Monday, 3 December 2012

Literary Wars in Whitby: 1825 to 1833

Whitby harbour: from a papier mache tray
As my post of 19 November explains, in the early 1820s Stokesley seethed with political controversy.

Young men and women horrified their elders by buying radical literature from Mr Armstrong’s shop and the 'Stokesley Paper War' between Armstrong and the Methodist businessman Thomas Mease polarised opinion in the town.

In 1825, the year after Thomas Mease published the last edition of The Extinguisher in triumph over his now absent adversary, a new monthly magazine began to appear in Whitby.

Before long, Whitby would have its own paper war.

But there the debate was not political – Whitby had little by way of radical tradition.  Instead, the factions came from different Nonconformist churches, and the arguments were literary and personal.

The Whitby Repository and Monthly Miscellany was the new magazine that began in 1825.  It was published by Mr Robert Kirby, and was almost a house journal for the Congregationalist Church in Silver Street.  Its first editor was the minister, the Revd William Blackburn.

It was modelled on The Gentleman’s Magazine and its content was religious, sentimental, literary and scientific [1].  Its declared intention was that
personal invective, satirical abuse and scurrilous reflections … would be foreign to our pages
In the event, it did not always achieve this high-minded aim.

Within a couple of years, disagreements with the editor of the Repository led to the launch of the Whitby Panorama and Monthly Chronicle.

This began in January 1827 and was edited by the Presbyterian minister, the Revd George Young.  (In 1817, Young had published his well-known History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey.)

(A bound volume of the 1828 issues of the magazine can be read here at googlebooks.)

Mr Ralph Horne, a young printer, realised that townspeople who were not Congregationalists or Presbyterians would be interested in a non-aligned journal.  He launched the Whitby Magazine, assuring the public that it would contain
nothing offensive to morals or decorum 
Nevertheless, he also entered keenly into acrimonious conflict with the rival magazines [2].

At this time, the young people of Whitby were passionately devoted to literature.

In 1825 a club known as the Retreat had started up, chiefly to produce contributions to the newly-founded Repository.

Its members were aged from their mid-teens to their late 20s, and they wrote under pseudonyms:  for example, Miss Jane Forth, who was the daughter of a local gardener and who taught in a ladies’ school in Flowergate, was J***; Miss Mary Langdale was Norna of the Fitful-head; Stephenson Bulmer [3] was Allan Fairford; and John Buchannan was Vincent Shadewell.  [4]

John Buchannan was then a young clerk at Messrs Preston & Walker, solicitors.  He and his fellow clerks, James Myers and John Watkins, were to become prominent figures in this little literary world.

James Myers was the eldest of the three, born in 1807.

The only child of an excise officer, his precocious talent was noticed early when at the age of 10 his first poem was published in the Northern Star, or Yorkshire Magazine.  According to his friend and admirer John Watkins, his abilities at Mr Routh’s school  soon set him high above his fellows, and out of lessons he amused himself with scientific study.  At 15 he had wanted to go to London to enter into an apprenticeship to become an engraver.  His mother, however, feared for his health.  As events would show, he was not strong, and she felt that the nature of the trade, the close work, and living in the pollution of London could only be bad for him.  She persuaded him to take up his second choice, the law.

James Myers was an idealistic and hard-working young man.  He wrote for the Repository in the time he could spare from his law studies, and when he set off for London to complete his articles he was in high hopes of a future career in the profession.

He was bitterly disappointed when he discovered the underhand practices and political expedients used by his fellow clerks to further their own advancement in the profession and to make themselves money.

In December 1828 he left London, intending to set up his own practice in Stokesley, but almost immediately he found that his health was failing.  He went home to his widowed father in Whitby and died of consumption in August 1829.

The following year John Watkins, anxious that his friend’s work should not be overlooked in the literary ferment of Whitby life, published The Remains of James MyersIt was a collection of Myers’ writings together, with the first of Watkins' two biographies of the author. 

