[1819] - Trial of Richard Carlile, radical publisher

Born in Ashburton, Devon in 1790, Richard Carlile began his working career as a shop assistant and itinerant tinworker. After moving to London, he began selling pamphlets and journals, and writing radical tracts. In 1817 he went into business with William Sherwin as the publisher of the Weekly Political Register. In doing so he became liable for prosecution for the journal’s content. In August 1817 he reprinted William Hone’s political parodies (without Hone’s permission) and was arrested for seditious libel and blasphemy, only to be released as charges were dropped against Hone.

From 1817 to 1819 he immersed himself in the literature of political and religious radicalism, starting his own journal, The Republican, and reprinting the writings of Thomas Paine. In 1819 he set up as a publisher and bookseller at 55 Fleet Street, and was invited to be one of the principal speakers at the Peterloo meeting on 16 August. He was, however, arrested again on charges of seditious libel for material published in Sherwin’s Weekly Political Register and The Republican. His trial began on 12 October 1819. On 21 November he was found guilty and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in Dorchester gaol. Much of his time in prison was spent in isolation, although he was able to continue his work as a publisher in spite of the efforts of the government to prevent him. Subsequently, Carlile’s wife and sister were also imprisoned as a result of their involvement in his publishing work. Carlile, however, soon became a figurehead for radical opposition.

He was released from prison in November 1825, returning to London the following year to open a new bookshop at 62 Fleet Street. In late 1826 The Republican ceased publication due to reduced circulation and Carlile embarked on the first in a series of lecture tours around the country. In May 1830 he helped to establish the Rotunda in Blackfriars Road, a venue at which speakers delivered lectures on politics and religion. It soon became a centre for working-class radicalism in the period. In 1831 he was again imprisoned for seditious libel, and began to experience severe financial difficulties. In later life his focus turned to theology. His final venture was a weekly periodical entitled The Christian Warrior. It folded after only four issues. On 10 February 1843 he died in London and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery.

Useful Links and Further Reading