Chapter Five

Chapter 5: “Peaceably, If We Can – Forcibly, If We Must”: trades unions, the working class and Chartism in Derbyshire in the struggle for economic and political liberty

1 The Birth of the Charter (1839)
2 Chartism’s Second Phase (1840-42)
3 The Final Phase – Decline of Chartism and Growth of Unionism (1843-66)
4 Epilogue
5 Chapter 5 Notes and References

1 The Birth of the Charter (1839)

GNCTU’s collapse caused despair and defeatism amongst many; others, however, realised that the root cause of the failure of 1834 was the absence of political power in the hands of the working people. No more effectively was this highlighted than by the savage sentences of deportation to Australia passed on the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Generally, it seemed that the lessons of the reform movement had underlined the need to carry the political struggle to new levels. An important aspect of this tendency was the campaign to win a free press at a price available to all. One of the local Derby papers, the ‘Reporter”, cost seven pence, four pence of which was due to Stamp Duty; it was a tax that was aimed quite consciously to restrict the access of working people to the press, for seven pence was a very considerable sum. Skilled workers’ wages varied from 20/- to 30/- per week. It was as if a modern newspaper was priced at twenty times the present average cost.

The ‘Derby Mercury’ considered the reform movement a dangerous phenomenon and thus gave it little notice and no support. Walter Pike, to serve the cause of reform in Derbyshire, with some success, had established the ‘Reporter’ as early as 1823. Circulation of the ‘Mercury’ was 1,296, and the ‘Reporter’ 1,086, in 1839. The latter, however, aimed to channel the activities of the movement into a ‘safe’ direction. Newspapers that challenged the ‘stamp’ laws by offering their papers as unstamped followed a more radical approach. There was, in particular, the ‘Poorman’s Guardian’ which was supported by the independent working class reform body, the National Union of the Working Classes, (NUWC). The ‘Poorman’s Guardian’ sold well in Derby.

The struggle to repeal the duty lasted years and saw many casualties. Some five hundred sellers and printers alike were imprisoned for selling these unstamped journals. One of these, Henry Robinson, was fined £20 in Derby and, in consequence of his inability to pay (it represented half a year’s wages, or several thousands of pounds in today’s terms), was imprisoned for six months. In another instance, a national leader of the Chartist reform movement, Julian Harney, speaking at Derby in 1839, complained that three years earlier he had been “dragged from my home without the least notice and consigned to a dungeon by the magistrates of Derby, because I had committed the heinous offence of selling an unstamped newspaper”. He was imprisoned for six months because he dared to give “the working classes that untaxed knowledge which they have the right to enjoy”. [1]

Whereas groups of workers in coffee shops and pubs had pooled together to buy one copy of a stamped newspaper, which would be read aloud to groups of listeners, the unstamped papers were cheap, the Pioneer for example sold at one penny per copy. Only as the unstamped radical newspapers began to outsell the legally stamped liberal papers, did the Government cut the duty in recognition of the need to boost the more `moderate’ journals. By 1836, the stamp was reduced from four pence to one pence and the battle was more or less won. Nevertheless, at the same time the establishment strengthened and extended its penal powers over the press.

A fresh alliance had emerged between the newly prosperous manufacturing employers and the established ruling class; this alliance hastened to follow up their Reform Act deal of 1832, which had excluded the working people. There was an electorate of less than two thousand people in the borough of Derby in the 1830s.

year number of electors
1832 1,384
1835 1,478
1837 1,751
1839 1,820

The latter figure of 1,820 voters represented the 1,375 houses with a rateable value of more than £10 per annum.

The passing of the Poor Law Act in 1834 enormously reduced the levels of public relief granted to the unemployed and poor. The Act abolished outdoor relief (i.e. public benefits which did not require institutional residence) and introduced entry into the unpleasant and undignified workhouses, thus, changing the practices that had prevailed since Elizabethan days. The large scale manufacturers had a vested interest in such a move, for able-bodied domestic workers were now deprived of their last chance of working at their own looms, subsidised by outdoor relief. Thus, they were driven into the new factories that were hungry for labour. The abolition of the parish workhouses and the introduction of the ‘union workhouses’ (nothing to do with trades unions!) were greeted with much concern amongst the poor. In particular, the requirement to live within the workhouses, which separated children from their parents and husbands from their wives, caused a massive petition of over four thousand signatures in Derby. The ‘Poorman’s Guardian’ wrote of the bill, that it was a “wicked, tyrannous, dishonest and diabolical measure”, in its 11th April 1832 issue. The dual lesson of the 1832 political reform movement and the 1834 defeat for trades unionism, revived interest in political action, but with a difference. This time it would be expressed in sharp class terms, via Chartism.

Chartism, so named from the charter of political and democratic reforms that it demanded, gripped the imagination of the workers. However, as Friedrich Engels put it, “Chartism was from the beginning chiefly a movement among the working men, though not yet sharply separated from the bourgeoisie”. [2] Chartism was not a force independent of the Liberals. In the first borough elections in Derby under the new Reform Act, which took place on the 26th December 1835, the Liberals were in the absolute majority. The 1835 General Election saw little uplift in the size of the town’s electorate over the first contested election, three years previously. Edward Strutt and the Honourable J G B Ponsoby, both Whig/Liberals, had been elected with 903 and 724 votes respectively over the sole Tory, The Honourable F Curzon, who polled 525 votes. In the county’s other seats, a division of influence between Tory and Liberal prevailed. In Northern Derbyshire, The Honourable G H Cavendish and T Gisbourne represented the 4,175 electors unopposed. A similar situation had prevailed when another Cavendish had been elevated to the Peerage, as Earl of Burlington – in a by-election the year before. There was however a contest for the Southern Derbyshire seat in 1835. The two Tories, Sir G Crewe, Bart. and Sir R Gresley (Bart being the abbreviation for Baronet!) beating the two Liberals, the Hon. G J V Vernon and Lord Waterpark, by roughly two and a half thousand votes to just under two thousand. The 1837 election on July 25th in Derby saw the same candidates joined in the contest by Sir C Colville, with the Liberals again taking both seats. But 2,608 had voted compared to 1,478 two years earlier. In Northern Derbyshire a contest took place, with an Arkwright standing for the Tories being easily beaten by Cavendish and his partner. The electorate in this constituency had risen to five and half thousand, compared to only a little over four thousand, three hundred in 1832. Two Tories were returned unopposed in Southern Derbyshire.

The Chartists were not initially an independent political force in the sense of a political party, being rather more of a pressure group; but they rapidly developed as a political force of some substance. As times grew more difficult, the political unions, which had largely grown dormant, revived. The liberal ‘middle class’ had been satisfied with the Reform Act and the working class had flirted with trades unionism, moving away from being directly involved in politics, but in 1836/37 the alliance that had existed prior to the Act was renewed as Chartism emerged as a major political force.

In 1836, a group of London workers founded the ‘Workingmen’s Association’, which had the goal of an independent working class political expression. A programme, or charter, of six points was adopted:
1 Universal manhood suffrage from 21 years of age
2 Annual parliaments*
3 Secret ballots
4 Equal electoral districts*
5 Salaries for MPs
6 Abolition of the property qualifications for MPs (which, at the time, was ownership of £300 worth of land)

Two aims* have yet to be achieved; parliaments have a life of up to five years and, while the Boundary Commission in theory aims for equal constituencies, an enormous disparity actually exists between the largest and the smallest. Salaries for MPs took slightly more than another seven decades to achieve.) The first big leap forward in the campaign – a further and partial extension of manhood suffrage in 1867 – took three decades to win and was in any case not even complete for another two decades. Extending votes to women was achieved in two stages between the First and Second World Wars. One person, one vote, said by many western liberal democracies in the latter part of the 20th century to be the test of true democracy was not in fact achieved in Britain until as late as 1948 and in the United Kingdom as a whole until 1972, with the abolition of extra business and academic votes. It is salutary to recall that the British ruling elite only permitted the slow and incremental development over a period of what passes for democracy in our country, of 140 years; yet our media and politicians spent and spend a great of energy belabouring countries they disapprove of for their laggardness in introducing democracy!

This 1836 programme became the Charter and it represented the first clear, independent political expression of mass working class opinion. The demands were in the main to be achieved after intense political and economic struggle. In no sense was the democracy that Chartism forced Britain to accept ‘handed down on a plate’; it was won by ruthless force, accompanied by intense social conflict. The bedrock of modern British democracy is, without any doubt, far more the experience of Chartism and not the oft-quoted charter of liberty, the ‘Magna Charta’ (Latin for `Great Charter’), which simply gave the local and rather acquisitive barons a share of the King’s power, despite the fact that the Charter emotively recalled its predecessor. Chartism began a process that could bring ordinary people into the Halls of Westminster irrevocably.

Despite the fact that Chartism was deficient in that it did not demand the vote for women, they were strongly involved in Chartist agitation. Moreover, it did not demand a democratic republic, or a single chamber parliament, (or, at least a democratically elected upper chamber) and there were no social or economic aims contained in the Charter, nonetheless it was in itself the greatest progression in the direction of class action in Britain to that date. Many of the activists from the trades union movement in Derby were intimately involved in the burgeoning Chartist movement. In particular, Matthews, the Derby Smith’s secretary and a veteran of the NAPL and GNCTU, was one of the provisional committee of thirty that was set up nationally to launch the newspaper, ‘The Charter’, in September 1838. [3]

The period 1837 to 1847 was to become known as the ‘Hungry Forties’, for it was a time of great commercial depression. The consequent mass unemployment affected the ability of trades union to grow. However, the Chartists began to build a massive and effective propaganda movement. Many impressive demonstrations, often held at night, were an effective form of this propaganda, so much so that torchlight meetings were expressly declared illegal. Additionally, laws prohibiting all but local associations were passed, making national structures subject to charges of high treason! The mood of defiance was strong and some openly expressed the demand for the people to take to arms. Skulls were painted in banners and slogans such as “More Pigs, Fewer Priests” and “Fight to the Knife for Child and Wife” were common and reflected the belief that militant political action was necessary to resolve economic problems. [4]

A huge meeting in Manchester, attracting some 100,000 people resolved to send a national petition to Parliament and this was a task that would occupy the movement for some time. The Chartist Convention, in effect the national conference of the movement, was called for February 1839. The idea of the Convention was rooted in American and French revolutionary experience, as the very choice of name implied. It was composed of delegates from all over the country. John Skevington, a Primitive Methodist preacher, was elected as Derby’s representative at the Convention (although he actually lived in Loughborough), along with the twenty-two year old national leader, Julian Harney. Skevington had led the creation of the Loughborough Co-operative Society as early as January 1829. This had 54 members three years later and £400 capital to its name. LCS operated a retail store and co-operatively manufactured lace and hosiery products, so Skevington would have been seen as a key regional figure in the East Midlands. He had represented the area at the week long `Great’ London Co-operative Congress of 1832

The other delegate for Derby, Julian Harney, was one of the prime advocates of the “physical force” strategy of the movement that, contrary to the “moral force” notion argued that if the aims of the Charter could not be won peaceably, then revolution or insurrection would be inevitable if the programme were to be achieved. “Peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must” became their war cry. Harney represented three provincial towns at the Convention, mainly on the grounds of expense, the costs being pooled. One was Norwich, a prominent centre for radical activity, and the second was Derby, where the “Chartist left-wing was in the ascendant”. The other town was Newcastle. The numbers of delegates to the Convention was not only restricted on cost grounds – attending lengthy proceedings far away from home meant losing wages and naturally imbalanced the social composition of the event. There was also the question of legal restrictions on large gatherings.

