Saturday, 10 August 2019

The Dark Side of the Enlightenment Part 2: Politics, Freemasonry, Music, Women & Digital Humanities

Part 2 continues my review of the International Society for 18thC Studies Congress in Edinburgh in July. 

Radical and Loyalist Politics

There were panels dealing with economic and political issues, such as Relative Liberties, Political Trails in Britain and France in the 1790s, The French Revolution from Afar (inc. London anti-reflationary press), Providing for the Poor, Scotland and the American Revolution, Jacobite Material Culture, Popular Politics and Radicalism, Queen Charlotte in British Caraciactture 1785-1798, and the identity problem of British Radical Expatriates in France. The one on The Force of the State 1789-1819 had Joe Cozens talk about the Dragoon State and riot control in Britain,  Amanda Goodrich on Henry Redhead Yorke, the mixed race revolutionary in Sheffield, and Robert Poole on military intervention at Peterloo. In the discussion I drew attention to the need for local studies of the reaction to and impact of the Massacre and the repressive laws that followed. (Note 5)

The John Thelwall Society organised two panels. There was one on Scottish Clubs and Societies which included a paper on friendly societies. More general panels had papers on forging a transnational radical identify, Mary Wollstonecraft, the limits of Scottish Protestant unity, Presbyterian politics, political songs in  18thC Netherlands, reason and the claim for equal political liberty, the French revolution’s politics of time, the Society for The Suppression of Vice in Lodon 1800-1825, Burke’s use of history after The Reflections juvenile patriotism and identity in Revolutionary France, revolutionary education in Milan, and Professor Penelope Corfield on the urban/commercial/radical handshake.

I was unable to go to the panel on political participation in 18thC England at which Matthew Grenby (Newcastle) spoke on election ballads in Newcastle, and Edmund Green ((independent scholar) on electoral participation across Metropolitan London 1700-1832. (Note 6)


This was another cross cutting theme. A panel on assembly, association and sociability had a paper on the Masonic Stage, In the Slavery and Identity panel Susan Snell (the English Grand Lodge’s archivist) spoke on black freemasons, and I talked about Loveless Overton, a Bajan soldier and freemason, the non-foot noted text of which is now on the North East Popular Politics Project database which I edit:


There was a fascinating panel on song, with papers on William Shield, the Tyneside and Court composer, who turns out to have been a radical and a freemason. The  annual William Shield Festival on Tyneside takes place later this year. Amelie Addison (Leeds Uni) who gave the talk will be speaking at it. Joseph Darby (Keen State College, USA) spoke about subscription based Scottish music publishing. Kirsteen McCue (Glasgow) spoke about the Romantic National Song Network project on national songs published across the British Isles during the period 1750-1850: The site includes a posting by Amelie about Shield:
Reference was made to Durham’s musician and music teacher Simon Fleming’s project on subscribers to music. So far he has been able to publish Gender of Subscribers to Eighteenth-Century Music Publications, which can be seen at He writes: ‘One of the most important and valuable resources available to researchers of eighteenth-century social history are the lists of subscribers that were attached to a wide variety of publications. Yet, the study of this type of resource remains one of the areas most neglected by academics. These lists shed considerable light on the nature of those who subscribed to music, including their social status, place of employment, residence, and musical interests. They naturally also provide details as to the gender of individual subscribers.’

For some time I have been drawing attention to the use of subscribers’ lists in other forms of publishing and in a range of organisations lists of paid up members and donors, examples of which are on the North East Popular Politics database. This links back to Joe’s talk on the Dragoon State with the List of Subscribers to the Fund, for the Relief of the Widows, Wives, and Children of Killed and Wounded British Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Expedition to Holland in 1799 ... Together with an abstract of the regulations ... for the management of that fund (1808) (on Google Books), which I have come across since the Congress,  the subscribers including the Ayrshire Fencibles when Loveless Overton was with them.


