Sunday, 16 June 2019

Re-evaluating Chartism - Chartism Day 1 June

‘Re-evaluating Chartism’ emerged as the central theme of the Annual Chartism Day conference on Saturday 1 June held at Newcastle University.
  • Chartism’s electoral strategy
  • The legal system’s treatment of those imprisoned for their activities
  • The apparent absence of support for Chartism among Yorkshire miners
  • The continuation of female Chartism after 1842
  • The diverse activities and contradictions of Chartist activists 1858 to 1867
  • The development of working class conservatism including the influence of Richard Oastler’s Tory radicalism
A number of interesting questions and issues emerged from the papers and the discussion.

Chartism's electoral strategy and the bifurcation of Radicalism

Tom Scriven argued that ‘from its origins in the 1837 General Election, Chartism’s Parliamentary electoral strategy was an explicitly antagonistic and schismatic one designed to split Liberal MPs from the Whigs and force upon them extra-Parliamentary, working-class leadership. This was to be achieved through outright opposition or by radicalising Liberal candidates and MPs by agitating for them to adopt the People’s Charter. Chartist electioneering was therefore part of a deep-seated bifurcation between Chartism and Liberalism, which became expressed most clearly in distinctly different attitudes towards not only the extent of reform but also the use of electoral corruption, a neglected topic in Chartism studies but one of fundamental importance to the movement that is revealing of Chartism’s moral politics and intellectual culture. Furthermore, understanding the importance of this strategy, this moral politics, and this electoral and Parliamentary rivalry, is crucial for appreciating the real and lasting threat posed to Chartism by the Complete Suffrage Union (CSU), alongside the otherwise apparently inconsistent Chartist attitude towards the CSU at the hustings. All of this therefore questions the extent to which Chartism’s Parliamentary electioneering can neatly be placed in a Radical continuity.’

The paper raised questions about the dynamics of local politics in different constituencies and towns, especially in relation to Chartist opposition to Whigs who would not support universal manhood suffrage. (See Note below)  A slide of the People’s Charter poster showing the polling machine equipment the Chartists proposed stimulated discussion about how it would work, which intrigued people even more after Robert Poole showed an image of Major Cartwright’s plans for a polling station published in 1817.

Revisiting the Regina vs Frost trial, with reference to Justice of the Peace and the Edmund Jones correspondence

The abstract of Joan Allen’s paper states: ‘Between 1838 and 1850 an estimated 500 Chartists were imprisoned and some 2,000 others were committed for trial but either freed on recognizance (payment of a substantial fine) or exonerated. Many of them were local Chartist leaders and rounded up in the state crackdown on dissident voices in 1839-40. Their encounters with the justice system has been carefully documented by Chartist historians and countless others who have mostly concluded that justice was dispensed in an arbitrary manner, arguing that in the ‘exercise of terror and mercy’ there was significant, prejudicial discretion in the way that the penal code was interpreted and punishment administered. A thorough analysis of Chartist trials was conducted by Jacqueline Ariouat in a fine 1995 doctoral thesis, followed by an incisive article in Albion in 1998. Her work refined some of the conclusions reached by Mick Jenkins and John Saville in the 1880s and brought considerable insight into the legal procedures and precedents at play during this period.’ She concluded that the ‘majority of sentences were not unduly severe’ and that Chartist trials were not conducted in an unduly partisan manner for their time’.’

Although in her paper Joan  raised questions about some aspects of Ariouat’s findings she wanted ‘to fully acknowledge the contribution her scholarship has made to this aspect of Chartist studies.’ Her ‘brief consideration of aspects of the Regina vs Frost trial is part of a wider study which aims to examine the flourishing periodical press which specifically served the legal community during the Chartist years and which affords a new opportunity for us to consider not just the inner workings of the judicial system but the attitudes of those who were employed as barristers, lawyers and judges.’

William Parker: A Chartist Life

Mike Greatbatch discussed the life of William Parker, Ouseburn Chartist. The abstract states: ‘As Secretary of the Ouseburn Working Men’s Association and an elected representative to the Council of the Northern Political Union (NPU), William Parker was a vocal advocate of universal suffrage in Newcastle and parts of County Durham from the moment the NPU was re-launched as Tyneside’s principal agency of Chartist agitation in September 1838. He would later serve as Chairman of the Ouseburn Charter Association.  The People’s Charter was just one of a number of causes that Parker championed over an almost twenty-year period. A widower with three teenage daughters by 1841, Parker was an unskilled labourer competing for work in one of Tyneside’s most competitive labour markets, a lowly status that appears to have strengthened his self-belief in the justice of his words and actions, and his unwavering commitment to his fellow workers.’  By presenting the biography of William Parker, Mike hoped to demonstrate ‘how Chartism in Newcastle could be an intellectual commitment, not just for the educated radical elite but also for the unskilled and the poor.’

