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Richard Cobden recruited Alexander Somerville as one of several authors and publicists who posed as independent observers of the social and political scene while being in the secret pay of the Anti-Corn-Law League. Somerville was a former trooper in the Scots Greys, an ex-Chartist and a brilliant (if alcoholic) journalist. Somerville contributed a series of articles to the Morning Chronicle after 1842, which mainly were aimed at agricultural readers. He used the pseudonym, "The Whistler at the Plough". He gave the following description of the headquarters of the Anti-Corn-Law League in January 1843. The Anti-Corn-Law League's skill and organisation in their efforts to see the repeal of the Corn Laws is clear in his account.
Newall's Buildings, Manchester; the headquarters of the Anti-Corn-Law League in the 1840s
Having a day to spend in Manchester, ... I determined to get a peep, if possible, at that extraordinary body the Anti-Corn-Law League ...
Accordingly at ten o'clock I was in Market Street, a principal thoroughfare in Manchester. A wide open stairway, with shops on each side of its entrance, rises from the level of the pavement, and lands on the first floor of a very extensive house called 'Newall's Buildings'. The house consists of four floors, all of which are occupied by the League, save the basement. We must, therefore, ascend the stair, which is wide enough to admit four or five persons walking abreast.
On reaching a spacious landing, or lobby, we turn to the left, and, entering by a door, see a counter somewhere between forty and fifty feet in length, behind which several men and boys are busily employed, some registering letters in books, some keeping accounts, some folding and addressing newspapers, others going out with messages and parcels. This is the general office, and the number of persons here employed is, at the present time, ten. Beyond this is the Council Room, which, for the present, we shall leave behind and go up stairs to the second floor.
Here we have a large room, probably forty feet by thirty, with a table in the centre running lengthwise, with seats around for a number of persons, who meet in the evenings, and who are called the 'Manchester Committee'. ...
During the day this room is occupied by those who keep the account of cards issued and returned to and from all parts of the kingdom. A professional accountant is retained for this department, and a committee of members of council give him directions and inspect his books. These books are said to be very ingeniously arranged, so as to shew at a glance the value of the cards sent out, their value being represented by certain alphabetical letters and numbers, the names and residences of the parties to whom sent, the amounts of deficiencies of those returned and so on.
Passing from this room we come to another, from which all the correspondence is issued. From this office letters to the amount of several thousands a-day go forth to all parts of the kingdom. While here, I saw letters addressed to all the foreign ambassadors, and all the mayors and provosts of corporate towns of the United Kingdom, inviting them to the great banquet which is to be given in the last week of this month ... In this office copies of all the parliamentary registries of the kingdom are kept, so that any elector's name and residence is at once found, and, if necessary, such elector is communicated with by letter or parcel of tracts, irrespective of the committees in his own district.
Passing from this apartment, we see two or three small rooms, in which various committees of members of the council meet. Some of these committees are permanent, some temporary. Of those which are permanent I may name that for receiving all applications for lecturers and deputations to public meetings. ...
In another large room on this floor is the packing department. Here several men are at work making up bales of tracts, each weighing upwards of a hundred weight, and despatching them to all parts of the kingdom for distribution among the electors. From sixty to seventy of these bales are sent off in a week, that is, from three to three and a-half tons of arguments against the Corn Laws! ...
Leaving this and going to the floor above, we find a great number of printers, presses, folders, stitchers, and others connected with printing, at work. But in addition to the printing and issuing of tracts here, the League has several other printers at work in this and other towns of the Kingdom. Altogether they have twelve master-printers employed, one of whom, in Manchester, pays upwards of £100 a week in wages for League work alone.
Alexander Somerville, The Whistler at the Plough (1852), pp. 79-82
I received an e-mail with this information which may refer to the man responsible for Newall's Buildings:
Walter Newall (1780 - 1863) came from near Dumfries. Newall was an Architect. In his numerous drawing held within Dumfries Archive Centre, there are some drawings for very large buildings. Most of these are too big for a small town like Dumfries. Mr. Newall has connections with Manchester and Liverpool, but historical documents also refer to Newall's apprentice John Edgar Gregan moving to work in Manchester as assistant to a Mr. W.T. Atkinson whom he succeeded in 1840. He appears to have been responsible for many of the buildings that to quote 'altered the architectural character of Manchester'.
Any information would be received gratefully!
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