enough was enough:

‘The baiting had continued for some time until the bear grew angry, when he broke his rope and after laying his keeper sprawling set off in full chase after the mob of men, women and children who fled over hedges and ditches in all directions. The ludicrous scene that then was presented would require (to give an adequate idea of it) the pencil of Morland.’

An excursion to Wales necessitated an overnight stay at an inn. Unfortunately, Ballard formed a poor opinion of the Welsh character from the establishment, finding that not only was the accommodation ‘inferior to the inns of England’, but the staff were unreliable. Ballard was given assurances by a ‘polite, palavering’ waiter that he would be woken at 4 o’clock the next morning and that his horse would be ready, as arranged. When he awoke, it was already past ‘the hour appointed’:

‘I descended into the stable yard and could not find the hostler, but the noise I made disturbed his understrapper who slept in the hayloft. Feeling a little angry at thus being neglected I addressed myself to him as being the cause of it, and after scolding away for some time discovered from the vacancy of the fellow’s countenance that he did not understand a word of English.’

Ballard concluded his journal with some closing remarks about Britain and the British in general. He found the people ‘hospitable in the extreme’, and he believed that they were opposed to the recent war with the United States, which he attributed to the actions of an unrepresentative government. Britain, in his opinion, owed its existence to ‘trade and commerce’, and he offered the warning that if the manufacturing industry should ever decline, Britain would decline with it He had visited Britain in a time or uncertainty and unrest, but had formed a very high opinion of the country during his five-month tour:

‘Respecting England there is much to admire and much to dislike, yet the former predominates so far that I have no hesitancy in saying that if I were not an American I should wish to be an Englishman.’


Note: this article was written with reference to the first edition of Ballard’s Journal, published in 1913, the only edition available at the time of writing.  I originally wrote this with thoughts of publishing a volume of essays about 19th Century travel journals (which is something I may still look into in future if this blog is sufficiently successful).  Over the coming weeks/months I intend to add another article written a couple of years ago, and then continue writing new articles about forgotten travel journals, including an unpublished manuscript that is proving to be absolutely fascinating.  My aim is to have something new posted every couple of days, alternating between the longer essays and the shorter ‘snippets’.

An excellent critical edition of Ballard’s journal has since been published by Palgrave MacMillan, edited by Alan Raunch. For readers interested in purchasing the full text, it is recommended that both editions are worth tracking down if at all possible. Whilst the critical edition provides much valuable background information and context, the original edition is a beautiful slip-cased volume with hand-cut pages, a joy to own and a joy to read.

In a few days we will start looking at another journal, even more ‘forgotten’ than Ballard’s!

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About Windows into History

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyardview.wordpress.com Administrator of frontiersmenhistorian.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in 19th Century, Britain, England, History, Joseph Ballard, Journals, London, Napoleonic Wars, Royalty, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Journals 1.4 – England in 1815 by Joseph Ballard (Part 4)

  1. Pingback: Blog News (13th July 2015) | Windows into History (Reblogs and News)

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