Making Up For Lost Time
Robert Poole revisits the ‘Calendar Riots’ of 1752 and suggests they are a figment of historians’ imagination.
The early 1750s are the Sargasso Sea of the eighteenth-century. The ship of state lay becalmed between the last throes of Jacobitism in the 1740s and the first stirrings of radicalism in the 1760s, between the last political aftershocks of the seventeenth century and the first rumblings of the age of reform. Birds, claimed Horace Walpole, might have made their nests in the Speaker’s chair safe from any disturbance by political debate. The general election of 1754 was the least widely contested of any in British history. Lewis Namier studied the period, and came to the conclusion that there was no real politics in the eighteenth century, effectively sterilising his subject for decades. More recently, the revisionist J.C.D. Clark first demonstrated his audacity by entitling the result of his exhaustive labours in the dreary politics of the 1750s The Dynamics of Change.
Of all the years of this moribund interlude, 1752 was the deadest. The crowded calendar of events in one leading textbook on the period (Geoffrey Holmes and Daniel Szechi’s Age of Oligarchy) can find only four noteworthy happenings in that year: the battle of Trichinopoly (India); the death of Sir William Cheselden (a surgeon); the end of ‘another somnolent parliamentary session’; and the subject of this article, the reform of the calendar of September 1752, with its attendant riots. No wonder the calendar riots have so often been noticed.