It is sensible not to get too carried away, as some commentators are wont to do, with the idea that Chartism’s two wings were incompatible. All Chartists ultimately and theoretically accepted the possibility of a resort to armed resistance. The division of Chartism into moral and physical force advocates was an artificial observation imposed on the movement by some middle-class elements content to see it split; whilst the authorities were always quick to read into everything the presence of two camps, as a means to divide and discredit Chartism. This artificial division of Chartism into two wings poses moral and physical force as if exclusive of each other, rather than complimentary strategies about which there was necessary debate about finding the right moment. [5]

A massive and enthusiastic meeting had been held at Chester Green in Derby on the 28th January, to adopt the delegates to the Convention. Harney won loud laughter and support as he compared the aristocracy and bourgeoisie to bed bugs:
“If bugs molest me as in bed I lie,
Shall I desert my bed for them? Not I,
I will arise and every bug destroy,
Now make my bed and all its sweets enjoy.” [6]

The authorities, aware of Harney’s reputation, enrolled thirty-nine extra special constables for the occasion but there were no disturbances, for he had mass support an essential point of physical force that the authorities always seemed to miss. Harney took up their charge that he was the spokesman for violence. “Again I say, we are for peace, but we must have justice … we must have our rights speedily; peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must … [7]

Against this background, the state had to reassess its armoury of repression and control. In the period of civil unrest associated with the rise of French revolutionism, it developed a new force, the police, to deal with the specifically British variety of radicalism it now had to face. While the police system in London dated from 1829, it was not until 1839 and 1840 that Acts were passed providing for the appointment of the county constabularies which formed the basis of today’s police force. Although, in Derbyshire, the parish constable system prevailed, on the grounds of cost savings, until the late 1850s, when the standard county constabulary was finally adopted.

Derbyshire may boast of having the first police strike on record when, very soon after the force was set up, PC No 1, Charles Cotterill, went home and took off his uniform, refusing to do any more duties until he received his full wages. One day’s wages had been stopped to pay another officer who had covered for him while he attended the Quarter Sessions at Derby to give evidence. The Watch Committee could not allow this kind of behaviour, which seemed to take a leaf out of Chartism’s book, and he was promptly suspended and subsequently dismissed. No doubt the lesson was taken, for Cotterill’s act was an isolated one. The authorities would be able to cushion their forces from the effects of working class militancy for a very long time. Indeed, it would be 1919 before the same spirit could be discerned again in the Derbyshire Constabulary. The County’s first policeman may well have set the example, but not the pace for those who followed him! [8]

The civil unrest of 1839 was to climax in an unsuccessful armed rising in Newport, South Wales. On the 3rd November, thousands of miners from the Monmouth valleys marched to seize Newport as part of a plan for a concerted uprising, centred principally on Bradford, Birmingham and South Wales. However, they were surprised by deadly fire from troops sheltered in the Westgate Hotel. Fourteen people were killed and fifty were wounded before the attempt was abandoned. During the course of the next few days, one hundred and twenty five people were arrested and the initiative and co-ordination with other areas was lost. Three men were charged with high treason and sentenced to transportation as leaders of the Newport events. These were John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones. A great campaign for clemency developed and, as part of this, on December 11th 1844 a meeting was held in Derby under the auspices of the mayor to make an appeal to the Queen. Such militancy was widespread and real, scaring the Belper textile manufacturer, Strutt, to such an extent that he fortified his mills with cannon and had an armed troop of horsemen always ready, throughout the period. [9]

Early in 1839, the National Chartist Convention began to waver when faced with the turn of the movement towards this militancy. The launching of a massive petition for the six demands was decided upon, but the majority line of the Convention was that, if Parliament refused the petition, then a boycott of rent and tax payments should begin all over the country on the same day. Workers were to withdraw gold savings from banks in exchange for paper money and to refrain from alcoholic drinks (which were taxed). The left wing argued in vain against such irrelevancies on the grounds that only one weapon could be effective – a general strike, with political demands. After all, almost no workers had deposits in banks and simply failing to drink beer would not bring the Government down!

The physical force minority at the Convention posed a strategy of a general strike, accompanied where possible by defensive armed action. Minority they may have been at the Convention, but amongst the working class at large there was significant and substantial support. The Convention adjourned to agitate in the country, but the authorities moved swiftly – meetings were forbidden under force of arms and arrests were made. Birmingham was subject to marital law and the city was in the hands of the people for three days. Despite all this provocation, the Convention majority waited for the response of Parliament to the one and half million-signature petition, instead of trying to take the initiative. When the petition was, predictably, rejected by 235 votes to 46, the Chartist movement somewhat floundered and a discernible, but temporary, demoralisation set in.

The Convention did not believe that a general strike was feasible in that the masses were not yet prepared. However, when, twenty five thousand miners in the North East of England led the way with a political strike, the Convention was encouraged to recommend a general strike for the 12th August. The response was varied, in some areas the strike was very effective and, in others, it was sadly ignored. Realistically, of course, the Convention was not in a position to confidently call a general strike; no organised movement existed to co-ordinate such action, which could only have come about spontaneously, if at all. A demonstrative strike of two or three days was declared, but it was not a great success and the Convention dissolved itself in September, amid intensified Government attacks.

The experience was not to the taste of the “moral force” leaders of the movement. Chartism was a tremendously varied force: as well as industrial and agricultural workers there were home workers, artisans, petty manufacturing classes, small scale farm owners, Irish nationalists and free traders amongst its ranks. Sections of the small and middle scale manufacturing classes were drawn into the movement as a way of abolishing the Corn Laws that imposed high tariffs on imported wheat. The Anti-Corn Law League (ACLL) was founded in 1839 and focused the attention of the middle class radicals on the philosophy of free trade; Manchester capitalism, in particular, was the spearhead of the ACLL campaign. The Chartists, however, were actually divided on the issue of the ACLL. Some thought free trade useful, but universal suffrage was more important because it could bring that about. Some others, like the “physical force” leader, O’Brien, favoured protection because it meant that domestic wages were not beaten down in the name of competition with foreign imports. Most, however, were opposed to the diversionary activities of the League, believing the vote to be much more important that the fortunes of trade. The ACLL stepped into the public eye in the temporary pause of activity after the collapse of the first stage of Chartism following the Newport rebellion. It was a well-founded, well-organised body. A League had been established in Derby in February 1839; it concentrated on stage-managed large-scale public lectures and was, throughout, strongly influenced by Manchester free traders.

Elsewhere in the county, perhaps slightly influenced by the boldness of Chartism, the Belper ACLL engaged in large-scale publicity activities in May 1841. Petitions against the Corn Laws were placed at some of the chapels on Sunday, but not at Wesleyan chapels. As we have seen, in the account on the 1833-1834 Turnout, church authorities generally supported the established order. The Wesleyans had resolved in 1839 that any Methodist linked with the Chartists should be expelled. In consequence the Primitive Methodists, who held tolerant views on politics, but firm views on religion, more than doubled their following during this period. The action of the Glossop Primitive Methodists in holding a Chartist meeting (with Richard Oastler as main speaker) at their premises was by no means untypical.

During the course of this aforementioned Belper ACLL activity, in May 1841 three loaves were exhibited in the market on Saturday – an English one, an “American” one and a “French” one. Priced the same, the sizes varied according to the cost of wheat; naturally, the English loaf was tiny in comparison to the others. The ACLL in Belper was strong, with much liberal bourgeois support, both financially and organisationally. John Strutt gave £20 to help in the formation of the local committee which produced petitions to Parliament appealing for the provision of “cheap bread, cheap sugar, cheap coffee, good trade and better wages”, by revising the tariff on import duties. Needless to say, the petition won widespread support for its demands and for low prices and high wages, if not for the somewhat complex issue of tariff reform. [10]

The real attitude of the employers towards the misery of the unemployed workers was unwittingly described in ‘The Times’, of all places, on 14th December 1841: “The Millowners, or, as they have been not ineptly designated, the millocrats, of the Midland counties assembled on Thursday last at Derby, in what is called by them a “Great Conference”, for the purpose of clubbing their information respecting the influencing of the Corn Laws upon their manufactures, and after a morning consumed in detailing the suffering of the unemployed artisans these gentlemen proceeded to celebrate the public distress which had brought them together in an excellent dinner, provided by the landlord of the Royal Hotel.” [11]

In Chesterfield, the ACLL was fairly inactive. John Murray of Liverpool spoke to an open-air meeting on Thursday, 16th June 1842, to an audience of two hundred. The Derby Mercury claimed that the subject had “excited little interest in Chesterfield”. [12] So the ACLL and the Chartists remained distant from each other, at least in Derbyshire. By this time the ACLL seemed to many to be adopting a distinctly radical tone. By stages, formal unity was established between the Liberals and sections of the Chartist movement. As Engels colourfully viewed it, “The working-men were to take the chestnuts from the fire, to save the bourgeoisie from burning their own fingers”. [13] Not long after the Corn Laws were repealed the Derby ACLL was dissolved, on the 7th July 1846. No longer was there any diversion from the central aim of Chartism – political liberty. But, so much had happened in the meantime and it was too late to save the movement from the course it would embark upon.

2 Chartism’s Second Phase (1840-42)

Chartism entered a second phase after Newport. In January 1840 there was much economic distress among the stockingers, silk weavers and others in Derby. Public subscriptions were organised to relieve the problems of the unemployed and destitute poor in the town. The wealthy and philanthropic were not the only ones who contributed. Workers organisations like the Brushmakers and others made donations. When the fund closed on 6th May, over £1,500 had been raised and relief provided to:

men women children

2,710 2,589 5,793 [14]

The economic crisis and the experience of 1839 combined to produce a new view of the strategy Chartism ought adopt over the next few years. Many thought that there had been a willingness to take action, but that the absence of a national leadership able and willing to direct and gauge the mood of the rank and the file had been a decisive factor in the defeat of the first phase of Chartism. A more centralised organisation was thus absolutely necessary and the National Charter Association (NCA) was set up at a delegate conference in Manchester in July 1840. The NCA proved to be overly bureaucratic in character and unable to enact it decisions on the ground. Nonetheless, its foundation was of considerable import. This was, in reality, the very first ‘labour party’ anywhere in the world. Within two years the NCA had 40,000 members and very many were working class trades unionists. However, there were many trades unionists who were not Chartists, and vice versa. A survey of the occupations of the prominent Chartists (based on an analysis of nominations to the General Council listed in the Northern Star) shows that the candidates were overwhelmingly working class and that textile workers were predominant: weavers 130; shoe makers 97; tailors 58; frame knitters 33; others 535 (includes a very wide variety in ones twos and threes).

An important new feature of the NCA was the creation of Chartists’ Clubs of workers in particular trades that complemented the existing concept of locality clubs or branches. The first clear sign of the activities of the NCA in Derbyshire was the holding of public meetings in early 1841. In March a “Requisition from the Chartists for the use of the Town Hall” [16] was sent to Francis Jessop, the Lord Mayor. It was, in essence, a petition to ask “…her majesty the Queen (Victoria) to grant a free pardon to Feargus O’Connor Esq., and all other political prisoners”. O’Connor, the prime advocate of the physical force policy, had been sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment at York Castle for seditious libel in the aftermath of despair arising out of the first phase of Chartism. His release was seen by some as essential to providing the NCA with backbone. 54 local people, including many prominent liberal elements, signed the Derby petition to the Lord Mayor. It appears that the mayor convened a Town’s Meeting on Thursday 11th March at 12 noon to discuss the whole affair, “at which the Chartists attended in great numbers and carried an adjournment to seven-o-clock this evening”. No doubt to ensure an even bigger turnout of working people, by virtue of it being after most had finished work. However, no sooner had the meeting finished than Mayor Jessop wrote, at 2.00 p.m., to the military in Nottingham, sending the message with his own son, “it is possible that a row may be the consequence” of the developing Chartist agitation, Jessop wrote, asking the Officer in Command to send some of his men across.

Some ten days later, on Saturday 20th March 1841, the Town’s magistrate held a secret meeting to consider the impact of a handbill, then circulating the town, announcing that a ‘sermon’ would be preached in the Market Place on the Sunday, at 10.30 am “by Mr Bairstow in reference to the death of Mr Clayton”. John Clayton was a Chartist leader who had died of ill-health in the harsh conditions of Nottingham goal while serving a sentence for offences arising out of his membership of the movement. As for “Mr Bairstow”, this is likely to be Jonathan Bairstow, a wool-comber from Queenshead, near Bradford, who was deeply involved in the preparations for armed struggle in Dewsbury and elsewhere in Yorkshire in 1839. Religious style meetings were a frequent Chartist tactic, used to avoid the bans on political gatherings. In 1842 a magistrate at Alfreton was driven to ask the Home Office for guidance on dealing with these events which went under the guise of religious meetings.

