Francis Place

Andrew Benson (2015) (re-edited May 12th 2016)

Francis Place was a radical tailor from Charing Cross, born in 1771 in London. According to Mary Thale, who commentated Place’s biography in 1971, he was as an important Londoner as Pepys and Johnson.[1]  From 1794 to 1797 he was a member of the London Correspnding Society, one of the first working-class movements.  In 1807 Francis Place helped Sir Francis Burdett in his campaign to represent the Westminster in the Commons. They became good friends and Burdett introduced Place to radical figures such as Jeremy Bentham, Robert Owne and Joseph Hume. Meanwhile, at the back of his tailoring shop he opened a reading room of radical literature. It became the meeting place of reformers after the introduction of the 1831 Reform Bill. Place was already known as a radical politician when he took up the campaign against the Combination Acts in 1814.

In 1824, through Joseph Hume, a Member of Parliament, Place brought about the appointment of a parliamentary committee chaired by Huskissonthat reported in favour of repealing the acts. The immediate result, however, was an increase in trade unions and their activity. In 1831 and 1832 Place rallied the supporters of the Reform Bill in London. Place’s growing threatening manner saw him unite a national campaign for reform within his political union, putting pressure on the Tories. Place had started his reform agenda in a considered and educational way but through frustration and anger acted in a more threatening way. By 1832 he was preparing for civil war and produced banners protesting against the Duke of Wellington forming an anti-reform government. The banners stated ‘Stop the Duke, Go for Gold’ and produced a run on the banks. He also planned a mass refusal to pay taxes. Geoffrey Treasure (1997) says he was self-important and confident but was no revolutionary.[2] Place was a significant political leader through his connections, education , intellect and ability to write letters to politicians that made them listen, or placards that triggered a response.

Place and his fellow radicals worked at a time when the aristocratic leaders 'right to rule' was being challenged more then ever. It was a point in history when the rot set in that eventually led to the aristocracy becoming a spent force. Whenever we look at radical men (and women) at this time, we should assess what role they played in attacking the over-privileged ruling class. Each radical did it in a different way; some had more success then others. The destruction of the aristocracy continued up until the Tony Blair government of the late 1990s when almost all hereditary peers were removed form the House of Lords.

[1] M. Thale, (Ed.), The Autobiography of Francis Place, (Cambridge University Press).

[2] G. Treasure, Who’s Who in Late Hanoverian Britain, (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1997), p.330.