Ouseburn was a river further along the Tyne from Newcastle which was heavily industrialised, The excellently designed power point presentation added a great deal to Mike’s talk. Of particular interest to me was the fact that Parker was born in Wandsworth c1790, joined the army in 1811 for life (21 years), fought in Spain, and then served in India 1817-19, until he was discharged as a lunatic having been charged with murder. This did not prevent him being on the Chelsea Pensioner roll. He was back in England in 1820, marrying in Gateshead in July 1821, was a store keeper in 1825, and then by 1828 a labourer at the Ridley glass works on the Ouseburn. Parker was an active Chartist speaker, organiser and also educator on other issues. He died in March 1860.

Some of Mike’s work on the Ouseburn has been published in North East History and available via the website; his essay on Ouseburn Chartism is in Issue 44 (2013). He was also a volunteer in the North East Popular Politics Project 2010-13 working on the very rich documents collected by Thomas Wilson, the listings of which are on the project database:

The Yorkshire Miners 1836-1842: Rethinking Trade Unionism and Popular Protest in the Chartist Years

In his paper Joe Stanley argued that  Historians have generally accepted that there was a growth in the scale and intensity of trade union action and popular protest in the mid-1830s. As Malcolm Chase has argued, an upturn in trade 'provided good ground' for more intensive trade union action. And yet, some historians have viewed trade union action in this period as a defensive mechanism to protect against wage reductions or the worsening of workers' standard of living. This paper, using a case study of the Yorkshire miners, will challenge this well-entrenched consensus and, will show that, far from being defensive, Yorkshire miners took offensive strike action in pursuit of higher wages. And, in many cases, the Yorkshire miners' trade union action fed into popular demands for the People's Charter. In the rapidly expanding Barnsley coalfield, for instance, there were a series of strikes across the summer of 1836 and 1837 for higher wages. And, in almost every case, the coalowners - anxious not to forgo profits or lose a foothold in the market - quickly conceded to the miners' demands. Similar demands were made across 1838-40 but, gradually, requests for wage increases by colliers began to be articulated along with broader demands for political reform; so much so that by 1842, Yorkshire miners' trade union action was seen by contemporaries as being synonymous with demands for the People's Charter. The general consensus in the historiography is that the relationship between Chartists and trade unionists was problematic before 1842: this paper will show that, in the Yorkshire miners' case, the two were much closer aligned before this date than historians have recognised. Drawing heavily on a range of neglected material, this paper will suggest that we need to rethink the relationship between trade unionism and Chartism in these prosperous years and take stock of earlier economic demands of trade unions in shaping and influencing their support for Chartism.’

Chartism’s legacy: the reform debate in Yorkshire, 1859-67

In his paper Mark Bennett argued that ‘The extension of the franchise to urban householders, twenty years after Kennington Common, represented only a very limited concession to Chartist aims. However, Chartism loomed large over the discussions about the merits and pitfalls of reform. On one hand, the ideology of Chartism represented one of the facets of democracy in the context of which measures of reform were proposed and opposed. On the other, former Chartists entered wholeheartedly into the key national debates of this period: from the immediate question of franchise extension, to associated controversies such as the implications of the American Civil War for popular government. To understand Chartism in its longer context, Mark examined ‘the evolution of the reform debate in the large, diverse and influential county of Yorkshire, between the abortive Conservative bill of 1859 and the successful Conservative bill of 1867.’ He  explored ‘the involvement of former Chartists, from major figures like Sheffield’s Isaac Ironside, through Barnsley’s Frank Mirfield, to minor figures like the emigrant Joe Kay, and their contributions to the debate.’ He further considered ‘the way that Chartism specifically, and democracy more generally, contextualised and informed the debate over franchise extension, and their use by both supporters and opponents of reform.’ He concluded by broadening its consideration of working-class culture to the Working Men’s Conservative Associations which formed in the late 1860s, understanding these as both a continuation of the earlier Tory Radical movement and an implicit response to some Chartist critiques.’

Chartism, Women and Working-Class Feminism

Matt Roberts’ paper revisited ‘the relationship between women and Chartism. The opportunities for women to participate in Chartism were more varied, extensive and enduring than has often been suggested. Particular attention is paid to late Chartism (1843-52) by documenting in full for the first time the number of female Chartist bodies in existence and by focusing on the role played by Chartist women in 1848. It then offers a case study of the Women’s Rights Association, established in 1851 by a group of Sheffield Chartist women, to campaign for votes for women, which, it is argued here, represented the culmination of a feminist current within Chartism.’

Matt had found 150 female groups, of which 52 were in existence between 1843 and 1851. It is estimated that between 162,000 and 467,000 women signed the 1848 National Charter petition. In May that year the Police Superintendent of Leicestershire estimated that there were 1,764 Chartist women: one for every 3 men. The Bethnal Green Female Charter Association had 12,500 enrolled members in June 1848. His talk centred on the Sheffield Women’s Rights Association. It sent a petition  for women’s suffrage to Parliament in 1851, the first such known petition. It was led by Abiah Higginbottam who was congratulated by  a Dundee newspaper which suggested that a seventh point (Abiah Point) for women’s suffrage be added to the Charter. 