There were panels on Aphra Behn, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen and Women’s Artists as well as on a wide range of women’s literature, artists, and writers, and other panels inc. papers on women in business, cross dressing,  and Ann Lister (in panels on The Cries of Queen Identities and Homo- and Heterosexual Identities). (Note 7)

Digital Humanities
Issues relating to digital humanities have been a growing topic of discussion at the Annual British Conference. They were an important feature of the ISCECS Congress. There were sessions on the issues,  one on getting started and some on specific projects such as the Sterne Digital Library, Scottish case law, and the Georgian papers in the Royal Archives at Windsor. Although Andrew Prescott (Prof of DH, Glasgow), was at the Congress, he gave a talk on freemasonry having previously been the Director of the Centre for Research into Freemasonry at Sheffield University. (Note 8)

The Scale of the Congress

The 1,600 delegates included large contingents from North America and across Europe but also many from China, India (where a Society has recently been set up), Japan and Korea. The organisation of the Congress was highly complex with 477 panels and roundtable discussions spread across several University buildings, plus plenary sessions and evening events including receptions, a concert, a quiz and a Ceilidh. The organisation committee did a fantastic job, supported throughout the week by a group of student volunteers and the University’s Edinburgh First team.

The Costs

The Congress was expensive, so a lot of students were able to be there thanks to a large bursary fund, plus some academics without alternative funding. The Congress and the BSECS Annual Conference remain costly for independent historians who have no funding support mechanisms they can apply to. It is to be hoped that a bursary could be set up, especially for those who want to give a paper. (Note 9)

What Next?

It is to be hoped that many of the issues discussed will continue to be debated between participants, especially the dialogue started at the BAME round-table. One method will be through essays based on talks in a proposed special issue of journal of the British Society. The January annual conference of the British Society will enable further discussion, particularly in relation to issues relating to nature and the change of environments as a result of industrialisation, the re-shaping of country estates, new forms of transport and enclosures, but particularly the exhaustion of soils on the West Indian islands as a result of sugar mono-culture. The next Congress in 2023 will be in Rome.


(5)    See for example John Charlton’s The Wind from Peterloo. 1819 - Newcastle’s great reform demonstration, which I published last year under my History & Social Action Publications imprint. I have also published The Importance of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819: A personal discussion triggered by Mike Leigh’s film and a Long 18thC Seminar. I will be giving a talk on Croydon’s Peterloo links for the Croydon Natural History & Scientific Society in November. Joe and Katrina are reaching a wider public audience through their articles on Peterloo in the August issue of History Today.

(6)    The North East Labour History Society’s North East Popular Politics Project database which I edit contains a great deal of information about electoral politics in the long 18thC in the North East: The electoral politics project to be co-ordinated by Matthew Grenby received its funding approval two weeks before the Conference. The detailed brief about it is awaited.

(7) Since the Congress I have come across the report from Bath about a colleague of Loveless Overton, Sarah Penelope Stanley, who was discharged from the Ayreshire Fecibles following her sex being discovered after being kicked by her horse. The Bath Mayor funded her return back to the City. (The Lady’s Magazine. September 1799. p. 428)

(8)    What happened to the digital archive Andrew set up is a cautionary tale. Years after he left the English Grand Lodge ceased funding the Centre. This was particularly galling for me as a graduate member of the Sheffield University Court of Governors I had successfully lobbied for Chinese walls between the Centre and the Grand Lodge. Some time after the Centre was closed the University took the digital resource off the internet. Interestingly the joint paper that Andrew and I wrote as an introduction to black freemasonry was put up on a Lodge website in the United States at:
A collection of Andrew’s papers have been posted on a workshop on DH issues Andrew organised last year I discussed some of the issues in two blog postings at:

(9)    Another cost facing students is that of the books they should be reading on the 18thC. A good source is Postscript Books of remainder books at knockdown prices. Its August catalogue includes books on the British Museum in the Enlightenment, the Castlereagh/Canning duel, Carline of Ansbach, Jane Austen's notebooks,  Whatley on gardening, Gainsborough, Canaletto and Hogarth, Krystyn Lach-Szyrma, Sir John Pringle, Arago’s voyage round the world, William Buchan and medical advice, Regency women, and British ceramics, as well as military books on the French Wars.

