Two hundred years ago, fifteen people were hacked to death for taking part in an unarmed, peaceful gathering at St Peter’s Fields outside Manchester. This event was dubbed “the Peterloo Massacre” in ironic reference to the Battle of Waterloo four years earlier. The people had gathered to hear a man called Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, call for universal male suffrage, which he saw as a common right that had been stolen from the English people by Norman robber-barons and their successors. To Hunt, the issue was all about restoring people to their ancient rights and liberties, and he tried to practice what he preached. Not many people know that Hunt was lord of the manor of Glastonbury, and even fewer realise that he tried to turn his Glastonbury fiefdom into a laboratory for some very interesting exercises in constitutional reform. What follows is based on a talk I delivered to the Glastonbury Antiquarian Society in 2016.

Shedding the Norman Yoke

The concept of ‘Gothic’, once a pejorative term, gained new meaning during the eighteenth century. Gothic architecture acquired a ‘national’ aspect after the French Revolution. Since the French were self-consciously building in classical styles, Gothic enthusiasts in Britain could claim that the medieval style reflected England’s long and continuous history, unbroken by revolution. But ‘Gothic’ as a political concept could mean different things to different people. To some, it invoked a sense of Norman order; to others, a deeper, Saxon democracy.

In 1688 James II was deposed by parliament, in what was called the ‘Glorious Revolution’. Its leaders looked back to Magna Carta, and the principle that the monarch like everyone else was bound by laws. The great and the good of the land had the right to a say in how the country was run, and half a century later, when Sir Robert Walpole was felt to have arrogated supreme power in the name of George II, a king who spoke little English and spent much of his time in Hanover, his disgruntled opponents looked back wistfully to what one writer called gothic constitution candidatethose old hospitable Gothick halls, hung round with the Helmets, Breast-Plates, and Swords of our Ancestors; I entered them with a Constitutional Sort of Reverence and look’d upon those arms with Gratitude, as the Terror of former Ministers, and the Check of Kings. … Our old Gothick Constitution had a noble Strength and Simplicity in it, which was well enough represented by the bold Arches, and the solid Pillars of the Edifices of those Days.”

Eventually Walpole fell, and the ‘Gothic Constitution’ was restored, to the satisfaction of the tiny and self-selecting minority of people who ran the country. This was the era of the ‘pocket boroughs’, parliamentary constituencies with virtually no constituents that were in the pockets of a handful of magnates, and unelected, self-selecting corporations that were answerable to no-one but themselves.

Things changed dramatically after the two great revolutions in America (1775) and in France (1789). Conservative commentators such as Edmund Burke, appalled by what he saw, declared that England’s existing ‘Gothic’ constitution was perfect in every way. Republicans like Thomas Paine, however, whose book The Rights of Man influenced the writing of the American constitution, saw Burke as scratching around trying to find “musty records and mouldy parchments to prove that the rights of the living are lost”. Paine and his followers declared that there was no such thing as an English Constitution, just a kind of ‘Political Popery’ that had to be swept away, along with the old order and all its works, and replaced with a brand-new written constitution.



There was a third way. Once the revolution in France had begun to go sour, a host of radical antiquarians began to look back beyond the ‘Gothic Constitution’ of monarchs and nobles to the reign of King Alfred and a time of primitive Saxon democracy. John Thelwall praised “the free and glorious Constitution of our Saxon ancestors”, the vestiges of which were still to be found in the Common Law, which contained every democratic safeguard and guarantee of citizens rights you could think of. Violent revolution was unnecessary. thelwallAll that was needed was to restore the rights that had been usurped when William the Conqueror had imposed the ‘Norman Yoke’. In Thelwall’s words, “the plain and simple truth is, that since the overthrow of our Saxon institutions, the sun of Liberty has never shone, with unclouded beams, upon this unhappy country. A band of Norman robbers had laid prostrate at their feet everything that looked like law and justice.”

Glastonbury and the Rights of All

There was a role for Glastonbury in all this rhetoric. Believed to be the first place that Christianity came to Britain, it was, in the words of the poet Robert Southey, “the holiest spot/That Britain boasts”, and in 1798 he wrote a poem entitled ‘Inscription. For the Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey’, in which the abbey becomes a symbol of a constitution now in tatters. Here Joseph of Arimathea taught early Britain’s “rude dwellers first the lore of life”; here King Arthur lay buried, the flower of chivalry, “round whose board The heroes sat”; here – or, nearby, “in these moors”, King Alfred lay like a crouching lion ready to pounce on the Danes.

