In September 2015 I joined the University of Sheffield’s ‘Mobile University’ Weekend to talk about some of the exciting revelations that have come to light during my archival research into one of Sheffield’s biggest names: James Montgomery… on a bus!
Using primary sources from Sheffield Archives and The University of Sheffield Library Special Collections I was able to piece together and tell for the first time the fascinating story of how James Montgomery – a man later remembered as a great philanthropist and benign statesman – came to be charged for sedition, treason and slander.
During the early decades of the nineteenth century James Montgomery cemented his reputation as one of Sheffield’s most enduring legends. A poet, booksellers, humanitarian and abolitionist Montgomery dedicated his later life to ensuring freedom and fairness for all. When he died the city mourned with a public funeral, before erecting a large statue (currently standing outside of Sheffield Cathedral) to commend his religious and philanthropic virtues.
The early decades of Montgomery’s life are, however, less well-documented. Based on newly conducted archival research, this lecture traced Montgomery’s turbulent time as editor of one of Sheffield’s very first newspapers: The Sheffield Iris.
Whilst working for this paper Montgomery was twice tried for sedition for his poetry, which was interpreted by some as a treasonous condemnation of the country’s monarchy and government. Montgomery’s defence offered countering interpretations of this poetry and, crucially, the outcome of the trail came to a question of literary criticism. Montgomery’s guilt was entirely dependent on how the jury interpreted his poetry.
During this lecture, on a bus in the middle of Montgomery’s own city, we re-visited this fascinating moment in legal, political and literary history, and invited the audience to make their own decision on the meaning of Montgomery’s controversial poems.
It was an absolute privilege to deliver this talk on the very streets that Montgomery fought so for throughout his career and to see first-hand what a large appetite still remains to heat is story told in full for the first time.