Chartism & The Chartists

Musings, information & illustrations about the Chartists from Stephen Roberts

Essential Reading

A Guide To Reading About The Chartists ...



DOROTHY THOMPSON, THE CHARTISTS (1984; 2013 edn.)

Dorothy Thompson single-handedly changed the way in which Chartism was seen. When she began serious work on the movement in the mid-1950s, Feargus O'Connor was seen as an egotistical and quarrelsome rabble-rouser who led Chartism to ruination, William Lovett and the other London leaders as sane and moderate men whose influence sadly diminished and the rank-and-file and women barely got a look in at all. Over time Thompson challenged and re-drew this picture. Her re-interpretations appeared in a range of journals and essay collections, but it took her many years to put all her arguments together in one volume. In truth by the time THE CHARTISTS appeared things had moved on, thanks to 'The Language of Chartism' essay by Gareth Stedman Jones which appeared in THE CHARTIST EXPERIENCE (1982), a collection co-edited by Thompson herself. But, after the appearance of her book, no one sought to repudiate Thompson's new thinking on O'Connor and on the crucial roles played by local activists and by women. THE CHARTISTS is a distillation of a lifetime's work and reflection and is quite simply the most important book written about the movement. A new edition was released in 2013.



DOROTHY THOMPSON, THE DIGNITY OF CHARTISM (2015)

This collection brings together between the covers of one book almost all of the essays and reviews that Dorothy Thompson wrote about Chartism from when she first began serious work on the movement in the early 1950s until the moment when she finally laid down her pen in 2007. It demonstrates how she single-handedly changed the way in which Chartism is perceived. Everything of importance is covered - the class nature of the movement, the leadership of Feargus O'Connor, the role of women, the autobiographies and tracts of local activists, the failure of events in France, Ireland and Britain to intersect in 1848. Also included is a previously unpublished magisterial essay about the Chartists of Halifax, written in collaboration with her husband E.P. Thompson during the time the two of them lived in the town. Stephen Roberts edits the essays, and includes a lengthy biographical introduction.



JAMES EPSTEIN & DOROTHY THOMPSON (EDS.), THE CHARTIST EXPERIENCE (1982).

There are a number of essay collections relating to Chartism, but this volume is indispensable. The standard of research and writing is consistently high, with no contribution letting the volume down. Particularly recommended are the contribution on Chartism in 1848 by John Belchem and the model local studies by James Epstein (on Nottingham Chartism) and by Robert Fyson (on the outbreak in the Potteries in 1842) - but every chapter is required reading.



MALCOLM CHASE, CHARTISM (2007).

The absence of an authoritative and reliable narrative history of Chartism was for many years a great frustration for students of the movement. THE CHARTIST MOVEMENT (1918) by MARK HOVELL was dated and skewed, and CHARTISM (1973) by J.T. WARD reflected the prejudices of an earlier time. This yawning gap was finally filled by Malcolm Chase in 2007. Unlike Thompson, Chase doesn't re-shape how we see Chartism, but what he does offer is a very detailed, dependable and reflective history of the movement. There are no axes to grind here, only a story to tell as accurately and as fairly to those involved as possible. For seasoned researchers and for those beginning their study of Chartism these 400 packed pages are invaluable.



EDWARD ROYLE, CHARTISM (1996 edn.).

The short histories of Chartism that have appeared are a mixed bag, but Royle's offering can be warmly recommended. It provides a succinct and easily-digestible account of the main events and then separate discussions of such matters as the leadership and culture of the movement. For such a concise book it is packed with valuable and interesting reflections on Chartism. Also worth perusing is CHARTISM (1998), a very well organized and thoroughly-researched introduction to the movement by RICHARD BROWN, and CHARTISM (1999), a considered commentary by JOHN K.WALTON.



STEPHEN ROBERTS & DOROTHY THOMPSON (EDS.), IMAGES OF CHARTISM (1998).

This volume gathers together 80 contemporary illustrations of the movement, including portraits given away with the Northern Star, engravings from the Illustrated London News and cartoons from Punch



JAMES EPSTEIN, THE LION OF FREEDOM: FEARGUS O'CONNOR AND THE CHARTIST MOVEMENT 1838-42 (1982).

The rehabilitation of Feargus O'Connor began here. Written under the watchful eye of Dorothy Thompson, Epstein offered a complete overhaul of the way O'Connor was perceived. Feargus emerges from these pages as a courageous, defiant and confident leader who drove Chartism forward. Such was O'Connor's centrality to the movement that this book serves as a history of the early years of Chartism. FEARGUS O'CONNOR (2008) by PAUL PICKERING takes Feargus' story to its tragic end. Everything Pickering writes about Chartism - and much of it is scattered over journals - is of the highest quality, and this book is no exception.