John Watkins was born in 1808, the son of Francis Watkins of Aislaby Hall.  He was the nephew of the Whitby poet and writer, William Watkins.

John was already a keen author in his early 20s.  He wrote for the Repository and the Magazine and in 1828 his first book, The Stranger’s Guide through Whitby and the Vicinity, appeared.  Later editions came out in 1841, 1849 and 1850.  In 1830 he produced his Remains of Myers and also Scarborough Tales, by a Visitant.

In 1834 a violent quarrel with his employer, led Watkins to a new career in polemical writing.

He wrote a pamphlet, A Letter to the Lawyers, and dedicated it to his friend John Buchannan – but nobody in Whitby would publish it for fear of legal action.  He had to find a publisher in Beverley.

After this, his interest lay mainly in politics and he became an ardent Chartist.  His works include Lay Sermons, 1835; The Five Cardinal Points of the People’s Charter Separately Explained and Advocated, 1839; and Wat Tyler; or the Poll-Tax Rebellion: An Historical Play in Five Acts.  He was a friend, admirer and finally son-in-law of Ebenezer Elliott – the poet known as the Corn Law Rhymer – and later wrote his biography.

(For Malcolm Chase's chapter on John Watkins in Chartism: A New History, follow the link and see p117.  There is also an essay on John Watkins by Malcolm Chase here)

John Buchannan was the youngest of the three.

Born in 1810 in East Row, Sandsend, he was the son of a master mariner who was lost at sea when John was a very young child.  His mother, who kept a shop in the village, died of consumption soon after the death of her little daughter.  John, not yet 6 years old, was left in the care of his young aunt.  His mother and her sisters had become members of the Silver Street Congregational Church on hearing the preaching of the minister Mr Arundel, and evidently the church took John under its wing.  Three church members were the executors and trustees of his mother’s Will.

When John was a child it was feared that he too would fall victim to consumption and he was sent to live for a while in the Yorkshire dales under the care of a “good old Wesleyan” [5], Willie Sinclair.  Sinclair’s strong faith made a deep impression upon him.

When John was 8 years old, his aunt married a local seaman, James Pyman, and began a family of her own – presumably John grew up in this household.  He certainly continued to attend the Silver Street Church.

Unlike others of the family, John was not sent to sea [6] – presumably because of his abilities at school and the fact that his mother had left him some money, but perhaps also because of fears for his health.  Instead, at the age of 14 or 15 he was sent to work as a clerk in the office of Mr Preston, the solicitor.  It was at about this time that he joined the Retreat and began to write.

Before his 17th birthday he was hard at work on producing a volume of his poetry.  According to Watkins, he valued the constructive criticism of their friend Myers, but it seems from the preface to the poems that a major influence was the poet James Montgomery.

James Montgomery (1771-1854) was a celebrated poet and editor, best remembered today for some of his hymns – particularly Angels from the Realms of Glory and Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.

Buchannan met Montgomery, according to one account [7] in the household of Mr John Holt, a Whitby shipowner and member of the Silver Street Church.  The poet very kindly looked through the poems in manuscript and Buchannan thanked Montgomery for his “unaffected kindness” and “friendly criticisms” in his preface.

This may have taken place in December 1826 – Montgomery was in Whitby at that time and it was when he was travelling alone in a chaise from Whitby to Scarborough that he wrote his poem,  A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief (soon to be a favourite hymn of the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith).

Another famous man was also in Whitby in 1826.  The Revd William Scoresby, seaman, scientist and finally Anglican clergyman, came home in October to preach in the parish church on the loss of two whaling ships, the Lively and the Esk.  Scoresby would later become Vicar of Bradford, as a result of which he would meet some true prodigies of literature – the Brontë family.

On 23 November 1827 John Buchannan issued a prospectus for a volume of his poetry, but interest was slow – after 6 months only 107 Whitby subscribers had put their names down for the book, and more than half of these had been approached personally.  The book was printed by Robert Kirby and published in 1828, the preface dated 22 May.

