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The Chartist Movement


​Chartism was a major milestone for collectivism and group action, sometimes called Britain's first civil rights organisation, and is the forebear of the Co-operative movement, Trade Unions, Building Societies, and numerous other political reform movements. It played a key role in shaping the democracy we have today.

Chartism emerged during industrialisation and reflected the great social, economic and political changes taking place. Working conditions were hard and dangerous, and pay was poor. Working people wanted change, but only people with property had the right to vote.

Kennington Common, as it was then known, played a pivotal part in the Chartist Movement. See below for further information about the movement.

William Cuffay - a blog from the People's History Museum website

William Cuffay, Chartist, a 'scion' of Africa's oppressed race

On 10 April 2020 on the anniversary of the 1848 Chartist Rally on on Kennington Common, the website of Manchester's People's History Museum published a blog by PHM Researcher Dr Shirin Hirsch about the leading Chartist William Cuffay.   It is reproduced here with grateful acknowledgement to the PHM as it sheds important light on William Cuffay about whom there was so much interest during the Kennington Chartist Project.

"Who was William Cuffay?

Working class radicals from our past are very rarely remembered within our public sphere – there are few monuments to their feats and their personal collections feature little within the official archives.  William Cuffay was one of these working class radicals, preserving no diary, autobiography or papers and his lack of wealth and power leaving only faint traces of his life to explore.  Cuffay died a pauper in a workhouse in Tasmania, was buried with no name chiselled into a gravestone, and he had no surviving children (his only daughter died soon after the death of his second wife in childbirth).  His homes in London and Tasmania, as well as the workhouse where he died, have long since been demolished.  Yet Cuffay’s contributions to the struggles for working class democracy within the British Empire are immense.  In this blog I want to think about some of the sources connected to Cuffay, including a precious belonging of Cuffay’s we are honoured to hold at People’s History Museum.

William Cuffay was the descendent of slaves; his grandfather had been sold into slavery from Africa to St Kitts, and his father was born into slavery.  Somehow, Cuffay’s father was freed, and he found work as a cook on a warship where he eventually ended up in the dockyard town of Chatham, near London, and married a local.  William Cuffay was born in 1788, a boy ‘of a very delicate constitution’, with his spine and shins deformed.  Cuffay became a tailor, yet on joining a trade union and participating in a strike he was sacked from a job he had held for many years.  In 1839 Cuffay joined the great working class Chartist movement with its national demands for universal male suffrage and democratic change, and before long he had emerged as one of the most prominent leaders of the Chartist movement in London."

"What did William Cuffay do?

1848 was a year in which people took to the streets and revolutions broke out across Europe – it was also a pivotal year for the Chartists in Britain.  Cuffay was one of the delegates to the Chartists’ national convention, with their main task to prepare a mass meeting on Kennington Common in Lambeth, south London, that would proceed to march and submit a mass petition to parliament.  Cuffay made some of the most radical speeches at this convention and openly denounced the leading Chartists who were more cautious.  He was appointed chairman of the committee for managing the procession, responsible for making sure that ‘everything…necessary for conduction of an immense procession with order and regularity had been adopted’.  As Cuffay argued, things had now come to a crisis and they must be prepared to act with coolness and responsibility."

"In the [William Kilburn] daguerreotype [now in the Royal Collection] you can see the crowds meeting on Kennington Common – this is the oldest surviving image of a protest in British history.  Although we cannot see Cuffay, the image is a great representation of his collective and organised spirit.  Such crowds brought panic to the British state and fears of revolution, so much so that the royal family were sent to the Isle of Wight for their safety.  The state used all their power to intimidate and halt the crowd’s march to parliament, declaring the procession illegal and with all government buildings prepared for attack.  Even the British Museum was provided with 50 muskets and 100 cutlasses – I’d like to think People’s History Museum would instead have been on the Chartist side, had we existed then!  The bridges were sealed off and guarded by thousands of police and soldiers, while steamboats with troops waited on the River Thames nearby.  With so much pressure, the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor agreed to call off the mass procession.  As Cuffay noted, the Chartist executive had shrunk from their responsibility."

"Angered at this step down, there are unreliable reports from police spies on Cuffay’s involvement with an armed uprising, and on this basis he was tried for ‘sedition’.  Cuffay pleaded not guilty and in the court transcripts we can hear how he demanded that, rather than a middle class jury, he had a ‘fair trial by my peers’.  Cuffay powerfully stated that the jury ‘were not my equals – I am only a journeyman mechanic’.  Reporting on the trial, The Times sneeringly referred to Cuffay and the Chartists as ‘the black man and his party’, going on to describe Cuffay using hideous racism.  Cuffay and his two comrades were sentenced to transportation ‘for the term of your natural lives’."

What does the People's History Museum have in its collection that is associated with William Cuffay?

"Chartism effectively died at Kennington Common and with the repression that followed, but the networks of solidarity remained.  As Cuffay set sail on the prison ship for Tasmania in 1849 he was gifted a beautiful book of Lord Byron’s poetry.  On the inside page of the book you can see the handwritten note: ‘Presented to William Cuffay, by the members of the Westminster Branch of the National Charter Association of Great Britain, as a token of their sincere regard and affection for his genuine patriotism and moral worth’."

"The book travelled from the docks in Woolwich to the shores of Tasmania, remaining with Cuffay until his death and kept for some years after at the workhouse, before, for some reason travelling to South Africa and then losing any kind of home.  It was only because of the work of the [late] Chartist historian Professor Malcolm Chase that the book was saved and donated to People’s History Museum in 2014.  What a journey this book has taken, reflecting the twists and turns of this black radical, and the sacrifices Cuffay made for a global cause.  Despite Cuffay’s inspirational role, his militancy as well as his black skin and disability, earned him harsh victimisation by the British state.  In Cuffay’s speech from the dock, he explained: ‘I have been taunted by the press, and it has tried to smother me with ridicule and it has done everything in its power to crush me’.  Perhaps they were angered that Cuffay, a black man drawn from the imperial diaspora to challenge the British Empire at its heart, had been repeatedly elected as their representative by fellow Chartists.  Cuffay eventually found himself exiled to another part of the British Empire where he continued to organise and agitate amongst the working poor.  His life refused to fit into narrow and nationalistic understandings, but instead pushes us to think of a truly international working class."

