Had any of us been present at the great Chartist demonstration on Kennington Common on Monday 10 April 1848, it would surely have been a day that we would not have forgotten. For George Lowe the events of that dramatic day certainly remained lodged in his memory for the rest of his life. Lowe was not a Chartist. He was a police constable … but a police constable who had a close-up view of what unfolded. A policeman for thirteen years when the Chartists gathered in London to present their great petition, bearing the names of millions of working people, to the House of Commons, Lowe was with the Police Commissioner Richard Mayne when he met Feargus O’Connor. And, at the age of 92, Lowe finally told his story to a newspaper:
‘I was attending upon Sir Richard Mayne when fifteen to twenty thousand Chartists were marching up from Kennington Common. We were the only two to represent the police force. Sir Richard rode up to Feargus O’Connor, who asked: “What do you intend to do, Sir Richard?” Sir Richard replied coolly, “What do you intend to do? Do you intend to go in procession. For, if you do, I shall stop you by force if necessary.” O’Connor was quite polite and wanted to shake hands. He afterwards turned round to the crowd and shouted, “You are a lot of fools, all of you” and broke up the gathering. I was afterwards put on duty in Trafalgar Square with some men to prevent people passing the horse statue and saw Napoleon, who was then a fugitive in this country, ride by. He had been sworn as a special constable and carried a white staff. Those Chartist times were abominable. They gave us police no rest’.
Interesting that, but, of course, it is an old man at the end of his life remembering things as he wanted to remember them: Mayne is cool & Feargus calls his own people ‘fools’. Hmm, hard to imagine that last one. As I have written in an essay on Feargus’ later years, he should be seen on this day not as a frightened man but as a concerned man. (The Chartist Legacy, pp. 102-118). I do like George Lowe’s final remark, though. So much so that I think it is worth repeating: ‘Those Chartist times were abominable. They gave us police no rest’. The Chartists were indeed energetic, determined and resilient in their campaign to secure a say in law making for working people.
Another man present on that momentous day was James Crundall, who was sworn in as a special constable. He also never forgot those exciting events. He retained the staff he was issued with for the rest of his life & passed it on to his son. Before the First World War it could be found hanging up in the office of Dover coal merchants, H & E Crundall. Where it is now is anyone’s guess …
Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough, 19 June 1897; Dover Express, 25 August 1911.