Legality and Injustice in the Age of the Chartists
2021 Convention: Keynote Speaker: Dr Joan Allen
It is with great pleasure that we welcome Dr Allen, an expert in the history of Chartism, as our keynote speaker to this year’s Convention.
No stranger to south Wales, nor the 1839 Rising, Dr Allen has taken part in local Chartism colloquies at the late University of Wales, Newport 2008 and at the Newport Chartism Convention 2014, when she spoke about ‘Women and Chartism’.
Formerly Head of History at Newcastle University, where she remains a Visiting Fellow, Dr Allen is now firmly rooted and living in Monmouthshire. Engaged by CHARTISM eMAG as our Academic Adviser, she has recently joined the Convention Organising Sub-Committee and become an editorial board member of Six Points publishers. She is currently Chair of the Society for the Study of Labour History.
In her 2021 address, Dr Allen draws upon a wide ranging lifetime of research interests that coalesce around nineteenth-century British radicalism, Chartism, Irish nationalism and the popular press. Her focus in this lecture is how the court system dealt with the large number of Chartist leaders rounded up in the state crackdown on dissident voices that started in 1839-40.
Between 1838 and 1850, not counting transportees who numbered fewer than one hundred, it is estimated that 500 Chartists served prison sentences in mainland Britain. Some 2,000 others committed for trial, were freed by the courts on recognizance (by payment of a bond/ observing conditions), or in many cases, released with ‘exoneration’.
Chartist historians have mostly concluded that justice was dispensed in an arbitrary manner, arguing that in the ‘exercise of terror and mercy,’ there was significant prejudicial discretion in the way that the penal code was interpreted, and punishment administered. In her paper, Dr Allen explores the diverse experiences of a range of Chartist convicts. Her research indicates that while legality was a high priority in court proceedings, class position and patronage all too often determined whether justice was served. She concludes her lecture, with a brief review of the complex factors that shaped the outcome of the 1839 treason trial of the Monmouthshire Chartists Frost, Williams and Jones.
Dr Allen has served on the editorial boards of the academic journals Northern History and the Labour History Review, for which she co-edited two special issues on the history of Chartism (2009 and 2013).
Papers for the People: A Study of the Chartist Press (Merlin Press 2005)
Joseph Cowen and Tyneside Radicalism, 1829-1900 (Merlin Press, 2007)
Faith of our Fathers: Popular Culture and Belief in Post-Reformation England, Ireland and Wales (2009)
Histories of Labour: National and International Perspectives (Merlin Press 2010)
Her most recent work is a study of ‘The Nineteenth Century Denominational Press’ in the Edinburgh History of the British and Irish Press (VOL II:1800-1900), 2020.
Together with Dr Richard Allen she convenes the Annual Chartism Day, which is due to meet at the University of Leeds in Spring 2022.