This fabric, Englishman! may emblem well,

The noble structure of the laws he built,

Like this majestic once, and ruin’d now!

abbey and southey
Robert Southey and a somewhat imaginative impression of Glastonbury Abbey

And for a while Glastonbury and the XII Hides was the scene of an experiment in primitive democracy which seems to have gone totally un-noticed by historians. Here’s the story.

At the dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey, the abbey’s estates in Glastonbury were divided three ways. There was the abbey demesne, consisting of the abbey ruins and about 900 acres. There was the so-called ‘Rectory’ – the tithes and lands set aside for supporting the churches and the clergy in Glastonbury. And there was the Manor. This was sold off by Charles I in 1634, and then re-sold, partitioned and asset-stripped by a succession of ‘lords of the manor’ until it was reduced to a rag-tag of scattered lands, dilapidated dwellings and residual rights. But the title “Lord of the Manor of Glastonbury” had a certain lustre, and in the middle of the eighteenth century it was bought by a couple of vainglorious Bristol merchants in succession, both of whom had a taste for showy antiquity: the copper-smelter and merchant adventurer William Reeve, who built what’s called the ‘Black Castle’ at Brislington on the approaches to Bristol, Black Castleand after him the pewterer Henry Burgum, who was gulled and publicly humiliated by the young poet Thomas Chatterton into paying for a bogus family-tree.

(c) Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

After Burgum went bankrupt, the lordship was acquired by Thomas Hunt, a substantial Wiltshire farmer. When he died in 1797, it was inherited by his son Henry, who became the foremost radical of his day. Hunt was an outspoken and fearless champion of universal male suffrage, a very effective platform speaker and his performances to mass audiences earned him the soubriquet of ‘Orator’.

by Adam Buck,drawing,circa 1810

He was also a steadfast constitutionalist. To him, the English constitution, “if it were administered in its purity, was quite good enough for Englishmen.” This was the consistent theme of his platform rhetoric, which derived much of its moral force from his repeated reference to legitimacy. As Hunt told a mass audience in Bristol in December 1816, “We have been robbed of our rights, and we are assembled to-day to tell the Robbers, ‘Give us back our Constitution”.


1816 was the year in which Hunt started to get interested in his Glastonbury lordship. On May Day, the Lord of the Manor led 30 or 40 ‘attendants’ on a somewhat breathless perambulation around the boundaries of the Hundred of Glaston Twelve Hides, an entity deemed to be coterminous with the Manor since the seventeenth century at least: its 130 miles were covered in four days. It was thought to be the first perambulation since the time of Abbot Beere three hundred years before, and was a quite explicit evocation of the ‘good old days’. According to one newspaper account, the farmers “regaled them with plenty to eat and drink, in the true old style of English hospitality”. Church bells were rung in each parish when the perambulators came through, and “The Lord of the Manor gave the following toast each day at luncheon, which was drank by the party as well as by the inhabitants of the different villages through which they passed, with spontaneous cheers:-

“May we all live to see good Bread sold at 6d a gallon, and good Beer at 2d a quart”.

The perambulation was not really about defining the boundaries of the Manor of Glastonbury, but the ancient rights that went with it, the rights of the lord and above all the rights of its inhabitants, as enshrined in the ancient constitution. It was an attempt to put Hampden Club principles into practice. The Hampden Clubs, set up by John Cartwright and Hunt’s particular champion Thomas Northmore, were set up with the somewhat optimistic hope of converting the landed gentry to the cause of political Reform, by urging them to assume their responsibilities and persuade the House of Commons “to restore to the country her real constitution and ancient laws.”

cartwright and northmore
Cartwright (left) and Northmore

Hunt was seen by some as the last word in benevolent squires. After hearing him speak, a Manchester journalist wrote that “The good old character of an independent country Gentleman was surely there in him. I had almost compared him to an English Baron in the time of John and Magna Charta, but that Mr Hunt’s motives were so much more praiseworthy; he was not there as they met that worthless King at Runnimede, to advocate the rights of a few, but of all.”