As for the Derby magistrates, faced with Bairstow’s challenge that March in 1841, they met “to determine upon the measures to be adopted in consequence thereof for the preservation of peace”. Sensing the mood of the populace, it was their opinion that it would be “imprudent” to attempt any interference by trying to prevent the meeting taking place. However, “every provision within the power of the magistrates as regards the civil power should be made to suppress outrage and preserve the peace”. Thompson, the superintendent of the police, was asked to have all the permanent police force of the town ready, and “such a number of the special constables as he may deem necessary”. The Mayor went to see Captains Dixon and Campbell of the Nottingham military, for the assistance of forces under their respective commands. He also paid a visit to Captain Storey of the Derby and Chaddesden troop of cavalry.

About four hundred men and women assembled in the Market Place the next morning. A secret informer named Sheppard was amongst them. In his report to Thompson, the police superintendent, he wrote that the meeting gathered, “just when all the public houses are closed for Divine Service.” In contrast to this secret aside, implying atheism, Bairstow made a long and religiously inclined sermon, threading into his oration a political message. He prayed for “the assistance of the Almighty in bringing about the adoption of the principles of Chartism and the removal of all tyrants and persecutors of Chartists”. God was called upon to “bear witness to the sufferings and deprivations of the poor”. Making a lengthy reference to Christ’s role as an opponent of the moneychangers in the temple, Bairstow described Him as “a great reformer in religion and that in consequence of his being so, he met with great persecution”. The priests of Christ’s day had become so “corrupt and so debased that they lost sight of all the best practices of their religion, looking only to profit, persecuting the poor”. The parallel with things as they were then was obvious and Bairstow underlined it, pointing out that Christ was “himself poor…and advocated equality in all things”. In an allegorical reference to a new Chartist hymn, which began: “The lion of freedom comes from his den”, Bairstow declared that “the lion of popular opinion already gnashed its teeth and whisked its tail, and unless these concessions were made in time, its rage could not much longer be enchained”.

A collection was taken for the widow of the Chartist martyr, Clayton, bringing in £1 15s 8 1/4s. The farthing (or one quarter of a penny) being put in by a widow, “it being all she had”, reported the spy, Sheppard. He was not on his own at the meeting, another informer, one Joseph Wright, was there. His report was in a similar vein, although he rather unsuccessfully tried to emphasise the bloodthirsty nature of the sermon.

Derby had become a major centre of Chartism, perhaps not in the same league as other more infamous – or is it better studied? – locations. Understandably, the movement spread from the town to other villages and towns nearby. The Mercury was distressed to record that Burton-on-Trent had begun to adopt the wayward habits of Derby’s radicalism. “It is with great regret that we have to announce that the hitherto quiet and peaceable town of Burton has at length been annoyed by a lecture from a Chartist demagogue”. Two men from Derby had attracted an audience of 150 to an open-air meeting on the Charter. The paper was inordinately perplexed as to how this state of affairs could have arisen. Its style of simplistic Toryism enabled it to conclude with ease, in an editorial, that the rise of Chartism could be simply attributed to the Whig-radicals who held a “deep responsibility … (for the) … revolutionary dogmas of the Charter”. The unsettled climate was by no means restricted to Derby; popular opposition to the gradual implementation of the 1834 Poor Law erupted in Belper in October 1841, when the workhouse was damaged by fire in suspicious circumstances. The large crowd that gathered to look at the blaze not only refused to assist in putting out the flames, but also threatened those who did. [17]

Formal membership of the NCA now began to grow quite rapidly in Derbyshire. Some 370 NCA cards were taken out in Derby and 290 in Belper between March 1841 and October 1842. (18) There was also a growing membership in the north of the county, in the Glossop and New Mills NCA branches, though naturally these tended to be linked to Manchester Chartism. Derby and Nottingham had 25 `localities’ of the NCA between them and, even though the latter city was a stronghold of Chartism, clearly a significant number of branches had taken root in Derbyshire itself. (19) No doubt, there was some satisfaction at this growth in the face of repression.

The establishment, of course, saw all this rather differently. Somewhat complacently, local dignitaries attempted to gloss over the growth, making the mistake of judging active NCA membership against the size of the overall working class element in the community. The Mayor of Derby wrote to the Marquis of Normanby, then the Home Secretary, in May, that “the number of Chartists here is not great, not exceeding perhaps 100 in the whole”. (20) Nonetheless, he was agitated enough to refer to the Chartists’ activities, on behalf of the local magistrates, to Normanby, asking for his instruction. The government responded one month later, when a civil servant wrote back on behalf of the Marquis, concerning the “Sunday morning discourses of J B H Bairstow”. The Home Secretary’s advice was that “as yet it would not be proper…to interfere with the holding of these meetings”. The point being made was that the time was not yet ripe for outright repression, but that the government aimed to be in a position to act when necessary. The Mayor was instructed to “keep a watch” on the situation and to “obtain evidence against individuals of seditious language”, continuing in the meantime to report to Normanby. Government interest in Bairstow can be assumed to have been strong, since for example he spent some time lecturing in the Black Country in April 1842, having particular success in Wolverhampton.

The boldness associated with the growth of Chartism enabled some activists to begin flirting with an increasingly inquisitive and critical social view. The new philosophy of socialism, strongly influenced by French radicalism, German philosophy and British Co-operativism and working-class agitation, began to get an airing locally. In late May, a Mr Brindley began to lecture on what the local press saw as the “enormities of socialism…to large audiences and with great success”. (22) A couple of weeks later, a debate between J Brindley and a Mr Lloyd Jones took place at the local theatre on the merits and demerits of socialism. The Mercury was furious that the town had been “visited during the past week with that worst of moral pestilences mis-named SOCIALISM”, going on to virulently abuse Robert Owen, the Utopian socialist. (23)

The paper had been unable to contain itself throughout the visit; “Our town has been most shamefully disgraced by the blasphemous bills that are still going on its walls, proclaiming the socialist defiance of all that is virtuous and holy”. (24) No wonder that the local notables were over-enthusiastic at the prospect of obtaining the fullest possible details of the activities of the Chartists – with a view to using it as evidence against them!

A report on the language used by a Mr Martin was filed early in June 1842. Released from Northampton jail only seven weeks previously, he had been on a speaking tour, addressing some 60 public meetings by the time he got to Derby. Martin’s radicalism had not been blunted by his experience. Speaking of the Tories and the Liberals, he revealed himself “no more friendly to the one than the other, both parties are rogues”. Poor Law commissioners were receiving £70,000 a year “for their trouble” and the proposal to reduce the cost to £50,000 had been opposed by the “Liberal Whiggs”. Martin told the crowd that the reduction would have been “not one farthing too much”. At the same time Parliament had voted “£100,000 a year for the wife of William IV, for Prince Albert £50,000 a year, while an extra £16,000 had been allocated for the education of Victoria”. These were the “acts of the bloody, tyrannical, imbecile, scoundrels – the Wigges”.

Referring to the Corn Laws, Martin believed that a “fixed duty on corn would not give cheap bread”. He identified the root cause of the problems of the poor as being the fact that “manufacturers say: – `huge profit for s and low wages'”. It was for comments such as this, which might be determined as seditious, that the civic authorities decided to keep full reports of the “language used by Chartists”, recorded by their agents and kept by the superintendent of police.

The Chartist who most concerned the authorities was Bairstow, who railed at the editor of a “certain paper” (i.e. the Mercury), which perpetrated – Bairstow thought – the “most infamous falsehoods ever published”. Bairstow kept up a barrage of abuse against the press at his meetings. While it must be clear that the informers’ brief was to record inflammatory language, it must be noted that Bairstow’s tone and intent, as recorded by them, becomes increasingly more violent. A much sharper sense of the role of the State in containing Chartism emerges. On the 14th June he talks of dungeons and death:” …while I can breathe the sweet air…I am the unflinching advocate of the people”. He calls the police “Blue Bottles” – in an extremely derogatory tone – and declares that the working man had “no occasion (i.e.. need) for a standing army”. Government interest in Bairstow can be assumed to have been strong, since he had long been a roving agitator. He had spent some time in the Black Country in April 1842, having particular success in Wolverhampton. Moreover, he called upon himself particular attention as a target after being elected to the five man executive of the NCA in June 1842.

The Chartists’ local organisation was based at a house in Devonshire Street, where they met as a club and ale was available. The club was called the “Northern Star”, after O’Connell’s journal. Each Sunday morning, open-air lectures now ended with an invitation to listen to the “true principles of Chartism ” at Devonshire Street, where members met every Sunday and Monday evening. Admission to the Chartist branch was two old pence, inclusive of a membership card, and one penny per week thereafter. Although, at times, speakers were apt to say “join the Chartists, if you have no money, come without, we will take you in”.

By July 1841, there were regularly in excess of five hundred in attendance at the Market Place meetings, where a Mr Farnsworth took the chair and Bairstow the main speaker. A deep split with the Liberals was revealed on the 18th July, when Bairstow made a vitriolic attack on the “Derby Reporter”, which he dubbed the “Derby Rag”. The paper had sneered at Bairstow for standing in an election at Nottingham and, it was claimed, letting the Tory win in consequence. Bairstow defended himself by reasoning that the Liberals were “treacherous”, for they promised one thing and did another. At least you knew where you were with a Tory. They were “highwaymen”, whose motto was “your money or your life”. The Whig-Liberals were “snakes in the grass”, with “liberty and freedom on their lips but treachery in their hearts”. Police informer reveal in their contemporary reports that Derby Chartists debated sophisticated electoral tactics. Where a Chartist candidate could be fielded, support from the Whig-Liberals would be sought. Where Tory support was elicited, it was a device to frighten the Liberals into closer working relations. There was little love lost for the Whigs, since locally they were principally manufacturing capitalists.

Chartist influence grew strongly in Derby as the effects of a recession hit hard. Bairstow expressed himself “very sorry to find Derby people in such a distressed state, the stockingers and glovers I found on average cannot earn more than from 10 to 11 shillings per week by working 14 or 15 hours per day”. Such starvation wages were paid while the Duke of Devonshire, a prominent local Liberal, got £300,000 a year.

A national leader, Peter Murray MacDouall, a young Ramsbottom, Ashton-under-Lyme, doctor, gave a lecture in Derby’s Mechanics Hall on 16th September. (The spy’s notes call him `MacDowell’, but this was obviously the editor of “The Chartist and Republican Journal”, who toured much of the Midlands and the North of England at this time. MacDouall was militant in political strategy and was the strongest advocate of linking Chartism with trades unionism. Born in Wigtownshire in 1815, he was lost at sea whilst emigrating to Australia in 1854.) This appearance in Derby was the start of a series of lectures over three days. MacDouall called upon the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy to set an example to the lower classes by moderating their life styles. In particular, he suggested that the Queen might give up half a million pounds of her “salary” annually, to relieve the poor. At the close of his speech, a Mr Knightley got up and spoke, giving us an insight into debates within the Chartist camp. Taunted by the references to the Queen, Knightley said that, as a socialist, he “was not got up to find fault with the lecturer, Mr MacDouall, only that he did not go far enough for his part. He could see that the time was fast approaching when we should dispense with both Kings and Queens, for there would soon be none. The rich have gone on in their luxuries and extravagances until it cannot be borne, while the poor are starving to death”. Knightley thereupon challenged MacDouall to a debate – “Socialism versus Chartism”. Socialist views were beginning to be more and more freely posed. “A female in the body of the hall” spoke at a public meeting called by Francis Jessop, the Mayor, and Strutt, the MP, shortly after the Knightly/MacDouall exchange. She spoke in the name of socialism and caused the Mercury to describe her speech as containing “the usual sophistries (i.e. false reasoning) and misrepresentations deepened by a touch or two of Chartism which would have become the most revolutionary demagogue”. (25)

The Chartists had increasingly become bolder. In January 1842, a public meeting held to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Wales, at which the “principal gentry of the county” were assembled, was disrupted by some two hundred Chartists who aimed, the Mercury claimed, to propose a resolution at the gathering in support of the Charter. (26) Throughout early 1842, a series of ambitious meetings were held by the Derby Chartists. Feargus O’Connor visited Derby on Tuesday 22nd February. “A carriage drawn by four greys, preceded by a band of music and green flags (the `party’ colour of the Chartists) and a procession, amounting to near 1000 persons, met him at the railway station at half past three”. O’Connor spoke at a meeting at the theatre in the evening and again at packed meetings on the 19th May and 16th June. (27) (O’Connor [1796-1857] was of an Irish republican background and founded the “Northern Star”, he is credited with keeping Chartism intact following the state’s assault after the 1842 mass strike.)

