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Tynemouth, North Tyneside

Harriet Martineau at 57 Front Street, Tynemouth

Last Updated:

19 Jun 2020

Tynemouth, North Tyneside

This is a


57 Front Street, Tynemouth

Founded in 

18th Century

Current status is


Designer (if known):


The same dwelling is still there, and is now Priory Antiques

This feature is part of the Black History Collection.

'Harriet Martineau (1802–1876) was an important activist with regard to her long-running campaign for the abolition of slavery in the United States. However, she also occupies an important place in the development of sociology, political economy and women’s rights; she achieved fame as well as an early female journalist. Above all, the skill of Harriet Martineau lies in her ability to write clearly across a range of genres and to bring to readers a new approach to analysing the functioning of societies.

Her early religious writings reflected her Unitarian upbringing but she was soon writing more widely for a number of periodicals. Her first important work was Illustrations of political economy in 1832 which was the collection of a series of articles explaining the works of Adam Smith and the operation of a market economy. These included a portrait entitled A Manchester strike, a tale written in 1833.
She also helped to explain (and popularise) the work of Mill, Bentham and Malthus.

Having achieved some financial success through her work she spent two years in touring the United States. She realised that slavery was quietly favoured by most of the population and especially by most, but not all, religious groups. She observed that women, although themselves slaves of the system, were also at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement and she looked at the operation of the Female Anti-Slavery Society in Boston and similar groups across the country. In support of abolitionism she and other supporters were often placed in grave danger given the widespread violence inflicted upon them.

Whilst The martyr age of the United States dealt with the abolitionist movement two other works – Society in America (1837) and How to observe morals and manners (1839) – are important in that they demonstrate her view that in order to study society it is necessary to study all of its component parts. From this analysis it is possible to understand inequality, slavery, moral behaviour and discrimination against women.

She also translated into English the works of August Comte in 1853, thus introducing into Britain one of the foundation texts of sociology. She maintained her commitment to anti-slavery work by writing articles for journals both here and in the United States for most of her life. She also wrote novels and short stories inspired by her visit to the United States including The hour and the man which featured the leader of the Haitian slave rebellion Toussaint L’ Ouverture.

From 1839 Harriet became seriously ill and she bought a house and hired a companion to manage her illness over a period of years. During this time she wrote Life in the sickroom: essays by an invalid which was an important text because it was based on the ‘invalid’ assuming control over the sickroom and the management of her own illness. Such a position was clearly opposed by men in the medical profession, but is considered a landmark in reflective women’s writing.

In 1844 she underwent a course of treatment by mesmerism (nearest modern equivalent being hypnosis) and when recovered moved to the Lake District and then travelled extensively in the Middle East. This visit resulted in her rejection of organised religion and the writing of Eastern life, present and past in 1848.

From her base in Ambleside Harriet wrote guide books, histories and a range of works on women’s education and atheism. She continued to write for a broad range of publications and campaigned on a number of issues affecting women, principally that of female suffrage.

When Harriet started to suffer from heart disease in 1855 she began to write her autobiography in anticipation of imminent death. In addition to her coverage of the many episodes in her life the autobiography contains details of her experiences in the United States, meetings with many notable Victorian figures, her views on the position of women and how she dealt with her profound deafness.'

- Working Class Movement Library

'Harriet Martineau (1802-1877) has been described as Britain’s first female journalist, the first professional ‘woman of letters’, and the founder of the modern discipline we call sociology. She is a complex and curious figure. While she helped to make male intellectuals like Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus household names, she herself is not well known today. Sometimes she seems like a radical; elsewhere her ideas sound orthodox and conservative to the modern ear. Martineau suffered from ill-health, deafness and lacked a sense of smell. In 1839 her condition deteriorated as a result of an ovarian cyst. With the onset of invalidism, she took up lodgings in Mrs Halliday’s house in Tynemouth from 1840 to 1845 so that she could be near her Newcastle doctor (with whom she had resided for a short time in Eldon Square).

'While in Tynemouth Martineau was confined to her room and couch, but she received a stream of visitors, and she continued to write. Much of what she wrote was not immediately political: she authored children’s tales, a novel about the Haitian Revolution, and an important work on the meaning of suffering, Life in the Sickroom. But she was also concerned with labour issues and social conditions, and during her Tynemouth period she corresponded and wrote on child labour, factory hours, sanitation, town planning and class cooperation. She also made a radical statement when she refused the offer of a civil list pension on the grounds that the money came from a unjust system of taxation. During her Tynemouth residence Martineau claimed to have been cured of her illness by mesmerism.'

- Joe Hardwick, Harriet Martineau - author, economist, reformer and abolitionist - resides in Tynemouth, Radical Tyneside, accessed 19/06/2020

'A woman once lived in Massachusetts, whose name ought to be preserved in all histories of the State, as one of its honours, though she was a slave, Some anecdotes of her were related in a Lyecum lecture delivered at Stockbridge in 1831. Others were told me by the Sedgwicks, who had the honour of knowing her best, by means of rendering her the greatest services. Mum Bett. Whose real name was Elizabeth Freeman, was born, it is supposed, about 1742. Her parents were native Africans, and she was a slave for about thirty years. At an early age she was purchased, with her sister, from the family into which she was born, in the States of New York, by Colonel Ashley, of Sheffield, Massachusetts. The lady of the mansion, in a fit of passion, one day struck at Mum Bett’s sister with a heated kitchen shovel. Mum Bett interposed her arm, and received the blow, the scar of which she bore to the day of her death. “She resented the insult and outrage as a white person would have done.” Leaving the house, and refusing to return. Colonel Ashley appealed to the law for the recovery of his slave. Mum Bett called on Mr. Sedgwick, and asked him if she could not claim her liberty under the law. He inquired what could put such an idea into her head. She replied that the “Bill o Rights” said that all were born free and equal, and that as she was not a dumb heast, she was certainly one of the nation. When afterwards asked how she learned the doctrine and facts on which she proceeded, she replied. “By keepin’ still and mindin’ things.” It was a favourits doctrine of hers, that people might learn by keeping still and minding things. But what did she mean, she was asked, by keeping still and minding things, Why, for instance, when she was waiting at table, she heard gentlemen talking over the Bill of Rights and the new constitution of Massachusetts; and in all they said she never heard but that all people were born free and equal, and she thought long about it, and resolved she would try whether she did not come in among them.'

- Harriet Martineau on the institution of slavery, “restless slaves”, and the Bill of Rights (1838), retrieved from Online Library of Liberty

Listing Description (if available)


Harriet Martineau in 1850, a few years after her residence in Tynemouth.

Retrieved from Working Class Movement Library



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