Chartism & The Chartists

Musings, information & illustrations about the Chartists from Stephen Roberts

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.

Let's begin with a song ...

'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.

Chartism in a nutshell ...

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.

You can read an essay about Chartism by Stephen Roberts on the BBC History website

And now for some pictures ...

Church Sit-in This is my favourite contemporary illustration of the Chartists. It depicts a sit-in in a church. These Chartists are demonstrating their defiance by wearing hats, sleeping, smoking and reading as the parson delivers his sermon.
The statue of Feargus O'Connor in Nottingham. O'Connor was the only Chartist to be elected an MP, representing Nottingham from 1847 until 1852. Whenever I am in Nottingham, I always spend fifteen minutes in the Arboretum with Feargus.Statue of Feargus O'Connor
Thomas Cooper is my favourite Chartist. We see him here in the dock, a scapegoat for the authorities after the outbreak in the Potteries in 1842. Buried in Lincoln, his headstone records his authorship of a 944-stanza 'prison-rhyme' entitled the Purgatory of Suicides. I place flowers on his grave whenever I visit the city. Thomas Cooper
Chartist Rising at Newport, 1839 I bought this original print of the Newport Rising for a mere £15 at an auction in Wooton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire in 1994. It now hangs on the wall of my study. We cannot be sure how many Chartists were killed or wounded in this confrontation with soldiers on the night of 3-4 November 1839 - but fatalities alone certainly exceeded 20.
John Frost The trial of John Frost and the other Newport leaders at Monmouth in winter 1839-40 was a national talking point. The court room where these men were sentenced to transportation to the colonies can still be inspected, & is well worth a visit. This engraving is one of a number depicting Frost during the proceedings.
This bust of Samuel Holberry is more than a little weather-worn. Holberry died in prison in June 1842, a martyr to the Chartist cause. His grave in Sheffield has been well-maintained. Visit him and remember him. Samuel Holberry
Summer 1842, Preston During the strikes of summer 1842, more force was thrown against the authorities than any other year in the nineteenth century. In Preston soldiers opened fire on working people.
Victorian Cartoon Sometimes you strike gold. Towards the end of a long morning scouring Victorian periodicals, I found this cartoon of Tory politicians trembling before the Chartists & liked it immediately.
For the male journalists of the London press, nothing was more amusing than poking fun at female Chartists - as this cartoon demonstrates. Punch Cartoon
William Cuffay William Cuffay is one of the best-remembered of the Chartists. The only black man to play a significant part in the movement, he became an advocate of insurrection in 1848 and was, seemingly, quite skilled in the use of the pike. He was 60 years old when he was transported to Van Diemen's Land.