A few months after John’s death the Reading Mercury printed a spoof set of bye-laws, supposedly put out by the Paving Commissioners, about the maximum size of umbrellas etc. There is no doubt this was written by John and found in his papers by his son William. In his book ‘Letters from a Stranger in Reading’ John had spent quite sometime lambasting the state of Reading pavements.
However John's concern with the sate of Reading's paving was taken quite seriously by him as he also acted for a time as a Paving Commissioner Evidence of this has been discovered by Adam Sowan, Reading historian, who has found at the Berkshire Record Office the minutes of the (unelected) Reading Paving Commissioners from 1785 (R/AS/1/1). The minutes reveal that John Man attended 17 meetings between 1796 (shortly after he retired from teaching) and 1810 (nine months after The Stranger appeared), though he evidently lost interest for three-and-a-half years between 1803 and 1807. The meetings he was at were almost all substantive, quorate ones at which some action was taken; twice he took the chair and signed the minutes. Only twice did he attend the abortive occasions, of which there were many, when insufficient commissioners were present and no business could be conducted; three or four regulars would meet in the Ship Hotel month after month, and no doubt enjoyed a glass or two. In June 1801 John joined a subcommittee to consider the best mode of lighting the town. After 1810 John’s name appears only once more, in 1821, when he was joined by his son William, who continued as a commissioner for some years after John’s death. This evidence shows John in a rather different light; it shows that he did try to change things through official channels and was not merely a passive complainer.
Reading Mercury, 26/07/1824
READING PAVING ACT
As the Commissioners under the Reading Paving Act have announced their intention to enforce the different provisions of that bill, it may interest our readers to be made acquainted with some of the clauses for their guidance.
This bill embraces many minutiae, which to superficial observers may appear puerile, but our thinking readers must be aware, how much less tractable is the comprehensive wisdom of modern Parliaments, than the glimmering light of ancient Wittengemotes; and dangerous consequences might result, if this intellectual tide of mental energy were dammed in Westminster; it is prudently therefore carried off in small channels, and sent flowing through the country for the edification of Rustics.
After various enactments relating to Pavements, Pent-Houses, and Scrapers, follows a clause regulating the honour of the wall:
Bakers and Chimney-sweepers are in no case to take the wall. - Ladies are always
to be allowed the wall, on giving due notice of their intentions to take it. –
Inspectors are to be appointed who are to decide summarily in wall cases. When
two gentlemen have dodged for three minutes without being able to pass,
Inspectors are to interfere. – Persons using sticks from necessity, are in all
cases to give the wall to the stick. Switches are excepted. Exemptive clause in
favour of crutches. Sticks out of use are to be borne perpendicularly, exception
in favour of the yards of linen drapers, mercers, and men-milliners.
A clause to regulate the size and mode of carrying umbrellas. Not to exceed five feet in diameter. Umbrellas passing, are to slope to the wind. In a calm, the tallest to elevate; the Inspector to be provided with a measure to decide disputes. Persons under five feet are exempt from elevation. Little girls carrying Parasols under ten years of age in no case to elevate.
[This clause does not very clearly express whether the little girls or the parasols, are to be under ten years of age – the Commissioners construe it as applying to the latter. A descendant of Wat Tyler has applied for the office of Inspector, to determine who are little girls under the act.]
Umbrellas going head to wind, and poking out one or more eyes of a foot passenger, to be imprisoned a week and once well whipped.
Ladies bonnets are not to project more than seven inches from the head – two inches of trimming allowed. Leghorns or Cobbetts in their natural state, to be cut by inspectors.
Hoops found trundling on the pavement in dirty weather, to be seized and forfeited: half to the inspector. If the weather be dry, the drivers to be seized and the hoops re-turned. – Little boys making beau-traps to be well splashed for the first offence – second offence, transportation to the Forbury. – No unqualified person to use a pea-shooter in the streets, under a penalty of five pounds, besides forfeiture of the engine and ammunition.
A penalty for hawking Mackerel in September; no person to cry in Reading under a penalty. – Exception in favour of the bellman. – A clause to regulate the height, &c, of Entrances: Outer-doors of freemen must be high enough to admit Mr. Palmer without his hat. – Doctors’ knockers to be unhung at night. Horns of night Coaches to be muffled. Watchmen to whisper the time and weather.
There are various prohibitory clauses, among which is one strictly forbidding the Corporation to contribute a larger sum than one and threepence for the improvement of the narrow streets. An infringement on chartered rights to which that body will not probably submit.
There are several other clauses equally adapted to our present super-refined state of civilization and which we doubt not will ultimately render Reading a pattern-town for legislative politeness and municipal decorum.