PAUL PICKERING, CHARTISM IN MANCHESTER AND SALFORD (1995).

This is a superb study of the movement in one of its strongholds. It can be usefully read alongside VOICES OF THE PEOPLE (2007), an excellent study of the Lancashire town of Ashton-under-Lyne by ROBERT G. HALL.



DAVID GOODWAY, LONDON CHARTISM (1982).

Some books on Chartism are as fresh and fascinating as the day they were published. This comprehensive, thoughtful and beautifully-presented volume undoubtedly falls into that category.



ASA BRIGGS, CHARTIST STUDIES (1959)

This is an ancient collection of essays, but still very useful. It launched the preoccupation with investigations into the localities that dominated research on Chartism until the end of the 1970s. There is much information here on local leaders across the country - Briggs ensured there north, south, east and west were covered - that cannot be found elsewhere. The chapters on Manchester and Scotland have been superceded by, respectively, PICKERING and CHARTISM IN SCOTLAND (2010) by W. HAMISH FRASER, but the others are still very much worthy of scrutiny.



OWEN ASHTON, ROBERT FYSON & STEPHEN ROBERTS (EDS.), THE CHARTIST LEGACY (1999).

This was the third volume of essays on Chartism to appear, and the opening essay by Miles Taylor on the Six Points is crucial to our understanding of Chartism. Also particularly interesting are essays by Robert Fyson on the transported Potteries Chartist William Ellis and by Antony Taylor on the commemoration of the Chartists. THE PEOPLE'S CHARTER (2003), edited by STEPHEN ROBERTS, assembles essays published in scholarly journals by, amongst others, Brian Harrison, Eileen Yeo and Paul Pickering. Two special issues of LABOUR HISTORY REVIEW (2009 & 2013), edited by JOAN ALLEN & OWEN ASHTON, bring together selected papers from the annual Chartism Day, nicely divided between established and younger scholars.



DAVID JONES, THE LAST RISING (1985)

Trying to establish what happened in South Wales in autumn 1839, and indeed what was meant to happen, is a formidable undertaking. Jones spent many years sifting through the surviving evidence and reflecting on it, and gets as near to explaining events as anyone ever will.



JOHN SAVILLE, 1848 (1984)

Saville had a long history of writing about Chartism - all the way back to bringing out a collection of Ernest Jones' newspaper writings in 1952 in fact - and this is his major statement on the movement. It argues that events in France, Ireland and England were very much in phase in the crucial year of 1848. He also takes issue with the interpretation of Chartism offered by Gareth Stedman Jones.



MILES TAYLOR, ERNEST JONES, CHARTISM AND THE ROMANCE OF POLITICS 1819-69 (2003).

Ernest Jones, one of the most intriguing of the Chartist leaders, had long been crying out for a biography. Taylor, whilst treating both his political campaigning and his literary endeavours with respect, reveals how Jones manufactured his own story. If this is not the best biography of a Chartist, then that accolade belongs to THE CHARTIST CHALLENGE: A PORTRAIT OF JULIAN HARNEY (1958) by A.R. SCHOYEN. Few books written on Chartism up to the 1970s have aged well - but this is an exception. WILLIAM LOVETT (1989) by Joel Weiner reminds us that Lovett should not be treated as a marginal figure in the Chartist story. THE CHARTIST PRISONERS: THE RADICAL LIVES OF THOMAS COOPER AND ARTHUR O'NEILL (2008) by STEPHEN ROBERTS tells the stories of two men who formed a life-long friendship whilst in prison; and RADICAL POLITICIANS AND POETS IN EARLY VICTORIAN BRITAIN (1993) by STEPHEN ROBERTS examines the careers of six of the 'lieutenants' of Chartism, amongst them George White and Samuel Kydd.



JUTTA SCHWARZKOPF, WOMEN IN THE CHARTIST MOVEMENT (1995)

Dorothy Thompson first drew attention to the significant role played by women in the Chartist Movement. Schwarzkopf provides the book-length study that was clearly needed. THE STRUGGLE FOR THE BREECHES: GENDER AND THE MAKING OF THE BRITISH WORKING CLASS (1995) includes a useful discussion on Chartist women.



MIKE SANDERS, THE POETRY OF CHARTISM (2009)

A discussion of the poetic contributions sent in by rank-and-file Chartists to the Northern Star. Sanders' decision to approach the study of Chartist poetry through this famous newspaper ensures that we don't get more trawling through the verses of Ernest Jones and instead a refreshing and revealing discussion of such 'forgotten' poets of Chartism as Edwin Gill and Benjamin Stott. THE CHARTIST LEGACY (1999) includes an interesting essay on Chartist poetry by Timothy Randall.