"It is the words of another Chartist that best sum up Cuffay: ‘loved by his own order, who knew him and appreciated his virtues, ridiculed and denounced by a press that knew him not, and had no sympathy with his class, and banished by a government that feared him…Whilst integrity in the midst of poverty, whilst honour in the midst of temptation are admired and venerated, so long will the name of William Cuffay, a scion of Afric’s oppressed race, be preserved from oblivion’.

Kennington's Chartist Monster Rally, 172nd anniversary

10 April 2020

In April 2020 with Covid 19 we have social distancing and the government ruling that parks must only be used for daily exercise and gatherings of more than two in parks or other public spaces being banned.

In April 1848 the royal parks were closed in anticipation of the Chartist's march through the London streets to a "monster" rally prior to delivering to Parliament their massive petition with its six demands for democratic reform.  Their chosen meeting point was Kennington Common, rather boggy ground where cows still grazed. The jury is still out on how many people gathered there on Monday 10 April, Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor said 400,000 whilst The Times reported on a crowd of about 20,000.  The event was captured in one of the first daguerreotype images of an outdoor political crowd. In the days before loud speakers and amplification the meetings and speeches will have been inaudible to the mass.  The police, backed by thousands of soldiers and special constables warned in no uncertain terms that there could be no march on Parliament. In the end the petition bundles were loaded into hackney cabs and taken there, the meeting was closed and the crowd dispersed, albeit with some violence at the bridges.  Parliament did not even debate the petition, but by 1928 with the milestone of votes for all men and women, 5 of the 6 demands had been granted, the only one not achieved was annual parliaments.   

Malcolm Chase, Historian of The Chartists, an obituary

A social historian who was a leading authority on the Chartists.  Malcolm was and friend and supporter of the Kennington Chartist Project.

An obituary from The Guardian, 23 March 2020

The social historian Malcolm Chase, who has died aged 63 after suffering from a brain tumour, explored the world of working-class people in 19th-century Britain and their radical movements. In this he was following the trail first blazed by E P Thompson in his book The Making of the English Working Class “the enormous condescension of posterity” often to be found in history written by the educated rich.

There was nothing condescending about the way Malcolm wrote about the victims of the Peterloo massacre, calling for political representation in Manchester in 1819, or the Chartists who championed democracy in the two decades from 1838. Chartism: A new history (2007)  established him as the leading authority on a movement of more than 3 million people at its height, the first such driven by the working classes, whose people’s charter called for extension of the vote and annual elections.

Woven into the account were biographies of both male and female activists, forgotten until uncovered by his painstaking research. Hearing Malcolm lecture on the Chartists was always a thrilling experience: he recognised that radicals expressed themselves through fiction and poetry, and sometimes burst into song. He was open to literary scholarship rethinking the aesthetic and imaginative aspects of 19th-century radicalism and acknowledged the importance of locality, examining events in Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well as England.

When he started writing, historians tended to be more interested in the industrial revolution as a background to the rise of the labour movement. However, Malcolm argued that, far from being a backward-looking anachronism, radical agrarianism was central to working-class experience and the development of new kinds of oppositional politics.

In The People’s Farm (1988), he examined the relationship between “land consciousness” and early socialism, offering a new evaluation of Thomas Spence, the English radical who supported the common ownership of land. It was followed by Early Trade Unionism: Fraternity, Skill and the Politics of Labour traced the principle of workers organising themselves from the 17th century onwards.

His book 1820 (2015) examined the fallout from Peterloo, including the Cato Street conspiracy , to assassinate the prime minister, Lord Liverpool, and his cabinet, and the outpouring of  popular support for Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of the new king, George IV.

Among his numerous further studies of Chartism was a collection of essays,  The Chartists: Perspectives and Legacies (2015).

Born in Grays, Essex, Malcolm was the son of Sherwin Chase, a carpenter and later a building surveyor, and his wife, Elizabeth (nee Austin), a bank clerk. As a child he accompanied his father on trips to London searching for original maritime artefacts and uniforms.

From Palmer’s boys school in the town he went on to York University, where he gained a history degree (1978), and Sussex University for a master’s in modern social history (1979) and a DPhil (1984) supervised by the labour historian J F C Harrison, who shaped his non-doctrinaire approach to uncovering the lives of the common people. At Sussex he met Shirley Fereday and they married in 1983.

At Leeds University he worked in adult education from 1982 onwards, the department having nurtured labour history as a discipline in the 1950s. His interest in this field was heightened by teaching in centres around Leeds and Middlesbrough, and he became head of the eventual school of continuing education. In 2005 he joined the history department and four years later was appointed professor.

A collaboration with the all-party parliamentary group on history and archives led to an exhibition and a lecture on the Chartists( 2013) in the Speaker’s rooms at Westminster. He also appeared on the ITV series Britain’s Secret Houses (2013) and Radio 4’s British Socialism: The Grand Tour (2018).

For the BBC1 programme Who Do You Think You Are? Malcolm met Jeremy Irons in a London pub to tell of how the actor’s great-great-grandfather, a Chartist, had served 18 months in Newgate prison for his involvement in planning an armed conspiracy, the authorities having been tipped off by an informer.

Inspired by the participatory ethos of the History Workshop Movement of the 70s, Malcolm kept in touch with – and continued to learn from – local historians, amateur enthusiasts and the interested general public. He spoke at countless meetings of local history societies, historical association branches, schools and colleges, and regional museums and galleries, regularly penning thoughtful pieces for local and regional history journals. He was generous with his time, encouraging younger historians and providing opportunities for them.

