This website is devoted to Chartism and the Chartists. The People’s Charter was the most famous and important radical manifesto published in nineteenth century Britain. This document called for manhood suffrage, secret voting, the discontinuation of property qualifications for MPs, salaries for MPs, equal electoral districts and annual elections.
|The Chartist Rising at Newport in 1839. This print was bought for £15 at an auction at Wooton-under-Edge in the 1990s.|
'The Chartist Mother's Song' appeared in the Northern Liberator on 29 February 1840 and was written by George Binns. Binns' words were sung to the tune of the well-known folk song 'The Rose of Allendale'. The song is not as rousing as most Chartist songs and somewhat atypical of the genre.
George Binns (1815-47) was a Chartist lecturer and preacher who was active in Sunderland and the Durham coalfield. He wrote numerous songs and poems, including the first long Chartist poem The Doom of Toil (1840). For more information on Binns see S. Roberts Radical Politicians and Poets in Early Victorian Britain (1993), pp. 39-57.
This version of 'The Chartist Mother's Song' is sung by Gemma Bagnall, accompanied by Fred Mallinson and Chris Handley.
During the years 1838 – 48 this campaign for a say in law making was supported by considerable numbers of working people. Although there was one attempt at armed rebellion in 1839 and strikes and clashes with soldiers in the manufacturing districts in 1842, the main weapon of the Chartists was the display of numbers in demonstrations and signatures to the petitions of 1839, 1842 and 1848.
The driving force behind Chartism was Feargus O’Connor. A superb orator and the owner of the famous Chartist newspaper, the Northern Star, O’Connor provoked strong loyalties amongst working people. His newspaper held the Chartist movement together, and he was responsible for setting up the National Charter Association in 1840 and the Land Company in 1845. When he died in 1855, 40,000 people attended his funeral.
The most important books written on this powerful and nationwide campaign of defiance and expectation are Dorothy Thompson’s The Chartists (1984) and, more recently, Malcolm Chase's Chartism. A New History (2006). An outstanding recent publication is Miles Taylor’s Ernest Jones, Chartism and the Romance of Politics (2003). For those at the outset of academic work on Chartism there is no better starting point than Edward Royle’s Chartism (1996 edn). Stephen Roberts has also contributed an essay on Chartism to the BBC History website:
Stephen Roberts has been researching and writing about Chartism for twenty five years. His publications are discussed below.
|A bust of the Sheffield Chartist, Samuel Holberry
- in sore need of restoration.
Stephen Roberts, The Chartist Prisoners. The Radical Lives of Thomas Cooper (1805-1892) & Arthur O'Neill (1819-1896), Peter Lang, Oxford, 2008. ISBN 978-3-03911-388-0pb.
This dual biography tells the stories of Thomas Cooper and Arthur O'Neill. Both Chartist leaders in Leicester and Birmingham respectively, they formed a friendship which lasted for fifty years after sharing a cell in Stafford Gaol following the Potteries riots of 1842. The book discusses: their early lives - Cooper learned Shakespeare & Milton by heart, O'Neill lived with an army regiment in the Mediterranean; their careers as Chartist leaders; & what they did afterwards - in Cooper's case literary work such as his famous 944-stanza poem The Purgatory of Suicides, and anti-Darwinian lecturing - in O'Neill's case campaigning for peace & against Victoria's wars. The book ends in Lincoln in 1892 when O'Neill delivered the address at Cooper's funeral.
Stephen Roberts ed. The People’s Charter. Democratic Agitation in Early Victorian Britain, Merlin Press, 2003, ISBN 0850365147
This volume gathers together eight of the most significant previously published essays on Chartism. Written for scholarly journals by leading historians of the movement from Britain, Australia and the United States, these essays examine the influence of Christianity and of teetotalism, the language and impact of the Northern Star and the work of lecturers and local activists, and consider how Chartism was remembered later in the century. The volume also includes profiles of sixty Chartist leaders and a selection of little-known letters, journalism and an autobiographical extract commenting on Feargus O’Connor’s leadership and the great petition and demonstration of 1848. The book has been favourably reviewed by John Belchem in Labour History Review, vol. 70, no. 3 pp 357-8.
