In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it was fairly common to find rather personal adverts placed in newspapers; some were publicising a spouse who had deserted his or her family; husbands might ask shopkeepers not to let their estranged wives buy on credit from them; and petty criminals might have to apologise publicly to those they had wronged by paying for space in a newspaper.
But one newspaper advert, in 1810, was rather more unusual; so much so that it featured in the section of the Morning Post that usually covered crimes heard in the Bow Street magistrates’ office.
The advert had been placed by a Cirencester shopkeeper, who had tried to incite some soldiers billeted in the town to rebel. His actions constituted a capital crime – in other words, one punishable by death.
The authorities, however, negotiated a deal with him to let him avoid the gallows. As the Morning Post, on 4 October 1810, explained:
“A tradesman, of Cirencester, who, by his inflammatory expressions and demeanour, attempted to excite the soldiers quartered in that city to mutiny and rebellion, has, by making a public acknowledgement of his crime, both in the newspapers, and by reading it himself at the head of the regiment, escaped prosecution and the punishment of death.”
The unnamed man – ironically, later accounts of his apology either failed to name him or used his initials, WF – escaped death but achieved infamy and a lot of publicity, both in Cirencester and beyond. The newspapers ensured that he would keep his “inflammatory expressions” to himself in future.