At the annual Chartism Day conferences in different centres he was the animating figure encouraging new research and discussion. He served as president of the Society for the Study of Labour History (2005-07) and then chair of the Social History Society (2011-14), and had recently embarked on a project about the Regency radical Sir Francis Burdett.

He is survived by Shirley, their daughter, Sarah, and granddaughter, Sophie.

• Malcolm Sherwin Chase, historian, born 3 February 1957; died 29 February 2020

Malcolm gave a memorable and inspiring talk in St Mark's Church on 28 April 2018 for the Kennington Chartist Project, it was entitled "Kennington and 1848, year of revolution".

Chartist graffiti at Westminster

1851 comments see the light of day

An article in The Guardian of 26 February 2020  described a recently discovered secret passageway in the Palace of Westminster which had some 169-year-old graffiti from Chartist stone masons.

It reads: “These masons were employed refacing these groines ... [ie repairing the cloister] August 11th 1851 Real Democrats.”

The Real Democrats were part of the movement for working class male suffrage that the Chartists had led. The 1851 census shows the stone masons were Richard Condon, James Williams, Henry Terry, Thomas Parker and Peter Dewal.

2019 a year of commemoration

The 200th anniversary of the 1819 the Peterloo Massacre, Manchester

On 16 August 1819 in St Peter's Fields Manchester's Yeomanry Cavalry rode into thousands of unarmed protestors who were campaigning for political representation.  18 were killed and over 650 injured.  Journalists called the massacre Peterloo after the Battle of Waterloo.

For the 200th anniversary Manchester hosted numerous Chartist related events and a controversial memorial designed by Jeremy Deller was unveiled.

The 180th anniversary of the 1839 Newport Rising

A South Wales Chartist Uprising which was the last large-scale armed rebellion against authority in Great Britain and an important milestone on the road to modern democracy.  In a clash at the Westgate Hotel with soldiers of the 45th Infantry Regiment and Special.

Constables, 22 Chartists died and over 50 people were wounded. The Chartist leaders John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones were sentenced to death for High Treason, but, following a public outcry, the government commuted this punishment to transportation for life.

Newport now hold an annual Newport Rising Festival,

Kennington Chartist Project

The 171st annivesary of the great Chartist rally on Kennington Common on 10 April 1848, was remembered with a Chartist walk and plans are under discussion for a memorial for the 175th anniversary.

The Chartists: Facts and Fiction and the ITV series on Queen Victoria!

April 2019

After the screening of ITV's series 3 on the life of Queen Victoria, the Radio Times ran this online article to outline the history and correct some of the facts!

Copyright Radio Times website 4.4.19

What was Chartism? The history behind Victoria

The story of the working-class movement that rattled the Victorian political establishment

After a starring role in season one of ITV's Victoria, Chartism is back in a big way in season three.

The year is 1848, the continent is rocked by unrest and revolution, and this working-class movement for political reform is on the rise…

But what exactly was Chartism, who were the people behind it, and was it violent? How did Queen Victoria really react to it? Here’s what you need to know:

What was Chartism? 

Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform. For two decades, this national protest movement pushed for greater democratic representation for the average man.

Victoria screenwriter Daisy Goodwin explains: “They were a democratic movement who wanted franchise for all, MPs to be paid, all things that we have now. The ruling class were terrified.”

The focus was on constitutional methods including petitions and peaceful mass meetings

What was the People’s Charter?

In 1837, six MPs and six working men formed a committee. The following year they published a document called The People’s Charter, laying out six main aims for electoral reform:

  1. A vote for all men (over 21)

  2. The secret ballot

  3. No property qualification to become an MP

  4. Payment for MPs

  5. Electoral districts of equal size

  6. Annual elections for Parliament

As you can see, their aims mainly revolved around the fact that at the time working men were not allowed the vote (land-owning middle-class men had been given the vote in 1832, while votes for women still far in the future) and were barred from positions of government due to the fact that MPs weren’t paid, making it a calling to the already-wealthy aristocracy.

In 1839, the newly-formed Chartists presented a petition including their desired changes to the House of Commons. It was signed by 1.3 million people, but MPs overwhelmingly voted not to hear them. This caused a lot of anger in areas including South Wales.

What was the Newport Rising and how did it end?

The Newport revolt often referred to in an early episode of Victoria really did happen, and was both the last large-scale armed rebellion against authority in Great Britain and one of the largest civil massacres the government ever committed. On 4th November 1839, two years into Victoria’s reign, 10,000 Chartist sympathisers marched on Newport, Monmouthshire in a bid to free some fellow Chartists supposedly imprisoned in the Westgate Hotel.

However, despite massively outnumbering the soldiers that were sent to meet them, the Chartists were easily routed, with around 22 of the marchers killed and 50 injured when the troops opened fire (though accounts are divided on which side shot first). In the aftermath 200 or more of the protestors were arrested, with 21 charged with high treason.

How did Chartism make a comeback by 1848?

There were three moments when support for Chartism peaked: 1839, 1842, and finally 1848 – as we see in Victoria series three.

In 1842, a Chartist petition with over three million signatures was rejected by Parliament. The Northern Star summed up many people’s feelings with the words: “Three and half millions have quietly, orderly, soberly, peaceably but firmly asked of their rulers to do justice; and their rulers have turned a deaf ear to that protest.”

With workers fired up about Chartism and wage cuts, England and Scotland were hit by a wave of strikes. The government responded with hundreds of arrests, and poverty forced people back to work.

However, Chartist activity continued. Candidates embracing the political movement stood in general elections or took part in hustings, and in 1847 the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor (pictured) was elected to Parliament.

As Europe was swept by revolution and political unrest, Chartism re-emerged as a powerful force with increasing support among the working class. Throughout March 1848, the numbers of people attending meetings and proclaiming themselves as Chartists swelled.

