‘Tourist, tradesman—or troublemaker? Coleridge’s visit to Worcester, 1796’

Robin Whittaker


(Coleridge Bulletin, New Series 21, Spring 2003, pp.47-54)




‘Mr. Coleridge… armed himself with unwonted resolution, and expressed his determination to travel over half England and take the posse comitatus by storm… The beginning of Jan. 1796, Mr Coleridge, laden with recommendatory epistles, and rich in hope, set out on his eventful journey… ’ [1]


Thus Cottle, condescendingly, describes the beginning of Coleridge’s ‘Watchman’ tour of 1796.  Whilst it has subsequently been extensively discussed it has usually been with greater emphasis on his experiences in the north midlands. Paul Magnuson summarised it: ‘Coleridge travelled to the Midlands from Jan 1 to Feb 13 1796 with prospectuses and letters of introduction from his Bristol friends… He stopped first at Worcester but was told that the aristocrats and clergy were so strong that no bookseller would risk publishing it.’ 2

       This initial visit to Worcester has not therefore, perhaps understandably, attracted much interest.  Lewis Patton, in his edition of ‘The Watchman’, gives it a sentence and a footnote (W xxxiii).  Coleridge himself seems to give approval to such scant attention.  By the time he is writing about this tour himself in the Biographia Literaria he seems to have forgotten, or to disregard, this visit, for he says categorically ‘My campaign commenced at Birmingham…’ (BL I 180). 

       I should like, however, to examine his Worcester visit a little more closely.  Allan Clayson has written about the perhaps underrated influence on Coleridge of visits to Ramsgate. 3  These amounted to many weeks over a period of years.  He only spent 66 hours in Worcester, so I don’t want to make extravagant claims for how Worcester might have influenced him.  Nevertheless I should like to suggest that this was more than just a stop over on his way north and that his activities in Worcester provide evidence that supports other recent research on this period in his life.

       The bare essentials of what he did and whom he met can be gleaned from his own two letters to Josiah Wade, written on 10 January 1796 (CL I 175 and previously unpublished letter for which see the Appendix).  Worcester would be the logical first stop on a coach trip from Bristol.  The ‘Royal Directory’ for Worcester for 1794 shows that the daily coach from Bristol came in at ‘The




Unicorn’ at about 2 in the afternoon (Coleridge reports they arrived at half past two on the Saturday [9 January]).  He was met by a Mr Stevens (whom I have been unable to identify), and then followed a series of visits and social events that clearly were part of the way the non-conformist network had been organised by Coleridge’s friends to help him on his way.  Cottle says ‘he obtained letters of introduction to influential men in the respective towns he meant to visit’.4  The main contact at Worcester appears to have been a certain Martin Barr, a local businessman and joint proprietor of the Worcester Porcelain manufactory.  Only the expected arrival of the partner, Mr Flight, from London prevented him from sleeping there.  The following day he dined with Barr, on the Monday visited the porcelain manufactory of Flight and Barr itself and left on the coach for Birmingham on the Tuesday (the coach leaving at 8.00 a.m.).  Two more people are named; one he met, a certain Mr Sandford; one he regretted missing, for ‘to my lasting regret Mr Osborne is out of town’ (CL I 175).

       The connexion between Wade and Barr merits some examination as one particular example of the introductions that Cottle mentions.  A few details can be gleaned, and some hypotheses made, as to its precise nature.  Firstly, it is clear Wade knew Barr fairly intimately.  In the second of the two letters he wrote to Wade that Sunday, Coleridge says ‘Mr and Mrs Barr desire their remembrance’, and perhaps more tellingly, ‘Little Charles Barr begs his love to you’,9 suggesting some intimacy.  What might be the basis of this intimacy?  Interestingly, it appears that Martin Barr was a linen draper in Worcester before he bought into the partnership in the porcelain works,5 and Wade is described as ‘linen draper’ in his marriage allegation of 1795.6 More speculatively, Wade appears possibly to have Worcestershire connections.  A letter of Coleridge’s to Wade in March 1797 was addressed to ‘Mr Wade at Mrs Wade’s at Pershore, Worcestershire’ (re-addressed to ‘at Mrs Cooper’s, Queen’s Square No. 48—Bristol’—Cooper was Wade’s wife’s maiden name). In this letter Coleridge says, ‘Our love to Mrs Wade—I rejoice to hear that you are likely to settle in Bristol’ (CL I 316).  An entry in the Gutch notebook reads ‘Mr Wade/at MrsWade’s/Pershore/Worcestershire’ (CN I 169).  In religion Barr was a Presbyterian Congregationalist, whereas it appears Wade was a Baptist.  Certainly in his will of 1842 he names the pastor of a Bristol Baptist Chapel as an executor.7  He also left legacies to people living in Eckington, a small village near Pershore, ‘in grateful acknowledgement for their kindness and attention to my deceased mother’.  Pershore has a long tradition as a strong Baptist centre in Worcestershire.  Most speculatively, a Josiah Wade was baptised in Pershore in 1762, and this would fit the reported age of our Josiah