It has been previously suggested that the WRA had been established on the initiative of Ann Knight  and the local Owenite Isaac Ironside. Matt says that the plan to set up the group had started two months before Knight contacted Ironside to ask whether there were women who would set up a local female suffrage organisation. The women were motivated by their critical view of Ironside’s performance on the local Council. There is no evidence that any of the women were Owenites; they were largely Church of England. They met at the Democratic Temperance Hotel which was the main meeting place for the male Chartists, rather that the Owenite Hall. While they made Knight President, and she occasionally, visited, and they revered her, they ignored her advice to only concentrate on women’s suffrage. They advocated temperance, pacifism, rational dress, and the repeal of the knowledge taxes. They corresponded with radical women in the United States and France, and had a visiting American activist as a speaker. They were  a working class group. The WRA disappears in 1852, and most of its members had died by the end of the 1850s. They were remembered in the Sheffield local press in 1919 and 1925 because it was from there that the first demand for women’s votes started. Matt suggested that the WRA represented the last phase of female radicalism based on the concept of ‘natural right’, which was not the basis of the new emerging middle-class ‘feminist’ activists. 

It struck me that female radicals, like Knight, had and were involved in the anti-slavery movement. While many of the WRA members were probably too young to have been involved in that movement up to 1838, they may well have come from families that were. The Sheffield Ladies Anti-slavery Society had been formed in 1825 and was the first society to call for the immediate emancipation of slaves. It issued its Appeal of the Friends of the Negro to the British People in 1827. By 1838 it had become the Sheffield Ladies Association for the Universal Abolition of Slavery and had petitioned in April of that year for the ending of the apprenticeship scheme. An unnamed  woman in Sheffield had written to the Newcastle Ladies’ Negro Friend &  Emancipation Society in 1840,  requesting it to support of a Female Normal School in Jamaica. The period when the WRA was active also sees the Newcastle anti-slavery women’s initiative to set up the Free Produce movement. Could the Sheffield female radicals after 1852 have become involved in such activity, especially given their links into the United States? 

From Peterloo to the People’s Charter

The  keynote talk was by Robert Poole. At the 2017 Chartism day he had ‘compared the 1817 petitioning campaign for reform (700 petitions, 750,000+ signatures) to the 1839 Chartist petition ((1.2 million signatures).’ This time he looked ‘at the 1819 mass platform campaign, with its focus on acclaiming ‘legislatorial attorneys’ and setting in motion John Cartwright’s practical plan for annual general elections. In moving from petitioning to mass action, the radicals of 1819 faced similar dilemmas over ‘ulterior measures’ to those that faced the Chartists.’

Robert summarised the background: the mass petitioning in 1817 with between 750,000 and 1m signatures, the march of the Blanketeers, the ‘riotous’ events in June 1817 in Huddersfield and Sheffield triggered by what Robert describes as failed and disappointed constitutionalism (what can be done when petitions are ignored). The invitation to speak in Manchester which Hunt accepted in January 1819 was one of several including from Shields on the Tyne. The Parliamentary lobbying tactic was a survival one incorporating economic, political and social demands. The move from petitioning to sending Remonstrances to the King or Regent was a tactical step up. The flags from the different towns displayed at Peterloo were a visual demonstration in citizenship.

Robert ended his talk with a slide of the engraving of the Newcastle Town Moor protest demonstration in October 2019. It was pointed out that the people depicted looked very middle class with top hats, as did the engraving of the 1848 Chartist demonstration on Kennington Common. The discussion suggested that this might have been the artists attempt to showed the respectability of the demonstrators. In Peterloo court case witnesses said that hats were not worn. Nor can the wearing of Sunday best be ruled out. It does raise an interesting question: what was the politics of hats?

Note: The Charter Our Right! Huddersfield Chartism Re-Considered

A book published last year which helps with the evaluation of Chartism different dynamics in different parts is The Charter Our Right! Huddersfield Chartism Re-Considered, a collection of essays exploring Chartism and popular radicalism in Huddersfield.
Edited with an introduction by John A. Hargearves, Alan Brooke writes on The Roots of Chartism in the Huddersfield Area. Matt Roberts on ‘God Save the Paddock Flag’: Anti-Corn Law and Chartist Banners, 1837-1844, Malcolm Chase on Chartism in Huddersfield, the cultural dimension, and John Halstead The Charter and Something More!’ The Politics of Joshua Hobson, 1810-1876.

Matt Roberts' article is particularly important given the illustration of the Skelmanthorp Banner produced as part of protest after the Peterloo Massacre, showing the image of the kneeling slave. It is also important because it sheds a different light on the usual labelling of Richard Oastler as a ‘Tory’. Here was a man prepared to be imprisoned and praise the armed defence of the Paddock Flag when the authorities tried to see it at a public meeting. John Halstead’s article examines the activities of one Chartism after the decline of Chartism, particularly his involvement in local government, as many other Chartists elsewhere did. Like so many others he ‘ever ceased to hate and do battle with intolerance or oppression wherever he found it’.

The book is well illustrated. Paperback - £9.95. ISBN 9780992984106.

Alan Brook is also joint author of Liberty or Death: Radicals, Republicans and Luddites, 1793-1823, published by the Society. It is reviewed at

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Making Sense of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre

The Peterloo Conference at the People’s History Museum on Saturday 18 March organised by the Society for the Study of Labour History was very well attended with excellent speakers.

