28 October 2015

Georgian Graffiti & Political Discontent

"TIME YOU'VE ENJOYED WASTING
ISN'T WASTED TIME"
Good advice from a graffiti artist beneath the M6 between Aston and Bromford. The concrete pillars of this 'underneath place' form canvases for graffiti, hidden from anyone but the most intrepid explorer (I was there following the River Tame through Birmingham). 

Graffiti is nothing new though (see this post about graffiti on Aston Church), and in Birmingham Archive there's a document where manufacturer and museum keeper, James Bisset, recorded the changing inscriptions on Birmingham's walls in the late 1700s. In the 1780s the inscriptions "BUCKLES" and "NO SHOE STRINGS" reveal how the waning fashion for shoe buckles was affecting local artisans who were going out of business and struggling financially. Many Birmingham buckle makers petitioned the King, who promised to wear buckles and not shoe laces, but fashion is a cruel mistress, and 'shoe strings' won the day.

In 1791 "NO PRIESTLEY" appeared on the walls, as did "The CHURCH and the KING". 1791 was the year of what later became known as the Priestley Riots (find more posts about the riots here). A tremendous tension built up in the summer of that year with a great deal of animosity towards Dissenters (religious minorities), and those seen to support the ideals of the French Revolution. This resulted in three days of rioting, mostly directed towards the Dissenters, and the destruction of several of their homes by fire and sheer will-power. Also written at that time was "DAMN THE JACOBINS"; the Jacobins took a particularly left-wing, revolutionary political stance, and Bisset himself was a member of Birmingham's Jacobin Club (see below).

James Bisset and 'Freeth's Circle'; political radicals.
Bisset is fourth from the right.

In following years came "WAR and PITT", "OLD ENGLAND for EVER", and "DOWN, DOWN with the FRENCH". This reflects the conflicts Britain fought alongside other European countries against post-revolutionary France. Bisset also notes an inscription of "DAMN all DISSENTERS", showing the continued simmering tensions between the different sections of Christianity.

A few years later the mood had changed. "BLOOD or BREAD" was plastered on the walls, as was "NO WAR" and "DAMN PITT". War, coupled with a succession of poor harvests, was leaving the masses hungry, and they called for "LARGE LOAVES". "NO K--G, LORDS or COMMONS" showed the people's discontent, as did "NO TAXES", "NO TITHES", "FREE CONSTITUTION" and "REVOLUTION". If Bisset's recording of the graffiti is to be trusted as unbiased, a huge turn in public opinion can be perceived.

With no images of Georgian graffiti to show (unsurprisingly), here are some more of the work that I found along the River Tame.



Click on the images to enlarge.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this article. I love graffiti. My favourite area is the entry into Gare de Nord Paris. I didn't realise how the times change until I started observing this area. I will now watch out for graffiti areas in Birmingham.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for this article. I love graffiti. My favourite area is the entry into Gare de Nord Paris. I didn't realise how the times change until I started observing this area. I will now watch out for graffiti areas in Birmingham.

    ReplyDelete