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Public Record Office

As one might expect, the PRO records relevant to the study of William Hone are largely confined to materials about Hone's numerous brushes with the law--his bankruptcies, imprisonments, and (especially) the 1817 libel trials. The PRO also houses an extraordinary cache of materials for the historical study of Regency-period print culture more generally. This being the case, in the document catalog that follows, I have listed some sources that may not necessarily have to do with Hone per se, but that have a great deal to do with the public sphere in which he operated. The documents are listed in alphabetical order by PRO class.

PRO B 3/268

This archive contains the record of the William Hone/John Bone Bankruptcy, 1810-1813. Most of the archive consists of the rather dry legal documents surrounding the bankruptcy case. There are, however, some invaluable records here for the biographer or the book history scholar. For example, one of the documents is a deposition from the Hone and Bone's shopman, Thomas Coram, that describes--albeit briefly--the events that led to the 1810 bankruptcy. Also, the file contains long lists of the names of Hone/Bone creditors along with brief descriptions of the goods or services for which the debt was incurred. From such lists, it is possible to generate a picture of the network of printers, publishers, booksellers, and others within which the Hone and Bone bookshop found its (unsuccessful) niche.

PRO B 4/30

Docket Book, Index to Bankrupts. A large alphabetical register of bankruptcies, 1810. Hone is listed along with John Bone, as "Bone, John and William Hone Booksellers Strand."

PRO HO 42/158-165

Excerpts from PRO HO 42/158
Excerpts from PRO HO 42/159

Home Office Papers. These archives contain the Home Office correspondence from the early months of 1817, a time of great domestic unrest in England. The letters come from Home Office spies (reporting on the activities of radicals and radical societies), concerned loyalists and clergymen, and local magistrates seeking advice on how to deal with signs of discontent and even insurrection. In the present context, the HO papers are especially valuable because many of the correspondents are writing specifically to inform Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, of the circulation of Hone's popular liturgical parodies. The archives are very large, with literally hundreds of pieces of correspondence--just a very few highlights from the records are listed below.

HO 42/158--13 and 218 are domestic spies' reports on Spencean Society meetings; Also, there are several copies enclosed of Hone's parodies and of his Reformists' Register (which started publication in early February). Most of the correspondents display some anxiety over the circulation of such cheap political pamphlets. To offer just one example, a letter from the Town Clerk's Office, Chester, reads as follows:

My Lord, I was led by business yesterday into a cottage about 8 miles from this place where I found the small pamphlet I now inclose-- On enquiring how it came there I was informed that a person in the village had lagely been in Birmingham and this with others had been thrown into the coach in wc he travelled and that Books of this description are industriously circulated by persons in that neighborhood by throwing them into and upon the coaches as they pass. (HO 42/158, 731)

HO 42/160--275 contains this ominous note (so far as Hone is concerned) from the Attorney General's office:

M. Hobhouse presents his Compliments to M. Addington, in returning the inclosed Letter from the Mayor of Weymouth, has the honour to inform him that the printed Pamphlet which it contains appears to be a Reprint of one of Hone's Publications, which the Attorney General means to prosecute.

Lincoln's Inn
Feb 26 1817

The Mayor of Weymouth's letter contained copies of Hone's parodies (reprinted win Wareham by a M. Groves) and a question about whether he could prosecute the producers and hawkers of such literature.

HO 42/162--232 contains Lord Sidmouth's famously repressive "Circular Letter"of 27 March 1817 advising local magistrates to be particularly aggressive in prosecuting such "seditious and blasphemous" literature as Hone's parodies. The context--both anxious communications from the local magistrates and numerous enclosed copies of Hone's pamphlets and his Reformists' Register--makes it quite clear that Sidmouth had Hone in mind as he drafted the directive to the magistrates.

PRO PC 2/199

Privy Council Register, 1817. Contains the records of the official court response to the attack on the Prince Regent, 28 January 1817. This attack, a stone thrown at the Prince's carriage, was the basis for Hone's parody, The Bullet te Deum; with The Canticle of the Stone. Also, an entry for 14 February describes the apprehension of the chief operatives of the Spencean Society--Watson, Preston, the two Evanses, and so forth--and presents their depositions.

PRO PC 2/201

Privy Council Register, 1819. Contains the Royal Proclamation of July 1819 (on the eve of "Peterloo," the Manchester Massacre) urging increased vigilance and repression in the face of increased signs of public discontent and disaffection. In particular the Proclamation is a document "solemnly warning all His Majesty's liege subjects to guard against every attempt to overthrow the Law and subvert the Government so happily established within this realm" (PC 2/201, 433). Most especially, the Proclamation aims to stifle private military training and the circulation of anti-government publications: "And we do charge and command all Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, Chief Magistrates of Cities, Boroughs and Corporations, and all other Magistrates throughout Great Britain that they do within their respective jurisdictions make diligent enquiry in order to discover and bring to justice the authors and Printers of such Wicked and Seditious Writings as aforesaid and all who shall circulate the same" (PC 2/201, 434).


King's Bench Prison, 1817. Item number 250 is the entry describing Hone's incarceration on 5 May 1817. Next to the paragraph describing the charges ("for certain misdemeanors in printing and publishing certain impious profane and scandalous libels") is a marginal note reading: "Dis[charged] 2nd July 1817, by order Ellenborough."

PRO PRIS 4/38, ff. 21

King's Bench Prison, 1826. Hone earns a full page of the massive King's Bench Prison record book for his bankruptcy arrest in April of 1826. The page lists several creditors and the amounts owed; in the margin next to each creditor's entry is a note dated sometime in late 1828 announcing the dismissal of the debt.

PRO PROB 6/219

"Administrations" of the estates of persons who died without wills. Fol. 290, quoted in full:

William Hone.

40 On the tenth day [of January 1843] a division of the goods chattels and Credits of William Hone late of No. 8 Grove Place Tottenham in the County of Middlesex was granted to Sarah Hone, Widow, the Relicts of the said Deceased having been first sworn duly to Administor.

PRO TS 11/41 Part 3

Treasury Solicitors Papers. This file contains the legal documents and depositions relevant to the case of the King vs. James Williams, a Portsea printer who had republished Hone's 1817 liturgical parodies. Williams was prosecuted in November 1817 (and found guilty) as a kind of test case; the Attorney General wanted to make sure his case would persuade the jury before he brought charges specifically against Hone.

PRO TS 11/43 (4.1, 4.2)

Treasury Solicitors Papers. The file contains legal documents and correspondence relevant to the 1817 libel prosecution of T. J. Wooler. Of particular interest here is the correspondence between various legal and governmental officers and the lawyer Charles Pearson. Pearson was laying a case for challenging the selection of "special juries" in cases of libel--his work was instrumental in earning Hone's acquittals in December 1817.

PRO TS 11/44, book 164

Treasury Solicitors Papers. A voluminous and detailed file containing the bulk of the official paperwork surrounding the prosecution of Hone in December 1817. The file is packed with depositions, legal correspondence, courtroom notes, and so forth. Essential reading for the student of Hone's famous encounter with the the libel laws.