Three of the speakers, Joe Cozens, Katrina Navickas and Robert Poole, were the people whose contribution at the Long 18thC Seminar in January stimulated me to explore a number of issues in the my discussion paper  The Importance of the Peterloo Massacre 1819 which I finalised for sale at the Conference. They were able to share information and ideas not included in their talks in January, or have been the results of continuing research since.

Resources in Manchester

The first speakers were Janette Martin and Mike Powell on sources on Peterloo and the Manchester Histories Festival. Janette explained the work being undertaken at John Rylands Library which includes an exhibition until 29 September, supported by digital resources The detail can be seen at It includes original handwritten records showing the names of the Mancunians who were killed, and historic newspapers coverage. A particular important collection was the posters and broadsheets of the period collected by one of the magistrates.

The Manchester Oligarchy

Robert Poole gave an in depth analysis of pre-Engels Georgian and Regency Manchester, citing the poet Robert Southey’s  description of the town published in 1808 (, and de Tocqueville’s of 1835 (

His analysis of the local authorities in the Greater Manchester area revealed a Tory oligarchy which had a very narrow view of ‘loyalism’, and a record of using the military including for prevention. The Massacre was no accident; the action was deliberately preventive as were the arrest of Hunt and those on the platform. That Loyalism was backed by the Orange Lodges which began to be formed in England starting in the Greater Manchester area from 1807, and the Manchester & Salford Volunteers formed in 1817.

Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt

John Belchem argued that Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt was tireless in his unbending advocacy of the need for full democracy and the importance of the mass meeting to politically pressure the Government, unperturbed by Government spies and the risk to his fortune made from agriculture during the wars with France. Hunt occupied the political territory between the radical reformers like Major John Cartwright and Sir Francis Burdett, whose tactics were more traditional, and the revolutionary Spenceans. He was essential to the development of the popular movement. The Spenceans were also advocated mass meetings. Hunt’s conditions for speaking  at the ones they organised. e.g. at Spa Fields in 1817 meant they could not advocate their full programme. That year the Hampden Clubs backed Hunt’s tactics against those of Cartwright, Burdett and William Cobbett. The 1817 Habeas Corpus Act closed the role for mass meetings, pushing the Spenceans underground, a world which spies exploited. Hunt condemned the prosecution of Spenceans like Dr Watson, standing up for the oppressed and supporting the victims. His meeting in Manchester in January 1819 was followed by others in the North. The August one on St Peter’s Field was part of his general build-up of support for one planned for Kennington Common. The Massacre led to a split with the Spenceans moving towards physical force/insurrectionary tactics. Hunt opposed wanting to maintain the moral high ground.

Songs and Broadsheets

Alison Morgan discussed the ballad and broadsheets about Peterloo. She played tracks from a forthcoming CD by folk singers she has been working with. She suggested that this print culture linked radicalism and literacy. In addition to using folk song music, tunes the ballads were set to at the time included Rule Britannia, God Save the King, and Handel’s The Conquering Hero Comes. Such tunes had been popularised at Pleasure Gardens, and had filtered to a mass audience. The singers think that some of the tunes are variations of Morris ones.

The Politics of Peterloo

Katrina Navickas discussed the politics of Peterloo from 1832 with the Whigs claiming it as part of their heritage following the Reform Act of 1832, then the Chartists, then the Liberals who built the Free Trade Hal on the site. The socialist, Marxist and trade union historians saw Peterloo as part of the canon on events of class conflict and working class organisation. In Manchester the City politicians up to 1969 saw Peterloo as something the Labour Party and the Trades Council did, so nothing was one by them.

Katrina argued that there is now a more holistic approach to studying Peterloo and its significance. It was part of the struggle for parliamentary reform started in the 1760s under John Wilkes (‘Wilkes & Liberty’), through to the 1790s with the London Corresponding Society, and on to Hunt (‘Hunt & Liberty’). She stressed the importance of the regional dimension – Greater Manchester with  people coming from the surrounding towns and villages, and of  the cross-regional dimension like in the East Riding. Several of those at Peterloo became touring speakers about what happened, helping to build a Northern working class identify and a view that London had failed them.

Peterloo was nationally significant because of the Government response, the Six Acts the solidification of loyalism, and the loyal addresses to the Regent from every County. The Acts widened the definition of what freedom was and the meaning of rioting, and made criticising Parliament treasonable. The legacy of Peterloo was reactionary repression. Nearly 20 years later this approach influenced the 1839 Royal Proclamation against torchlight meetings and illegal assemblies, and much latter the legislation to control public spaces e.g. Trafalgar Square in 1888 and the 1908 and 1963 Public Order Acts.

The Left and Peterloo

Joe Cozens' talk was about the left being the most active in memorialising Peterloo, as the rightful custodians of memorialisation. He suggested there were four key legacies form Peterloo: state violence martyrdom and violence, women as victims and political agents, and the tension between democracy and capitalism. His talk included mention of Hunt’s wish for Peterloo to be annually remembered, the Chartists’ memorial to the victims and Hunt in Manchester (1842-88), and the Manchester 1919 memorial activities and demonstration. 