These campaigning meetings were used to great effect to spread Chartism amongst specific groups of workers and particular areas in and around Derby. For example, the historic discontent of the framework knitters was much expressed in the activities of Chartism. Ilkeston Chartists marched to hear O’Connor locally, three days after his first Derby meeting. The growth of the movement seemed to parallel the stark conditions experienced by the ordinary people. By March, almost one and a half million paupers were officially registered as a serious crisis gripped Britain after the poor harvest of the previous year.

The Royal Commission on the Employment of Children and Young Persons made a systematic study of child labour in the mines in 1842. The Commission considered the details of conditions in the Alfreton district, where fourteen to sixteen hours a day were worked and the mines were inadequately drained and ventilated. Young boys were used as pit ponies, pulling the coal-tubs o all fours, the tubs were dragged by iron chains attached to dog collars around their necks. The harsh metal naturally tore at their bare flesh. One boy testified that often, having worked all night, he was forced to work all through the next day. [28]

The Chartists believed allowing workers access to the political system could only relieve the distress. To that end they determined to prove massive support for that view. In a gesture towards old style tactics, not always favoured by every section of the movement, a monster petition of Parliament was planned for 1842. The collection of signatures was systematic; towns were divided into districts. Derby obtained 3,700 signatures to the petition, while Glossop went better by reaching 5,600. [29] Harassment of signature collectors took place; one John West was arrested in Derby on a charge of sedition, but was acquitted at his trial before Baron Alderson. This was possibly the Macclesfield John West, a physical force Chartist. On another occasion West was denied the chance to speak in Derby, the magistrate, J Strutt, being fetched out of church on one Sunday to enforce a ban.

Three and a half million signatures were won nationally and sixteen men were needed to carry the petition to Parliament. The petition pointed out that of twenty six million people in Britain, only 900,000 were permitted to vote. While the Queen received £164 17s 0d daily for her private use, “many thousands of the families of the labourers are only in receipt of 3 3/4d per head, per day”. Naturally, the petition was thrown out, one MP commenting that universal suffrage “would be fatal to all purposes for which Government exists”. Moreover, and more to the point, that “civilisation rests on the security of property”. [30] The rejection of the petition threw the Chartists into confusion – the Convention hesitated – but a spontaneous response emerged from the working class. The economic depression and this rejection coincided to produce a storm of protest. The Chartist leadership did not have the organisation or the sense of strategy, let alone the will to co-ordinate or direct the strike movement that spread across the North of England, starting in Manchester. A strike without clear demands began. The Chartists tried to take advantage of the mood by sending into some areas key figures that would try to lead the spontaneous action.

A report on the language used by a Mr Martin was filed early in June 1842. Released from Northampton jail only several weeks previously, he had been on a speaking tour, addressing some 60 public meetings by the time he had got to Derby. Martin’s radicalism had not been blunted by his experience. Speaking of the Tories and the Liberals, he revealed himself “no more friendly to the one than the other, both parties are rogues”. Poor Law commissioners were receiving £70,000 a year “for their troubles” and the proposal to reduce the cots to £50,000 had been opposed by the “Liberal Whiggs”. Martin told the crowd that the reduction would have been “not one farthing too much”. At the same time, Parliament had voted “£100,000 a year for the wife of William IV, for Prince Albert £50,000 a year”, whilst an extra £16,000 had been allocated for the “education of Victoria”. These were the “acts of the bloody tyrannical, imbecile, scoundrels – the Wigges”. Referring to the Corn Laws, Martin believed that an “axed duty on corn would not give cheap bread”. He identified the root cause of the problems as the poor as being the fact that “manufacturers say: `huge profits and low wages’”. It was for comments such as these, which might be determined as seditious, that the authorities decided to keep full reports of the “language used by Chartists”, recorded by their agents and kept by the superintendent of police.

The strike took particular effect in the mining districts of northeast Derbyshire and in the textile regions as well. Aiding the process in the latter, a large number of factory hands from Manchester visited Derby on Monday 15th August. The next day, John West spoke at a meeting in the town centre. Four hundred men marched into Derby from Duffield, calling unemployed framework knitters to join them in support as they passed. Some two thousand workers assembled that night to listen to speeches from a wagon situated in the centre of the Market Place, part of the 2nd Dragoon Guards were drafted in from Nottingham. [31] The excitement continued and by Thursday a crowd of a couple of thousand assembled to hear speeches from West. A resolution that “all the Chartist operatives of the town should leave off work and combine in a general strike”, to take effect from the following Saturday evening, was put and enthusiastically carried. It was 1833 all over again, the spirit of the Turnout was once again present in the town, but with the added element of a certain political sophistication. A meeting was arranged at the start of the strike at eight o’clock on Monday morning on Holbrook Moor.

The authorities responded with alacrity, there was only one way to stop the strike, to use armed might from the start. The Radbourne Yeomanry Cavalry, the Derby Hussars, the 2nd Dragoon Guards and the Derbyshire Militia all turned out in an impressive display of military power to prevent the assembly. As the striking workers arrived most were turned away, forced home by the military. However, by one o’clock there was still a sizeable body of some 600, mostly colliers, which managed to come together into one group. The troops charged and, physically dispersing the crowd, arrested some strikers. Such a display of brute force, in the absence of a clear body of leadership, ensured the collapse of the strike in Derby. By the following day, having made their protest, most resumed work as normal. It was the most violent strike Derby would ever experience.

At Buxton, about 400 colliers and lime-burners turned out, while as many as 7,000 turned up at the New Mills, near Chapel-en-le-Frith, to lead out the operatives on strike. The crowd grew as it moved to Walsh’s print works at Furniss, then Wright and Hodgson’s Cotton Mills and the Peak Forest Canal Company’s lime quarry, both at Bugsworth. At each point, men and women turned out to join the gathering. Others followed – the paper works at Whitehall, Bridgeham Green Mills, Kirk’s Iron Works, both Blackhole and Devonholes limestone quarries and many others. It was the most effective stoppage in the county and was obviously influenced by the big Manchester turnout. [32]

The strike wave especially affected the mining districts of the county. Moves had already been made to establish some sort of union in the previous year, when men employed by Stephenson and Company at Clay Cross turned out for an increase in wages. Seven of the leaders had been committed to Derby gaol for not giving the proper notice when leaving employment and, in consequence, the strike had fizzled out. [33] That it should prove easy to stimulate industrial action amongst the miners in 1842 should by no means prove a surprise. Conditions of work and wages were appalling. Women were not then generally restricted only to employment on the surface in the loading and transportation of tubs of coal. The employment of women at the face, with all that meant in terms of “peculiarity of dress” (or, to be more accurate, “undress”!) and “all sense of decency” offended the prudish sexual mores of the time. [34]

Yet the employment of small children was not frowned upon. A sense of humanity for the weak had nothing to do with the outrage of the philanthropists who introduced laws controlling labour in the mines. The `middle-class’ worried about coal-black, bare breasts and animal practices in the dark! Only as the contradiction embarrassingly revealed itself did some genuine compassion emerge. Life was harsh for the children. Samuel Richards, a forty-year-old collier employed at Ainsworth Colliery in Derbyshire, reported to a Royal Commission that the only reward for little lads was the stick. He had only recently seen a nine-year-old boy beaten by a butty (a small scale sub-contractor, employing labour for the mine owners) until he had wetted his breeches. Richards had seen boys beaten until they were black and blue. “Their parents dare not complain,” he told the Commission, “for they would be out of a job.” [35] The Commission noted that the food eaten was “poor in quality, and insufficient in quantity”. There was no money for clothes, “children were covered with rags” which “kept them at home on Sunday… (for) they have no clothes to go (out) in”.

There was no provision for education for the children. In Derbyshire, where there were few `free’ or `national’ schools, those that did exist were dreadful. In Kniveton, one master in the 1840s was described as being “utterly incompetent and unfit in every sense of the word for his post. The school in its present state is a positive injury to the parish”. [36] Amazingly, colliers children were formally excluded by the rules of free or national schools. Thus, the ratio of children working in the mines was very high. Compared to every 100 male adults employed in the county’s pits, there were 400 children, 167 of them under thirteen years of age. The youngest were employed as `trappers’, sitting all day in the dark pulling a string on the doors to ventilate the shafts. Others were `pushers’ and `fillers’ of coal tubs. The Derbyshire coalfield was considered to have the worst attitude to child labour. As much as a sixteen hour day could be worked, compared to the `leniency of twelve hours in other areas. Those who suffered most were the children from the workhouses, for they had absolutely no alternative. Failure to work in the mines would mean automatic imprisonment. The owners seemed heedless, for the thin winding seams of eighteen inches lent themselves to the use of small children. Infants of eight years of age were given the enormous responsibility of letting down and drawing up the miners. Accidents and death were common, for human life had a low priority.

The 1842 Commission reported that in Derbyshire and other northern counties “each generation of this class of the population is commonly extinct soon after fifty”. [38] A fifty-nine year old miner, Wheatley Straw, gave an account of his half a century in the mines to the Commission. He had first worked as a trapper, earning 10d for a thirteen-hour day. At ten years old he drew empty coal tubs for a shilling a day, graduating to loaded wagons for double that amount. As a loader he got 3s 6d a day. “The last 30 years he had been butty”, the Commission recorded. [39] A Commissioner, reporting on the physical state of the children in Derbyshire, noted that the men developed a premature look around the age of forty, after such a life as that, unless they were loaders who looked old at the age of twenty-eight or thirty! He put this down to “the hardness of labour in having such great weights to lift, and breathing a worse atmosphere than any other in the pit”. [40]

Against this background, Arthur O’Neill (left), a Scottish Chartist based in Birmingham, had no problem in winning the Clay Cross miners to support the strike; colliers at Tupton came out first, for a day or two. On Wednesday the 24th two hundred stockingers assisted by crossing the border from Sutton in Ashfield into Heath, Bolsover and Glapwell, trying to get the strike going there. Bands of up to a hundred strikers roamed around Alfreton and South Wingfield. O’Neill revisited the Clay Cross collieries during this week and again turned out the men in one body. Even the historically `moderate’ coalfield of South Derbyshire was seriously affected. The dispute was “mixed up altogether with a rise in wages and the People’s Charter, as it was called, and beer”, according to the sarcastic analysis of one witness to the Royal Commission on Trades Unions a quarter of a century later in 1862.

Meanwhile, hundreds of special constables were enrolled to fill the gap caused by the return of the militia to barracks:
Glossop 150
Bakewell 700 (taking the total here to 2,000)
Edensor 400
Tideswell 90
New Mills 260
Hayfield 150

The strike wave had involved some half a million workers over that summer of 1842; it had been a momentous occurrence. Some 1,500 were arrested throughout the North. This repression combined with the hunger that gave rise to much of the protest in the first place and the lack of organisation and aims that characterised the strike wave to ensure the fading away of the moment. But the sense of struggle was still there. On Wednesday 1st September an attack was made on Cooper’s mill by a large crowd, which succeeded in driving out all the hands from the workplace, while a protest took place as some workers started back in Glossop. A similar attempt at Shepley’s mill was thwarted by a large group of special constables, only to draw the attention of hundreds of aggrieved operatives as Shepley turned his shotgun on the crowd. Four men were seriously wounded and only the arrival of the Dragoons and a company from the 58th Regiment ended the inevitable disturbances that followed. Mr Shepley was not, it seems, arrested.