But while the Chartists gathered signatures for a third great petition, the government and the royals were jumpy. Louise Philippe had been removed from the French throne in February 1848, and further revolutions were soon to follow. The movement’s leaders emphasised their commitment to peaceful protest, but the authorities and the propertied classes became convinced they intended nothing short of revolution.

Were soldiers sent on to the streets of London to defend Westminster?

On Monday 10th April 1848, the Chartists organised a mass meeting on Kennington Common in South London. They planned to form a procession to present a third petition to Parliament, which they hoped would be heard.

100,000 special constables were recruited to increase police numbers ahead of the meeting, and military action was threatened if the procession attempted to cross the Thames and approach Westminster. The government deployed 8,000 soldiers under the command of the Duke of Wellington, played in Victoria by the actor Peter Bowles.

Cavalry and infantry were stationed near the bridges, and troops waited near the river. Canons were also readied near Buckingham Palace.

The Queen wrote in her diary on the Thursday 6 April 1848: “Albert saw [Prime Minister] Lord John Russell a moment before dinner, who told him that the alarm was so great that it had been thought more prudent to forbid the Procession, the preparations for which were to have been very extensive. An immense number of constables, high & low, had been brought. The troops were not to fire, though there were to be a sufficient number ready at hand to act, if the Police did not suffice. Artillery was to be in readiness, stationed in the stables.”

Did soldiers allow the Chartists to cross Westminster Bridge?

Between 15,000 and 300,000 people (estimates vary wildly) turned up at Kennington Common, but they were not allowed to approach Westminster Bridge or any of the bridges that led to the north bank of the Thames.

Instead, by agreement between police commissioner Richard Mayne and Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor MP, the petition was delivered straight from Kennington Common to Parliament in three hired cabs by a small group of representatives. Chartist leaders including O’Connor walked alongside.

“Anxious for news from London, which we at length heard by telegraph after luncheon,” Victoria wrote in her diary on 10th April. “The meeting dispersed quite quietly, without any disturbances. How wonderful! What a blessing! — Late in the evening I heard from Lord John Russell, who was evidently much relieved. [Chartist leader] F. O’Connor was dreadfully frightened & thanked [police commissioner] Mr Mayne for telling him, the Procession would be stopped, & shook him by the hand! Then he addressed the crowd & dispersed them.

“He drove off to the Home Office in a cab, again thanking Sir G. Greig, for what had been done. The loyalty of all classes the excellent arrangement of the Troops & Police, the efficiency of Special Constables, high & low, Lords, & Shopkeepers. — & the determination to put a stop to the proceedings, — by force if necessary, — have no doubt been the cause of the failure of the Meeting. It is a proud thing for this country, & trust fervently, will have a beneficial effect in other countries.”

Was the Chartists’ petition successful?

The Chartists declared they had almost six million signatures. Unfortunately, two days later the House of Commons responded that only 1.9 million signatures were genuine and many names were pseudonyms; 13 parliamentary clerks had apparently counted them all in record time, finding names such as “Victoria Rex” and “No Cheese.” (Sadly, no part of the final 1848 Chartist petition still survives for us to read.)

O’Connor was skeptical that the clerks truly had managed to discount more than 4 million signatures at such speed – had the government simply made up a number to undermine the cause? But whether the figures were true or not, the government’s line was reported by the newspapers and the petition was discredited.

Still, the peaceful meeting and procession showed that the authorities’ fears of violence had been unfounded.

Were Queen Victoria and her family evacuated to the Isle of Wight?

Yes – Queen Victoria, her six children, Albert and attendants including Lord Alfred Paget moved to the royal residence on the Isle of Wight on Saturday 8th April, two days before the Chartists had scheduled their procession.

Unlike the scene we see in Victoria, the Queen did not stop her carriage and personally approach the Duke of Wellington – and she did not order him to allow the Chartists to cross Westminster Bridge.

On arriving at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, she wrote in her diary: “I felt bewildered at the sudden change, & great quiet after the constant & hourly excitement of this eventful & ever memorable but most sad time which has made an impression on me, I cannot describe & the contrast seems rather trying. Our coming here has made a break which is, at first almost painful to me.”

However, she was in no hurry to return, only arriving back at Buckingham Palace on 2nd May. The day beforehand, she wrote: “Much regretting, that this is our last day here, where in the peace & quiet, we can sometimes for a moment forget all that has passed & is passing.”

What did Queen Victoria think about the Chartists?

In season one of Victoria, the Queen intercedes on behalf of the Chartists sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered after discovering one of them is related to her dresser Mrs Jenkins (Eve Myles), instead asking Rufus Sewell’s Lord Melbourne to commute their sentences to transportation.

However, in real life this didn’t happen. Leaders of the march John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones were sentenced to the grisly death (the last to be so sentenced in the UK) before being sent to Australia instead – but in reality this more lenient sentence came after a nationwide petitioning campaign and extremely unusual personal lobbying from Lord Melbourne.

Victoria made no personal intervention, and in fact was generally not known to have much empathy for her poorer subjects, in contrast to how she’s more sympathetically portrayed in the ITV series.

How did Chartism end – and what did it achieve?

Chartism continued as a political movement after the defeat of April 1848, although it never again achieved such a high-profile position.

At this time, there was the rise of a frustrated group of “physical force” Chartists led by a man called Isaac Ickeringill, and others were driven to planning insurrection – including Chartist leader William Cuffay (CJ Beckford in Victoria).

Eventually the movement died down completely, and did not directly lead to any legislative changes. It is considered to have ended around 1857.

However, over the next few decades many Chartist ideas did become law, including working men being allowed to vote in the Reform Act of 1867, all men getting the right in 1918, secret ballots being introduced in 1872 and MPs receiving a wage from 1911.

By 1918, five of the Chartists’ six demands had been achieved. The only demand never to become law was that parliamentary elections be held every single year.