At the latter Peterloo was seen as part of the attack on the working-class and the poor. Tom Mann led the singing of The Red Flag. It took place in the context of the race riots in port cities and towns, the deployment of troops in Glasgow, and the Amritsar Massacre in India. The Workers Welfare League for India sent a message of support. Kathleen Glasier, the Editor of the Daily Herald,  wrote about the conditions of the Indian workers being like those in Manchester in 1819. Joe illustrated how Peterloo was seen as part of the history of the struggle for votes for women. The Pankhursts had an ancestor who was there. In 1912 Votes for Women carried a long piece on The Manchester Meeting.
I do not think that Joe’s view of the left alters my overview that there has been no left highjacking of Peterloo memorialisation. It remains concentrated in the Greater Manchester area, with little appreciation elsewhere apart from in Newcastle with John Charlton’s The Wind from Peterloo pamphlet.

The Need for More Research at Local Level

Mike Leigh’s film has had mixed reactions and people come away from seeing it without understanding its national importance. In Conference discussion I urged the need for more research in the local responses to the Massacre in order to make Peterloo more relevant to people outside Greater Manchester. John Charlton posed the question whether, if the Massacre had not occurred, could one have taken place in Newcastle, as the October meeting had been in planning stage as a mass reform meeting, before the Massacre took place.  Would the military and volunteers have been sent in? He also suggested that there needed to be a better understanding of the period leading up to 1819, for example on T the seamen who joined the Town Moor demonstration in columns marching for North Tyneside, had previously been on strike for several weeks.

Some Questions

Three questions that emerged for me from the talks and discussions with people at the Conference were about the dissemination of radical ideas, the sub-regional differences, and how the ideas remained alive through the period of reaction and repression until the campaign for the Reform Act which partly was only passed because of the fear of revolution, and then the emergence of the Chartist mass movement.  

Question 1. How were the ideas for radical change and collective action transmitted between London and the provinces, and between the towns and villages across the country? The answer will be complex, including: people trading their agricultural produce  and small scale artisan manufacturing products by going into the nearby towns; the complex consumer distribution systems via the canals, the river boats, coaches, coastal ships, waggons and horse riders (as illustrated in my research into 18thC orange trade); the tramping artisans and unemployed workers; the speakers touring; the distribution of the radical press and pamphlets and of the ballad and broadside literature; and the networks of trade, occupation, religious affiliation, and friendly societies.

Question 2. What are the differences in sub-regions in terms of governance and the politics of the complex mix of local authority bodies? Loyalism was not so narrow in Newcastle; there was no attempt to prevent the Town Moor meeting; Whig and Tory rivalry opened up space or other voices to organise and be heard.

Question 3. Once the mass movement declined following the Six Acts, how did the ideas continue to remain alive across the country, enabling the development of the revolutionary climate of 1831 and 1832 and the development of the Chartist mass 
movement from 1838?

SSLH fact sheet

Joe Cozens and GCSE resource video

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Campaigning for Votes in Croydon

Dorinda Neligan
Courtesy of Croydon Museum

Talk at Croydon North Labour Party event Croydon Suffrage Movement and the role of women today, Saturday 10 November 2018

“Right is of no sex.” – Frederick Douglass, African American Emancipation and universal suffrage. 1848

I am going to start across the Atlantic. The first women’s rights convention in the United States in 1848 approved women's suffrage proposed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton after an impassioned argument from Frederick Douglass.

‘In respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man. We go farther, and express our conviction that all political rights which it is expedient for man to exercise, it is equally so for women. All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman; and if that government is only just which governs by the free consent of the governed, there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the laws of the land. Our doctrine is, that “Right is of no sex.”’

I like to think that his view was shaped by his experience in Britain between 1845 and 1847 where he escaped from enslavement and had toured Britain With his freedom being paid for by women in Newcastle, he was able to  return back to the States, accompanied by one of them as his Secretary.

Although no evidence of him coming to Croydon has emerged as yet, he would have met Croydon abolition activists like the brewers the Crowleys and Richard Barrett the publisher. A successor campaigner for African American rights and supporter of women’s suffrage W. E. B. Du Bois, when in London came to Croydon to visit his friend the Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

The First World War

This weekend is important because we mark the end of the First World War, the legislation that enabled women to stand as Parliamentary candidates and the beginning of the campaign for the General Election in December 1918 in which many women had the vote for the first time, and during which there were 13 women candidates including Emmeline Pankhurst, the former leader of the Women’s Social & Political Union as part of the Liberal, Conservative and pro-war Labour coalition, and Charlotte Despard, the leader of the Women’s Freedom League, for Battersea Labour Party against the Coalition. The number of men with the vote was also increased to those aged 21 and those aged 19 and 20 who have served in the forces. It is also the month of the formation of the Croydon Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, by women such as Barbara Duncan Harris, a suffrage activist.

We should remember that working class women in particular were heavily adversely effected by the War: the loss of fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, cousins and boyfriends, struggling to survive on lowered incomes and rising prices. It is impossible to understand the traumatic impact the loss of so many men from tight-knit working class neighbourhoods We also need to remember the traumatic effect of the wounded and dying on the many women who were nurses behind the war fronts and in Britain. In 1918 and 1919 further loss occurred in the Spanish Flu pandemic. A quarter of the British population were affected with 228,000 dying.

