Winterbotham, William (1763–1829)

Baptist Minister. He was born in London and apprenticed to a silversmith, but after a conversion experience he became a Baptist Minister in 1789 and the following year moved to Plymouth to take charge of the congregation at How’s Lane Meeting House. In 1793 he was sentenced to four years imprisonment for two radical sermons he preached to his congregation. Winterbotham passed most of his incarceration in Newgate prison and spent his time in writing – he published an account of his trial, sermons and works of divinity and geography. On his release he returned to preach in Plymouth, moving to Newmarket in 1808. Winterbotham’s and Southey’s lives intersected when Southey visited Newgate in January 1795 to see the radical publisher James Ridgway, to whom his brother-in-law, Robert Lovell, had delivered a copy of Southey’s play, Wat Tyler. Southey stated that Ridgway promised to publish the play, but he heard no more about the matter. However, when Wat Tyler finally saw the light of day in 1817, Winterbotham swore to an entirely different version of events in an affidavit. He claimed that Southey had visited Newgate on a number of occasions in late 1795 or early 1796. Furthermore, Winterbotham asserted that on one of these visits Southey was accompanied by the radical journalist Daniel Isaac Eaton (c. 1753–1814; DNB) and that Southey gave Winterbotham the manuscript of, and copyright to, Wat Tyler, asking him to publish it as a pamphlet. Winterbotham claimed to have no knowledge of how the play had come to be published in 1817 and to still possess the manuscript of Wat Tyler. This dispute over the copyright of Wat Tyler meant Southey lost his application for an injunction to prevent its publication. Moreover, it opened the floodgates to a series of cheap editions, none of which paid Southey a penny. Ironically, the play became Southey’s bestselling work. Southey was convinced that Winterbotham had perjured himself, though he admitted there might be a possibility that Winterbotham had confused Southey with Lovell. The circumstances surrounding the publication of Wat Tyler remain something of a mystery. Further confusion was added to the picture by the essayist John Foster (1770–1843; DNB) who claimed in a letter to Joseph Cottle that two unknown people in Worcester had copied the play from Winterbotham’s manuscript without his knowledge and provided it to the publishers in 1817.

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