The Dark Side of the Enlightenment Part 1 - Colonisation, Slavery and Black History

Referring to the massacre of indigenous people in the Iberian American colonies and the impoverishment of the masses in Spain and Portugal as a result of colonisation Voltaire argued that therefore ‘no one has won’.

Colonialism and slavery were central themes at the International Society for 18th Century Studies held in Edinburgh from 14 to 19 July.  Voltaire’s views were discussed in the closing plenary session on Enlightenment Legacies by Maria das Gracas de Souza of the University of Sao Paolo.

Indigenous peoples and uneven development

Voltaire believed that Europeans were more advanced peoples, and regarded the power of reasoning and understanding of indigenous people’s as not being well developed. The development of science and the arts in Europe had divided people into the ‘enlightened’ and the ‘underdeveloped’, although progress was uneven and not inevitable.

This mix of superiority and pre-‘Marxist’ uneven development theory is interesting at a time when Western Europe’s economy depended on the exploitation of indigenous people, including the enslaved Africans forcibly transported to the Americas. They produced the wealth that afforded the elite, the ‘middle classes’ and the intellectuals to develop the Enlightenment in all its facets. It was 400 years ago that the use of enslaved Affricans by the English began in Virginia. (Note 1) One of the dark aspects of the Enlightenment classification system was the beginning of racial hierarchy developed by Carl Linnaeus, with Africans as the lowest form of human beings, giving pro-slavery advocates justification for it.

It can be argued that the ‘good/light’ side of the Enlightenment in history studies until recently has masked the ‘evil/dark’ side of its colonial economies, ethnic cleansing, brutal treatment of the enslaved and impoverishment of European workers and peasants.
A different perspective on the Enlightenment comes from North, Central and South American and Caribbean historians. They help to challenge those who inhabit the ‘good/light’ Enlightenment comfort zone. The growing evidence of the depth of Scottish involvement in the slavery business is a challenge to those involved in studying the Scottish Enlightenment, given even much respected authors like Thomas Smollett had links with the business.

Colonialism, African Slavery and the Black Presence

The ISCECS programme had panels of talks and roundtables  on Writing Black Atlantic Lives, Caribbean Connections, Jamaica Connections, Colonial Space – Colonial Power (4), Reckoning with Scotland’s Slavery Connections, Fashioning Slavery, Scots, Empire and Identity, 18thC Constructions of Race, Black British Writers, Colonial Encounters, Slavery & Identity (2), and Researching, Writing and Teaching Black and Minority Ethnic Identities: Where are We now? (at University level). There were also individual papers in other panels inc. on Mary Prince, two black female slaves in Buenos Aires 1764-1773, Black British Women in 18th Portraiture, and concepts of culture and race. One of the German Slavery Identities panels had three papers on black people and non-Europeans.

BAME Academics

In the BAME session Amanda Goodrich (Open University) mentioned the fact that British history BAME academics are now overburdened with requests to attend conferences/workshops etc to talk about diversity and that bursaries are needed to cover their attendance.  She also mentioned that not all BAME academics want to be automatically identified with BAME history and expected to research or teach it and some feel overburdened by this expectation.  They want to choose their area of history. She mentioned the growing issues of  ‘whose history is it’, and whether there should be ‘black history’ and what that means. She  also raised questions about how we research and write BAME history and the difficulties that might arise in the process. 