Working women

Many women had been able to go to work in the munitions factories, and fill other jobs previously undertaken by men. Croydon’s WSPU member Grace Cameron-Swan organised a group from Woolwich to visit the munitions factories in France. However some of the move into the factories was by changing jobs as in 1913 5.41m women were in work and in 1918 5.56m. What was significant was the rise in membership of women in trade unions from 8% in 1913 to 21.7% in 1918, which must have assisted the beginnings of the Labour breakthrough in municipal elections across the country in 1919, and then with the collapse of the Liberal Party the road to the election of the first Labour Government in the 1923 General Election, led by Ramsay Macdonald, whose wife Margaret Ethel was an active in the Women’s Labour League and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Organisations, and who was the main speaker at a public meeting in Croydon.

Glasgow Rent Strike

One of  the victories of women during the War was the November 1915 Rent Restrictions Act, the Government’s response to the rent strike in Glasgow, a key leading organiser of which was Mary Barbour, a working class  member of the Women’s Co-operative Guild.

Croydon was not an industrial area; it was predominantly white-collar working class and middle class. The vibrant labour and socialist movements struggled to get Councillors elected. The campaign for votes for women was able on occasion to see those of all political persuasions work together, whether Liberal, Tory, or Labour and Socialist, despite the major fault lines in the suffrage movement and their wider political differences.

Differences in Strategy and Tactics

In 1907 there were two main suffrage organisations in Croydon, the branches of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies led by Millicent Fawcett, and the Women’s Social & Political Union The difference between them was that the National Union campaigned through meetings, lobbying and petitioning.

The WSPU developed more militant tactics. Many of its members considered Emmeline Pankhurst to be very autocratic. As a result several branches including Croydon’s set up the Women’s Freedom League led by Charlotte Despard. While the League used militant tactics it did not approve of the increasingly violent methods used by the WSPU. As the Croydon WSPU branch became the League branch, so the WSPU had to set up a new branch.

Croydon was not the area covered by today’s London Borough. Much of the South was in Rural District Council areas. Initiatives were taken to set up branches in Purley and Kenley. There were branches of specialist suffrage organisations like the Actresses Franchise League, and the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage. There were also anti-women’s suffrage supporters including women, and organisations.

Croydon Suffrage Activities

I am not going into great detail about the movement’s activities as you can read about these in the pamphlet I have just published. It also contains background about women in Croydon and their wide range of activities in business and employment, as staff of public services, of work in charities, in the two main political parties, and participation  in the debating societies. In terms of the population the women were the majority, but without full recognition as citizens because they were denied the Parliamentary vote and most of the vote in the elections to the Borough Council and the Poor Law Board of Guardians.

Between 1907 and 1914 the suffrage campaigners in Croydon held public meetings, parades, had offices and shops, ran petitions, garden parties, fetes, a Suffrage Week which included plays, disrupted political meetings, boycotted the Census, refused to pay taxes,  and joined the London demonstrations and supported the Suffrage Pilgrimage. Because of the violent methods of the WSPU 16 CID officers and constables raided and ransacked the WSPU offices looking unsuccessfully for incriminating evidence. Katie Gliddon was not the only local activist who went to prison. There were many others including, Marion Holmes, Grace Cameron-Swan, Mary Pearson, and Mrs Dempsey.

Lesson from History?

The pamphlet is an introduction which I hope will tantalise others to carry out further research.
I am not sure that history does teach lessons. What it can do is to inspire us, to remind us that the labour and progressive movements have a long history of organisation and campaigning forcing Government and Parliament to act. We can take hope and strength from those strong individuals whether men or women who provided inspirational leadership and organising skills, often at great personal sacrifice.

We can dare to be imaginative like Muriel Matters with her airship flight dropping leaflets over London and Croydon before landing in a field in Coulsdon, and her and Croydon Marion Holmes’s testing of whether women could nominate candidates which led to national press coverage because the supporter who was Mayor turned the matter into a national news opportunity.


We are used to the importance of banners as a long tradition in the labour movement, but also an important aspect of the suffrage campaign. Some women undertook sandwich board processions, and trained in suffragitsu as a way of trying to prevent being thrown out of public meetings for disruption. One suffragette in Croydon’s Parish Church refused to leave after interrupting the proceedings and standing her ground until common sense prevailed and she was allowed to stay.

And like today there was the use of culture, music and drama at meetings, fetes and special events like the Croydon National Union’s Suffrage Week in  and the Freedom League’s Garden Fete.

Male supporters

There was also a common front between the women activists and men who supported their demands, like Keir Hardie, the leader of the Independent Labour Party, the Battersea based LCC Alderman Stephen Sanders who was a prospective parliamentary candidate in Croydon and whose wife was the WSPU head office book keeper, MPs trying to get legislation enacted, or as members of men’s suffrage organisations, like the Croydon Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage and the Croydon Men’s Political Union.