|"The People's Charter" hits the bookshops (but faces stiff competition from "Scouting for Boys" ...)|
Owen Ashton, Robert Fyson and Stephen Roberts eds. The Chartist Legacy, Merlin, 1999, ISBN 0850364841
These eleven essays by scholars who have most recently been working on Chartism were specially written for this volume. Despite the title and unlike the local focus of the earlier Chartist Studies (1959), there is no overarching theme. This is a wide - ranging collection, reflecting the specific interests of the contributors. The volume certainly includes a number of important essays - Miles Taylor on the six points of the People's Charter, Timothy Randall on Chartist poetry and Antony Taylor on the commemoration of Chartism. There is also Robert Fyson's moving account of the life of in Britain and Van Diemen's Land of the transported William Ellis as well as contributions on Feargus O'Connor, the Chartist press and Chartist orators. The Chartist Legacy includes an introduction by Asa Briggs. The volume has been widely reviewed, including in the Times Literary Review (10 September 1999) and the English Historical Review (2001) where Neville Kirk described the essays as "thoroughly researched ... uniformly clear and well written".
Owen Ashton and Stephen Roberts, The Victorian Working Class Writer, Mansell, 1999, ISBN 0720123210
Dedicated to E.P. Thompson who "over a memorable meal demonstrated how a nineteenth century working man made shoes and, at the same time, recited verse", this monograph, which draws on autobiographies, diaries and the extensive archives of the Royal Literary Fund, investigates the world of the Victorian poor author. The artisan writers portrayed in this book survived by such activities as making baskets (Thomas Miller), selling fruit (Robert Maybee) or weaving carpets (Noah Cooke). Whilst poverty, illness and struggle feature prominently in the chapters on William Thom or Joseph Robson, the authors also report the modest success stories of Ben Brierley, John Leatherland and John Bedford Leno. The Victorian Working Class Writer also includes a mini - anthology of poetry and prose by Miller, Thom etc. Reviewing the volume in the Times Literary Review (13 December 1999), John Lucas described it as "an act of reclamation ... extremely useful". For Thom also see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
Stephen Roberts and Dorothy Thompson eds. Images of Chartism (1998), ISBN 0850364752
In this book the editors bring together eighty annotated, contemporary pictorial representations of the Chartists. There are engravings of all the main leaders and of such dramatic episodes as the Newport Rising of 1839 and the Plug Plot of 1842, and photographs of the Kennington Common demonstration of 1848 and of the original allotees at O'Connorville. A beautiful sampler, made at O'Connorville by ten year old Ann Dawson in 1847, adorns the front cover. Kelly J. Mays, reviewing Images of Chartism in Victorian Studies (2000), commented on "the tremendous importance, as well as originality, of the project."
Paul Pickering and Stephen Roberts "Pills, Pamphlets and Politics: The Career of Peter Murray McDouall", Manchester Region History Review (1997)
This article examines the career of a very resilient Chartist lecturer who was imprisoned in 1839 - 40 and 1848 - 50.>
Robert G. Hall and Stephen Roberts eds. William Aitken. The Writings of a Nineteenth Century Working Man, Tameside Leisure Services, 1996, ISBN 090450624X
This book reprints the autobiography of the Ashton-under-Lyne Chartist, William Aitken, which appeared in a local newspaper in 1869, and some of the verse which he wrote during his active involvement in "physical force" Chartism. Imprisoned in 1840 and only escaping the clutches of the authorities in 1842 by fleeing to the United States, Aitken later declared his support for the Liberals, but it was an uneasy relationship. He committed suicide whilst writing his autobiography. The book includes an introduction. There are reviews in Albion and Labor History (1998). The editors have also contributed an essay on Aitken to the Dictionary of Labour Biography, vol. X (2000).
Owen Ashton and Stephen Roberts eds. The Autobiography of William Farish. The Struggles of a Handloom Weaver, Caliban, 1996, ISBN 1850660247
This is a reprint of a working class autobiography which was privately published in 1889. Farish was justifiably proud of what he had achieved - the son of a poverty - stricken handloom weaver, he became mayor of Chester. His narrative illuminates many different areas of nineteenth century artisan life, including Chartism. Farish provides brief descriptions of several Chartist leaders, including Feargus O'Connor, Julian Harney and John Taylor. The editors provide an "excellent" introduction to this "important addition to the library of working class autobiographies" (Roger Swift in Cheshire History, 1996 - 7).