Copyright BBC website April 2019

Kennington Chartist Project 1848-2018: the 170th anniversary

April to October 2018

The Kennington Chartist Project is an initiative by local residents to raise local awareness of the 1848 Chartist Rally on Kennington Common, supported by the Friends of Kennington Park, and the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.
twitter: @kennington1848

The Kennington Chartist Project has been awarded a National Lottery grant of £36,000 from the Heritage Lottery
Fund (HLF) to celebrate the 170th Anniversary of the 1848 Chartist rally on Kennington Common, with a programme of walks, talks, workshops and events.

In the spring of 1848, as revolution and unrest consumed Europe, Kennington was at the centre of the fight for social justice in Britain. Tens of thousands of people gathered on Kennington Common on the 10th of April, demanding the right to vote.

Fast forward to 2018 — when Brexit, #Metoo and Black Lives Matter are in the news, amid fears of a breakdown in democratic values,  disillusionment with mainstream politics, fake news and outside interference in elections.— and it’s not hard to see the legacy of #Kennington1848 today.

The Chartist movement, sometimes called Britain's first civil rights movement, was a popular campaign that saw working people come together for social reform and the Charter’s six demands for democratic reform, at a time when only those with land and property were allowed to vote. The story of the Chartists’ fight for justice included dedicated women's groups, and inspirational figures such as Anne Knight, who produced what is thought to be the earliest leaflet on women’s suffrage, and the radical William Cuffay, son of an emancipated slave.

The aim of the rally on Kennington Common was to deliver to parliament a petition with (reportedly) 6 million signatures. The establishment feared a revolution and sent the army onto the streets, defending major buildings and blocking bridges, while the Queen was evacuated to the Isle of Wight. 80,000 volunteer special constables were recruited to defend the capital against what many thought would be a bloody uprising.

On the day, the Chartist leadership was divided. Some feared a massacre and agreed a compromise. The petition was delivered to parliament by a small delegation. Violence had mostly been averted, but the issues raised then still resonate today.

The Kennington Chartist project launched on the morning of Tuesday April 10th 2018 to mark the 170th anniversary, and to launch a series of free walks, talks, workshops and events for all the community, to celebrate our local park’s dramatic
place in the history of protest and democracy.

The Reform Act


The Reform Act gains massive public support. but changes are modest - increasing the number of people eligible to vote to only 1 in 5 of the male adult population.

In the General Election of 1832 Lambeth elected two MPs, one Radical elected with 2008 votes and One Whig elected with 1995 votes.  Two unsuccessful Whig candidates polled 819 and 155 votes.  A tiny electorate in comparison to the growing population in Lambeth.

​London Working Men’s Association is established


London Working Men’s Association is established by William Lovett. Groups established across the UK.

Petition calling for 6 fundamental reforms


Publication of a petition calling for 6 fundamental reforms including a universal right for men over 21 to vote and voting by ballot. Signed by a million people, this was the first of 5 petitions, each petition being accompanied by a national Convention at which local Chartist Groups were represented.

Mass meetings and marches lead to over 500 Chartists being imprisoned in 1839, including the two main leaders – William Lovett and Feargus O’Connor.

In most of the large towns in Britain, Chartist groups had female sections. The East London Female Patriotic Association published its objectives in October, 1839, and made it clear that they wanted to "unite with our sisters in the country, and to use our best endeavours to assist our brethren in obtaining universal suffrage". The organisation made the point that they would use their power as managers of the household to obtain the vote for their men by "to deal as much as possible with those shopkeepers who are favourable to the People's Charter". For the 1839 petition the number of female signatures was beween 13 and 20%, but this had dropped to 8% by the 1848 petition.

The number of signatures on the petitions were:

1839 1.281 million

1842 3.316 million

1848 1.975 million but the figure was contested by the Chartists

1849 54,000

1851 12,000

The National Charter Association


The National Charter Association was founded in 1840. A second petition was organised and had 3.3 million signatures but rejected by Parliament in 1842.

Chartist London Branches


The number of London Chartist localities varied from year to year between 1838 and 1849, the numbers vary from 13 in 1838 to 21 in 1849. The peak years were those of the three charters with  51 London localities in 1839, 63 in 1842 and 57 in 1848. The figures for Southwark and Lambeth constituencies were:

1838 2 Southwark, 1 Lambeth

1839 2 Southwark, 6 Lambeth

1840 0 Southwark, 1 Lambeth

1841 2 Southwark, 1 Lambeth

1842 7 Southwark, 6 Lambeth

1843 6 Southwark, 1 Lambeth

1844 1 Southwark, 0 Lambeth

1845 1 Southwark, 0 Lambeth

1846 1 Southwark, 0 Lambeth

1847 1 Southwark, 1 Lambeth

1848 3 Southwark, 1 Lambeth

1849 1 Southwark, 0 Lambeth

Wandsworth had a Female Charter Association. Bermondsey and Lambeth had Teetotal Chartist societies.

Branches of the Working Men’s Association had been established in Putney and Southwark, Wandsworth and Clapham had Democratic Associations 

South London Chartists


Chartist Convention

George Shell was the Lambeth & Southwark delegate to the 1851 Chartist convention

Teetotal Chartists

There were Lambeth and Bermondsey branches of the Chartists

The Chartist Land co-operative society later known as the National Land Company was set up to buy land which would be divided into small holdings which would be allocated by ballot. It ran between 1845 and 1851. 70k shares were sold, £100k raised, 1188 acres bought –  Herringstate renamed O’Connorville with  250 small holdings. There were several other sites inc Minster Lovell renamed Charterville. The plan failed in 1851 midst financial wrangling.