Like the women the supporting men came from across the class divide marching on demonstrations, and speaking at and attending meetings, and the railwaymen who signed one of Croydon’s petitions. Some of those men insisted that the newly formed Croydon Council Education Committee should co-opt women as members, which the all-male Council approved, enabling suffrage activists Lucy Morland, Clara Musselwhite and others to help shape education services. Clara had previously been an elected member of the School Board and the Board of Guardians, and went on  to be the first woman to be elected to Croydon Council in 1919 standing for the non-Party Ratepayer’s Association.

Dorinda Neligan

Courtesy of Croydon Museum

One of the interesting aspects of the commemoration of votes for women in Croydon this year was the joint project between the Museum and the Croydon High School for Girls, The School was set up to provide secondary education for girls when the State did not.

Its first headmistress was Dorinda Neligan, a member of the Women’s National Liberal Association, and of the WSPU and then Freedom League, who was herself arrested as a member of a deputation trying to  see the Prime Minister.  She had her goods confiscated and auctioned because of her refusal to pay tax while she was deprived the vote. The Museum School project included the making of this banner in her memory.

MPs and extra-Parliamentary action

On Thursday night here at Ruskin House Tooting Labour Party member Simon Hannah, author of the book A Party with Socialists in it, argued that as well as getting Labour MPs elected, change had to be achieved by campaigning and organisation outside of Parliament putting pressure on it.

That dual nature of campaigning and getting people elected as MPs has been a normal part of British politics since the 18thC, through the petitions, public meetings and lobbying, and the flood of pamphlet after pamphlet against the slave trade and then slavery. In the 1820s it was the organised women campaigners who turned the strategic demand from gradual to immediate emancipation. Following the election of supporting MPs as a result of the reorganisation of the House of Commons by the Reform Act 1832, and the reform Government being led by anti-slavery activists, this abolition demand was responded to with the Act abolishing Britain’s involvement in slavery over a short time period.

Anti-Slavery and Suffrage

When the successful abolitionists met at the Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 the men refused to allow the women to be full participating delegates. The American women attendees went back to the States and set up the women’s suffrage movement. That interlink between the two countries continued. Living in Britain for twenty years Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter was involved with the Fabian Society and the Women's Franchise League. Back in the  States, she formed the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women uniting professional and industrial working women, and started suffrage parades. One of these involved women on roller skates outside the White House.

The approaches developed and refined by the anti-slavery movement in Britain were used by the radical Parliamentary reform movement campaigning for votes for men resulting in the Reform Act of 1832. Women had supported them, setting up their own organisations.

Peterloo and Chartism

In Mike Leigh’s film about the Peterloo Massacre which took place 200 years ago next year there are scenes involving meetings of a women’s reform organisation, and women taking part in the demonstration. The Massacre saw many large demonstrations across the country condemning the loss of life and the use of military force, like the one in Newcastle.

The Chartist movement used similar mass campaigning methods. Although the reform and Chartist demand was for votes for men, there were Female Chartist organisations. The suffrage movement continued in that campaigning tradition. They also backed Parliamentary candidates who support women’s suffrage, nut also were delighted when a supporter John Raphael was defeated as a Liberal in Croydon because of the refusal of the Party Leader and Prime Minister Asquith to legislate.

The strategy and the tactics however are not predetermined to have immediate effect, it takes decades. Perhaps that is the main lesson of history: do not expect instant success, it’s a long haul filled with doubt, a sense of failure, and many set-backs. But in the end the desired result can be achieved as happened 100 years ago and then completed for women 90 years ago. The Croydon Crossfield, Crowley, Mennell and Morland families must have understood this with their involvement over decades in anti-slavery, anti- war, and women’s suffrage, as must have Georgina King Lewis, who enabled the first Ruskin House building to be opened for the local labour movement.


Suffrage Campaigns & Campaigners in Croydon

Sean Creighton, with Iona Devito and Louise Szpera
£3.50 plus p&p

Friday, 28 September 2018

A loss to Croydon’s understanding of its history

Amended 23 January 2019 at request of a reader.

The closure of Croydon Citizen is regrettable because the loss of its publishing contributions on aspects of the Borough’s history and events. 

The wide range of short essays, the promotion and discussion of events, and debate on the contemporary threats to Croydon’s heritage, have  helped increase understanding of aspects of Croydon’s development, and what of the past is of value and of relevance today. This has been particularly important in a period of considerable change and with a big annual turnover of population.

First World War

In June 2013 I discussed the inadequacy of the Government’s plans to commemorate the First World War, because they ignored the enormous social and political cost of the conflict in Croydon and elsewhere. In subsequent contributions I examined life in Croydon in 1914 and 1917, Croydon’s wartime Canadian links: the Halifax explosion, December 1917; and the controversy over memorialising the soldiers traumatised by combat who were treated in Cane Hill Hospital.

Robert Ward reflected on his grandfather as a result of visiting the Whitgift School exhibition Remembering 1916. Emily Lansell has written on The Museum of Croydon’s centenary commemorations: First World War hospitals and Wallacefield.

In addition to reporting on the Grade II* listing of the former airport building, Ian Walker of the Croydon Airport Society wrote about how its Heritage Lottery Fund grant  was helping to unveil the secrets of Croydon’s wartime history, leading to the birth of the aviation industry.