Margot Finn (UCL) summarised the Royal Historical Society’s Race, Ethnicity & Equality Working Group report identifying barriers to equality and diversity in the discipline of history, seeking to achieve on positive change in the environments in which historians of colour in the UK work, and enhancing the wider practice and discipline of History by increasing the presence of racial and ethnic minorities in university: Regulus  Allen (Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo) explained her experience teaching in the United States and the work she was undertaking to develop good practice. Srividhya Swaminathan (Long Island University) ) discussed the dangers of ‘ghettoisation’ and the artificial construct of ‘whiteness.’ Ryan Hanley (Bristol) reviewed the development of British Black History studies and publishing and the leading role of non-academics. Several of us at the panel have been involved in such discussions for a long time through the Black History networks and at BSCECS Annual Conferences. (Note 2)

Britain and Suriname

The third paper by Hilde Neus (Anton de Kom University of Suriname) was about 72 coloured women who attempted a court case against the civil guards in 1779. It is a reminder that England and the Britain had direct dealings with Suriname in the 17thC (e.g. colonial control and Aphra Behn), and colonial rule for the Dutch in the French Wars. It was also the subject of Stedman’s book illustrated by William Blake, There will also have been trade links directly between Britain and Suriname and via the Dutch ports given so many merchants trading links. It is possible that most users of the UCL based Legacies of British Slave-ownership database will not realise that if they put into the search box for notes, 72 individuals are listed with Suriname links, including the Austin family, the Scots born James Balfour, John Bent who also owned land in Sussex, the Scots MP James Blair, Colin Campbell of Glasgow and Rotterdam, including those who received British West Indies compensation, and some who became slave owners in Suriname after emancipation in the British West Indies. The Legacies project has helped to revolutionise our understanding of Britain in the long-18thC. (Note 3)

The relationship between academic and non-academic historians

The discussion at the BAME roundtable allowed me to classify two groups of academics: those who value the contribution by non-academics (several of whom were present), and those who do not.   I challenged those academics, whose books weave theories and conclusions on thin evidence, who consider non-academics as not being academically rigorous. I was also critical of large funded research projects which seek to involve non-academic historians and volunteers but do not have enough money in budgets to meet expenses and pay people. (Note 4)

(1)    The purchase of 20 Africans at Jamestown, Virginia during 1619 occurred weeks before the first meeting of the Virginia House of Assembly. The 400th anniversary of the simultaneous beginnings of slavery and democracy in British North America, and the continuing dilemma of democracy and race, provide a context to discuss the experiences of Africans brought here to labor under a brutal system of slavery. This panel examines the history and nature of this first landing of Africans in America, as well as legacies down to our own time. What was the meaning of liberty and community for 17th Century Americans? What does it mean to be American for their descendants and fellow minorities? What resonance do these issues have as the United States faces a Presidential election threatening to become the most racist appeal to voters in living memory?’ Two years later Anthony Johnson was brought to Virginia, but by the mid-century was a slave owner himself .  (Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance & Abolition enewsletter 29 July 2019)

(2)    See my blog postings:

 (3)   The Legacies success rested on the retiring Director Nick Draper, a former banker, whose PhD study opened up the compensation records, and whose academic rigour has been first class. The team’s collaboration with community, family, independent and local historians has been a key part of the project. Without it  I could not have written Croydon’s Connections with the British Slavery Business in Strange Bedfellows. Croydon’s Slave Owners and Historians (Croydon Natural History & Scientific Society. Proceedings. Vol. 20. Part 1. September 2017). Nick’s successor is Professor Matthew Smith, Head, Department of History and Archaeology at the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica. His publications include Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica After Emancipation (2014) and Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change (2009). The Mona campus is on the former slave plantation owned for a while by Bonds of the Park Hill Estate in Croydon. Without the Legacies project it would be more difficult for Miranda Kaufmann, the author of Black Tudors, to research her current newly commissioned book on Heiresses: Slavery & The Caribbean Marriage Trade. Miranda was at the Congress and is also co-organiser of the What is Happening in British Black History workshops and network which is meeting again on 14 November:

(4)    Community led projects like the Kennington Common 1848 Chartist project run by Friends of Kennington Park, have had academics helping, including  Katrina Navikas (Hertfordshire Uni.) The project is perhaps one of the best models I know about. Details can be seen at At the Friends AGM on 23 July two pamphlets were launched: one about the project, and another containing essays including one by Katrina. As a supporter of the project I published last year my introduction to Lambeth Chartism, and will be publishing one on Lambeth radicalism before Chartism to sell at a talk I am giving at this year’s Lambeth History Fair on 7 September. 