Wade at his death.8  His mother is Sarah Wade, and a Sarah Wade was buried at Eckington in 1810.9  However, it has to be said in counter argument that in the 1841 census returns for Bristol he is recorded as being born in the County, presumably Gloucestershire.10  Is this a case of the misremembering of a man nearly 80 years old?

       I should like to examine these people that he met in Worcester in more detail because I believe they reinforce previous assumptions about the political and religious milieu that Coleridge either sought out for himself, or was introduced to by his friends and contacts.  Tim Whelan has recently made a case for the importance of Baptists in Coleridge’s Bristol circle (notably Cottle) and refers to the way studies of his life introduce us to numerous individuals whose lives intertwined with his and how a knowledge of them throws light on Coleridge himself.11  Martin Barr is in many ways the most interesting of the three, but I should like first to talk briefly about the two others that Coleridge names.

       Mr Sandford is the most shadowy figure, but what is known of him chimes with the sort of person Coleridge might well have found congenial company.  William Sandford was appointed a surgeon at the Worcester Royal Infirmary in July 1793 and served there for 26 years.12  Given Coleridge’s experiences only a few years previously with his brother Luke in the London Hospital, and his record that at that time he was ‘wild to be apprenticed to a surgeon’,13 there seems little doubt they would have had much to talk about.

       The Revd George Osborn was the minister at the Congregational church at Worcester.  He took up this post in 1791, continuing till his death in 1812.14  A Victorian history of Nonconformity in Worcester says that ‘as a preacher Mr Osborn seems to have been conspicuous’15 and given Coleridge’s talents in this direction (if we accept Hazlitt’s rather than Cottle’s accounts) perhaps explains his disappointment at not meeting him.  Other activities that mark him out include the fact that he established the first Sunday school in the City.  In 1800 he felt it necessary to preach a sermon defending these schools against the charge that they were ‘seminaries of sedition and atheism and nurseries of indolence, pride and disaffection’.16  The mention of sedition is interesting in the light of criticisms Coleridge himself faced.  It might well be relevant here to refer to the sermon Coleridge was to preach at Nottingham later in his travels, probably on 31 January 1796 on behalf of a charity school there (LPR




Appendix A).  He refers in that sermon to those who object that Sunday schools, by removing the ‘ignorance that is necessary in order to keep the common people in obedience… unfit them for their status in life’.  However, the final comment on Osborn is also intriguing in its implications.  The author says ‘[Osborn’s] peculiar views as a Baptist must have led to some inconvenience between him and his congregation.’  An historian of the church says ‘his invitation having been far from unanimous, mutual dissatisfaction arose’.17  Here we find a mix of Baptist and Congregationalist in Barr’s own church, and Barr was instrumental in Osborn’s appointment.  This shows that divisions between these denominations were not always simple.  Indeed an earlier pastor at the Worcester Congregational church, Mr Belsham, later became a noted Unitarian 18.

