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Stephen Roberts Annotated Bibliography of Chartism 1995-2018
published by and available from Amazon (£5.02)

 

REVIEW by Les James.

 

For all those interested in the study of Chartism, Stephen Roberts latest contribution is indispensable - and a surprisingly heartening read. Roberts has taken the pulse and the Chartism corpus is alive and kicking. As he says “the Chartist Movement may not feature as prominently as it once did in sixth form and undergraduate courses, but, in the twenty-first century, this impressive expression of the defiance and optimism of working people in the second quarter of the nineteenth century continues to fascinate.”

 

The start date 1995 of this bibliography is of course the end date of the previous New Annotated Bibliography (published 1995). It is good fortune that Stephen Roberts was one of the three co-editors of that substantial supplement and complete revision (1995) of the pioneering opus that J. F.C Harrison and Dorothy Thompson gave us in 1978. As those of you who know his personal website, Stephen Roberts is not only a renowned author, he is the Chartist bibliophile par excellence; for better reasons than Tom Lehrer, he ‘never let’s anything evade his eyes’. This means he has left no stone unturned and presented us with a comprehensive listing, with annotations, of everything written since 1995 for postgraduate theses as well as published articles or books. I challenge readers to turn up a significant omission from his compilation.

 

The new volume also includes all recently-discovered manuscript material, including the Home Office petitions containing Zephaniah Williams ‘Confession’ Letter (found by Sarah Richards in 2016) and invaluable military letters at the National Army Museum and the Bodleian Library. A great strength are the 150 or so newspaper obituaries of leading Chartists that Roberts has identified – a ‘labour of love’ made possible by the British Newspaper Archive.

Like its forerunners, Roberts’ 2018 addition is more than a checklist, it is the essential tool of the trade. His thoughtful annotation and organisation of sources allow readers not just to scan the landscape of Chartist studies, but dig deep into over two decades of deposits, and map the historiography. Dorothy Thompson, deceased 2011, remains our eminence grise. The period opens with her publication The Duty of Discontent: Essays for Dorothy Thompson (1995) and climaxes with her view of the Chartists’ legacy, encapsulated by the selection of essays made by one of her students, Stephen Roberts himself, in The Dignity of Chartism (2015).

 

Thompson’s hand can also be seen in the output that Owen Ashton led. With the support of Stephen Roberts, Robert Fyson and Joan Allen, Prof. Ashton, one of the three editors of the 1995 bibliography, masterminded a stream of publications that explore Chartist social organisation, cultural activities, education and its press. These are the positive facets of Chartism that compensate for the failure of the Chartist movement to win any of its six reform demands. Positive in the sense that these features endured and they shaped the radical and socialist organisations of the later nineteenth century.

 

Ashton’s The Western Vindicator and early Chartism (2005) led the field. Such works as Stephen Roberts & Dorothy Thompson Images of Chartism (1998), Ian Haywood Chartist Fiction (1999), Mike Saunders The Poetry of Chartism (2009), Kate Bowan & Paul Pickering Sounds of Liberty (2017) are landmarks on this route of travel. Invaluable work has been done on the contribution of Ernest Jones (most recently, Simon Rennie, 2014 Ph.D). The most innovative direction taken is undoubtedly the mapping of Chartism undertaken by Katrina Navickas (Hertfordshire University), whose work opens up a range of exciting questions concerning Chartist choreography of protest and spatial hegemony.

 

In recent years, Chartism studies have clearly gained a broad international dimension. Fabrice Bensimon (2003, 2011) finds links with France. Mastellona Salvo (2006) deals with the London connections with Mazzini’s International League. Richard Brown considers the Welsh Rising 1839 in a global context. Half his ten essays in Chartism: A Global History and Other Essays (2016) relate to Chartism’s influence on the rest of the world. Most recently, Matthew Roberts (2018) in the Journal of Modern History demonstrates “that the Chartist and Repeal movements were more alike than either cared to admit and had a shared heritage in the Atlantic revolutions”. Malcolm Chase follows the democratic constitutional cause in Canada and the very ardent concern amongst British Chartists about its outcome. Paul Pickering continues to debate the impact of Chartism on Colonial Australia, where the working class males achieved universal suffrage before the ‘motherland’ and enjoy constitutional government, something never granted in the United Kingdom. Books concerned with transported Chartists include the case of William Ellis (Robert Fyson 1999), my own publication about the voyage of Frost, Williams and Jones to Van Diemen’s Land and several deal with William Cuffay, who has attained celebrity status in Tasmania. I suggest Tony Moore’s Death or Liberty (2007) is added. Its coverage of Chartism is somewhat limited, but it sets the context for the exile of rebels and radicals to Australia, including the more than a hundred Chartists amongst their number - a growing area of interest that is ‘piggy backing’ the booming data compiled online for family historians.