Peterloo Massacre 2And then, in August 1819, came Peterloo. Sixty to eighty thousand people gathered at St Peter’s Fields just outside Manchester to hear the Orator speak. The gathering was broken up violently and viciously by the local sabre-wielding yeomanry. Fifteen people were killed in what was thereafter known as the Peterloo Massacre, a darkly ironic reference to the victory at Waterloo four years earlier. In the long term, it was an important turning-point in the campaign for reform. In the short term, Hunt was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment. He was sent to the Somerset county gaol at Ilchester, a choice presumably calculated to humiliate the Lord of the Manor of Glastonbury, and indeed an unsuccessful attempt was made to confiscate his Glastonbury estate when he was inside.

ilchester bastilleBut the ploy failed; and from his cell in what he called the ‘Ilchester Bastille’, Hunt turned the tables on his tormenters. In a torrent of letters and missives, he waged war against corruption amongst Somerset’s county officials and its two MPs, and managed to reduce the county rate in “this SINK OF INFAMY” by £2000 a year – no mean achievement for a man in a prison. A Freeholders’ Union was formed, which on Hunt’s advice launched a registration campaign to increase the number of independent voters on the roll, and thereby ’emancipate the county’, and he kick-started the process by offering to grant the freeholds of their properties, and thus the vote, to the “thirty to fifty persons who have made encroachments upon the waste lands in the manor of Glastonbury.” Even before he left gaol, he was already using his position as Lord of the Manor to demonstrate the strength of the ancient constitution.

Court Leet at the George

Understandably, his local popularity was enormous. When he was released in 1822, beacon fires were lit on hilltops across the land; in mid-Somerset alone, according to The Morning Chronicle, fires were lit on Camel Hill, the two Corton Hills, Beacon Hill, Hamden Hill and somewhere called “Glastonbury Thor, an elevation which commands the country for many miles”, and it was to Glastonbury that he headed, because “at Glastonbury I shall be surrounded by my friends”. There were seven or eight thousand people to witness his arrival in Glastonbury. “The hills in the neighbourhood were topped by crowds of people”, and “well-dressed females of the farming classes” braved the drizzle to throng along the road-sides. The vicar of St John’s had said that it would be ‘high offence’ to ring the church bells, and had locked the church to stop the ringers from getting in, but bell-ringers were notoriously independent-minded and they managed to slip into the belfry thanks to the churchwardens who had a spare set of keys. The bells were rung at Glastonbury at the hour of leaving Ilchester and when the procession came into “the romantic vicinity of the town: the movements of the procession were slow, and the appearance extremely picturesque in the distant prospect.”

1822 Glastonbury Corporation special constables payments 1
SHC DD\GS/24, Corporation Minutes Book, showing payments to special constables on Hunt’s release. Courtesy of South West Heritage Trust

His Glastonbury friends did not include the unelected members of Glastonbury Corporation, who it was said had drafted in eighty special constables that day. (The archives suggest that there were actually only forty-seven of them, of whom 17 got paid half a crown a piece for their pains; not-so-special constables made do with one-and-six). The Corporation had little liking for their Lord of the Manor. In April 1821 they had actually persuaded the Recorder, the Corporation’s own legal expert, a man named Edmund Griffith, to stand down in favour of no less a figure than William Dickinson of Kingweston, one of Somerset’s two MPs, and a man whom Hunt had called a “calculating conjuror”.

NPG D21812; W. Dickinson by Richard James Lane

It’s possible that the Corporation felt they needed someone of his clout and calibre to augment their fire-power against the manorial firebrand; it certainly served to put Corporation and Manor at loggerheads since Dickinson figured so prominently and so publicly in Hunt’s Ilchester invective. Dickinson, unsurprisingly, was not keen on radical reform. He claimed that it was “contrary to the genius and spirit of the English constitution’, but it was the Gothic constitution and not the Saxon one that he had in mind.

When Hunt passed through the prison gates at Ilchester, his first words to the crowd were to urge them to “try all legal and constitutional means” to get their grievances addressed. He was, he told them, “the very same man I was before my incarceration, not one whit less ready to use every exertion of which I am capable in the struggle for the recovery of your rights and liberties”, and he there and then put his name to a request to the High Sheriff to call a county meeting “agreeable to the ancient principles of the English constitution”.

George Inn
The George (now the George & Pilgrim)

Once in town, Hunt rode straight to the George, reputedly the Abbot’s inn and a building redolent of the Middle Ages. Here he held a Court-leet for the manor and hundred of Glaston 12 hides.

