Jack Hutchinson and his cousin Tom Monkhouse had run their farm at Hindwell in Radnorshire since 1809, together with their sisters Joanna Hutchinson and Mary Monkhouse. In March 1815, rumours were flying around, even in the countryside.
With Tom away, Mary wrote on 20 March to tell him that Joanna had ridden to nearby Presteigne ‘in hopes of finding a newspaper to satisfy us on the report we have had of B. having entered Paris’. It was terrible not to have a paper, ‘at such a time as this when we are all anxiety both on this subject and the Corn laws –we have not had one since the 13th and therefore are in utter darkness, probably made more gloomy by reports which are afloat in the neighbourhood . . . What can these wise Emperors & Kings think of themselves now, for giving such a tyranny an opportunity of once more bringing misery upon the world when they had it in them to destroy him?’
In contrast to her own anxiety, Mary observed that most farmers seemed to be pleased, having feared a drastic lowering of corn prices when peace came. More than half of them, who ‘think of themselves alone and look no further than the present, would be most happy to have war again’.
Mary’s letter gives us an insight into the uneven circulation of news around Britain in this period, and the constant struggle to separate fact from fiction; at the same time, her comments on the farmers’ satisfaction at the resumption of war hints at the variety of ways that Napoleon’s return affected everyday life in Britain.
Jenny Uglow's latest book, 'In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon's Wars, 1793-1815', is a crowd biography of the experience of different people from all classes and ages - a view of the home front through twenty years of war.