Even if you are well-versed in British history, it is unlikely that you know very much, if anything at all, about an event in 1820 known as the Cato Street Conspiracy. The conspiracy consisted of a cabal of a few underemployed working class men who hoped, without any reasonable chance of success, to decapitate the British government and to replace it with one that would value all of the people and the rights to which they were entitled.
The conspiracy was so outlandish and so wild in its conception and execution that it appears from a 200-year perspective to be comical.
But the times of the second and third decades of the 19th century in Great Britain were anything but comical for those who were not of the Jane Austen-like privileged classes. Getting steady work and food for one’s family was a daily struggle, and the government seemed to do little except to protect those who already had more than enough shelter, food, money, and opportunity.
So while the Cato Street Conspiracy was a complete failure and five of its organizers were executed and five more deported to Australia, the conditions and times that provoked the conspiracy should be taken seriously.
That is what historian Vic Gatrell has done in his recently published book, Conspiracy on Cato Street: A Tale of Liberty and Revolution in Regency London, about the conspiracy. Gatrell’s research is the subject of a recent podcast on historyhit.tv, Dan Snow’s ubiquitous website and network of podcasts. The story is one that I highly recommend.
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