The court-leet was the most local element in the ancient constitution: a twice-yearly meeting in which local people met to decide on local issues. Its duties included making sure that watercourse, roads, paths, ditches, were in good order; that no-one had encroached on common land, to look out for food quality at markets and ensure fair eight and measure; in short (and I quote) “to find a remedy for each social ill and inconvenience.” Its powers had been much eroded over the centuries and by 1822, in most places, the court leet was little more than a novelty, but its merits were much-vaunted by radical antiquarians such as the colourful Joseph Ritson, the man who recreated Robin Hood as a popular folk-hero. To people like Ritson, and Hunt, the great thing about the court-leet was that it offered legal redress even to the poor. The proceedings in the leet are without expense, the suitor pays no fees, and advocates or attorneys of course never enter it”; and Ritson attributed its decline in part to the rise of the new breed of commercially-minded people “who love to buy law, one would think, as they do any other commodity.”

Ritson RobinRitsonRitson Court LeetHunt used his archaic but relatively democratic court at Glastonbury to show up the very undemocratic institutions of 1822, rotten from top to bottom, both nationally and locally. Glastonbury Corporation, set up in 1705, was like a kind of gentleman’s club. The existing membership would decide whether or not to let an aspiring burgess join their ranks. The appointment had nothing whatever to do with the townsfolk at large. Everything depended on whether or not your face fitted.

Hunt’s Court Leet matched Corporation officer with officer in a way that must have left the Corporators feeling very uncomfortable, since it claimed greater legitimacy than they did. Speaking to a crowd of several thousand outside the George, including the national press, Hunt declared that although the Mayor had sworn in his special constables, he, as lord of the manor, “was going to swear in his constables, and he would make sure they kept the peace, whether the Mayor did or no. Indeed, he should make sure that all should keep the peace – special constables and all- ay, and the Mayor himself, for, if he did not, he would send one of his tything constables to look after him; for it was he who had the power of nominating the legal constables there.” Two high constables for the town of Glastonbury, and thirteen further tything-men, were duly appointed, and urged to fulfil their tasks with honesty and impartiality; the following day the duly-elected officers were due to hew down “some posts and enclosures, thrown up in the wastes by trespassers on the jurisdiction of the Lord of the Manor.”

The editors of the Somerset County History have shown how the Corporation had begun to assume various Glastonbury court leet functions during the previous few decades; now Henry Hunt was triumphantly taking them back. Hunt was dangerous, and in consequence he – and the unrepresented masses – had to endure a lot of mockery. The details of the court leet ceremony “are really too good to be lost”, sneered ‘John Bull’ in the Glasgow Herald. He likened it to Dogberry’s malaprop-ridden charge to his Watch in Much Ado about Nothing, one of Shakespeare’s scenes in which the lower orders are rendered comical, figures of fun. 

dogberyThe county meeting which was held, at Hunt’s request, at Wells soon after Hunt’s release, attracted somewhere between 1200 and 8000 people, but of this just 600 were freeholders, and so entitled to vote, “the rest being mere rabble, collected to hear and to cheer Hunt”, as the correspondent for the New Times reported. Not that this stopped Hunt for calling out once again for universal suffrage, and lambasting local politicians for having an eye on the main chance. Dickinson in particular was in his sights, and at the meeting Hunt accused him of having “got a sly bit for himself” as MP. He leased the lighthouse on Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel from the Government for £10 a year and took a cool £2000 a year in duties. Three years later, at the 1826 general election which Hunt himself contested, he drew attention to Dickinson’s ownership of slave plantations in the West Indies (“the bread this man eats, the drink he drinks, the clothes he wears, are all steeped in the blood of his fellow-creatures”).

1826 Somersetshire Elections 2

1826 Somersetshire Elections 4
SHC Q/REP/4/5 1826 Somersetshire Elections, voting register, notes of disallowed votes and (top) the Freeholders’ Oath

The White Hart Leet

Hunt lost in 1826, of course; the tiny electorate were never likely to elect a radical such as him. But that October, undeterred, he held another court leet, this time in the Great Room of the White Hart at Glastonbury. It was attended by around 200 farmers and was, according to The Times, “one of the most extraordinary scenes the inhabitants of the county of Somerset ever beheld”. They were there to select a Jury and to hear more of “those long-neglected institutions which constitute the great boast of British antiquity.”

