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"It's not easy to imagine life 200 years ago, four years after the Duke of Wellington's victory at Waterloo brought to an end the war with Napoleon's France.


Britain was suffering economic hardship and upheaval, with less than 400,000 men having the right to vote, and parliament scarcely changed in centuries. In 'rotten boroughs' MPs were chosen by their patrons, often lords, not voters, Newly emerging cities that had boomed in the Industrial Revolution lacked any representation of their own in the House of Commons.


The rich and powerful had cracked down mercilessly on Luddite economic protesters and now were determined to clamp down on radical calls for political reform and the right to vote, denied to all but an elite. 

This was the Britain of Jane Austen, J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, and of Wordsworth, Keats, Byron and Shelley, but also of poverty, slums, food shortages, and high childhood mortality, where slavery was still legal in the British Empire (but the Slave Trade wasn't).


It was also a country which executed thieves, and transported petty criminals to Australia. It was a country where you had to be careful if you campaigned for political reform.


You might be locked up, or charged with treason or sedition, and your life might be in danger, as demonstrators found out in Manchester in this troubled year of 1819."

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