Henry Vincent, a skilled print worker by trade and a founder member of the London Workingmen’s Association, was billed to speak in Derby on Thursday 1st September at the theatre. But the proprietor, threatened with a fine of £100 if he allowed the meeting, left the theatre closed up. One hundred and fifty people eventually managed to crowd into a meeting room, to no avail. Yet, despite a public insistence that no attempt had been made to curtail free speech, the town’s elders were clearly embarrassed by their handling of the affair. [41]

The repression only served to underline an overall despondency with the failure of the strike movement. By the end of 1842, Chartism’s fortunes began to wane as no real profound result was to be seen for the agitation. Rural workers, however, faced with serious problems and an absence of trade organisation resorted to an old form of defensive action – to set fire to the masters’ hayricks. A wave of activity spread across the countryside, mostly in the eastern counties. A steady erosion of farm workers’ earnings was at the root of the discontent:

Year Estimated General Wage

1830 11s 0d
1835 10s 6d
1840 10s 0d

In the absence of an organised labour movement in the countryside, the rural workers’ favourite method of “social warfare” was incendiarism. [43] In towns, however, even though some workplaces faced similar pressures the existence of open collective organisations aided confidence. A revival in trade between 1843 and 1846 eased the circumstances of working people, although the framework knitters gained little from the generally improved conditions. A general meeting of the trade was held in Derby on Monday 7th August 1843, which resolved that a delegate meeting of the county be held the following week to consider “the best means to stop the infringements that are being made by some of the manufacturers”. [44] In particular, the silk stocking makers had been suffering considerable distress and a massive petition of 25,000 signatures was presented to Parliament, calling for action. The delegate meeting resolved to form a union in each district to which men in wok would pay one penny a week and women and youths half a penny. Framework knitters were getting six shillings and sixpence for 72 hours work in Derby in 1845, so the contribution levels were fairly comparable to today’s situation.

The problems dragged on, unsolved, into 1844 and 1845, but in most industries relative peace reigned and activists had to reappraise the movement’s strategy. From early in 1843, Chartism became a “purely working-man’s cause”, as the radical direction the movement was taking forced the Liberal and middle-class element to veer off in a different direction. [45] In 1843, a series of evening debates were announced in Derby, between Mr R Cooper, as the advocate for socialism, and Mr W A Pallister, as its opponent. Mr Vincent Heaford of Ockbrook acted as Chairman for the Socialists. Cooper identified the new balance of forces in the movement, remarking “on the progress which Socialism has been making in the town of Derby”. [46] As Chartism declined as a mass force it still left large numbers of thinking activists concerned that the mini-boom had not really altered anything at all. For the employers, while 1842 had technically been a defeat for the working class movement, the establishment was sufficiently worried to introduce the pacifying Ten Hour Day Act, which limited hours of work in certain instances.

3.The Final Phase – Decline of Chartism and the Growth of Unionism (1843-60)

A third and final stage of Chartism began in 1844 as the movement developed in two ways. Firstly, it became more associated with the world of work and interest in unionism began to flourish as Chartism floundered. Secondly, O’Connor started to adopt a rather strange notion of a national land plan, which was popular but something of a blind alley. His idea was to establish estates of independent smallholders, who would be self-employed and self-sufficient.

As their negotiating position improved with an economic upturn, the working class at large turned their attention consciously to trades unionism. Politics as such had not been a total success. Moreover, the memory of the potential of 1842 was still very much alive. In October 1843, colliers at Clay Cross wrote to the Northern Star, asking for details of the Miners’ Association, which had been founded two years earlier in the North of England and Yorkshire. Few joined at first and by January there were only 169 members in both Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Aiming to rectify this position, an organiser was sent to Chesterfield, where he rapidly made success in recruiting the men. [47] The visit of two Miners’ Association delegates was reported in the local paper, which thought the men had “little grounds of complaint”, but then it was always a thoroughly partisan journal. [48] The agitation brought positive results, for by March as many as 3,265 members were reported to have been enrolled, out of about four thousand colliers. [49] Clearly, however, a firm organisation had to be created.

The men had no revolutionary demands, but to achieve their aims a union was absolutely necessary. The owners decided to act ruthlessly, to nip this development in the bud, by simply refusing to employ union men. “The masters are resolved not to employ colliers who belong to the union, and this is the great cause of the contention”, reported the local paper early in April, as several collieries ceased work. A group of some eighty strikers from Alfreton visited Derby on Monday 8th April, “preceded by a band of music”. They met at the Derby Market Place to listen to speeches. Several hundred passers-by stopped and contributed to the miners’ relief fund, evidencing the popular support that existed. Thomas Vernon, a miner, explained that all they wanted was “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”. Fifteen years earlier, colliers at the Butterley Mines were earning between fifteen shillings and a pound a week. [50] Whilst the average daily adult miner’s wage in the county was now three shillings for twelve hours work, despite the rises in the prices of household necessities. [51]

The strike spread – three hundred men assembled at Brimington Common, near Chesterfield. A cart was used as hustings and Smith of the Nottinghamshire Miners argued that though the “blood red guillotine of martyrdom was to be his lot, he should still advocate the cause of the colliers”. At Snibston the men had been turned out of their jobs for joining the union. The masters acted, the colliers thought, like “negro drivers”. Thomas Vernon of Somercotes told the cheering men tat the “universal feeling of Derbyshire and Nottingham shire was to stand out yet”. [52] Funds were promised from solidarity collections, which would be held throughout the two counties. Mycroft, another local leader, told the men that the great Chartist solicitor, W P Roberts of Bristol, would be visiting Chesterfield to put a stop to the sending of men arrested during the course of the dispute to the Derby gaol by local magistrates, who had been refusing to allow the men to speak in their own defence.

Roberts was immortalised in a vast number of contemporary miners’ popular songs, many of which are reprinted in A L Lloyd’s “Come all ye bold miners; ballads and songs of the coalfields” (Lawrence and Wishart, 1978). Dubbed the “Attorney General” for the Chartist miners, Roberts was on the road for trade unionism for much of the year, in defence against judicial repression. He was empowered not only with the handling of individual problems of miners faced with charges in the courts, but also with the drawing up of agreements with the masters. [53] Arriving in April, he condemned the “conduct of the local magistrates who had sent four men to Derby jail without suffering them to speak for themselves”. [54]

Roberts had previously been very much involved in attacking the truck system, still much in evidence despite some new laws. Companies had an absolute dread of Roberts’ appearance in their locality. William Walker, secretary of the Derbyshire Miners, had requested the use of Roberts’ services, for he knew the coal owners to be afraid of his talents – “the very name of Roberts strikes terror to their very souls”. [55] When he had arrived in Belper, Haslam’s, a firm that operated truck, issued the following notice for public record, to make it clear that earnings were not paid in kind and that employees were free not to use the company store if they so desired. The mere mention of Roberts had prompted this nervous precaution, such was the terror his name engendered.

” N O T I C E
Pentrich Coal Mine

The Messrs Haslam think it necessary, in order to prevent all mistakes, to announce that all persons employed in their colliery will receive their wages wholly in cash, and may expend them when and as they choose to do. If they purchase goods in the shops of Messrs Haslam, they will receive them as heretofore at wholesale prices, but they are not expected to make their purchases there, and work and wages will be continued as usual whether purchases are made in these shops or elsewhere.” [56]

Meanwhile, the strike continued. Only Shipley had returned to work the week after the Brimington Common meeting. But Whitwick and Snibston remained firm. By 1st May there had been a weakening at the very heart of the new union, when sixty men left the organisation and resumed work at Clay Cross. But all the pits in the far north of the county bordering on Sheffield were still solid. In the ninth week of the dispute, new workmen were engaged at Messrs Comber and Cottam’s Killamarsh Collieries, to provide fuel for the company’s Renishaw furnaces. Strike-breakers were treated to the usual community ostracism. Two men, Taylor and Bowskell, were met by a crowd of a hundred people about three-quarters of a mile from the village, as they returned from work. The crowd was mostly composed of women and children who “struck up a well known air. `March in Good Order’, seconded by yells, hoots and groans of the most furious description”. The men were thus greeted on their return from work, but as consolation for this their employers “pledged their word to stand betwixt their workmen and danger. Liberal rewards are offered to any person who will give such information as will bring the offender or offenders to justice”. [57]

As the dispute progressed, attitudes as always hardened. An attempt was made on 27th May to blow up the house of the manager of the Oxclose Colliery, near Dronfield. Booker, the coal owner, had offered the men an advance of 8d a dozen tubs, if they would abandon the union. The men rejected this, demanding a two-shilling advance. Strike-breakers were introduced in large numbers, causing much bitterness. The usual harrying of strikebreakers by women with tin cans and sticks, accompanied by singing and shouting took place. This culminated in the unsuccessful bombing of pit property, which was clearly the work of an experienced miner. A foot long pipe, three inches in diameter was filled with gunpowder. The company offered a reward of £10 for any information, to no avail. [58] Little wonder, for the men of Dronfield and Killamarsh held out the longest of all.

With attitudes so sharp some owners made some slight concessions to the men in order to win a return to work. Many took the opportunity to accept on the basis that a stronger negotiating position now existed for the future. Some employers, however, determined to b much more firm and many miners were obliged to continue in dispute. Several hundred were still out up to mid-June and colliers from Dronfield took a wagon-load of coal, given to them by sympathetic miners from elsewhere, into Sheffield to sell at a “penny per bucketful, or as much as the purchaser chose to give”. [59]

With no union benefits being available, resources grew thin and in those pits still out, then men were forced to return, the union more or less in a state of collapse. Despite this, the organisation was still strong enough to call a meeting of three hundred miners at the Queen’s Hall in Ilkeston in November. But no long-term organisation from this phase of the struggle survived and similar battles took place in other parts of the county – one by one. Within two or three years the Association was in tatters. For the miners there still remained the arduous, poorly paid and, above all else, dangerous working lives.

A letter from an anonymous but obviously educated correspondent in 1845, posed the question – why had so little been done to alleviate the hazards of mining? A recent and serious accident at West Hallam gave rise to the concern. The correspondent, calling himself “Rusticus”, revealed a string of local tragedies. Nine lives at Loscoe and ninety at Haswell amongst them. An annual death rate of 2,500, Rusticus argued, demanded some action. Firedamp, or methane gas, was pinpointed as the main culprit and Rusticus accurately commented that it was “better that the mining company make less profit than hundreds of industrious workmen should loose their lives and their wives and children should be thrown on the charity of the country”.

While the miners failed to establish a permanent organisation, their initiative spread to other sectors. A draper’s assistant wrote to the Derby Mercury in May 1844, pleading for some curtailment of the hours of labour in the trade – an unheard of complaint. “Draper’s Assistants are employed in the shops for fourteen, fifteen hours and, in many cases, Sixteen and seventeen hours in the day…the Assistant therefore respectfully proposes that…the Drapers shops in derby be closed at eight-o-clock during spring and summer and seven-o-clock in winter and autumn.” [60]

In 1845, the framework knitters had been exerting much of their energy on pressure for parliamentary regulation of the trade and their wages. In the absence of effective legislation, they were easily won to the ideas of Chartism. However, the weight of their evidence at the various commissions set up to head off their demands, forced some action, in particular in the area of the truck system. At its height there were more than 250 truck masters, or bagmen, in the East Midlands. One man grew so rich through the practice that he was able to gain admittance to the exclusive Quarndon foxhunt. Eventually, truck in framework knitting was prohibited in 1831 by a combination of pressure from the workers, the public and the big hosiers at a time of improvement in the trade. [61] It was, however, still very much in operation in the 1840s, with employers finding all sorts of loopholes. One hosiery employer in Heanor, Thomas Hogg, operated a tommy, or truck, shop in 1845, although he defended himself as acting legally because his father owned the shop! [62] Derby had become increasingly less important as a hosiery centre, as firms like Wards and Brettles in Belper expanded. Almost three thousand knitting firms were scattered from Ockbrook across East Derbyshire by the mid-Thirties. There were almost six thousand frames in the various branches of the trade by 1844: [63]

Silk hose 756
Silk gloves 698
Cotton hose 3,900
Cotton cut-ups 255
Cotton drawers 225
Wool goods 2

TOTAL 5836

The development of the cotton industry in Lancashire, which grew rapidly over the early part of the 19th century, weakened the strength of the industry in Derbyshire, although there were still eight mills in Derbyshire in 1836, with almost a couple of thousand workers supplying yarn for cotton hosiery. It was this aspect of the textile industry that boomed. [64] By 1845, Ward, Brettles and Ward had 400 silk and 2,500 cotton hose frames, with an output of 100,000 dozens yearly, making the newly combined firm the biggest in the world. [65] Despite all this, the average wage of framework knitters employed by Brettles in 1844 was only between seven and fifteen shillings per week. At the same time, some workers there were able to earn much less; down to as little as two shillings and sixpence per week! Such a big variation in potential earnings depended on the sort of frame used and the product being knitted. A contemporary estimate revealed that average earnings in Belper were only seven shillings, one and three farthings (7s 1 3/4d), whilst a further survey of 116 people produced an average of seven shillings and four pence, both before payment of frame rent, which generally would have been in the order of some shillings. [66] All this at a time when the owners, who lived geographically cheek by jowl with their workers, could reckon on a personal income of perhaps two hundred times as much. The stark nature of this inequality seemed to cry out for action.

