Penny follows the story of the captives of the Revolutionary War, and the course of events which led to their housing in Stapleton Prison, Bristol.
Although the greatest popular movement in Georgian Britain was probably that formed around military volunteering during the wars against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, historians have written comparatively little on the subject and even when an attempt has been made the maritime volunteers have hardly ever commanded more than a few vague paragraphs. This is unfortunate as an examination of pay lists in the Public Record Office, letters in the Bristol Record Office and the columns of contemporary local newspapers have revealed a useful amount of information. John Penny investigates this shadowy corps, put in place to protect the Severn Estuary against possible French naval incursions.
Five hundred years ago, Bristol was the second or third largest town in England ( only London, York, and possibly Norwich outstripped it in wealth and population), but was finding it difficult to maintain this position in the face of increasingly difficult economic conditions. Bristol shared in the problems besetting many of its rivals: population growth was held back by recurrent epidemics, with the result that levels of trade and demand for manufactured goods remained low, while the shortage of tenants meant that houses fell empty and soon decayed; the increasing competition from rural clothiers hit the urban textile industry, and the town's elite showed growing reluctance to volunteer for burdensome and costly civic office. Peter Fleming offers an insight to life in Bristol in the last decade of the fifteenth century.