Owen Ashton, Robert Fyson and Stephen Roberts eds. The Duty of Discontent. Essays for Dorothy Thompson, Mansell, 1995, ISBN 0720122015
Dorothy Thompson is the leading historian of Chartism. She has spent many years reflecting and researching on the subject, and encouraged many others to do so. The Chartists (1984) - like her other writings - is informed by a passionate radicalism and by a deep sympathy for the underdog. This volume was presented to Dorothy Thompson at the University of Birmingham in January 1996 in recognition of her work, influence and friendship. Four of the twelve essays discuss aspects of Chartism (other chapters examine such topics as rural protests and Birmingham's Italian community). The book has had a lot of reviews: "James Epstein provides a characteristically sparkling analysis of Chartist leadership" (Barry Reay); 'Robert Fyson offers a wonderful "Homage to John Richards", a truly remarkable old Chartist ... who deserves a book length biography or maybe a novel of his life' (Harvey J. Kaye); "As for Roberts's piece, the readers of the Northern Star would have enjoyed it" (Asa Briggs).
Owen Ashton, Robert Fyson and Stephen Roberts eds. The Chartist Movement. A New Annotated Bibliography, Mansell, 1995,
This bibliography expands, updates and corrects the one compiled by J.F.C. Harrison and Dorothy Thompson in the 1970s. A comprehensive list of manuscript material - letters, notebooks, poetry - is provided, as well as a section on Chartist periodicals and other contemporary printed sources. Books, articles and theses written on different aspects since the 1970s are also listed and sometimes appraised. The volume includes an introduction by Dorothy Thompson. It was shortlisted for the Besterman Medal of the Library Association.
Stephen Roberts, Radical Politicians and Poets in Early Victorian Britain. The Voices of Six Chartist Leaders, Edwin Mellen (1993), ISBN 0773491260
This monograph examines in detail the careers of six Chartist leaders. The working men who appear in the book were carefully selected as being of more than one nationality, as coming from different regions, as differing in their experiences and subsequent lives and, especially, as representing contrasting approaches and strands within Chartism. All six were nationally known figures and writers and speakers of ability. They were certainly not failures or dropouts, but had often sacrificed better prospects to be part of the movement. George White is a very good example of the Chartist activist. Defying arrests and imprisonments, he worked ceaselessly for the Chartist cause. George Binns' career demonstrates the essential optimism of Chartism. This lecturer and poet could have done well for himself, but instead chose the hard road of politics. Robert Peddie was an actual Chartist insurrectionist, the leader of the Bradford Rising of 1840. Charles Clarke was a Chartist who rejected O'Connor's leadership, advocating instead an alliance with the middle class. Thomas Clark was one of O'Connor's most loyal lieutenants and sought to link the Chartists with the Irish repealers. Samuel Kydd worked as an anti-free trade Chartist lecturer, developing the skills which later enabled him to become a successful barrister. Reviewing this book in Labour History Review (1995), Rohan McWilliam described it as "a careful work of scholarship that will be a valuable resource for Chartist historians". For Kydd also see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
Stephen Roberts, "Joseph Barker and the Radical Cause, 1848 - 51", Publications of the Thoresby Society (1991)
This article examines the activities and ideas of one of the most successful radical journalists during the last phase of Chartism.
Stephen Roberts, "Thomas Cooper: Radical and Poet, c. 1830 - 1860", M. Litt thesis, University of Birmingham, 1986.
This thesis examines the life of Thomas Cooper from his late twenties, when he was at the outset of his public career as a journalist and poet, to his mid-fifties when he abandoned unsuccessful authorship for religious lecturing. It therefore discusses his radical campaigning in Lincoln in the 1830s, his urgent and powerful advocacy of the People's Charter in Leicester and his subsequent imprisonment in the early 1840s, the re-orientation of his radicalism in the late 1840s and, following the publication of the Purgatory of Suicides (1845), his unsuccessful attempts to establish himself as a writer. Parts of this thesis have been published as articles in Leicestershire Transactions (1987 and 1990) and in Our History Journal (1990). The author has also contributed entries on Cooper to the Dictionary of Labour Biography, IX, 1993 and the Oxford Dictionary of Biography (2004).