Hunt saw the court leet as an education in democracy and responsibility, as the report in the papers made clear. “I would have you to be cautious what men you appoint; for if they run away with the money, [it] must be paid by you (a laugh). Several Farmers (evidently in a fright): Oh, Lord ! that’s too hard. Mr. Hunt—By no means. You appoint the men yourselves, and if you do it carelessly, you must take the consequences… the power of election is yours, not mine.” What of the Corporation? They laugh at us, they care not a fig for us. “If ever you see any of them commit a breach of the peace, put him in the stocks. Look at this regulation. It is here said there ought to be a pair of stocks kept in good repair in each tithing; for it is the tithing-man’s prison, and a thing very useful as the world goes (laughter). If you see the Corporation breaking the peace, cram them into the stocks upon my responsibility.” , Farmers- We will; we’ll do any thing you desire us to do; but what will the Mayor and ’Squire Dickenson.. say ? Mr. Hunt—Let them say what they choose; but if the Mayor and my friend (Mr. Dickenson) follow the example of the Corporation, why clap them in the stocks too (loud laughter.)”

Hunt announced his intention to revive the court baron, a kind of Anglo-Saxon small claims court which, he promised, would make lawsuits affordable: there would be no ‘sharks’, no “gentlemen of the law to assist or humbug you… the summonses to attend which will cost but Id., and all the expences attending which will not amount, under any circumstances, to more than 4s.or 5s. at the utmost”. He claimed that this measure would bring more benefit to the manor than “any thing that has befallen it within the memory of man”, and indeed, at the next one, held in 1832, the court baron was “said to have given the greatest satisfaction to the tradesmen of the town” because they saw it as an effective way of suing for small debts.

Manorial presentments book coverI thouManorial presentments book insideght that this would be as far as I could go with Hunt’s court leets, but then, last Thursday, I struck Archive Gold. Thanks to the present lord of the manor, Philip Harland, I was allowed to inspect the few surviving manorial records – and they include this Presentments Book, begun in 1826. There are only five years’ worth of entries – the last is dated 1830 – but the book’s very existence confirms the importance that Hunt attached to the court leet. Here, year by year, are the names of the tithing-men and elected officials. These tasks had been taken over in recent years by the Corporation; and unless we’re to assume that there were two sets of gout-wardens, shambles-wardens and the rest then Hunt’s ploy had succeeded, and the powers that the unelected corporation had usurped were now once more being wielded by this ancient and democratic court leet.

Henry Hunt died in 1835, and in the same year the Corporation of Glastonbury, along with every other corporation, was forced to acquire an electorate. It was a very small one – less than 10% of the population – but it’s likely that it gradually took over from the court leet once again. After his death the old manor house in Northload Street was demolished and the lordship was put up for auction. The manor was bought by a local solicitor, William Naish, builder of Naish House and owner of the Abbot’s Kitchen. He held his first court leet at the White Hart in November 1838 and entertained over 140 jurors to a Good Dinner but although there are some pro-forma printed summonses to later court leets in the manorial archive I’ve found no indication that any were actually ever held.

When Hunt died, his popularity was at a low ebb because he had refused to get excited about the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832. He had held out for universal male suffrage – and even, greatly daring, advocated votes for women too – but after the Reform Act 80% of males still did not have the vote. It took a while for the penny to drop, but once people realised just how much they’d been diddled, the reformers regained their momentum. A Chartist movement emerged, which Hunt’s biographer sees as “his true memorial”. They wanted a People’s Charter, an updated Magna Carta as they saw it. “We are seeking nothing new”, said one leader. “Our forefathers have set up landmarks – landmarks of law – landmarks of right, landmarks of liberty; these landmarks we are determined to have restored. We stand upon our old rights – we seek no change – we say give us the good old laws of England unchanged …and what are those laws? What is that constitution by which we seek to abide? – Aye, Magna Charta! The good old laws of English freedom – free meetings – freedom of speech – freedom of workshops – freedom of homesteads – free and happy firesides, and no workhouses.” The Great National Petition to parliament, submitted in 1842, was signed by a third of the entire adult population: it was 6 miles long. House of Lords asleepThough the Chartist movement fizzled out, bit by bit the franchise was extended. And Hunt’s brand of constitutionalism did eventually win the day, rightly or wrongly, over Tom Paineite republicanism, and to this day British democracy is dressed with all the trappings of medievalism. The Houses of Parliament were themselves rebuilt in a Gothic style, an echo of a purer age intended to inspire politicians with lofty thoughts, deep tradition and a sense of public service.