J Plaice of Lambeth submitted his name for the 3 February 1848 ballot for a plot on the Minster Lovell Estate, part of the Chartist Land Plan

CLC Subscribers from the Kennington area included:

George Lawford and Ham Strode, 82 Union St, Kennington Road

Henry Rhodes, 7 Chester St, Kennington

Richard Ackenhead, 3 St Marks Rd, Kennington [a road off the Camberwell New Rd near the church]

Charles Drew, White Hart St, Kennington

George Dunn, 96 Park St, Kennington

Sarah Rebecca Hancock, servant, 3 Park Terr, Kennington Cross

John Blakemore, 2 Wilson Buildings, White Horse St, Kennington

John Moody, 1 Somerset Place, St Mark’s Rd, Kennington

William Dawon, 96 Kennington Rd

If you would like to help the Kennington Chartist Project research some of these people or their addresses, please contact us on:  or

The Chartist Land Plan


This was a proposal of Chartist Feargus O’Connor’s which aimed to resettle industrial workers on smallholdings by collecting small share contributions from Chartists [or other subscribers] then and allocating farms by lot. It was also an attempt to enfranchise working class people by giving them sufficient land to meet the qualification requirement under the 1832 Reform Act.  He promoted the Land Company scheme in the Chartist newspaper the Northern Star and invited applications, he also set up local offices where there was heavy demand.

The Chartist Land Co-operative Society (later the National Land Company) was founded c1846 and 100,000 shares were to be sold to fund the purchase land, this would then be parcelled out by lot into small holdings of 2-4 acres on which a small cottage could be built. O’Connor recruited gangs of artisans to build the cottages to a simple plan that he had drawn up. The shares cost £2 10s [£2.50] and could be paid for in instalments. Ballots were held amongst the subscribers to allocate smallholdings to shareholders.  Those who got the land were to pay back with interest, so, eventually all subscribers would be settled.

In four years, the National Land Company attracted 70,000 shareholders, raised more than £100,000, acquired a total of 1,118 acres, five estates were bought. From the volumes of subscribers at the National Archives Peter Cox’s research with the U3A suggests there were around 42-43,000 subscribers – clerks had duplicated some entries and some pages

The first estate was Herringsgate [or Heronsgate] near Watford, Hertfordshire which was renamed O’Connorville and had 250 smallholders. Its other sites were at Lowbands in Redmarley D’Abitot, Worcestershire (now Gloucestershire), Snig’s End, Staunton, near Gloucester and partly in Corse, Gloucestershire; Minster Lovell also called Charterville in Oxfordshire and Great Dodford in Worcestershire. Land at Mathon, Worcestershire (now Herefordshire) was planned, a deposit placed, but the scheme was not carried out.

People who had been successful in the lottery quickly moved in, but many sold up very quickly after finding how much effort was required to make a living.

The company was not registered as a limited company and it had failed to be established as a friendly society, so there was no financial protection and in 1851 the scheme collapsed with legal and financial difficulties and was wound up by Act of Parliament.

The three Charter petitions of 1839, 1842 and 1848 have been lost [possibly burned in the furnaces of the Houses of Parliament], but the list of around 43,000 shareholders in the National Land Company still exist in three large volumes. These record the names, occupations (or minor) and home addresses. It is held at the National Archives at Kew, reference BT 41/474/2659 for the initial list; and BT 41/476/2659.  Details of some of the “ballot “winners are also known.

Peter Cox and his team from U3A (University of the Third Age) have calculated that between 1700-1800 applied from the Greater London area, there was about the same number of women (of whom 111 were from London) and 103 British subscribers from France (mainly Boulogne, Calais, Rouen and St Germain-de-Sant) applied.

The National Trust now own Rosedene, a cottage built as part of the Great Dodford Chartist Settlement. It was built on plot 29 of the settlement and was bought by William Hodgkin. He paid £120 as a “bonus” (deposit discounting future ground rents) to secure the property, he paid a further £130 to buy out the property from ground rent when the National Land Company was dissolved.   The cottage had two bedrooms, a living room, dairy, store, back hall with well and pump, plus an adjoining piggery, coal house and privy. (Wikipedia)

More information is available on the subscribers:

Subscribers to the Chartist Land Plan include various Kennington/Oval residents including:

Henry Rhodes, a carpenter, of 7 Chester Street which is now Chester Way

Richard Ackenhead, cordwainer, of 3 St Mark's Road, Kennington which is a road which branched off Camberwell New Road, opposite Foxley Road, near St Mark's Church

James Throughton, painter, of 27 James Street, Kennington, this is a road off St Mark's Road which ran into the Camberwell New Road

John Moody, shopman, 1 Somerset Place, St Mark's Road, Kennington, this was a block on St Mark's Road.

Sarah Rebecca Hancock, servant, of 3 Park Terrace, Kennington Cross

Four members of the Robins (or Robbins) family of 4 King Street, Kennington Square - Cornelius, George Charles, William, Alfred and Samuel

Two Lambeth subscribers were succesful in the ballot - J Plaice and tailor John Gathar. Gathard was the founder and  secretary of the Lambeth branch of the Chartist Land Company and "won" a plot in Minster Lovell, however, he later fell out with Feargus O'Connor and appears on the 1851 census in Oxford Castle jail.

Chartist London meeting places



Katrina Navikas has searched the columns of the Chartist newspaper The Northern Star between 1841 and 1844 for details of the venues of Chartist meetings in London.

These include:

66 pubs

29 coffee houses

20 own room/halls/buildings

3 open spaces such as commons

5 theatres

2 other

One off meeting places were outside the Great Western Railway Station (Paddington)


Angel Tavern, Webber Street, Blackfriars,  1847-48 meeting place and where armed Chartists were arrested on 16 August 1848

Brown Bear, Bridge Road, Southwark

Bull’s Head, Tooley Street, Waterloo  - the Maze Club was founded here in June 1848, an Irish Chartist body

Chartist Hall, 115 Blackfriars Road, specially constructed, aka new South London Hall of Science [Webber Street also given as the address]. June 1844 A Democratic or Chartist school was opened in the South London Chartist Hall, Blackfriars Road every Sunday morning and afternoon, admission free

China Walk No 1, Lambeth

Circus of the National Baths, Lambeth “a tremendous gathering took place” addressed by O’Connor and others

Cock Tavern, 3 Denmark Hill, Camberwell

Eagle Coffee House, Guildford Street, Borough

French Horn public house, Lambeth Walk had been a meeting place of the London Corresponding Society in the 1790s.