The framework knitters resurrected their organisation once again early in 1845, meeting at the Pheasant Inn in Derby. Chaired by Samuel Corden, the meeting resolved that only an abolition of frame rents and the establishment of local boards of trade to oversee prices and quality of work would alleviate the periodic distress of the workers in the industry. The knitters decided to invite framesmiths, setters up, sinker makers and needle makers to join with the knitters in one “consolidated union for mutual protection”. [67] Corden was elected delegate to attend a Three Counties meeting, preparatory to establishing a joint negotiating body with the employers.

This done, the process of resolving their old problems began. Late in May, a general meeting was held in the Old School Room at Duffield, to appoint a deputation to solicit the still separate firm of Brettles and Wards for an advance of sixpence a dozen on selvage (edge or bordered) glove manufacture. The workers’ representatives called on both firms, Brettles promising the advance “upon all common selvage gloves, but not on supers”. This caused as standstill among the workmen, who declared they would not work until the request was complied with. Wards, however, agreed to give the advance on all selvage gloves for one month only, making no distinction between common and supers. The workers accepted this offer, provided that it was agreed that “at the expiration of one month, should the trade remain in the same flourishing condition, the advance is to be continued”. Wards conceded fairly easily, while Brettles were forced to come in line. The concessions were given in the right vein, at the right time, thus heading off any development of an effective long-term organisation. The danger to the employers of a union cutting across skills and trade within the textile manufacturing industry had been seen clearly and was skilfully avoided.

But the disputes were not over, for the immediate effect of the success of the Belper framework knitters was a `copy-cat’ wave of similar action throughout the glove trade In August 1845, a dispute broke out in Derby. Both manufacturers and workmen appealed to the public via printed handbills, an early example of contrary propaganda efforts in an industrial relations conflict. A commission of inquiry in 1844 had revealed very low wages in the area, the various glove makers paying quite a variety of wages: [68]

Employer Average weekly wage

Dallison 10s 3d
Gorse 8s 0d
Fergusson 7s 0d to 8s 0d
Hancock 9s 0d to 14s 0d

Dallison only fully employed his workers for four months of the year, while Gorse only gave full work for three months. The hours were twelve a day. The desperation engendered by this experience once again was expressed in industrial militancy and secured some marginal and temporary respite.

Yet other evidence of a rising interest in trades organisation was the agitation evident among the Horsley Woodhouse nailers in October 1845. Trade union delegates were reported to be working for a strike. A novel means of preventing strikebreaking was adopted when the nailers simply collected in the tools of the trade. An argument for social ownership of the means of production that was not lost on the employers! A swift solution must have been found for this dispute for the action was stunningly effective. Over the next few decades, nailers’ organisation would prove its worth.

There is a real sense that faith in a political solution to the problems of workers was beginning to fade and that a re-affirmation of trade union responses was taking place at this time. Older established craft societies had maintained their organisation throughout the Chartist period; some were aloof to the struggle for political rights. The coachmakers society, the UKSC, had been ticking over in most towns since 1835. Now the Leeds Society sought to renovate the strong links that had once existed between the various local societies. After an initial national meeting, at which Derby was not represented, a general circular went round to convene a national delegate conference in April 1848, at which a delegate from Derby was probably present. [69] The Derby lodge was certainly well established by 1847, since an annual dinner is recorded as having been held in November. [70] A local UKSC had been established in Nottingham in 1823 and it seems certain that some form of organisation was in existence in Derby between then and 1835. By the time of the 1848 national conference, the Derby lodge must have been considered important, for when two Leeds members of the newly elected national executive committee were dismissed from their jobs, a delegate from Derby was one of the three-man investigation committee appointed by the UKSC to look into the matter.

Print workers were well organised – and there was a strike of paper workers at Darley Paper Mill, near Derby, in 1845. The paper industry employers were generally tolerant of the Society of Paper-makers, which had been established in the county for almost two decades. However, a foreman had been taken on at Darley Mills, who was not a member of the Society. Apparently, he understood machines generally and was taken on to supervise the vats, although since he had not been trained in the industry, a fact that would be guaranteed by membership of the Society, the move concerned its membership. Unfortunately, the dispute was not totally successful and eventually the mill began to employ non-society men as well as paid-up members.

Despite this, in the print industry proper, the closed shop began to be generally introduced, especially amongst typographers. Legislative changes in the late 17th century enabled the printing industry to expand outside of London. The Northern Typographers Association, established in 1830, which in 1844 merged into the National Typographical Association, had branches at Derby and Chesterfield, probably with no more than a few dozen members. The Association’s main aim was to establish control over the trade – especially apprenticeships. Print workers were concerned about the widespread practice of apprentices not completing their seven-year service and starting at other printers as `time-served’, but being paid well below the proper rate. The largest gathering of printers to that date was held when a delegate conference, called the “Printers’ Parliament”, was held on Monday 15th July 1844, at Derby, for four days. A truly national union was set up arising from this, with a national and district organisation and unemployment relief of six shillings a week, instead of tramping. But, by 1848, it had dissolved in disarray, and Derby printers – the Derby Typographical Association – remained a single town society, in common with other northern towns. [71] The Bookbinder’s Consolidated Union founded a Derby lodge in 1847, although again no real central co-ordination existed. The Derby lodge was, like many local organisations, strongly critical of the Central Committee, which was in fact a roving body, alternating between the lodge committees of towns

Chartism was thus somewhat eclipsed by trade union developments, but it was not yet a spent force. Major developments on the political scene revitalised ideas of resolving problems via parliamentary representation Sir Robert Peel, the Tory Prime Minister, split his party by repealing the Corn Laws, utilising Liberal parliamentary support. Karl Marx observed that “The year of 1846 brought to light in its nakedness, the substantial class interest, which forms the real base of the Tory Party…the repeal of the Corn Laws…merely recognised an already accomplished fact…the subordination of the landed interest to the moneyed interest, of property to commerce, of agriculture to manufacturing”. A measure of the virulence which traditional Tories meted out to those in favour of the repeal is revealed by a poster produced in Derby and signed by “A Protestant” in opposition to the free trades, it proclaimed them all to be part of the “extreme Radical Party” and desiring the daily import of “FOREIGN CORN, FOREIGN CATTLE, FOREIGN MANUFACTURES”. “A Protestant” scribed their views to the adherence of Jews, Catholics, Mohammedans and Infidels to the principle of free trade. [72]

Following the new situation, a resurgence of interest in political action could again be observed in 1847-48. The Land Plan seemed less relevant to many and an economic slump in 1847-48 diminished the interest of some in unionism. Moreover, the revolutions of 1848 in Europe stimulated the imaginations of others. O’Connor was elected MP for Nottingham in November 1847 and there was a general revival of enthusiastic protest. However, the main thrust of this final stage of Chartism was confined solely to the unemployed. In some parts of the country, violent bread riots enabled the Government to make elaborate military preparations. But the Chartism of this period proved barren – old strategies and old demands prevailed.

The `revival’ was evidenced in Derbyshire when a Chartist meeting was had at Belper Market Place, which resolved to campaign for the Charter. Significantly, a further call of the meeting was for the “middle-class and the working class to unite”. But in May 1847, “chiefly members of the operative class” attended a meeting in support of the Charter held at the Lecture Hall in the Wardwick. The absence of a restraining influence from the middle class is clear to see, for there was a strongly radical flavour to the local campaign as in 1842. Responding to the latest imperial intrigues in Ireland, the Chartists in Derby organised a petition “against any coercive measures for Ireland”. Over eight hundred people “signed it in the course of one day and it was sent off the same evening to Feargus O’Connor for presentation at the House of Commons. [73]

During the General Election of 31st July 1847, the Chartists engaged in an intensive campaign. Nineteen candidates stood specifically supporting the Charter and a central election committee was set up. One of the candidates, Philip McGrath, succeeded in poling 216 votes in Derby against the victors, Strutt and Gower. In a `victory’ celebration over three hundred people attended a Chartist tea and ball in his honour, which was also attended by Ernest Jones. Jones was a major national figure in this late stage of Chartism and was moving towards a strongly socialist and internationalist position. He would become a close confidante of Marx and Engels. The result was

E Strutt (Liberal) 880
E F Leveson-Gower (Liberal) 852
H Raikes (Conservative) 300
P McGrath (Chartist) 216

The election was, however, declared void on account of accusations of bribery and a fresh contest was ordered, the winning candidates thus being unseated.

Noting the very real electoral appeal of Chartism and being swept by the tide of intellectual revolutionary fervour evident amongst radical Liberal elements in 1848, the local Liberal leaders in the Derby constituency, Michael Bass and Lawrence Heyworth, “for a season fraternised” with the Chartists – as their deadly enemy, the Derby Mercury, put it. In Northern Derbyshire, perhaps continuing to reflect the largely rural nature of the county outside of Derby, two Liberals were returned unopposed and in Southern Derbyshire, two Tories were returned equally unopposed.

The Chartist aimed to present a super-monster petition – six million signatures was the aim. At a meeting to propagate the petition in April 1848, G W M Reynold said that “an admirable spirit animated the people of Derby. They were tired to petitioning and had said that this should be the last time they would have recourse to that mode of expressing their demands and claiming their rights…recourse must be had to physical force. There were not more than 5,000 troops in London and the multitude that would meet on Monday to present the petition would be more than enough to produced a change in Government before eight-o-clock on that evening”. [74]

This must have been George Reynolds, who was to found `Reynold’s Weekly’, a newspaper that lasted for almost a century as a radical voice – later becoming the co-operative Sunday Citizen, defunct since the 1960s. Reynolds was initially a novelist and republican journalist who had played a major role in supporting the French Republic that followed the February revolution in 1848. His remarks represented a long-standing suspicion in radical Chartist circles that petitioning was a device to evade insurrectionary tactics. Such dreams apart, the movement had in any case overestimated the potential support. In the event, the national demonstration to present the petition was quite small by previous standards – thirty thousand turned out in London. It was a pretty massive affair by modern standards, given the much smaller population levels of the day. But was it enough to challenge the power of the State and were Chartist aware enough of the extent of this power and its class basis? Despite the fact that the aim of the Chartist leadership was to prove something to the Government, rather than overthrow it, vast military forces were turned out, many more than anticipated by Reynolds; the military more than exceeded the Chartists and the protest went unheeded.

4. Epilogue

From here onwards the story of Chartism was one of unbroken decline, but only slowly so. In June, a Chartist demonstration was held in Derby. [75] A man went round with a bell on one Monday morning, announcing a town’s rally at 10.30am. However, at the allotted time, the three organisers, William Chandler, William Short and Henry Gorse, were prevented from starting the meeting and taken to the magistrates. These only had authority within the borough, but had received clear instructions from the Government to prevent such meetings. So the Chartists innocently left the Town Hall with this information and started up the meeting outside what was then the borough’s boundaries at Chester Green. By that time, it proved difficult to obtain a large turnout, especially as it had started to rain – but the meeting went ahead. The main speaker was John Shaw, one of the “temporary commissioners” who aided the NCA executive of five elected at the last great convention, the National Assembly, in 1848. He noted that: “Distress prevailed … throughout England, though, from what he heard scarcely any town was doing as well as Derby”. He pleaded for his supporters locally to be “more united, and to be more in public than they had been”.

