John Urie (b. 1820): Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

John Urie (b. 1820): Purpose and Audience

A lot of John’s audience and purpose for writing his piece comes from his attitude, but also from his professional career. As an established photographer, John has many connections with publishing outlets and perhaps saw himself as a local celebrity, often taking pictures of famous people such as explorer David Livingstone. From John’s life he had a lot of stories to tell, which he had already been doing through his photography but now had a chance to do it in memoir! However, this post will focus more on this attitude John presents throughout his life and discuss his photography and professional life further in the next coming post.

As discussed in my previous post, John demonstrates this rebellious and activist attitude throughout his life. In his first chapter, John establishes this. Referring to his father as “one of those capitalists” (10), often describing him as a typical businessman who focuses as much as he can on profit, which we learn from John’s perspective is true of his father. His house is described as a “passage” with one side being the “kitchen and living-room, while on the other was the weaving-shop” (11). However, despite his reluctance to follow this lifestyle, John’s first job was (expectedly) in that weaving-shop. John started as a draw-boy but was quickly promoted to work the loom itself. However, quickly John became bored of the “monotonous” (13) work and swore off weaving all together as he became determined to become something better than a weaver and this is an example of the attitude, I believe inspired John to write and publish this book.

If you don’t believe me at this point, look no further than John’s involvement in the Cholera (1832) and Bread riots (1848). The Cholera riots showed us a young John exploring the world of injustice in Paisley, whereas this blog/letter claims “. A reply to that letter (Pictured right: Click on image to see more!) also confirmed this when it suggested housing often fell on the sick! John recognised that “the poor died faster than those who were well-to-do” (22) when he witnessed a strange plan to fumigate the town with diluted sulphuric acid and chloride of lime which was seen to do nothing but worsen the town, where around 450 people ended up dying. It appeared that the towns folk who John very much associated with, blamed this on the doctors especially. Stating how due to their association with “buying bodies from stolen graveyards” (23) and the graverobbing dilemma in this town, the doctors were using the ferment to perhaps avoid detection when stealing the bodies as the towns people were advised to stay home. No matter how ridiculous it sounds, John still showed his rebellious attitude and willingness to do what’s right for the working people of his town…whilst also enjoying the excitement of mischief every kid has!

“I joined in the march which saw property of the doctors destroyed. We marched through the narrow streets, sweeping all before us, and destroying as much of the property of the doctors as we could. Along with nearly all the other boys of the town, I marched along through streets, smashing glass without restraint, our love of mischief finding free course” (25).

That is why John wrote his book. He is a man of community and fighting for what is good for people (especially working class people). His voice and his life then take on this potential to inspire and inform about the justice in his life. It is well documented how in these times; the poor were often scrutinised and as a result riots were often occurring.

“The social milieu in the 1830s was also ripe for riot and revolution. Extreme poverty, agricultural depression, urbanisation and overcrowding, industrialisation, Irish immigration, and disinterested governments all led to tension and unrest. The Luddite riots of 1811-13 in central and northern England were widespread and violent, and were essentially an anti-industrialisation movement. In 1830, the “Swing” riots took place in the English southern counties, and 1839 was to see the “Rebecca Riots” in Wales.23 Both occasions were related to the breakdown of traditional agricultural life, but they were extensive and serious, and spread into several large towns. The seeds of discontent and unrest were thus widespread in 1832, and cholera was a natural instigator for riotous assemblies in towns and cities filled with the poor, the dispossessed, and the unemployed” (Geoffrey, 2001). Geoffrey here is doing the exact thing that John wants us to do. I think John recognised the importance of documenting said events to show the discrimination against the poor and two acts as a constant reminder.


  •  Gill, Geoffrey. (2001). Fear and frustration–the Liverpool cholera riots of 1832. Lancet, 358(9277), 233-238.
  • Urie, J. (1908). Reminiscenes of eighty years by John Urie. Paisley: A. Gardner, 1908.                                  
  • Voices From Our Archives: Pandemic in Paisley, 1832. (2020). Available at: (Accessed: 4/03/2021)

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