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.

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