In the December of that year Buchannan was appointed editor of the Repository, aged only 18.  He combined the duties of an editor with his legal studies – in December 1827 he was formally articled to his employer on payment of a premium of £100.  The cost was presumably met by the money left in trust for him by his mother.

Following his appointment as editor, the Repository carried an open letter to the other Whitby editors signed "Geoffrey Hopewell", which was probably Buchannan’s work [8].  It pleaded for all editors to
join cordially in carrying on the good work of improvement, moral and intellectual, amongst the inhabitants of Whitby and the neighbourhood.
But the next issue contained a long and gloating report on the demise of the Panorama, and peace was not restored.

In 1829 the editorial staff of the Repository clashed with John Walker Ord, a young writer who was later to become an eminent Cleveland author, famous for his History & Antiquities of Cleveland.

Ord was then 18 years old, the son of a Guisborough tanner and leather merchant.  He would shortly go to Edinburgh to make a start on his medical studies, but in the meantime he had begun writing for the press.  Several of his poems appeared in the Whitby Magazine during the year, but in the August edition of the Repository the following notice appeared:
Our contributors at Gisbro’, will please not to send their communications by post or coach, but by waggon, in order to incur as little expense as possible.
This infuriated Ord, who wrote an angry letter to the editor:
I am not one of those foolish individuals who think so highly of their own productions as to imagine they stand alone in merit, but I had the simplicity to imagine that, at least, they were worth paying the postage of, or, if not the postage, at least, the coach conveyance.  Were I sending poetry to the loftiest periodical that ever was, I would not send it by the WAGGON.
The September issue of the Repository then included a piece entitled
Editorial Conversations, No. 1.  Scene: Editor’s Box, Ruswarp – time, 9 o’clock, evening.  Characters: The Editor, Vincent Shadewell, Jabez Snarler.
It is indignantly described by Edmund Barrass in the chapter on Ord in his book, A Gallery of Eminent and Popular Men [9]:
In the course of the dialogue, the editor alludes to the notice to correspondents in the last number, and Vincent Shadewell volunteers to read to the others the letter sent by J.W.O., “for our mutual benefit;” then follow their remarks on the subject matter of it, and though they gravely settle that he is nothing, “that he is nothing but a blackguard,” as their friend Hogg would say – they shew their position by contrast, for in somewhat less than half a page the following elegant expressions fall from the “lips polite” of these accomplished gentlemen – “creature,” “reptile,” “mongrel,” “blackguard,” “infamous scrawl,” “venomous reptile,” &c., &c. 
I need not add that this circumstance put an end to any further contributions to the Repository.  But [Ord] continued to write occasionally to the Magazine, and also gave a rejoinder to the “Noctes.”
After three years' work as editor, John Buchannan had to make the "humiliating acknowledgement" that he had not increased the number of subscribers, and he handed over to the Revd Joseph Ketley, a Unitarian, who edited the journal in 1831 and 1832.

In 1833 Robert Kirby himself carried out the work of the editor, but in December the Repository finally faded away.  Its successor The Whitby Treasury lasted only six months and two subsequent attempts in the 1850s and 1860s to start up new magazines also failed.  But it had outlasted its rivals, the Panorama and the Magazine.

By the early 1830s, several of the contributors were far more concerned with politics than literature.

Stephenson Bulmer was active on the Conservative side.  John Watkins, now a Chartist, was arrested in Whitby in 1839 for his advocacy of Chartist principles and radical reform.  Lord Normanby, then Secretary of State, procured his release.  Watkins spent his later years in London.

John Buchannan’s path led him away from writing – for which Watkins blamed the law.  However, other factors must have played a part.

In 1839, when Watkins was arrested, Buchannan was a young widower with a small child.  In 1835 he had married Sarah Margaret Holt, a daughter of the Mr John Holt in whose house he had met the poet James Montgomery.  Two years later, a daughter was born – but Sarah died soon afterwards.

In 1841 Buchannan married Ann Langborne, daughter of George Langborne, Whitby shipbuilder and shipowner [10].  Ann died in 1849 some months after the birth of their fourth son.  Buchannan did not remarry.