Friday, 9 August 2019

The Heathwall. Battersea's Lost River

Heathwall St was one of the stopping points on the Battersea & Wandsworth Trades Union Council annual John Burns Walk which I led  on  Saturday 3 August.

I explained that it was named after Battersea’s lost river, the Heathwall, also known as Heathwall Sluice, which is buried underground running from the Falcon Brook (also underground) through the Este Rd and Falcon Park, Shaftesbury Park and Queens Rd areas and parallel with Wandsworth Rd to Nine Elms. Its name also survives in Heathwall Park at the end of Robertson St and the Heathwall Pumping Station on the Thames at Tideway. Its course marks the boundary between Wandsworth and Lambeth.

The Heathwall is little known as one of many of the Lost Rivers of London. Jon Newman has now produced a book, part history, part a do-itself yourself walk, about it: The Heathwall. Battersea’s Buried River (Backwater Books).

Its History

Over the centuries its name evolved from Hese/Hyse in Saxon/Norman times to Hethe/Heath. It was one of the many water courses and drainage channels through Battersea’s the waterlogged fields. Its repair and upkeep was left to the individual landowners and its walls to  Westminster Abbey the principal one. From its establishment in the 16thC the Surrey and Kent Sewer Commissioners had to deal with legal squabbles over who should pay for works to improve the drainage system.  By 1700 the fertile and well watered fields of the Heathwall level were some of London’s most productive market gardens.

As the number of buildings grew the system had to cope with more and more household and industrial waste.  From 1774 there was a general sewers rate. In 1847 the Commissioners were replaced in 1847 by the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, and then in 1855 by the Metropolitan Board of Works. Under its chief engineer John Bazalgette all the rivers in South London bar the Wandle and Ravensbourne were turned into underground sewers. It took 20 years to complete the work. The scheme was not a success and flooding continued. In the end the Heathwall pumping station was opened in 1898. Further capacity was added in 1959/60 and more is being worked on at present.

The Walk

The majority of the book is a description of the walk through the area the Heathwall had flowed. In keeping with Jon’s other walk books it is rich in detail and atmospheric. ‘Outside the gatehouse and to the right, the boundary wall of Glycena Road sits over the line of the Heathwall….. but one can almost re-imagine it flowing past their Gothic castellations like a fantasy moat, defending its respectable tee-total working class residents from the horrors without.’ (p. 19)

It’s a delight to read for those who want to know more about the parts of Battersea and Lambeth along the walk. Readers can use it to do the walk themselves, although it may be advisable to do it in two sections from Price’s Candles to the end of Heathwall Park and then from there to the pumping station via Vauxhall/Nine Elms. For local historians it is an important contribution to our knowledge.Jn'istdle and Ra

Inevitably in order to keep the book to 56 pages and not to overload it with too many details of any particular section of the walk, there is much more information than Jon could not include.

The book is nicely illustrated by David Western, and maps are included.
The Heathwall can be ordered from me

Jon’s Other Books

Battersea’s Global Reach. The Story of Price’s Candles  (History & Social Action Publications)

River Effra: South London's Secret Spine

Battersea Nocturne. A walk through Whistler's Battersea intercut with journal writings and images.

Death on the Brighton Road. An account of a nine mile bike ride from the gallows at Kennington to the gibbet at Smitham Bottom.

Lovely Lambeth. A walk through Blake's Lambeth intercut with poems and images.

