I don't think Sir Robert Peel was the sort of guy who popped into his local for a swift half after a taxing (all too literally!) day in the office. He's not the obvious choice to bestow his name to a pub.
But here he is on Bishopsgate just opposite Liverpool Street Station. The tiled frontage sees to date from the 1930s. It has survived the demise of the pub it advertised. That local historian par excellence, the Gentle Author, says in his 'dead pub crawl' that this boozer flourished from 1871 to 1957.
For political historians, Peel was the brave Conservative prime minister who repealed the Corn Laws in 1846. In so doing, he split his party - and it remained out of power for a generation.
For Londoners, Peel was the reforming home secretary who established the Metropolitan Police back in 1829. His name provided not one but two nicknames for the fledgling police force - the distinctly archaic Peelers, and the still current Bobbies. How many politicians can match that!
It can't be a coincidence that this former pub in Bishopsgate is just two doors down from what was, and remains, Bishopsgate nick (though just to add a layer of confusion, Bishopsgate police station is run by the City of London force not the Met).
The likeness on the pub tiles is clearly based on John Linnell's portait of Peel from 1838,
The Bishopsgate pub is a drinking den no longer, but there are other boozers which bear Peel's name -
This distinctly traditional street-corner local is at the junction of Queen's Crescent and Malden Road in NW5 (that's Kentish Town). It's just a pity the signboard doesn't show a portrait of the Peeler-in-chief.
North London is a great place for pubs named after Victorian politicians. I have often popped in to the Palmerston - there's also the Lord John Russell - and the Salisbury - and the Beaconsfield (the title Disraeli took when kicked upstairs into the Lords).
The one glaring absence - I can't think of a local Gladstone. He was, perhaps, too dour a figure to inspire brewers to name a pub after him, famously commenting of the Conservatives' election victory in 1874: "We have been borne down in a torrent of gin and beer!" He believed the Tories had capitalised on dissatsifaction over the 1872 Licensing Act - which restricted pub opening hours among other things - to win over voters.
But he was the People's William. And I notice that there are a couple of Gladstone Arms in South London. It sure makes a nice change from all the Queen Vics and King Charles's.
Finding pubs named after radical politicos is not easy - the only one that comes to mind is the Bradlaugh in Northampton. Any other offers, anyone?
There's a 'lockdown' on - but that doesn't mean giving up. Indeed, it's a time to turn to passions and enthusiasms for intellectual sustenance - as well as helping family, friends and community through the pandemic.
I've just got hold of one of the key political documents of the nineteenth century. It's simply a twelve-page pamphlet - but it both was the first recognisable party election manifesto and is regarded as the founding document of modern Conservatism.
Sir Robert Peel wrote the 'Tamworth Manifesto' - here's the full text - as a statement of his views to his Parliamentary constituents in December 1834. But it was also intended for much wider circulation. It appeared in the papers and the pamphlet was widely circulated.
Two years earlier, a Whig government led by Earl Grey had seen the Great Reform Bill - the first big measure of Parliamentary reform - through to the statute book. Towards the end of 1834, King William IV dismissed the Whig government and invited Sir Robert Peel to form a Tory administration. Inconveniently for all concerned, Peel was in Rome at the time and the Tory diehard the Duke of Wellington served as acting prime minister for a couple of weeks.
Once back, Peel installed his cabinet but also sought a dissolution of Parliament and fresh elections. The Tamworth manifesto was designed to present his views - and so that of any future administration he led - to the country, particularly on the great issue of Reform which most Tories had opposed.
In the crucial passage of the manifesto, Peel declared:
'I consider the Reform Bill a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question - a settlement which no friend to the peace and welfare of this country would attempt to disturb, either by direct or insidious means'.
Peel was making clear that he had no wish to turn the clock back and undo the measure of Parliamentary reform so recently, and controversially, introduced.
He also expressed what some might see as the key principles of progressive Conservatism. He was content to abide by the spirit of Reform if that meant simply
'a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper, combining, with the firm maintenance of established rights, the correction of proved abuses, and the redress of real grievances'
but he also made clear that he had no sympathy with a process of reform that
'meant we are to live in a perpetual vortex of agitation'.
That just about sums up modern Conservatism.
Peel's Tories emerged as the largest Parliamentary group in the election of January 1835 but they were well short of an overall majority. His administration lasted just three months.
In 1841 Peel regained power and presided over a notably reforming Conservative administration which culminated in his decision to repeal the Corn Laws, so splitting his party and relegating it to the opposition benches for a generation.
If Peel is remembered above all for dividing his party, he also deserves to be recalled for setting down in a few simple sentences its lasting approach to political and constitutional change.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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