       Martin Barr is perhaps the most interesting figure of those Coleridge met in Worcester.  Coleridge himself says: ‘Mr Barr received me most kindly… We had much and very various conversation in which Mr Barr appeared to me a deep thinking Man.’ (CL I 175)  Given Cottle’s comment that ‘at this time there was little of the true interchangeable conversation in Mr. C’ it may well be asked how Barr got any chance to impress Coleridge with his capabilities, but nevertheless I should like to ask what we can know about Martin Barr that would suggest why Coleridge would have found him so?  Martin Barr was already a businessman in Worcester (probably, as mentioned earlier, originally a draper in partnership with a Robert Gillam) when, in 1791, he became a partner in the porcelain manufactory with Thomas Flight, who himself had bought out the founders of the firm.19  Not only did these men share a business, they also shared a church, the ‘Christian Society of Protestant Dissenters of the Presbyterian or Independent Denomination at Worcester’, later to become the Congregational church, in Angel Street, Worcester.  Barr was a leading member of this church for many years.  He and his wife were baptised into it in 1784 20, and he was a Trustee of the church till his death in 1813.  He clearly was closely associated with the pastors of the church.  We have sermons Osborn preached at the funerals of two of Barr’s children 21, and Osborn’s ‘Sunday Scholar’s Hymnbook’ was dedicated to ‘Mr Barr, the friend of the poor and the peculiar patron of the Evangelical Society’.22  Osborn had recollected, in a sermon of 1800 about the Sunday school, that ‘soon after coming to reside in this city I was led to notice multitudes of poor, idle, miserable-looking children sauntering and begging about the streets’.23  As a result he proposed the formation of an Evangelical Society.  Martin Barr




became a prime mover in this Society.  Its minute book 24 gives an interesting commentary on the concerns and beliefs of these men who had been chosen by his friends as likely to give the young Coleridge a welcome in Worcester.  ‘Observing the signs of the times in the revolutions of Kingdoms, the desolations of war and the lamentable effects of passion and violence around us, we are led to infer some awful crisis in human condition… yet in this state of national calamity and danger we are not destitute of some good hope.’  Therefore the Society was formed with the object of supporting and spreading the gospel in this and other countries; to encourage evangelical preaching in towns and villages; to promote the instruction of the poor and ignorant, especially children; and to support a library for parishioners.  These activities seem to me to coincide quite closely with those that Coleridge identified in the first issue of The Watchman as ‘counteracting the impediments to the diffusion of knowledge’. These were the progress of the Methodists and other disciples of Calvin; the institution of large manufactories, ‘in many of which it is the custom for a newspaper to be regularly read’ (was this the case, perhaps, in Barr’s manufactory?); the number of Book-Societies established; and the increasing experience of the ‘dreadful effects of War and Corruption’ (W 12-14).  All of these find some response in what Coleridge saw happening in Worcester on his visit.  Nick Roe has pointed out the distinctively religious dimension to Coleridge’s radicalism in the 1790s 25 and so it is perhaps no surprise that Coleridge felt at home with these men.

       However, it was also Barr who advised Coleridge that he was unlikely to do any business in Worcester as the ‘Aristocrats are so numerous and the influence of the clergy so extensive’ (CL I 175).  The political history of Worcester, with a constituency seat controlled by the interests of the East India Company 26, and a place upbraided by Adams and Jefferson on their visit of 1786 for not knowing their Civil War battlefields or recognising the ‘Ground where Liberty was fought for’ 27 would seem merely to reinforce this view of an establishment stronghold.  Yet Martin Barr himself can perhaps be seen as forming part of a developing group in the city seeking either to modify and join that establishment or create their own alternative establishment.  Perhaps he had other reasons to warn this young radical about publishing his newspaper in the city where he, Barr, was making a position for himself?  Indeed, Nick Roe has pointed out that ‘by the end of 1795… Coleridge’s status was comparable to that of leading figures of metropolitan radicalism’.28  Quite a guest for the worthy industrialist to entertain in a place like Worcester!

