"By separating into one biographicon this peculiar class of lives, a philanthropic emulation would be excited, a debt of social gratitude would be discharged, a trophy to patriotism would be erected, and an instructive knowledge of the present state of nations and the gradual concatenation of intercourse would be diffused. Literature should rear altars to the missionaries of human civilization."
- [William Taylor of Norwich] The Monthly Review: or Literary Journal, 74 (1814).
William Newton and the North’s Rural Renaissance
Richard Pears and I discuss William Newton, arguably northern England's first home-grown architect who was responsible for Newcastle’s Assembly Rooms and Charlotte Square the town’s first fashionable garden square.Richard’s work examines the emergence of the professional provincial architect and his remarkable local archive work has allowed him to supplant the standard ‘urban renaissance’ understanding of eighteenth-century studies with his own powerful argument for a northern ‘rural renaissance’.Dr Richard Pears is the Faculty Librarian for Arts and Humanities at Durham University.
William Shield: no Geordie Dick Whittington
William Shield was born in the village of Swalwell near Gateshead in County Durham. Through the help of his friend, the poet and actor John Cunningham (https://biographicon.net/biographies/john-cunningham/), he became the leader of the Durham Theatre Company band in the 1760s providing him with the opportunity to develop his compositional abilities. After moving to London, he pursued a successful career performing and writing stage works at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden where he earned the respect of Haydn. Shield was made Master of the King’s Musick in 1817.Amélie Addison’s research has uncovered previously unexplored details of William Shield’s social background, his early career in the North, and his compositional influences, offering a new perspective on how these works reflect contemporary perceptions of national identity and culture.Dr Amélie Addison received her PhD from the University of Leeds’ School of Music in 2023.
The Ephemeral Tate Wilkinson
In All Saints Pavement Church in York City Centre, there is a marble plaque high on the wall, dedicated to one of the most famous provincial theatre managers of the eighteenth century: Tate Wilkinson. It is a material memorial to a brilliant actor whose fame has dimmed to obscurity. Who has heard of him today?In this episode, I talk with Professor Emerita Gillian Russell about Wilkinson, York and the ephemerality of 18th theatre and performance.Gillian Russell is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and formerly Professor of Eighteenth-Century English Literature at the University of York where she was Head of the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies (CECS). In 2021 Gillian was awarded the prestigious Rose Mary Crawshay Prize for her latest book The Ephemeral Eighteenth Century.
Mind your grammar!
In this episode, Barbara Crosbie and I talk about why modern English's first female grammarian, Anne Fisher, was such a trailblazer, and the work Barbara has done to revive interest in this significant northern figure.The 18th century Newcastle entrepreneur, Anne Slack, who published under her maiden name Fisher, has been described as the first female grammarian of modern English. However, she has disappeared into the archives and Barbara Crosbie wants to bring her back.Barbara Crosbie is Associate Professor of Early Modern British History at Durham University.
Joseph Ritson's Revolution
Professor Jon Mee from the University of York joins me in this episode to talk about the cantankerous northern antiquarian Joseph Ritson, the man who is responsible for making Robin Hood a champion of the poor. Ritson was from Stockton-on-Tees and his research into northern verse and song make him an example of early English ethnographer. A vegetarian and radical who adopted the French Revolutionary Calendar, this prickly individual acts as a springboard for Jon to plunge into the world of 1790s English radicalism.Jon Mee is Professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies in the English Department at the University of York.
Psychogeography & Thomas Spence
Be warned – you may risk arrest if you listen to this podcast!In this first episode of Biographicon, Professor Alastair Bonnett and I explore the mind of Thomas Spence – a thinker so dangerous he was made illegal. As Alastair argues Spence was “the poorest and most determined militant in English history” and Spenceanism is the only political ideology outlawed by the British parliament. We take you on a psychogeographic tour of Spence's birthplace, Newcastle upon Tyne, in which Alastair presents his role within the Northumbrian Enlightenment.Alastair Bonnett is Professor of Social Geography in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne.