O S T E S S E Y

People and Events through the Centuries
1775- 1843 Richard Mackenzie Bacon.
Paper Miller, Newspaper Prorietor and Editor,

    He was educated at Norwich School under Dr Forster where he was head boy in 1792 and made the customary Latin oration to the Mayor on Guild day.  From an early age he was engaged in the Norwich Mercury, one of two local papers acquired by his father.  He was interested in the mechanics of printing and with Donkin of Bermondsey patented a revolving cylinder printing machine one of which was acquired by Cambridge University Press and one exported to Russia .
As leaseholder of Taverham Paper  mills in the late 18th century he developed it into one of the most modern and efficient in the country, producing newsprint for The Times, among other newspapers and the finest of writing paper.  In August 1812 he went into partnership with Simon Wilkin in the operation of the Taverham  mill.

    In 1816 as a result of the slump in the economy both Bacon and Wilkin were declared bankrupt.  Bacon however continued editing "The Mercury" for his father- in-law  Mr Burks When Burks died in 1826 Bacon once more became the proprietor of "The Mercury".   Rex Stedman who studied Norfolk newspapers in some depth , considered that Bacon made the Mercury one of the leading provincial organs of liberal opinion and was one of the most cultivated editors of his time.

    Bacon espoused the Whig cause and following the Peterloo massacre in Manchester he reported Edward Taylor, Sheriff of Norwich, in "The Mercury" (14th Sept.1826) as saying,
    "We have seen the laws of our country violated not by what is usually and contemptously called the mob, but by the magistrates themselves, aiding and abetting and instigating a wanton and unprovoked breach of peace.  Men, women and children, unarmed and unprotected have been savagely butchered.....  "

    R.M. Bacon was also a musical enthuasiast and in 1824 he encouraged the Governors of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital to stage a Grand Musical Festival as a money-raiser. The Festival was succesfully staged in Sept. 1824. The King  consented to be patron and the Royal Dukes - York. Sussex and Gloucester- vice-patrons. The Duke of Sussex actually came to Norwich and attended all six concerts.  His Royal Highness  was an idol of the Norwich whigs.... it is said that he was sent supperless to bed and locked in his nursery,  by his father,  King George III, for wearing the wrong colours at an election.  Bacon is recognised as  the  the founder of the Norwich Musical Festival.

R.M.Bacon lived at Wensum Cottage (now known as St. Mary's Cottage) in Costessey Street.
He died in 1843 and is interred in the chancel of the parish church of  St Edmund, King and Martyr.

    He was a staunch supporter of the Reform Bill, passed in 1832, and opponent of bribery and corruption in elections in Norwich. When the Tories won the first election under the reformed franchise R.M. Bacon wrote an open letter to the victors in which he did not hesitate to assert, ' the corrupt means by which your majority was obtained are too notorious to be any matter of doubt. '
A Royal Commission in 1833  revealed corrupt electoral practices on a massive scale and  Bacon in the Mercury reported the lurid details of the evidence and concluded that more had been proved than he, as editor, had ever advanced --- ' not one solitary atom of respect was left to the Corporation, more than belonged to the Whifflers' (attendants on the Mayor) 'or to Snap' ( the canvass dragon ).

    In 1835  R.M.Bacon wrote to Lord John Russell (the Home Secretary) appealing that the Costessey poaching  brothers James and John Paul, both married with children,  should not be transported  (for fourteen years)  to the Australian colonies but allowed to serve their sentence in English gaols.  Bacon's and other appeals were in vain .  John Paul spent the rest of his life in Tasmania, obtaining a  Conditional Pardon in 1844.   James Paul, a ticket- of-leave holder died in Berrima N.S.W. in 1844, aged 38.

See details of Costessey poachers in the 19th century.

    Bacon was a friend and ally of Lord Suffield (1781-1835) of Gunton Park, Norfolk one of the leading game-preserves in one England's premier shooting counties . As a young man Suffield was very affected by seeing five poachers hanged .  They had been sentenced for taking part in "an affray' at Gunton Park and both he and his father had pleaded that the poachers'  lives be spared.  Although then a Tory he had a complete conversion following the 'Peterloo Massacre' and became a champion of  the poor,  by reform of the Game laws,  the banning of spring guns and man-traps and prison reform .
    In 1838 Bacon published  Memoir of Lord Suffield  which included details of a scheme which had been proposed  by Suffield in 1831 to restore land to the labourers.  This scheme of  'home colonisation'  was for the Government to purchase land then waste and compel parishes, with the help of public loan, to set up labourers on it.  This Suffield said was the only way to rescue labourers from their present plight by placing them in a position that they were not absolutely dependent on the farmers.  The Government under Lord Melbourne did not adopt the proposed measures ; Suffield's  melancholy conclusion was   : 'The fact is, with the exception of a few individuals , the subject is deemed by the world a bore..........

    " So perished the last hope of reform and reparation for the poor. The labourers revolt was ended ; and four hundred and fifty men spent their freedom in vain,....

    "Amid the great distress that followed Waterloo and peace, it was a commonplace of statesmen like Castlereagh and Canning that England was the only happy country in the world, and that so long as the monopoly of their little class was left untouched , her happiness would survive. That class has left bright and ample records of its life in literature, in art, in political traditions, in the display of great orations and debates, in memories of brilliant conversationsand sparkling wit; it has left dim and meagre records of the disinherited peasants that are the shadow of its wealth; of the exiled labourers that are the shadows of its pleasures;  of the villages sinking in poverty and crime and shame that are the shadow of its power and its pride. "

  J.L. and Barbara Hammond   The Village Labourer 1760-1832.
(published Longmans, London 1911)
Bibliography and sources of reference ;-

The Village Labourer 1760-1832.    L.L.Hammond and Barbara Hammond

                     - First publ. 1911 Longmans, London
The Long Affray- The Poaching Wars in England.    Harry Hopkins . PAPERMAC 1986 London.
Simon Wilkin of Norwich.   C.B. Jewson,  Centre for East Anglia Studies,
             - University of East Anglia  1979.
The History of Costessey by T.B. Norgate publ. by Author , August 1972.

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 Return to.......... Part Two.   Costessey from 1555 to present day


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