       To illustrate this possible tension I should like to refer to the publication




of Valentine Green’s History and Antiquities of the City and Suburbs of Worcester.  This appeared only a few months after Coleridge’s visit.  Green dedicates his volumes to King George III and says ‘ WORCESTER has become a complete illustration of the substantial good which results from a steady adherence to the principles of orderly government, supported by our glorious constitution; under the benign auspices of which rational liberty and social harmony have not only been secured to WORCESTER but to all classes of a brave, a generous, a free people… ’.  Along with the expected subscribers from the professions, the church and the gentry we also find Martin Barr, Thomas Flight and the Revd. George Osborn.  The volume includes a large plate of the manufactory 29, dedicated to Messrs Flight and Barr by the author (doubtless for a not insubstantial consideration) and the text makes clear how the success of the porcelain works was boosted by the patronage of George III who visited the City in 1788 and who visited the works and urged them to open a shop in London.  Green also says that ‘ the nobility and gentry who visit the City are conducted through their beautiful and extensive shew room and from thence have cards of introduction to view the manufactory’.30  Coleridge visited the works on his visit, and in a way his visit seems to mimic in some respects that earlier one of George III.  George arrived by coach from the north, went to the Cathedral to hear music, toured the works and left for Cheltenham.  Coleridge arrived by coach from the south, enjoyed the church music of the Barrs—‘After church, in the evening, they sat round and sang hymns so sweetly that they overwhelmed me’ (CL I 178)—visited the works and left by coach for the north.  In a way he enacts an alternative visit of patronage, and perhaps has an ambivalent role as tourist and traveller as well as radical author. Holmes comments on Coleridge’s ‘rumbustuous’ style in his letters to Wade 31, and in such comments as his remarks on ‘the neatness’ of the village of Kempsey we are reminded of an earlier tradition of traveller’s writing.  It is ‘Samuel Taylor Coleridge, gent.’ (as he is styled in his marriage allegation) 32 who is the radical, and it is Mr Barr and Josiah Wade, linen draper, who are his contacts, but who are also working their ways up within the older establishment.  By the time of his death, Wade is also called ‘gent’.

       Finally, does Coleridge’s visit throw any light on his poetic and psychological sensibilities at that time?  In a rather unexpected final paragraph to a later letter he suddenly reverts to the subject of the Barr family.  ‘What lovely children Mr Barr at Worcester has! After church, in the evening, they sat round and sang hymns so sweetly that they overwhelmed me.  It was with great difficulty I abstained from weeping aloud—and the infant in Mrs Barr’s arms leaned forwards, and stretched out his little arms and stared and smiled. It seemed a picture of Heaven where the different orders of the blessed join




different voices in one melodious allelujah; and the baby looked like a young spirit just at that moment arrived in Heaven, startling at the seraphic songs and seized at once with wonder and rapture’ (CL I 178).  These images seem to chime with familiar imagery from his poetry of the time, with the 1796 collection about to be published, such as,


Perchance, thou raisest high th’enraptured hymn

     Amid the blazing Seraphim!

(‘Monody on the Death of Chatterton’, PW I 139)




O thou that rearest with celestial aim

The future Seraph in my mortal frame,

Thrice holy FAITH! Whatever thorns I meet

As on I totter with unpractis’d feet,

Still let me stretch my arms and cling to thee,

Meek Nurse of Souls through their long Infancy!

(‘To an Infant’, PW I 195)


and perhaps most tellingly  the original 1798 ending of ‘Frost at Midnight’


And stretch and flutter from thy mother’s arms

As thou wouldst fly for very eagerness. (PW I 495)


       And the idyllic family group brings me to my penultimate thought.  There has been much written about Coleridge’s idealisation of various family groups he encountered, perhaps as a reaction to his own almost orphan-like upbringing. Reggie Watters, in a more general discussion of the feminine influence on Coleridge’s early life33 points out the importance not only of the sister in his attempts to create an ideal family but also the older, maternal, figure such as Mary Evans’ mother.  So I should like finally to add one more minor candidate for the group of stabilising idealised feminine figures in Coleridge’s life.  Somewhat as he had been attracted to the motherly figure of Mrs Evans, Coleridge is attracted to the matronly, motherly figure of Mrs Barr eulogised at the heart of her family group; ‘his wife is indeed a charming matron. A more matronly and more pleasing Woman I do not recollect to have seen’ (CL I 175).34




I am most grateful to Mrs Joan Coleridge for generously giving me permission to reproduce the previously unpublished text of the second letter Coleridge sent to Wade from Worcester that Sunday in January 1796.  The letter is now in the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, to which Institution I am also grateful for supplying me with a copy of the original.  I have broadly followed Griggs’ layout in the Collected Letters edition.