Attempting to respond to the criticism of their inaction, the local Chartist continued agitation, only to attract the most vitriolic disapproval in the Mercury. A group of six Chartists (Henry Gorse, Thomas Briggs, Joseph Briggs, Peter Ward, John Skevington and Thomas Thorpe) signed a handbill in reply to these savage attacks. The Mercury, on the one hand felt that Derby was “the greatest and most orderly of the manufacturing towns”, yet, on the other, that the Chartists had arranged imminent revolution. Such a contradiction was no doubt a calculated Tory hysteria related to the forthcoming by-election, to be held on 2nd September. While the anti-Tories were effectively Liberals, the Mercury viewed them with sufficient reserve to dub Bass a “Whig Radical” and Heyworth a “Chartist”. The latter had of course identified himself with Chartism for much of 1848, but how much he was truly still so must remain in doubt. Heyworth remained in politics and was in later years very much an establishment Liberal.

The journal “The Non-Conformist” in August 1841 revealed an outrageous example of intimidation in the local election scene, such as it was. A letter was sent from the Tory campaign headquarters in Wirksworth to a Thomas Frost of Middleton-by-Wirksworth. The correspondent expressed his regret that he would be likely “to offend your old master by allowing your son to vote for Gisborne and Waterpark (unsuccessful Liberal candidates for the Southern Derbyshire constituency in the 1841 General Election); because he has spoken to me about obtaining for you the premium for long service at the next agricultural meeting, in which I should assist him; and I should be very sorry if you should lose 4L 4s (i.e. £4 4s 0d) by any such proceedings”. [76]

This was by no means an isolated incident, much underhand and dubious strategy was resorted to; the Tories produced a poster to the electors of Derby, advocating support for Freshfield and Lord, as they were “not truckle to the paltry revolutionary spirit of the age”. On the other hand, Bass and Heyworth were “for uprooting the very foundation of society”. The age-old technique of damaging the opposition by ascribing their motives to violent and outrageous principles was gloried in. “Pause the, ere by voting for Radical Revolutionist, you plunge our country into the same state as our neighbour France.” But if the electors wanted the “ancient walls of your borough not to be stamped with the black mark of Chartism”, then the answer was clear – vote for Freshfield and Lord.

What was, for the times, arguably an even more malicious accusation, stirred the radical camp. The Tories claimed that their opponents were anti-religious. This provoked a response against this “slanderous report”, that Heyworth was an infidel (a non-believer in Christianity) and that both he and Bass thought the Bible to be an “idle tale”. All sorts of Christian churches and schools were quoted as receiving the support of Bass in the reply of the Liberals to this infamy. Heyworth’s thirty-year record as a subscriber to the Bible Society was cited as evidence of his piety. The whereabouts of the current contributors’ records of the Society were pointed to and the inquisitive would have found that Heyworth had reached the level of contributing £100 per annum by this stage. That the Liberal -Radical camp responded so sensitively to the smear was no over-reaction. As we have seen in earlier chapters, very few people thought in non-religious terms at this point in history.

The electoral machines continued to seek to slur their opponents and a to-ing and fro-ing of claims and counter claims marked the election. A poster was produced, signed by “an old soldier and Independent Elector”, protesting that “some evil disposed Tory or Tories have wantonly and maliciously claimed that he had promised his vote to them”. Although why he should wish to remain anonymous, if that were so is not explained! Perhaps the Liberals were subtler in their electioneering ploys? For a £100 reward was supposedly offered in the poster, although no clear details of what the reward was for, or where it could be claimed, were provided. Assuredly, it was no more than an eye-catching device to cloud the name of the Tories.

Yet the result was decisively anti-Tory, their two candidates being easily beaten:

M T Bass (Liberal) 956
L Heyworth (Liberal) 912
J W Freshfield (Conservative) 778
J Lord (Conservative) 760

Even so, the election of the Liberal -Radicals did not solve the economic or even the political problems of Derby’s workers. A strike was reported as “likely” amongst the framework knitters at Belper and Heanor in September, because of an “abatement of ninepence or one shilling per dozen”, a wage cut in other words. At regular meetings, the Chartists tried to repeat their success of 1842 by inking economic hardship with the absence of political power. Reynolds appeared at the Guildhall in October and McGrath spoke at the Town Hall in April of the following year. [78]

But amongst many Chartists interest in the perhaps eccentric ideas of O’Connor in his Land Company scheme, diverted the movement. His theory was that political liberty lay in a more democratic ownership of what was then seen as the key to Britain’s power – land capital. O’Connor had set up the National Land Company in 1847 and early on there had been a meeting in the Town Hall in Derby where William Dixon, one of the five directors of the company, claimed 40,000 men were now united by the strong tie of self-interest. By mid-1847 there were seven branches of the Land Company in Derbyshire, with most of the members confined to Derby. [79] (It has been credited with stimulating the whole building societies’ movement.) Derby backers sent the vast sum of £26 in one week in April 1848, but this did not indicate large numbers concretely behind the scheme. There was, however, much anxiety to become paid up members and thus be able to take part in the “ballot” (perhaps lottery would be a more suitable description) for land allocation. [80] Only 250 members, out of 70,000, eventually obtained land before the company collapsed.

One of the few developments actually started and purchased, for £12,200, in November 1847, was at Snig’s End in Gloucestershire, which opened in June of the following year. Some seventy people or family groups shared plots of two, three or four acres each. Stephen Needham and W Colston of Derby were among those successfully obtaining land. [81] On 20th March 1850, very near the end of the Land Company, Feargus O’Connor spoke in Derby, where he proposed that all the solutions were in his scheme. “The Charter the means, the land the end”, he sloganised. His idea was that the workers compete with capitalism within its own system on its own terms. Indeed, he argued at Derby that “this talk about the community of property in land…is an upshot of French Communism which is becoming fashionable among a certain class of politicians” [82]

O’Connor’s theory was not some sophisticated refinement to a new level of Owen’s co-operativism, rather it was to apply capitalism `democratically’. He believed that small-scale intensive farming could be more productive. He repudiated co-operativism, socialism and communism, basing the plan on contradictory principles of individuality of possession, but capital collectivism. Predictably, the Land Company was wound up as insolvent shortly after O’Connor visited Derby and, in 1852, he was declared insane. Clearly, “the failure of Chartism was partly a result of the weaknesses of its leadership and tactics”. [83] But, as the Chartist mass movement faded, its stars hurtled in different directions. Against O’Connor’s `brainwave’ must be placed the radicalism of Ernest Jones, who saw the role of class as an economic force within history, variously a lawyer, lecturer, poet and journalist, Marx thought him the most consistent of the lot. Jones had no doubt that capitalism was the foe and he called for a movement of `class against class’. An amalgamation of class was, he thought, impossible where an amalgamation of interest was impossible also. Under his influence the NCA adopted a socialist programme in 1851 and in 1854 founded a “Labour Parliament”.

As the peak of depression faded and the impact of `foreign’ revolutionary ideas receded so did support for Chartism. There had been important and fundamental differences between the 1842 and 1848 agitations. Whilst attempts at organisation had been made after earlier defeats, full recovery had not been attained. Many workers had been placated by reforms – the Ten Hours Act and concessions on wages, for example, in 1848, only the unemployed and the activists were roused.

Chartism declined as a political force. In many places activity dwindled, perhaps restricted to nostalgic ceremonials, for example, Derby Chartists invited McGrath to a `tea’ in April 1850. But it would be too much of a mistake to relegate Chartism in these years as an entirely spent force. Apart from its impact on newer, developing forces the movement had deep roots in the working class. One of the few significant Chartist meetings held in 1850 was the `camp meeting’ decided upon by delegates meeting at Swanwick in Derbyshire. Two meetings were subsequently held at Holbrook Moor, also in the countryside, the fields were crowded with people. As Chartism receded, the thoughts of parliamentarians turned to how to manipulate the exiting political system to their advantage, Without the purity of Chartism, corrupted carried on unhindered. Bribery for votes was rampant in elections in Derby in the early 1850s. A Select Committee reported in 1852 that “an organised system of bribery had been carried on in the borough”. The price varied from one to three pounds a vote. [84]

In the keenest and closest fought election to date, the first Tory in a hundred years was narrowly elected alongside a Liberal on the 8th July 1852; perhaps as a result of such practices, after all, at the going rate, Horsfall’s majority of seven votes would have only cost him, at the most, £21!! Interestingly, it looks as if the Tories had earmarked Heyworth as the Liberal to most attack, hence earlier references to his supposed radicalism, the result certainly showed him to be more vulnerable than Bass:

M T Bass (Liberal) 1,252
T Horsfall (Conservative) 1,025
L Heyworth (Liberal) 1,018

Fortunately for the Liberals, during the campaign their chairman was tipped off about the Tories’ bribery and he took a contingent of police to the County Tavern, where £300 in gold, a list of voters and an incriminating letter was found on an election agent! The letter was from Major Beresford, the Secretary of State for War, and it revealed that a commercial firm was being used for the purpose of providing election funds for bribing voters. Spates of similar acts of corruption were reported throughout the country in twenty-five constituencies, including of course Derby itself. [85]

On 9th March 1853, a House of Commons Committee investigated the whole affair. Horsfall, the Tory, was unseated and Heyworth declared elected in his place. A similar petition from the Tories against Bass’s election was dismissed. With that, the scene was set for Liberal dominance of the town, and much of the county, for forty years or more. The 1852 election had seen two Liberals elected for Northern Derbyshire and two Tories for Southern Derbyshire – all unopposed. The fact that only one election out of six had seen a contest in the north and only two out of six in the south of the county since 1832 might lend suspicion to the thought that the two parties had an informal understanding, which avoided political controversy. In the seven elections in the north from 1853 to 1880 only once did a Tory win in a contest and only then by the wafer thin margin of 61 votes. In the south, in the 1852 election the Tories were unopposed, but in the seven elections from 1857 to 1880 the Liberals only lost the two seat constituency on one occasion. All other contests saw either both seats falling to the Liberals or at least one.

In 1858, there was much agitation around the campaign for a further extension of the franchise. In February a meeting of the “inhabitants of Glossop was held … for the purpose of passing resolutions favourable to Parliamentary Reform”. Meanwhile the Liberals called a Reform Bill public meeting in Derby’s Guildhall. They insisted on a step-by-step approach, contrary to the “no-surrender Chartist … (who) … were annoyed at their desertion by the old Whigs”. Some thirty people at the Liberal meeting voted for a Chartist motion that supported the modest reforms then under consideration, but indicated that they would “never cease agitating till the People’s Charter becomes the law of the land”. For their part, in as clear an assertion for reform rather than revolution as any popular expression could put it, the Liberals argued “their Chartist friends would not go without bacon for their breakfast till they could get a whole pig to eat”. [86]

Chartism was all but dead, a mere shadow of its former self. The leadership expended their energies on producing newspapers as platforms for their views. Jones, for example, produced the People’s Paper, which claimed numerous friends in Derby. But no local organisation existed when, in 1860, most of the journals ceased publication. Chartism finally entered the pages of history. Meanwhile, the winning of such a popular vote as now existed began to exercise the minds of politicians. Further reforms were won, little by little. Trade unions were often strongly behind such reforms. Interestingly, a union banner is the focus of John Holland’s painting, “Election Day at Derby”, painted in the 1860s. Major extensions to the franchise had been achieved, but the political views of the working class were not to be as excited as they had been by Chartism until the early part of the 20th century. Politics became dominated by a two-party system of Tories and Liberals, with the workers’ movement coat-tailing the latter.

The Tories became identified as the party of gentry and church, seeking working class support though snobbery, social climbing and imperial pride. Whigs, Radicals and a breakaway from the Tories led by Robert Peel coalesced into the Liberal Party in 1859. By the time of the 1880 general election, the party had adopted a distinctly reformist tone in its message designed to appeal to the aspirant working class. By 1886, most Whigs, the aristocratic fringe, deserted the Liberals over Ireland and a recognisable class identity had set in as far as party allegiance was concerned.

The Conservatives, aided by a spilt in the Liberal ranks, took one of the two Derby seats in the 1865 general election, but in 1868, 1874 and 1880, Bass and Plimsoll, the Liberals, each won decisively. Samuel Plimsoll was the inventor of the famous Plimsoll Line, which avoided over-loading of ships and Bass was the founder of the brewing empire that took his name, although most brewers and increasingly pub landlords backed the Tories, as capitalists drifted towards the Tories by virtue of their support for imperial expansion to buttress trade.

