Letters to William Frend from the Reynolds Family of Little Paxton and John Hammond of Fenstanton (1793-1814)
Many letters written by country gentlemen to their town friends at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century still survive. But it is unusual to come on so prolific a correspondence as that which turned up in 1960 in a Hampstead attic (now deposited in Cambridge University Library) between the mathematician William Frend, and his contemporaries, the Huntingdonshire squire Richard Reynolds of Paxton, a substantial landowner in Huntingdonshire, and to John Hammond, a Cambridge clergyman (one time curate of St. Botolph's, Cambridge,) who was a forced to leave the church as a result of his Unitarian views and eventually retired to farm in Fenstanton.
The writers were exceptional men of very independent views, and besides recounting the daily life of their time they voiced vigorous and unorthodox opinions on current events, reflecting a climate of minority opinion which was eventually to lead to change and improvement in English society. Reynolds and Hammond were in fact very "modern" men - representative of the advanced citizens of their time, and well ahead of local society in their thinking, They were at the time of these letters much influenced by the ideas of the European Enlightenment and of the French Revolution, which they supported in its early stages. Followers of Charles James Fox, they were all for Parliamentary reform, peace and freedom, and violently opposed to war with France. Hammond also wrote about farming, local people and politics. (He was involved in the Fenstanton inclosure.)
The recipient of the letters, William Frend (1757-1841) graduated from Cambridge University in mathematics, and was elected a Fellow of Jesus College. He was later ordained in the Anglican church and became incumbent of Long Stanton Church and also of Madingley, where he started a Sunday School, the first in the area. Frend was passionately interested in education and tried out some methods of his own in Madingley. In 1787 Frend began to have doubts about Church of England doctrine on the Trinity. He resigned his livings, and joined the Unitarian Church formed by Theophilus Lindsey in Essex Street, London in 1784. Lindsey introduced him to Richard Reynolds and John Hammond.
Frida Knight (1910-1996) wrote mainly about music. She was herself a radical, having been active in the Spanish Civil War and the French resistance, and later in the peace movement. She also published The strange case of Thomas Walker; ten years in the life of a Manchester radical. With a foreword by G. D. H. Cole in 1957 University rebel: the life of William Frend (1757-1841) in 1971.