Richard Carlile, born 1790:

'Enfield Highway,

December 7th, 1842.

Love,—This is calculated to reach you at Ashburton on my birthday. In the year 1790, fifty-two years ago, I first drew breath at three in the morning of the eighth day, in an upper room of a large barrack-like house, the lower corner of Steave-ahead Lane*. The manger of Bethlehem was not more humble. I was born into much the same conditions I now find my children. With a father much too talented to apply himself to any of the ordinary business of life, my subsistence depended on the industry of a mother, and the kindness of relatives. I was in this condition till five years of age, when a shop at the corner of Lawrence Lane, given up to my mother by an old uncle, for ten years furnished moderate supplies for subsistence. In this respect I was brought up, like yourself, on the side of a mother, save that you had a better father as a family man. I lost my father at four and a half years old, but I cannot see that he ever ministered to my subsistence, though he was a man of much talent; at last he profligately enlisted for a soldier, under which discipline he soon died at the age of thirty-four. In the chapel of Lawrence Lane, where, from nine to twelve years of age, I got some Latin, you will probably find my name cut in the boards, if it be worth looking for. At 'Lads-Well, at the bottom of that lane, you will see the scene of some early exploits of mine, one of which was.....with a new suit of clothes on, trying to jump over this well.

I jumped in! and on a Sunday, too! The stile of the first meadow was a leaping bar, and in the church-yard you cannot see a tomb or headstone, forty years old, but I have jumped over it. Should you see the centre of the town flooded in its drains, you may see my picture as a boy...... beating through it. I have bathed and fished in every brook, and stolen apples from every tree within a mile of the town. Julian** is not near as excitable over his paper cap, embellished on and before the 5th of November, than I was then in scouring the hedges for miles around, from daylight till dark, to gather a faggot wherewith to burn the effigy of 'old Tom Paine', my now venerated political father! I have played at hoop through every crick and corner of the shambles and market-place, have well pelted both towers with tennis-balls, and the flagstones of the street with peg-tops, and have often formed one of the troops of rag-a-muffins and........[I] have 'dabbed' at, instead of eating, cakes and treacle on Brim Park. As a boy I had neither father nor master, nor can I bear anything of the kind as a man. With me the rights of the boys and the rights of men are one and the same thing, and you know how much I advocate the rights of woman. My first schoolmistress was old 'Cherry Chalk', who taught me the alphabet on a horn book, and performed all sorts of cures without medicine by the potent power of charms. She was a witch, but much respected as one who performed wonderful cures. There was another old woman who had the title of 'Witch', and one in a town is enough on whom Christian ignorance might vent its spleen. It happened that I escaped all injury from the witch, as I was a favorite boy with her until I grew old enough to be mischievous to her. Whether old 'Cherry Chalk' perfected me in the alphabet I cannot now say, but I perfectly well remember that I was taught about Christ, Cross, or Criss-Cross; now, I dare say that this emblem of the Christian religion was at the bottom of all her charms and spells. I had two other school mistresses of a more respectable stamp than old 'Cherry Chalk'. I believe the first taught for three half-pence a week and the other for twopence. When I got to a five-penny school it was considered an extravagant affair, too expensive to be borne, and a successful effort was made to put me upon the list of free scholars. From the age of six to nine I was at writing and arithmetic; from nine to twelve at Latin. But the sum of all this narrative is that though at twelve years of age I left school, with a knowledge of writing, arithmetic, and the Latin language, and a pretty good knowledge of words and the tact of spelling them, I was wholly ignorant of grammar. I remember well when my severe old writing and ciphering master was told that I was about to leave him to learn Latin, he said, 'Hi, hi! you had better learn English first'. This old man never gave me a chastisement without saying, 'There, you larned rascal, take that! You will thank me for it by the time you are twenty years old.' For my part, I had no more idea of school education than that it was a pastime for boys, and I sought an exchange from old Hanaford's to the Latin school with no idea but that of more play and less punishment, and because all the better dressed boys were there; but I found after that this smattering of Latin gave me everywhere an air of superiority, and among such company as I was able to keep I passed for a scholar. The very vanity and flattery attached to this state of mind, I believe, induced me to seek further knowledge. It is a singular circumstance, but I can trace both the Quarterly Review and the Republican to the free schools of Ashburton. Wm. Gifford and Dr. Ireland, the Dean of Westminster, both received the rudiments of their education at these free schools, and I came after them to undo, I hope, all the mischief that they as politicians have done. These free schools of Ashburton were not so free for the poor as for the rich; one of them was a school for Latin and Greek wholly, free by endowment, and here only the children of the richer people were admitted. Here, also, I followed Dr. Ireland and Wm. Gifford.'

*Heavyhead ? Possibly a scanning or transcription error. ** Carlile's son.

From Richard Carlile to Eliza Sharples Carlile, quoted in The battle for the press, as told in the story of the life of Richard Carlile, Theophila Carlile Campbell (his daughter),London 1899, chapter 2 Accessed 17-11-2013