The Museum’s placement student Samuel Ali’s has contributed articles on Croydon and the Sinai & Palestine Campaign, Croydon and chemical warfare, and although he has now left the Museum, on the Trinidadian VignalĂ« brothers.

The Second World War

There have also been pieces on experiences in the Second World War: the local Scouts, and some of the war veterans. Paul Dennis reviewed 98 year old resident Eric Sanders’ autobiography Secret Operations.

Histories of Local Areas

It published my three articles on aspects of South Croydon’s history under the title Keen as Mustard, and two on the Selhurst area, my obituary of the life of local resident Alex Elden From the SS Windrush to Croydon, and  The Edwardian library legacy of an Anglo-Pole. Mark Wadsworth wrote a Tribute to Darcus Howe who had lived in Pollards Hill. 

Black & Asian History

The Borough’s Black/African and Asian history have featured in many ways. In 2013 my Does Croydon need its own Martin Luther King? was triggered by the showing of the film Freedom Riders. My Remembering Paul Robeson’s musical activism was contributed because of Tayo Aluko’s Call Mr Robeson, the last show at the Warehouse Theatre. Talks were held in the Heritage Festivals, and in the African History+@Croydon 2014 event organised by Kwaku of Black British Music who published a preview, while I contributed How far have we come? Slavery, civil rights and contemporary racism?  In 2015 I discussed some films on aspects of black history shown at the David Lean Cinema.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

A particular emphasis has been given to Croydon’s  local composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. In addition to pieces by me, Gareth Endean discussed whether Coleridge was a victim of racism, and Samuel Ali his boosting civil rights campaigning.

Croydon’s slavery connections

Nick Draper of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project gave talks during two of the Festivals.  Ann Giles reported on the first one. Other contributions on the history included Ola Kolade on the talk by Paul Crooks on Secrets of the 1817 Slave Registers Uncovered, and Jonny Rose’s How a meeting on a tree stump near Croydon led to the abolition of slavery in Britain, and my contextual review of the film 12 Years a Slave,

Croydon Minster

David Morgan contributed three articles, including about the Minster’s organ and choral music, and whether  Mendelssohn played that organ. Karen Ip wrote about the 150th Anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Minister, while Liz Sheppard-Jones reviewed the Fire’s commemorative concert.  

Importance of Archives

In late 2013 and early 2014 there was a threat to close the Croydon Local Studies Library and Archives Service. James Naylor explained why the Citizen supported keeping it open, and I wrote on The Importance of Archives. In Fortune Favours the Archives Brian Lancaster of Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society, explained  how the Service was saved.

Croydon Museum

Back in 2013 I pointed out that Croydon’s art collection was a forgotten resource. Since the Labour administration came to office in Mya 2014 the re-organised Museum and Archives service research room on the ground floor of the Clocktower has been a hive of activity and initiatives since 2014. Works from the art collection are now regularly displayed. Volunteers have been working on projects including sorting and cataloguing collections. The Fairfield (Halls) Collection project was discussed by  Angela Lord and myself. The many exhibitions at the Museum included one on the artistic and musical family of the Pethericks, about whom I contributed a piece in the Citizen.

The Citizen is itself a historical archive. Its  print archive will be deposited with the Museum, and plans are under way to ensure that the internet site remains as a digital resource.

Threat to Croydon’s Heritage

Many residents and others were outraged by the then Conservative Council’s decision in 2013 to sell items from the Riesco porcelain collection displayed in the Clocktower. The Citizen reviewed the arguments for and against, while David White discussed whether the Council had the legal power to sell.

In September 2014 I explained the Council Planners’ admission that the Borough’s heritage had been significantly compromised over recent decades. The threat to historic assets is always present. The future of SEGAS house was discussed through the Citizen in 2014. My August 2016 Will Croydon Council sell off more of its historic assets? remains an open question.

Other Topics

Contributions have been made on a range of other topics by PhD student Dan Frost, Clare Walker, Holly Bernstein and myself on Croydon and Agincourt, Taras Shevchenko (the Ukrainian poet who fought for the freedom of his country using words), the 1968 Council elections and the student occupation of Croydon College of Art, the life of legendary folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, the 90th anniversary of Croydon Soroptomist International women’s organisation, and events organised in this year’s Women’s History Month. Given this year’s commemoration of Votes for Women the Citizen published my introduction Historical heroines: meeting Croydon’s suffragettes and suffragists.

The Citizen’s demise will make it more difficult to promote new writing and share knowledge about Croydon’s history.


The above text was written and submitted to Croydon Citizen. Unfortunately it was too close to the closure deadline for the team to be able to post it up. James Nayor, the Editor in Chief says on this and the previous  posting on this blog site: 

It's a real pity because these were excellent - thank you for your kind words and serious tackling of the issues the town faces with the losing the Citizen. I am very grateful for you writing this. 

The Citizen was able to post up the latest contribution by Samuel Ali adding to our knowledge of Croydon's slavery links.

It has also managed to publish the last of my articles on the history of peace and anti-war movements in Croydon.