chartism posterHunt’s chief legacy to Glastonbury was a thoroughly radicalised populace. The 1823 County Meeting at Wells was marred by the ‘abusive and nonsensical clamour of the Orator and his Glastonbury troops’, the Taunton Courier deplored; an indication of how Glastonbury’s political inclinations were perceived elsewhere in the county. Joseph Lawrence, steward of the court leet from 1827 onwards, was a Glastonbury carpenter and a Hunt loyalist who made a model of the ‘Ilchester Bastille’ which Hunt described as “perfect in all its parts in the most minute particulars.” As Lord of the Manor he himself collected the signatures of “a great number of the Inhabitants of that Manor” for a Reform petition in 1830. Not surprisingly, Chartism flourished in Glastonbury, in such institutions as the Glastonbury Mechanics Institution, and no less a figure than James Clark, the ‘sheepskin slippers’ half of C & J Clark, went as delegate to the Complete Suffrage Conference at Birmingham in 1842.

St Henry and Harry the Ninth

Henry Hunt was much mocked for calling himself Lord of the Manor of Glastonbury. The 1823 correspondent for the New Times was curious about Hunt’s “magnificent Estate” at Glastonbury, and found some figures…

sneer 2

There is a special Glastonbury twist at work here. Part of it lies in the fact that Hunt’s self-important precedecessor Henry Burgum had also been ridiculed for calling himself Lord of the Manor of Glastonbury: “We Great Men love to be called by our Titles”, as one scurrilous pamphleteer put it. Given that Burgum’s reputation had been shattered by his taste for bogus antiquity, this emphasis on the title by both his own opponents and those of Henry Hunt reflects the reputation that Glastonbury then had in cultured circles as somewhere slightly ridiculous, like Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Hunt’s many enemies were prone to dismissing him as a jumped-up, puffed up phoney, so it’s not really surprising that disparaging comparisons came to be made with Glastonbury’s two legendary heroes, Joseph of Arimathea and King Arthur. The Conservative Morning Post followed up on the huge press coverage accorded to Hunt on his release from gaol, with an article under the heading TOMB OF KING ARTHUR. “Mr Hunt magnificently tells people that he is ‘the Lord’ [of Glastonbury]”, it said. How many people knew that king Arthur was buried there? This was followed by a long account of the finding of Arthur’s tomb at Glastonbury, in the Middle Ages, and ended with the phrase: “The revered relics of the Hero were re-interred with magnificence”. Bearing in mind that Hunt had already been mockingly dubbed “King Harry the Ninth” by his enemies, that echoed ‘magnificence’ is suggestive: as though the reader is to see the two heroes as belonging to the same realm of fantasy.

carlileAt the other end of the political spectrum, Richard Carlile, atheist and republican, once a friend of Hunt’s but later his bitter enemy, was incarcerated for six years in Dorchester Gaol at the same time that Hunt was banged up in Ilchester. Hunt having stated that he had no objection to Christianity, a vitriolic open letter was sent from gaol to gaol, in which Carlile suggested that “the lord of the manor of Glastonbury should order his body to be deposited, at death, under the Glastonbury Thorn, engage a few clerical friends to compose a few legends as to the miracles performed in Ilchester Gaol, convert the Gaol into an Abbey, and the pilgrimages of old will soon be eclipsed by the rushing of the pious to the shrine, the tomb, and the abbey of St. Henry… the relics of St. Henry, in another century, will become a most valuable treasure, and like Aaron’s rod, will bud, grow, and swallow up all other relics.”

Hunt was neither the first nor the last radical to look back to a better past as a model for a better future. What made him so unusual was his willingness to put these principles into practice by reviving the democratic institutions of Anglo-Saxon England. Opportunity turned Glastonbury into the theatre, the laboratory, for Henry Hunt’s constitutional idealism. Hunt’s Glastonbury connection has been consistently underplayed by Hunt’s biographers, and his experiments in archaic democracy simply overlooked. He was, after all, a national figure. But it is still interesting to find that this independent ‘old English’ gentleman chose to play these games in Glastonbury. As so often in its history, the town was looking backwards to go forwards.

manor house
The Manor House, Glastonbury. Drawing by John Buckler, 1825. (SHC Piggott Collection, 5.146, courtesy of Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society/SWHT)



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