When Rotherham was at the centre of opposition to the king

When Rotherham was at the centre of opposition to the king

By Gareth Dennison | 28/05/2021

When Rotherham was at the centre of opposition to the king


PERCHED high on the hill at Moorgate, Boston Castle is perhaps Rotherham’s most prominent connection with the USA.

It was named after the American city by the remarkable Thomas Howard, 3rd Earl of Effingham, who had the hunting lodge built in 1775.

This was because of his support for the Boston Tea Party — but the ties with America certainly do not stop there...

Effingham — lord of the manors of Rotherham and Kimberworth — married Catherine Proctor in Scotland in October 1765.

She was a formidable woman in her own right and may have been the driving force in his association with Rotherham.

“I am very certain the only people who go to London are those who cannot find themselves any rational amusements elsewhere,” said Catherine.

The couple lived at Holmes Hall before moving to newly-built Thundercliffe Grange, to the west of Kimberworth, in about 1778.

Effingham was a Whig and a radical — clearly evident when news of the Boston Tea Party arrived on these shores in 1774.

He grasped the chance to strongly assert his views by naming the new hunting lodge — under construction at the time — after the US city in support.

But it was another event which was to lead to his close identification with the American cause — and push him to the forefront of politics...

“To understand this, we need to look back a little,” explains historian Peter Feek. “At the age of 15, Effingham followed the normal family career path by joining the army.

“However, the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763 led to him being put on half pay with no foreseeable career path to promotion.

“To gain military experience, with the sovereign’s permission, he travelled, with his wife, to Russia, where he joined the Russian armed forces in their war against the Turks.

“He also acted as a conduit between the Russian and British courts.

“Back in Rotherham, he found a political home, with like-minded aristocrats of the Whig party who generally opposed the king’s policies. He was also, along with some of them, a founder of the St Leger.

“Politically, relationships between the American colonists and the mother country were going from bad to worse, due to a series of coercive measures initiated by London which were to provide the sparks for armed resistance.

“It was this resistance that led the government to reinforce its armed forces in the colonies.

“Effingham’s regiment and its half-pay officers was ordered to sail to New York to put the rebellion down.

“This was a dilemma for Effingham, who both regarded the colonists as his countrymen, and yet still hankered for a military career. Refusal to embark should have been a court-martial offence and an end to his military ambitions.

“It was then that we see clearly his level of integrity.”

Effingham penned a letter to the secretary of war — protesting his patriotism and asking that he be permitted to retire.

Later, in the House of Lords, he would state a principle, saying: “When the duties of a soldier and citizen become inconsistent, I shall always think myself obliged to sink the character of the soldier in that of the citizen, ’til such time as those duties shall again, by the malice of our enemies, become united.

“It is no small sacrifice which a man makes who gives up his profession; but it is a much greater, when a predilection, strengthen by habit, has given him so strong an attachment to his profession as I feel.”

His words were acclaimed — not only by the people here in Yorkshire but throughout nation, from London to Dublin.

“This made him the voice of opposition to the king’s policies,” said Mr Feek. “And that, in some ways, made Rotherham the centre of opposition to the king.

“From his seat in the Lords, Effingham continued to criticise the conduct of the war. His affiliation to the American cause was practical as well as theoretical.

“That he was patriotic was not in doubt. In 1779, when American Privateer John Paul Jones threatened Hull, he, together with Rockingham, rushed to the port to organise the defences and see off the attack.

“In 1782, he joined an unsuccessful expedition to relieve Gibraltar, which was under siege by the Spanish and French.”

The Kentish Gazette reported in January 1778: “On Tuesday last the Right Honourable, the Earl of Effingham, gave an elegant ball and supper at his seat near Rotherham; the company was numerous and brilliant: previous to the ball that truly patriotic gentleman opened a subscription for the relieving distressed American prisoners when several hundreds of pounds were raised.”

The Whigs were in government here after the US war of independence was over. Effingham was at the heart of it — as a privy counsellor and Master of the Mint.

But that did not stop him from licensing the first African American Freemasons lodge in Boston in 1782, when he was acting Grand Master of the Freemasons.

This influenced another development in American history.

When John Adams — later to succeed George Washington as president — became the first American ambassador to Britain, he and wife Abigail were welcomed by the Howards to what was a hostile court.

Abigail Adams said Catherine Howard had “a knowledge of the world that renders her a pleasing companion.”

Effingham was touted as a possibility for British ambassador to Washington but, by this point, health and financial issues were beginning to surface.

Tom Paine, one of the political theorists behind the American Revolution — and author of Rights of Man — came to Rotherham in 1788 to work at Samuel Walker’s works at Masbrough.

In 1890, the Advertiser printed a correspondent’s reminiscences of this time, which said: “At the old Holmes Hall, lived for many years Tom Payne of the Rights of Man notoriety.”

Mr Feek said: “This was an exaggeration, as he only spent six months here, but he did record meeting local noblemen who supported the American cause.

“Given that John Foljambe, Effingham’s lawyer, steward and friend, was an acquaintance of Paine’s, it is almost inconceivable that Thomas Howard was not one of those referred to.

“Thomas was appointed to be Governor of Jamaica, where he died in 1791. The sword that he would not draw was last seen in 1991 at William and Mary College in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.

“He is certainly a man Rotherham can be proud of, with what were for his age, progressive views and contributions made locally, nationally and internationally.

“He should be better known and celebrated in the town.”

For more on Thomas Howard, see:

Thomas Howard, Third Earl of Effingham by Janet Worrall. Available at Boston Castle.

Thundercliffe Grange by Peter Feek.
Available via book@thundercliffegrange.co.uk