Globe, Borough Road, Southwark

Horns Tavern, Kennington, opposite Kennington Common, now the DHSS building

Kennington Common “the lung of the metropolis”, now Kennington Park

King’s Arms, King Street, Borough

Joan of Arc pub, East Street, Park Place, Walworth

Montpelier Tavern and gardens for Camberwell and Walworth Chartists, Pelier Park, possibly now the Bee Hive Tavern

Noah’s Ark Court No 8, Stangate, Lambeth an 1847 address for James Grassby, Secretary of the NCREC (National Charter Association’s National Registration and Elections Committee)

Peckham  Fields – a crowd set off from here for Kennington Common on 10 April 1848

Pin Factory, Borough Road

Putney Bridge area

Regent Street No 96, Lambeth – the home of James Grassby (General Secretary in 1851), after the offices in Southampton Street, the Strand were given up, the Executive met at his house at 96 Regent Street

Rose and Crown, Beresford Street, now John Ruskin Street

Royal Victoria Theatre, Waterloo road

Ship and Blue Coat Boy, 286 Walworth Road

Southwark Town Hall, Southwark

Star Coffee House, Union Street, Borough

Upper Marsh, the 1840s home of John Watkins, a Chartist activist who wrote for the Northern Star and was a full time paid Chartist lecturer. He later moved to Grover Court, Clapham Rise

Vauxhall Chartist Ground (own rooms)

Wandsworth Town – pubs were the meeting places of the Wandsworth and Clapham Association campaigning for the People’s Charter for Parliamentary reform and suffrage

Westbrook’s Coffee House, Waterloo Road

General Election 1847 - election ballad



GENTLEMEN ! I now declares, myself a Can-di-date,
Whene'er a tunity occurs, to sarve you in the State,
My principles they is well known—you've hard'em much of late,—
I likes to be a useful man, and so I'll Legislate.

The first thing I intends to do—as its caused a great sensation,
Is to move, ( when I am in the House, ) you all has Heddycation,
It tends so much to 'lighten us, and make us such good Souls,
That none will then be cotched in nets, tho' we goes along in shoals.

The 'jority of Ireland, you noes, are Roman Catholics,
And when religion's in the way—then drown your politics ;
Let Ireland have Repeal I say—grant all her wants forsooth,—
Her Parliaments, on College Green—and keep her own Maynooth.

Free trade I am opposed to—therefore with all my Mussels,
I will support Lord George you'll find, 'gainst the Peels & Russells.
I'm not a Chartist, nor a Whig, nor Radical, nor Tory,
My name is John, therefore a Jack—resembling John o' Dory.

The hackney'd cry of ' hear, hear, hear, ' I shall 'deavor to excel,
And when a man says something good—cry out—"Yer Mackerel"
And should ever we be pestered much, by an over dose of gammon,
This Cry I will then substitute—'Here's fine Newcastle Salmon.'

Some talks about this here and that, and makes a finish tale—
Give Ireland all she wants indeed, that's werry like a Whale,
Lord John and Hawes they are two Shrimps, & Peel he is a Shark,
He's turned his back upon his friends, and stabb'd em in the dark.

I thinks as how you'll think that I'm, a candid Candidate,
Cos vot I does, or thinks, or says, be's yours at any rate ;
And when any speaks upon a pint, which they doesn't know about,
I'll interrupt them with the cry—" Does your Mother know
you're Out !"

I am a man vots always been, werry fond of GAME,
The Law is good—the sport is pure—and led me on to FAME!!
If English men were all like me, and all had Lobsters claws,
The Loaves and Fishes they would share, as well as Muster Hawes.

There is some queerun's in the world—that wants a looking arter,
The 'Conners & the Thomsons who's for " The People's Charter;"
You noes that I'm just sich a man—to meet sich men as these,
If words won't do—why then to blows—and up I tucks my sleeves.

I'll never Carp with any Crab—prefers a Plaice—to Flounder,
And should Lord John a " White Bait" lay—the line I'll break
assunder !
Nor will Sprats to catch a Herring take, whilst I am in my senses,
And if the CODS won't stop to hear—I'll speak to Empty Benches.

This probably relates to the 1847 General Election campaign in which Benjamin Hawes, Liberal  (mentioned in the text of the ballad) paid the price for taking junior office in a ministry whose policy he could not determine by being defeated at Lambeth after a raucous campaign.


In 1847 Lambeth had 2 parliamentary seats, they were contested by 3 Liberals, the winners were Charles Pearson with 4,614 votes and Charles Tennyson d’Eyncourt with 3,708 votes.  Benjamin Hawes who was not elected received 3,344 votes.  Pearson resigned 3 years later and at the by election a Radical won the seat.

The ballad is courtesy of the Surrey History Centre in Woking: QS5/3B/3

The engraving shows the 1852 Lambeth election hustings in Kennington

The Chartists and Kennington Common

Monday  10 April 1848

1848 – A year of revolutions across Europe. In the Britain, widespread hunger followed two bad
harvests, and riots and demonstrations took place in London, Glasgow and Manchester. A third petition
was drafted. The six demands were:

1. Votes for all men;
2. Equal electoral districts;
3. Abolition of the requirement that Members of Parliament be property owners;
4. Payment for M.P.s;
5. Annual general elections
6. Secret ballot.

The national Convention called for the people to assemble on Kennington Common on 10th April 1848 for a
planned march on Parliament. Tens of thousands assembled (the numbers are still debated, with
estimates ranging from 10,000 up to 400,000). Fearing a massacre, the Chartist leader O’Conner
decided not to continue the march to parliament and the petition was delivered by a small delegation.

