Henry Parr, the first landlord of the Cottage of Content, Sheepcote Lane, was an active supporter of reformist causes. Following the execution of Louis XVI in January 1792 and the French declaration of War with Britain in the February, any public expressions of support for democratic principles or expressions of concerns of the effects of the war on trade were met with both popular loyalist and Government hostility. In May 1794 James Watt observed that :
‘there are King’s messengers in Birmingham, who have taken up on Parr, who kept a reforming club 1 at his house, and on one or two others. The soldiers were ordered under arms to prevent tumult.’ 2
Birmingham’s reformers are said to have enjoyed a ‘revival of support’ in 1795 and1797.3 Their last incarnation, The Birmingham United Corresponding Society,4 was deemed by loyalist elements to be a ‘Jacobin’ organisation.
At their last recorded meeting, fifteen members gathered at Henry Parr’s Cottage of Content on August 3, 1797 with John Binns,5 a London delegate who had been recently arrested, tried at Warwick and acquitted, present. They were spied upon and disturbed by a gang of drunken loyalists from the nearby White Horse in Friday Street. The rights and wrongs of the meeting and its opponents were debated in a public exchange of letters.6
Concerns, even in the reformist movements, over the increasing authoritarianism and militarism displayed by the French Revolutionary state made any radical cause, especially one opposed to war with France, extremely unpopular. Despite the Society’s claim following John Binns trial that they were ‘daily increasing in numbers’, there is no record of their survival after 1797.7