Lost in Herne Hill. A walk through John Ruskin's childhood home of Herne Hill - backed by the Herne Hill Society

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Thoughts about the Windrush

On 1 July I was one the members of the Panel at the final event at the David Lean Cinema in Croydon's Windrush Commemoration organised by a group led by Cllr Patsy Cummings, the Council's BAME champion. Another member of the Panel was campaigner for justice for the victims of the Windrush scandal and Patrick Vernon.    
I gave the following reflections.
I am one of  many people like Patrick working to ensure that British history reflects the long history of the Black presence.
When I moved to Norbury in July 2011 my next door neighbour was the wife of the Jamaican RAF ex-serviceman Alex Elden who was on the Windrush, Alex being in residential care.
As I sat at the dinner at Selsdon Park Hotel I thought of the 18th and early 19thC owners who exploited the enslaved on their West Indies plantations and whose profits helped fund the development of the building and its estate, as I have shown in this publication (hold up). How they must have been turning in their graves given the large number of the descendants of the enslaved there enjoying the meal and entertainment.
White Britons of my age have led parallel and interconnected lives with the Windrush Generation. In my case it has been through work, community and political activity, such as advising people of their welfare and housing rights, of helping to change Wandsworth’s housing allocation rules to end the built in exclusion of members of the Generation, assisting the establishment of a housing project for homeless young people, of working for a housing association which was chaired by the Jamaican Eric Smellie, and which specialised in improving housing conditions in areas where members of the Generation lived.
As Secretary of the Community/Police Consultative Group in Lambeth and the Panel of Lay Visitors to Police Stations I worked closely with Astel Parkinson, Hector Watson, George Greaves, Rene Webb and Neil Flanigan. Neil is a serving member of the RAF from the Second World War and has supported several of the Windrush events in Croydon and who is interviewed in Croydon resident Marc Wadsworth's film Divided by Race.
But that interconnection goes back earlier to my parents having a Jamaican lady as a lodger whose son was in the RAF and my mother teaching the piano to children, one of whom is a concert pianist in the United States. My personal interest in black history stems from my childhood hero the African-American actor, singer and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson. (Hold up pamphlet) And of course Black music, including from the West Indies, has been part of the sound track of our lives.
The arrival of the Windrush in June 1948 at Tilbury symbolises many things about Britain at the end of the War.
·       The return of Caribbean ex-servicemen who had contributed to the wartime effort against Hitler and the Nazis.
·       The arrival of people from the West Indian colonies wanting to contribute to the re-building of a shattered Britain.
·       The irony of having been a ship used to provide Hitler Youth with holidays around the Baltic before the war.
·       The fear in some quarters that was generated by what the Daily Graphic called ‘invasion ‘of just under 500 people, representing imperial racist attitudes.
If you have seen David Olusoga’s TV programme on the Government attitude to the Windrush and immigration then you will have been shocked by the long roots of the hostile environment which has been so damaging to members of the Generation. It has been a reminder that far from being welcoming and liberal Britain has been divided between racists and anti-racists with a large bloc in between of people whose views were and are based on fear, with unscrupulous politicians exploiting the tensions that are created.
So it is important that we continue to research and tell the story of the Black contribution in Britain like my pamphlet on Croydon before the Windrush (hold up) throughout every year with a particular focus during October’s Black History Month and on the annual Windrush Day. This includes the fact that Ivor Cummings, the Anglo-African Government welfare officer who met and helped the Windushers had grown up in the Croydon area in the 1920s. It is also important to tell the post Windrush story of anti-racism and for white Britons to reflect on their parallel and inter-connected lives and what the impact of the Windrush Generation has been on their lives.
The exhibition of Windrush Generation artifacts from the 1940s & 1950s including a Caribbean front room with Glassfish, Paraffin Heater, Gram, Grip etc, are on display at the Croydon Museum in the Clocktower until 31 October - Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10.30am-5pm.

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