Support for Chartism began to ebb away


Despite the massive Rally and the millions of signatories the 1848 petition was rejected, as were petitions following in 1849 and 1851, these were much smaller than the petitions of 1839, 1842 and 1848. Support for Chartism began to ebb away.

Chartist leaders imprisoned and transported



1839-40 eleven transportations

Birmingham riots: Thomas Aston, Jeremiah Howell, John Jones, Francis Roberts

 Lancashire: Richard Boothman a  weaver who had killed a policeman

Newport  Uprising: John Frost, Zephaniah Williams, William Jones, John Ingram, Abraham Owen, Humphrey Lewis

1842: seventy eight transportations

54 from the Staffordshire potteries general strike

13 from Lancaster

11 from Leicester

1848: sixteen transportations

Aberdeen: 1

Glasgow: 6

Liverpool Assizes:  4

London : Orange Tree Conspiracy of August 1848:  5 men - William Dowling (who did portraits of William Cuffay and Thomas Irons whilst in Newgate Prison),  Thomas Fay, William Lacey, Joseph Ritchie, William Cuffay

Gates and railings appear around the Common


The act to ‘enclose and lay out Kennington Common…as Pleasure Grounds for the Recreation of the Public, is received by Royal Assent.’ Gates and railings appear around the Common, Prince Albert contributed £200 of the £1000 costs. There had been support locally for a park for several decades, but with the creation of a park surrounded by railings, an uncontrolled space with free access was lost.

Two other sites that had hosted Chartist meetings - Bonner Fields and Battersea Fields - were transformed into Victoria and Battersea Parks.

Prince Consort Lodge


Prince Consort Lodge, built at the behest and expense of Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, President of the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes, for the Great Exhibition of 1851 is dismantled and  rebuilt in Kennington Park.

Kennington Park Opens


Kennington Park Opens, south London's first public park.

Five of the Chartist's six fundamental reforms are achieved


Although progress was slower than the Chartists hoped for, by 1928 – five of their six fundamental reforms had been achieved. Only their desire for an annual parliament was (and is) outstanding, the purpose of this was to have mandated, genuinely accountable MPs who had to report back to their electors each year.

The Chartists had sought universal suffrage for men over the age of 21, in 1918 female suffrage was achieved.

Kennington Park 170th anniversary of the Chartist rally

10 April 2018

On 10 April 1848 thousands of Chartists gathered on what was then Kennington Common. They planned to march on Parliament to present their massive petition with its demands for democratic reform including the vote for all men over 21.  Fearing revolution similar to what had happened in France where the monarchy had been toppled, the government had gone into panic mode. It had called up the army and had thousands of police and special constables on the streets, the Royal Family had been packed off to the Isle of Wight and cannons guarded Buckingham Palace. 


As a result of the heavy police presence on the bridges with military back up, the Chartist leadership reluctantly had to accept that they could not process to Parliament for fear of violence and the four bales of signatures were sent from Kennington Common in several hansom cabs. The previous Chartist petitions of 1839 and 1842 had previously been rejected by Parliament and, sadly, when the 1848 charter was found to have 2 million signatures rather than the much vaunted 6 million with many forgeries, it was not even presented.

Exactly 170 years later, on 10 April 2018, there was a rather smaller gathering on what is now Kennington Park to remember the Chartists. From each of the four Chartist London meeting points in 1848 came walkers carrying flags with the original slogans “The Charter and no surrender”, “Liberty is near”, “We are millions and demand our rights” and “The Voice of the People”.  In the words of Richard Galpin, Project Manager for the Kennington Chartist Project:  "We are celebrating the 170th anniversary of the Chartist rally in solidarity with all under represented people in 2018”

Tom Collins, whose family hail from Ireland, spoke the words of the Irish born Chartist leader, Feargus O’Connor which concluded “Go on, conquering and to conquer, until the People's Charter has gloriously become the law of the land!”


On Tuesday 10 April 2018 local historian, S I Martin, told the story of William Cuffay, the son of an emancipated slave who was later transported to Tasmania for his role in a planned Chartist uprising in 1848. 


People were able to join two walks round the park – one, led by Marietta Crichton Stuart, chair of the Friends of Kennington Park, about what happened on the day, the difficulties of speech making to large crowds when there was no amplification, the fear of violence and the Chartists' resigned agreement not to march on Parliament, followed by rain.  In 2018 although the ground was boggy the rain held off.


The second walk by Jon Newman of Lambeth Archives was about Kennington Common as a place of protest.  He pointed out that the legacy of the Chartist Rally is Kennington Park, opened in 1854, with railings and gates enclosing the Common. Prince Consort Lodge, formerly exhibited at the Great Exhibition under the auspices of Prince Albert as President of the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes, was rebuilt in the new Kennington park, evidence of action to improve the lot of the masses. What had been a muddy open space was transformed into a place of horticulture and recreation.

1848-2018 Politics today

28 April 2018

For many years from the time of the 1832 Great Reform Act when Lambeth gained parliamentary seats hustings were often held on Kennington Common (later Kennington Park).  For the May 2018 local council elections a hustings was held in the churchyard of St Mark's, Oval, which was formerly part of the "Little Common"

Chaired by the vicar of St Mark's the  Rev Steve Coulson, candidates for the Lambeth Council elections on 3 May 2018 spoken on the local and national  issues and replied to questions from the audience.

Modern Local elections, Lambeth Council

3 May 2018


On the 170th anniversary of the Chartist rally on Kennington Commons with the demand for democratic change and universal male suffrage and in the centenary  year of women getting the vote, despite national and local media coverage and local party campaigning throughout London, in most Lambeth wards less than 40% of the electorate turned out to vote.

The photograph shows a novel way of fundraising on election day, cakes on sale at the Triangle Adventure Playground iced in the colours of the political parties - it looks as if the "blue" cakes have already been consumed!

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