BRADFORD AND CHARTISM
If you would like to find out the Chartist working-class movement in Bradford there is now the chance to download a recording that can be listened to you as you stroll round the city centre and visit some of the important locations of the time.
Chartism was a working-class movement that began in the mid-1830s to campaign for basic electoral reforms that were outlined in what became known as the People’s Charter of 1838 – a vote for every man over 21, secret ballots, equal sized constituencies, no property qualifications to become an MP, payments for MPs and annual parliamentary elections.
This was not popular with those who did run it, which increasingly meant industrialists rather than just the aristocracy. Previous attempts at reforming parliamentary representation had proven unsuccessful and had been drowned at St Peter's Field, Manchester on 16 August 1819 when a crowd of in excess of 60,000 was charged by the cavalry and, at least, 15 demonstrators lost their lives in the Peterloo Massacre.
Chartism began with a series of huge meetings showing popular support. In 1839, 1842 and 1848 millions of people signed petitions that were rejected by the House of Commons. When these were rejected by the House of Commons it led to a minority of Chartists abandoning constitutional methods in favour of more insurrectionary activities with Wales and Yorkshire prominent.
On 4 November 1839 in Newport, South Wales several Chartists were arrested. John Frost led an armed rebellion to secure their release. When the 3,000 crowd were fired upon by the military at least 20 were killed. Frost and other march leaders were later found guilty of high treason and transported for life. http://www.unitetheunion.org/growing-our-union/education/rebelroad/plaques/#Chartist%20sculpture%20and%20plaque
Early in 1840, a number of Bradford Chartists took several police officers prisoner, only to be later overpowered by a larger opposing force. Eight were sent to York for trial. On Wednesday 18 March 1840 Robert Peddie, William Brooke, Thomas Drake and Paul Holdsworth were found guilty of riot and conspiracy.
It transpired that the authorities had placed a spy in the Chartists ranks and that he had concocted many of their activities.
Despite these setbacks there remained some local Chartists willing to try and use physical force as a means of winning their demands, of which, five are, of course, in place today.
In April 1848 there was a huge gathering in Bradford. According to R.C. Gammage, a prominent Chartist whose book on the movement is regarded by many as the most authoritative, "Thousands attended ...pikes were brandished and not the slightest interference took place by the authorities. Bradford was that day in the possession of the Chartists." Over the following weeks, training and drilling was organised in Bradford and other local towns, including Bingley, and a resolve was manifested to forcefully resist any attempt to arrest the leaders. This though proved unsuccessful when Bradford magistrates issued a proclamation against such proceedings.
When the military were called out the Chartists fought with their bludgeons only to be eventually overwhelmed. Many were arrested and charged with drilling and threatening to shoot the constables. The numbers grew when others who continued to train with arms were also taken into custody.
When the prisoners appeared at the York assizes J.J Johnson and W. Sagar were found guilty of riot and assembly and were sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. Other prisoners received smaller terms of imprisonment. They included blacksmith Isaac Jefferson - who was well-known as Bradford's 'Wat Tyler', Tyler being the man who led the Peasants' revolt against the Poll Tax in 1381 - who was fortunate to receive only four months in jail. A broken Jefferson later helped bosses ferment animosity against arriving Catholics from Ireland that led to Anti-Catholic riots in Bradford in the 1850s and in 1862.
Some of these men, including Jefferson, and women such as Celia Butterfield who also participated, were brought back to life at the long-running annual Bradford Festival on 12-14 June 2015. The Rising of the Moon is a 50-minute street play written and directed by Javaad Alipoor, artistic director of Northern Lines Bradford.
|The Shoulder of Mutton was a place where |
Chartists met in 1848. (photo - Imran Manzoor)
|Javaad Alipoor (photo courtesy of Imran Manzoor)|
“Bradford was central to the Chartist movement, especially in the Yorkshire West Riding. By 1848 Chartism was heading towards defeat. Yet local people, disappointed that constitutional methods had been ignored remained at the forefront of the physical struggle,” said Alipoor.
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Praise for the play by those who attended on Saturday 13 June 2015
Receptionist Amanda Norman “I really enjoyed it. I have just done history at University and this added to my knowledge. I learnt a lot as I don’t know much about Bradford but it really brought things to life.
Katherine Watson “I have always had an interest in Chartist history in general and this has expanded my understanding about what happened in Bradford specifically. My favourite moment was listening to one of the leaders giving a rousing speech outside the Old Wool Exchange when I was all ready to storm the barricades. We know the Chartists went down to defeat but five of the six Charter demands later became incorporated into our political system.”