Mr Wade/No. 5/Wine Street/Bristol


My dear Mr Wade

       I had written and put the letter in the post before I received yours’—and of two evils I prefer putting you to the expense of two Letters rather than leave you in any suspense concerning the receipt of your’s—The five pounds is perfectly adequate to all my expences, both here and at Birmingham—I entirely approve of the plan on which you have persuaded Mrs Coleridge to act—Altho’ the new paper at Manchester is rather against the success of my work—inasmuch as it renders it less necessary—But “hang it! (as James Jennings said of his ‘Times, a Satire’) it has merit and must succeed!!  I am rejoiced to hear your intelligence concerning the printing—we equally in time as well as opinion must have coincided in our thinking about Charles Danvers—God bless him!  Little Charles Barr particularly begs his love to you—what an exquisite little fellow Samuel Barr is—I am going to meeting—Mr & Mrs Barr desire their remembrances.

Excuse my putting you to the expence of postage for such a naked nonentity of a Letter & believe me gratefully & affectionately Yours!




Sunday Afternoon [10 January 1796]



The Manchester newspaper may be ‘The Iris’ which Coleridge mentions later in CL I 184.

For James Jennings (1772-1833) see Griggs’ note (CL I 106).  At this period Coleridge often seems to use him as the butt of comments on what constitutes poor poetry.  See CL I 106, 290; CL I 959 and CN I 1239.

[1]           J.Cottle ‘Reminiscences of S.T.Coleridge and R.Southey’  1834

2          Paul Magnuson ‘Subscribers to Coleridge’s Poems (1796) or Duckings and Drubbings in Nottingham’ in The Coleridge Bulletin NS 12 Winter 1998.

3          A.Clayson, Wish You Were Here—Coleridge’s Holidays at Ramsgate 1819-1833. (2000)


4          J.Cottle Reminiscences of S.T.Coleridge and R.Southey 1834 p.76.

5          R. Jones Porcelain in Worcester 1751-1951—An Illustrated Social History.(Parkbarn 1993) pp. 6-7

6          Bristol Record Office 11/10/1795

7          Public Record Office PROB 11/1966.

8          Worcestershire Record Office x850 Pershore BA 9185/1(iii). ‘Josiah Wade bapt. 2/10/1762 son of Samuel and Sarah Wade’.

9          WRO x850 Eckington BA 8551/1(a)(iv).

10        1841 Census returns for Bristol. BRO FLC/1841/41.

11        T.Whelan ‘Joseph Cottle the Baptist’ in The Charles Lamb Bulletin NS No.111 July 2000. pp.96-108.

12        W.H.McMenemy A History of the Worcester Royal Infirmary (1947): J.Lane Worcester Infirmary in the Eighteenth Century. Worcestershire Historical Society Occasional Publications No. 6 1992. p.36 and note.

13        J.Gilman The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge London 1838 p.23.

14        WRO 898.5 BA 2459/7(xxiii) ‘Notes on the History of Angel Street Congregational Church complied by Samuel Blackwell’.

15        J.Noake Worcester Sects 1861 p.129.

16        ibid. p.126.

17        Blackwell note 20.

18        Dictionary of National Biography. Is this the ‘Belcham’ who was present at the 4th November 1789 dinner of the London Revolutionary Society? N.Roe Wordsworth and Coleridge the Radical Years. p.15.

19        Jones, note 5. p. 6-7.

20        WRO 898.5 BA 2459/1

21        WRO 898.5 BA 2459/7 (viii)

22        WRO 898.5 BA 2459/7 (xiii)

23        Noake, note 21. p.127.

24        WRO 898.5 BA 2459/5 ‘Minute Book of the Worcester Evangelical Society’.

25        N Roe, note 18, p.126.

26        A. McDonald ‘Two 18th Century Parliamentary Elections in Worcester’ in Transactions of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society NS Vol. XXII (1946) p. 55 ff.

27        S.Andrews The Rediscovery of America p.50. I am grateful to Stuart Andrews for drawing my attention to this reference.

28        N.Roe, note 18, p.117.

29        Green. Vol. II opposite p. 19.

30        Ibid. Vol. II p.21.

31        R.Holmes Coleridge—Early Visions (1989) p.108.

32        Bristol Record Office.

33        R.Watters ‘Coleridge, Female Friendship and ‘Lines written at Shurton Bars’’, The Coleridge Bulletin NS 15 Spring 2000. p. 4-5

34        This article is the result of much encouragement from fellow Conference attendees over the years. I am particularly grateful to Tim Fulford for looking at a draft and giving me the confidence to propose it as a paper for the 2002 Conference.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many friends I have made at Conference for widening my appreciation of Coleridge with their stimulating insights and inspiring research.