Tackley Local History Group

Tackley History Mysteries No. 4

Richard Edgington, the Tackley Poet

Richard Edgington was born here in the early 1780s and died on 30 April 1870, aged 88, in the Union Poorhouse in Woodstock. The Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette on 7 May 1870 described him as ‘the author of some very credible rhymes which displayed a natural poetic taste’, and the Bicester Herald on 15 May 1870 called him ‘The Tackley poet’.

Edgington appears in the census returns for 1841, 1851 and 1861, where his birth date is given as 1785 or 1786. In 1851 he and his wife Sarah, who was also born in Tackley, were living at Weaveley Farm, though not as the tenant farmers. Ten years later he was a lodger with the Bolton family in Tackley; Sarah had presumably died.

Have any of his verses survived? Were any written down, let alone printed? The description ‘the author of some very credible rhymes which displayed a natural poetic taste’ suggests they had a life outside the village and that his reputation was wider than Tackley. So perhaps they were published, although Edgington does not feature in the British Library or Bodleian catalogues.

He certainly had a local reputation for eloquence beyond his poetry. On 9 March 1848 the major local landowners – Sir George Dashwood, William Evetts, the Reverend Sharpe, Henry Hall (of Barton Abbey) and Mark Chaundy – issued notices starting the process of enclosing the common lands and fields in the village. At a meeting in the Gardiner Arms on Monday, 19 June, village labourers attended in force and elected Edgington their spokesman — or as he described himself, ‘representative of the peasantry’. On their behalf he objected altogether to the proposed enclosure, and refused to put any claim to ‘the supposed or real rights of the peasantry’ in writing — the only way, legally, by which they might be taken into account. His refusal to do so was no doubt an assertion that he did not recognise the whole process.

An account of the meeting in the Banbury Guardian on 22 June 1848 says that he continued ‘and in copious, sometimes eloquent, language urged the folly of “asking for a man’s own.” “Shall I,” he said, “having paid for the shoes on my feet, condescend to put in a claim for them to a man, or to a set of men, who can have no sort of right to them?”’ James Saunders, the Enclosure Commissioner, who chaired the meeting, took notes of what he said, ‘but Edgington, like a true British freeman, refused to “put his hand” to any paper whatsoever.’

His use of the term ‘peasantry’ is unusual in a British context and suggests that he was acquainted with recent Continental history, and possibly with some political writings, probably French. This is partly borne out by the opening words of the speech he went on to give at the meeting, which began: “When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy and seized the crown…” Unfortunately, none of the rest is recorded.

He was clearly an educated man too, though undoubtedly largely self-taught.

The enclosure of Tackley’s common lands did not take place until 1873, due in part to the opposition of villagers which Edgington so eloquently expressed.

It would be interesting to know more about him. Has any of his poetry survived? Who in Tackley was he related to? How did he educate himself? Was he connected to the Methodist Church, as so many of Tackley’s radical voices were?

Research and text: John Perkins

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