COLUMN: Figureheads fought against ‘Corn Laws’

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The town of Dronfield – halfway between Sheffield and Chesterfield – has many historic buildings, but perhaps the most unusual and most photographed feature there is the Peel Monument.

This unusually shaped structure stands at the top of High Street, on the site of the market cross and stocks and used to house the town water pump.

Made of gritstone, it was built in 1854 and is a tribute to Sir Robert Peel, one-time Prime Minister. Peel was a Conservative, and instrumental in the Repeal of the ‘Corn Laws’ in 1846.

The Corn Laws were regulations governing and restricting the import and export of grain, which kept prices high and favoured local producers. This meant many people could not afford to buy enough bread. An Anti-Corn Law League was formed and this group worked to turn public opinion against the laws.

When the Irish potato crop failed in 1845, things got even worse and this persuaded Peel to support the call for the repeal of the Corn Laws. He campaigned for this, even though most of his own party opposed him. The laws were liked by some politicians as many had a vested interest in the high prices.

Near the Peel Monument is the Peel Centre. This was the former Methodist Free Church. The remaining congregation gave it to the town for use as a community centre in 1990.

Another monument to the repeal of the Corn Laws, a cross, can be seen at Stoney Middleton, near the Moon Inn. This was erected in 1846 and bears that date on it.

One of the most famous voices against the Corn Laws was Ebeneezer Elliot, who was born in Masbrough near Rotherham.

He was a poet known as the ‘Corn Law Rhymer’ due to his political verses on the subject. His poem The Ranter, published in 1830, was the first to receive a wide audience and was much admired by the critics of the day.

Another of his Corn Law rhymes is Caged Rats, which stated: ‘Ye coop us up, and tax our bread, And wonder why we pine. But ye are fat, and round, and red, And fill’d with tax-bought wine’.

So if you happen to be passing the Peel Monument with your lunchtime sandwich give a nod to old Robert and Ebeneezer, and all those who fought the Corn Laws.