Workers took their allegiance to the Liberals very seriously. In 1866, there was a riot outside the Clay Cross polling station and fifty policemen had to be drafted in from Birmingham and Derby to restore order and to allow Tories into the polling station to vote. “The polling booths from opening were surrounded by a great number of colliers, men and boys arrayed in pieces of yellow paper and ribbon, who pelted all the Conservative voters with innumerable missiles.” [87] Those who displayed blue were attacked without hesitation. The arrival of the police only served to inflame the crowd, which attacked the Tory committee rooms at the New Inn and the Queen’s Head public house, where the landlord was known to be a Tory.

It would be another four decades before such vigorous participation could be channelled into independent working class politics. Extension of the franchise and population changes doubled the number of electors in Derby during the quarter of a century from 1832 to 1858, almost tripling that figure in the next decade. Thirty years on from the Reform Bill agitation, the electorate had increased sevenfold. The numbers steadily rose, so that by the turn of the century the electorate had increased some fifteen times over. Population growth had also been strong, but in the forty years from 1831, Derby’s size had only doubled. Self-evidently, a major change in the nature of British politics had taken place in these years and this was reflected in the county as elsewhere.

Derby’s Registered Derby’s Population

1821 17,423
1831 23,607
1832 1,384
1835 1,478
1837 1,751
1841 1,906
1846 2,022
1847/8 2,177 1851 40,609
1852 2,448
1857 2,479
1858 3,479 1861 43,091
1868 9,240 1861 44,058
1871 49,810

Even so, candidates still reeked of wealth. Famous or privileged local, or even national, names such as Bass, Mackworth, Chandos Pole, Strutt, Curzon, Leveson-Gower and Duncannon, Cavendish and Waterpark litter the records of elections in the mid 19th century. Although, gradually, the Tories observably began to moderate the tenor of their political intervention to field less obviously blue-bloodied candidates, in an attempt to woo the popular vote.

Was the end of Chartism then truly dismal, as this undistinguished trail into oblivion implies? Its essential aims were achieved, albeit in dribs and drabs. Britain could never be the same again. Capitalism was only able to survive and grow by the creation of a formidable civil society, in which dissent was channelled into constitutional and not revolutionary paths. There were consequences for the future of our country inherent in such a strategy that few could have predicted. Chartism had been full of diversions and weaknesses of leadership. There had been an absence of clarity as to the tensions between strategy and tactics. There were those who were aware that the 1842 strike movement had limited possibilities, given the undeveloped state of Chartist organisation as a political expression of the working class. The mass strike weapon was perhaps not clearly seen as having the political power that it might have and was conceived by physical force advocates as somehow pre-figuring insurrection and by moral force advocates as another element in the pressure campaign on the Government. It was, however, unarguably the start of a mass class-conscious politics.

In this sense, Chartism had been an important transitional phase of the development of British radicalism. It laid the basis for the development of the unique character of the British labour movement. Owenism had lacked the understanding or commitment to the idea that state power was a necessary pre-condition to the construction of socialism. Chartism revealed just how potent was the economic system which the British state gained sustenance from. In Derby and its environs, the working class had been at the forefront of every radical effort to challenge power and wealth over the preceding six decades or more. There was little evidence of the movement being any more moderate than anywhere else in the country; on the contrary Derby earned for itself in the 1830s and 1840s a name for militancy. However, the following decades saw the view develop in Derby as elsewhere that trade union struggle was a salvation only for a select few and that, in any case, this needed to be firmly segregated from political activity of whatever kind. This was no special, local moderation, but very much a product of its time.

Chartism had been, as Engels correctly characterised it (if we can excuse him the male chauvinism, reflective of his day!), “the first working men’s party which the world had ever produced”. [88] As such, it had been a glorious success. But newer lessons awaited the British worker. The belief that the vote automatically gave power was easily encouraged by the next seventy years of experience. It would be a period of phenomenal economic growth, much fuelled by the imperialistic conquest of captive and new markets in Africa and Asia. So relatively prosperous would life potentially be for many working people, that the organised working class would find capitalism amenable to pressure.


1 Ed D Thompson “The Early Chartists” MacMillan (1971) p184
2 F Engels “Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844” George Allen and Unwin – London (1936) p229
3 original circular dated August 2nd 1836; A Tuckett “The Blacksmith’s History – what smithy workers gave to trades unionism” Lawrence and Wishart (1974) p40
4 “History of the Working Class II – The English Industrial Revolution and Chartism” Martin Lawrence (1932) p28
5 G D H Cole “Chartist Portraits” Cassell (1941) p274; John Baxter “Armed Resistance and Insurrection – The Early Chartist Experience” Our History pamphlet (Communist Party) No 76 (1984)
6 Ed D Thompson “The Early Chartists” MacMillan (1971) – quoting The Operative February 10th 1839
7 J T Ward “Chartism” Batsford (1973) p112
8 “T P Wood’s Almanac – 1926” Chesterfield (1926) p288
9 The Charter 28th April 1839, quoted in M Hovell “The Chartist Movement” Manchester University Press (1925) p151
10 Derby Mercury 19th May 1841
11 J Kuczynski “A Short History of Labour Conditions Under Industrial Capitalism” – Vol One: “Great Britain and the Empire, 1750 to the present day” Frederick Muller (1942) p23
12 Derby Mercury 22nd June 1842
13 F Engels “Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844” George Allen and Unwin – London (1936) p231
14 Derby Mercury 25th March 1840; 6th May 1840
15 D Jones “Chartism and the Chartists” Allen and Lane (1975) pp30-2
16 Contemporary archives kept by the Town Clerk of Derby in 1841-2, consisting of a series of handwritten reports and notes on the activities of the town’s Chartists, lodged in Derby Local Studies Department. The account of events from 11th March to Sunday 21st March 1841 is taken from these documents.
17 Derby Mercury 7th April 1841; John Knott “Popular Opposition to the 1834 Poor Law” Croom Helm (1986) p81
18 James Epstein “The Lion of Freedom, Feargus O’Connor and the Chartist Movement 1832-42” Croom Helm (1986) p231
19 ed. Asa Briggs “Chartist Studies” – D Read essay on “Chartism in Manchester” MacMillan (1959) p52
20 DLSL, copy of a letter dated 14th May 1841 in Town Clerk’s papers
21 DLSL, Town Clerk’s papers – letter from the government dated 19th June 1841
22 Derby Mercury 26th May 1841
23 Derby Mercury 9th June 1841
24 Derby Mercury 2nd June 1841
25 Derby Mercury 29th September 1841
26 Derby Mercury 26th January 1842
27 Derby Mercury – various issues cited in notes 21-6
28 R Johnson “A History of Alfreton” self-published (1968) p127
29 D Jones “Chartism and the Chartists” Allen and Lane (1975) p87
30 Mansard (3rd series) Columns 13-90 3rd May 1842
31 Derby Mercury 17th August 1842
32 all details of events of the 15th to 23rd August from Derby Mercury
33 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial and social progress” George Allen and Unwin (1962) p89
34 K Marx “Capital” Dent Everyman (1957) p505
35 Parliamentary papers 1842 Vol XVII p307 quoted in E R Pike “Human Documents of the Industrial Revolution” Allen and Unwin (1966) p174
36 Parliamentary papers Vol XV pp255-259 quoted in E R Pike “Human Documents of the Industrial Revolution” Allen and Unwin (1966) p162; Pamela Horn “Labouring Life in the Victorian Countryside Gill and MacMillan (1976) p44
37 J L and B Hammond “The Town Labourer (1760-1832): The New Civilisation” Victor Gollancz (1937) p55
38 J L and B Hammond “The Town Labourer (1760-1832): The New Civilisation” Victor Gollancz (1937) p35
39 C Williams “A Pictorial History of Derbyshire NUM” Derbyshire NUM (1980) Plate 25
40 Commissioner’s Report “The Physical Conditions of Children and Young Persons employed in Coal and Iron Mines in Derbyshire” reprinted by Derby Archaeological Society Journal Vol X 1936
41 Derby Mercury 7th September 1842
42 G D H Cole “A Short History of the British Working Class Movement 1789-1947” George Allen and Unwin (1948) p134
43 F Engels “Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844” George Allen and Unwin – London (1936) p266-7
44 Derby Mercury 9th August 1843
45 F Engels “Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844” George Allen and Unwin – London (1936) p229-300
46 Derby Mercury 8th November 1843
47 R Challinor and B Ripley “The Miners’ Association – a Trade Union in the Age of Chartists” Lawrence and Wishart (1968) p158
48 Derby Mercury 28th February 1844
49 R Challinor and B Ripley “The Miners’ Association – a Trade Union in the Age of Chartists” Lawrence and Wishart (1968) p159
50 R H Mottram “Through Five Generations – The History of the Butterley Company” Faber and Faber (1950) p59
51 J E Williams “The Derbyshire Miners – a study in industrial and social progress” George Allen and Unwin (1962) “p91
52 Derby Mercury 10th April 1844
53 F Engels “Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844” George Allen and Unwin – London (1936) p253
54 Derbyshire Courier 6th April 1844
55 Miners’ Magazine March April 1844 – quoted by R Challinor and B Ripley “The Miners’ Association – a Trade Union in the Age of Chartists” Lawrence and Wishart (1968) p102
56 F Engels “Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844” George Allen and Unwin – London (1936) p254-5
57 Derby Mercury 22nd May 1844
58 Derby Mercury 29th May 1844
59 Derby Mercury 19th June 1844
60 Derby Mercury 22nd May 1844
61 W Felkin “History of the Machine Wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufactures” (1867), centenary facsimile reproduction David and Charles, Newton Abbot (1967) p457
62 W Page (ed) “The Victoria History of the Counties of England – Derbyshire” Vol II University of London Institute of Historical Research/Dawson (1970 facsimile reprint of 1907 edition) p368-9
63 W Felkin “History of the Machine Wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufactures” (1867), centenary facsimile reproduction David and Charles, Newton Abbot (1967) p463
64 F A Wells “The British Hosiery and Knitwear Industry – its history and organisation” David Charles, Newton Abbott (1972) p57
65 S Glover “The Directory of the County of Derby” Mozley and Son, Derby (1829)
66 W Page (ed) “The Victoria History of the Counties of England – Derbyshire” Vol II University of London Institute of Historical Research/Dawson (1970 facsimile reprint of 1907 edition) p368-9
67 Derby Mercury 5th February 1845
68 Derby Mercury 20th August 1845
69 C Kinggate “History of UKSC” NUVB (1919) p21-3
70 Derby Mercury 17th November 1847; C Kinggate “History of UKSC” NUVB (1919) p22
71 A E Musson “The Typographers’ Association” OUP (1954) pp4, 34, 56
72 K Marx article in New York Daily Tribune 21st August 1852 quoted in “Surveys from Exile – Political Writings” Penguin Books (1973) p257; original poster dated March 12th 1846 – DLSL
73 Derby Mercury 1st December 1847
74 Derby Mercury 12th April 1848
75 Derby Mercury 14th June 1848
76 Derby Mercury 30th August 1848
77 Original posters from April 1848 DLSL; Derby Mercury 27th September 1848
78 Derby Mercury 24th October 1848, 25th April 1848
79 Ed A Briggs “Chartist Studies” essay by J MacAskill “The Chartist Land Plan” MacMillan (1959) p317, MacAskill includes Mottram, near Manchester in the Derbyshire totals.
80 Ed A Briggs “Chartist Studies” essay by J MacAskill “The Chartist Land Plan” MacMillan (1959) p320
81 A M Hadfield “The Chartist Land Company” David and Charles, Newton Abbot (1970) p223-236
82 Derby Mercury March 27th 1850
83 A L Morton “A People’s History of England” Victor Gollancz (1938) p426
84 A W Davison “Derby – its rise and progress” SR Publishers East Ardley (1906 – facsimile reprint 1970) p261
85 K Marx article in New York Daily Tribune 4th September 1852 quoted in “Surveys from Exile – Political Writings” Vol 2 Penguin Books (1973) p273
86 Derby Mercury February 24th 1858
87 C Williams “A Pictorial History of Derbyshire NUM” Derbyshire NUM, Chesterfield (1980) Plate 103
88 F Engels article in the Labour Standard July 23rd 1881, reprinted in “The British Labour Movement” Martin Lawrence (1944) p35

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