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:

A Chronology Of The Chartist Movement

1836London Working Men's Association established. William Lovett is secretary (June).
1837East London Democratic Association established (January); Birmingham Political Union re-established (May); First issue of Northern Star appears in Leeds. Feargus O'Connor is proprietor and William Hill editor (November).
1838Great Northern Union established in Leeds by O'Connor (January); The People's Charter, in the main the work of Lovett, published in London. National Petition launched in Birmingham (May); Northern Political Union established in Newcastle (June); Great meetings in Birmingham (August) and on Kersal Moor, Manchester, (September) emphasize emergence of national protest movement.
1839National Convention of 53 delegates meets in London (February); Re-locates to Birmingham (May); Bull Ring riots lead to arrest of Lovett and others. House of Commons refuses to consider by 235 votes to 46 National Petition of 1,280,000 signatures. Sales of Star reach 50,000 a week (July); A 'sacred month' of strikes abandoned amid arrests (August). Newport Rising results in some 22 deaths and 125 arrests (November).
A contemporary engraving of the Bull Ring riots

1840Small scale risings in Sheffield and Bradford (January); Newport leaders transported (February); O'Connor imprisoned for seditious libel (May); National Charter Association established as organizing force of the movement (July).
1841National Association established by Lovett and denounced in the Star (April); Chartist candidates appear on hustings in general election (July); O'Connor released from prison (August).
1842Launch of Complete Suffrage Union in Birmingham (January); National Convention meets in London (April); House of Commons refuses to consider by 287 votes to 49 National Petition of 3,317,752 signatures (May); Strikes against wage cuts and in support of People's Charter widely supported in industrial districts. Many of Chartist leaders arrested (August); CSU conference in Birmingham encounters hostility from Chartists (December).
1843Trial of O'Connor and other Chartists at Lancaster. Not sentenced, but others tried elsewhere, including Thomas Cooper, imprisoned (March); Joshua Hobson becomes editor of the Northern Star (August); Land question discussed at Chartist Convention in Birmingham (September).
1844Lecture tours maintained by O'Connor and other leaders such as Thomas Clark (January-March); Land question discussed at Chartist Convention in Manchester (April).
1845Chartist Co-operative Land Society established (April); Fraternal Democrats established in London. George Julian Harney is secretary of this internationalist organization (September); Harney becomes editor of the Northern Star (October); Land Plan considered by special conference in Manchester (December).
1846Heronsgate, the first Land Plan estate, acquired (March); Cooper's arguments with O'Connor culminate in his expulsion from Chartist Convention at Leeds (August); National Land Company created (December).
1847Land Plan journal, the Labourer, edited by Ernest Jones, appears. Land Bank opens (January); Heronsgate opens as O'Connorville (May); O'Connor elected MP for Nottingham (July); Chartist estate of Lowbands opens (August).
1848National Convention meets in London; Kennington Common demonstration; Committee of House of Commons examines National Petition and reports far fewer signatures than claimed (April); National Assembly meets; Arming and drilling in the north (May); Chartist estates of Snigs End and Minster Lovell opened. Committee of House of Commons considers Land Company. Plots in London. Jones and other leaders arrested (June-August).
1849National Parliamentary and Financial Reform Association established (January); O'Connor's motion in House of Commons for the People's Charter defeated. Chartist estate of Dodford opened (July).
1850National Charter League, led by Clark, established (April); Red Republican, edited by Harney, appears (June); Jones released from prison (July).
1851O'Connor opposes alliance with NPFRA at Chartist Conference in Manchester (January); Chartists Conference in London adopts socialist programme (March); Notes to the People, edited by Jones, appears (May); Act of Parliament to wind up Land Company (August); Northern Star is sold (December).
1852Northern Star re-emerges as Harney's Star of Freedom (April); People's Paper is launched by Jones (May); O'Connor arrested in House of Commons and taken to Tuke's asylum (June).
185540,000 attend O'Connor's funeral (September).
1857O'Connorville sold (May).
1858Last Chartist Convention (February).

The Owl, October 11th, 1889

Many Chartists later became town councillors, including James Whateley at Birmingham (pictured).
Reproduced by permission of the Birmingham and Midland Institute.