His time for writing must have been reduced by the pressure of his family life.  In addition, it seems that a good deal of his energy and thought went into religious and devotional matters.

He had been brought up in the Silver Street Congregational Church, being made a Deacon in 1838.  He was much praised for his preaching abilities and he sometimes conducted services.  When his first wife Sarah Margaret Holt died in 1837, a “neat marble tablet” to Sarah's memory was erected in the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Church Street, either by John or her parents.  His second wife, Anne Langborne, was an Anglican.

John Buchannan became a prominent Whitby lawyer, coroner, County Court Registrar, agent for Lord Normanby, etc, and was active in the Whitby Mechanics' Institute and the Whitby Literary & Philosophical Society.   He still found the time for an occasional piece of prose or verse, but he took his work and his duties as a lawyer extremely seriously.  This can be seen in the comments made at Whitby County Court shortly after his funeral by the judge, Mr F A Bedwell :
… The late Mr Buchannan was a man of wide experience, he had passed through much and was a man of great reading and learning, and he had lived through a period which had been very trying to the faith of many men and which had led many into scepticism; but Mr Buchannan had in a most singular manner and with the steadiest constancy preserved his faith unimpaired, and had a good reason for all the views he took on every question of right and wrong, and for the hope and faith that were in him.  
One characteristic that Mr Buchannan had, was, he believed, common to the solicitors in Whitby generally, and that was this – that he certainly promoted, whether he originated it or not, a strong desire to stop litigation whenever he could.  
That was a characteristic on which he [the judge] congratulated the lawyers and the public of Whitby.  There was a desire on all sides to avoid as much as possible bringing their clients into litigation.  That had been done with very considerable advantage to the public by the solicitor, and often with an utter disregard to his own personal and professional interests.  As to the late Registrar's talents and acquirements as a lawyer they were so widely known and established that his death was recognised as a loss by the whole profession... [11]
Buchannan evidently sought to uphold throughout his life the ideals so dear to James Myers, the friend of his youth.

John Buchannan in old age
The contemplation of religion seems to have absorbed him to the end of his life.

Buchannan’s religious progression was a singular one.  He was brought up in the Congregational Church and was for many years an active member.

During his marriage to Ann Langborne, who came of an Anglican family, he lived at Lythe Hall and seems to have attended the parish church at Lythe.

At the end of his life he became a Roman Catholic, and was received into the church on his deathbed.

It is not clear from the newspaper notices following John Buchannan’s death how widely this religious development was expected or known.

One man emerged from the literary wars of the late 1820s still firm in the hope of producing a lasting journal for Whitby.

Ralph Horne, the young printer of the Whitby Magazine, in 1854  started up a new venture - the Whitby Gazette.

From uncertain beginnings in January 1858, the Gazette became a proper weekly newspaper, run by the Horne family for 120 years.


[1]  as described in the list of British Periodicals 1821-30 held at the University of Minnesota at

[2]  for a full history of the Whitby periodicals, see Chapters of Whitby History 1823-1946 by H B Browne

[3]  Stephenson Bulmer was later to write on religious topics, eg The Deity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, plainly inferred from His being exhibited in Scripture as the object of worship, 1833.  He was at one time a schoolmaster, then a clerk in the Whitby Old Bank.  A Wesleyan preacher.

[4]  see Whitby Authors and their Publications  by the Revd Gideon Smales; pub Whitby 1867

[5]  John Buchannan’s description, according to his obituary in the Whitby Times and North Yorkshire Advertiser, 1 May 1891

[6]  unlike, for example, his much younger cousin George Pyman, who first went to sea at the age of 10.  He became a wealthy Hartlepool shipping magnate

[7]  according to the obituary

[8]  cf Chapters of Whitby History 1823-1946

[9]  published in 1851 by Braithwaite, Stokesley

[10]  Captain James Cook’s ship the Discovery was built at the Langbornes’ yard

[11]  from the report in the Whitby Times and North Yorkshire Advertiser

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