 

Scanning down the lists, it is impossible to miss the giant, who has bestridden the field for the last twenty years – Malcolm Chase (Leeds University). Twenty-one of his publications cover a Chartism gamut not previously attempted by a single historian. From his Chartist chapters in Early Trade Unionism (2000) onwards, Chase has widened and deepened Chartist studies. Drawing on his long established interest in radical agrarianism and working class culture, he has rescued the Land Plan explaining its central place in Chartist ideology, taken excursions into the byways of literature, demonstrated the importance of lithographic portraiture in the creation of a Chartist pantheon, reawakened local studies and encouraged the writing of biographies, incorporating ‘Black activism’ through his promotion of William Cuffay’s story. His finely tuned Chartism: A New History (2007) produced a macro narrative, weaved around personal vignettes, that brought apparently disparate elements together. Rightly the language of Chartism continues to be debated (Arianne Schnepf 2006) but Chase has released Chartist history from the linguistic strait jacket of political rhetoric imposed in the 1980s. Roberts’ bibliography bears witness that we have broken away from the obsession that Chartism failed. The Chartist endurance is established.

 

Welsh Chartism is well covered in this volume. David Osmond’s pioneering work After the Rising: Chartism in Newport 1840-48 (2005) is there. Malcolm Chase (2011) extended this approach to the rest of Wales (in Llafur, the journal of the Society for the Study of Welsh Labour History). They have both tackled the myth that Welsh Chartism died on the steps of the Westgate inn. Hopefully this positive approach has opened a fruitful field for further research. Brian Davies, enters the list, with his article on the Llanfabon Chartists (Glamorgan), whose turnout for the march on Newport shows the intense solidarity and organisation that lay behind the south Wales Rising. It is to be hoped that his articles on the ideology of Dr. William Price, whose influence upon the Glamorgan Chartists was undoubtedly significant, will be added to the already listed biographies by Cyril Bracegirdle (1997) and Dean Powell (2012). Books on the Welsh Rising continue, most recently the Shire Hall production of Waycott, James & ap Hywel Voices for the Vote (2011), David Black & Chris Ford 1839: The Chartist Insurrection (2012) and David Mills (2015) William Foster Geach, Solicitor and Stepson of John Frost.

 

Given the current interest in women’s history, it is disconcerting that attention given to the role of women within Chartism appears somewhat sparse. Only five books and no articles can be categorised as dealing with feminist historical issues. These are all ‘cutting edge’ works that breathed fresh thinking and offer intellectual challenge. They all sprang out of the 1990s, sadly no others appeared after 2001. Anne Clark (1995) The Struggle for the Breeches includes two chapters on Chartism; Michelle de Larrabeiti (1998) explores the political rhetoric of Chartist women; Kathryn Gleadie (1995) the influence of Unitarianism on the thinking of the early women’s rights movement before 1851; Helen Rogers looks at Chartist women and in a second publication asks a male polemical question of the time What Right do Women have to interfere with politics? (2001). Since the millennium, feminist historians have clearly abandoned Chartism, as a bastion of patriarchy, that treated women as ‘second fiddle’? This is an understandable reaction given it is evident that as the Chartist movement developed a tight male organisation, women were pushed to the periphery.

 

It is said that greater attention is now being given to women across the range of Chartism output. There is certainly much about women in the works of Dorothy Thompson, but regarding the overall output, the jury is frankly out on that claim. Gender ‘bias’ in the available evidence is an obvious problem, difficult to overcome. Roberts’ bibliography provides two excellent examples of ‘hidden history’ revealed - the anthology (ed. David Black 2014) of Helen Mcfarlene’s writings 1848-50, which she wrote under the pseudonym, Howard Morton and Mike Saunders’ four volumes on women and radicalism in the nineteenth century. There is need for a researcher to assess how far Chartism publications since the 1970s reflect the multitude of women, who supported the Chartist cause in the early nineteenth century.

 

Perhaps current research on early nineteenth century petitioning can alter the received perception that Chartism did nothing to advance the cause of women’s rights? Just out - see Malcolm Chase What Did Chartism Petition For?: Mass Petitions in the British Movement for Democracy, (White Rose Research Online). There is every reason to see the Chartist process of lobbying as a game changer in its time. In the 1830s, women and young people were urged for the first time to sign petitions – and they did. It is ahistorical to view Chartism as having nothing to do with the promotion of women’s rights. There was surely no hope of votes for women until all men had the vote. Previously to 1918, only the male head of household voted - his sons, brothers, lodgers living in the household were disenfranchised. Consequently about forty per cent of all men did not have the vote prior to 1918. Although only 30 per cent of women, property owners or woman married to property holders, gained the vote in 1918, the door was open. Ten years after the 1918 Act, women had the vote on the same terms as men.

 

My thanks to Stephen Roberts for his bibliography

In my review, I offer a personal view on the present state of Chartist studies. What’s your ‘take’?

 

CHARTISM e-Mag would like to know where we go from here in our researches – how should we take advantage of the fast developing electronic sources.

Contact les.james22@gmail.com

 

STEPHEN ROBERTS would like to know of new publications that he can add - the bibliography continues to grow – it is printed to order, so constant updating is possible

 

FIRST - YOU NEED TO BUY A COPY of Stephen Roberts’ book, available from Amazon, price £5.02