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William Cobbett

Many of you will have heard of William Cobbett, the radical reformer and commentator on rural affairs who championed traditional rural England against changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution, but he also had a strong connection with the village of Normandy.

He was born on 9th March 1763 in the inn in Bridge Square, Farnham, Surrey, then called "The Jolly Farmer", where his father was the publican. The inn has in recent times been renamed "The William Cobbett" in his honour.

William Cobbett
William Cobbett

He had an adventurous life including service in the Army and being imprisoned for sedition. He started his journalistic career in the United States attacking various forms of corruption in high places. He returned home in 1800 and founded "The Political Register" in 1802 where he continued his attacks on corruption. He was forced to flee to the United States again in 1817 but returned in 1819 to champion the rights of the working man and in 1832 he was elected to Parliament.

His most famous work was "Rural Rides" which described the state of English agriculture during a tour with his son Richard on horseback of the whole country starting in 1821. The book is mainly about his journeys in Southern England where he set off from his home in the then village of Kensington and stayed with various friends and associates along the way but he also undertook Northern, Eastern and Midland tours, a tour in the West and a Progress in the North, this last starting in 1832. He hoped to visit Scotland but was not able to because of his other commitments.

His association with Normandy commenced in 1831 when he took on the lease of Normandy Farm which was then part of the Poyle Estate of the Woodroffe family. The farmhouse was what is now the rear part of The Manor House in Normandy Common Lane. The cross wing facing the road was built much later after Cobbett's death. The site of the farmyard, which was then surrounded by buildings, is now the main lawn of The Manor House. As well as the fields immediately adjacent to the farmhouse the holding included a string of fields bordering the east side of Glaziers Lane extending from the crossroads to beyond Glaziers House. All the frontage of this land is now completely built up except for the area on either side of the stream which passes under the road at its lowest point.

It is not known how successful he was in this venture but he had previously farmed at Botley in Hampshire and was well acquainted with the practical side of agriculture. However, he was in his sixties when he took on the lease and in 1835 while out inspecting the property he collapsed and was carried on a door into the farmhouse where he died. He is buried in a grave near the north door of St. Andrew's Church in Farnham and there is a medallion bust to him under a pointed canopy in the tower.

There is a poignant little tale of an exchange between him and James Horne, his neighbour at Normandy Hill Farm who introduced Methodism to Normandy. One day Horne was setting a hedge on his boundary and Cobbett said to him "that's right Horne, build a hedge between you and the devil." Cobbett was an unbeliever.

Cobbett was an admirer of Thomas Paine who wrote "The Rights of Man" and he is said to have brought the bones of his hero back from America and buried them somewhere on the farm but in spite of investigation the only bones discovered were those of horses.

Incidentally, there is no connection between William Cobbett and Cobbetts Hill in Normandy. The name of this area derives from land held by Walter de Cobet in the l3th century.

Jack Kinder

William Cobbett the Poor Man's Friend by George Spater, CUP 1982.
Ash and Ash Vale by Sally Jenkinson, Phillimore 1990
In Search of Cobbett's Farm in Normandy by Pat Ashworth.
Cobbett's New Register 1992
The History of Normandy Farm, author unknown
Mrs Ann Messer
The William Cobbett Society
Surrey Domestic Buildings Research Group

Wikipedia links
William Cobbett

Books by William Cobbett
Rural Rides by William Cobbett (1830) Project Gutenberg
Advice to Young Men by William Cobbett (1829) Project Gutenberg
Cottage Economy by William Cobbett (1829) Project Gutenberg

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