Preston was rather unique during the early decades of the 19th Century in that unlike most English boroughs, a great deal of working class men were entitled to vote. This was a huge factor in attracting the well known radical Henry Hunt to stand as a candidate in the Preston Parliamentary election of 1830.
A gentleman farmer and brewer and well known for his great oratory and fiery speeches, Hunt had been at the forefront in the campaign for universal suffrage for a number of years. Since his imprisonment for his part in the infamous Peterloo meeting in 1819 in Manchester which ended in tragedy, Henry Hunt, along with other radicals, pursued the dream of manhood suffrage, the abolition of “rotten boroughs” and the enfranchisement of the industrial towns and cities.
He was a true friend of the working masses throughout his life and his decision to stand as a radical candidate against the powerful interests of the Stanley family, who had largely controlled the political direction of Preston for years, caused great excitement. Against all the odds Henry Hunt won the Preston seat by a slim majority. It was a sensational victory that rocked the political establishment and as a token of thanks Hunt ordered 3,730 special medals to be struck and presented to each person who had cast their vote for him. Winning the Preston seat for the radicals had not been easy and numerous episodes of violence occurred as supporters of Hunt and the Tory Edward Stanley openly clashed on the streets of Preston.
Among the radical working class men who campaigned tirelessly for Hunt was one named John Leach who was later to recall the election of 1830,
John Leach 1809-1893
Born about 1809 at Ashton-on-Ribble, the son of a dairy farmer, John Leach and his family came to Preston about 1818. He was initially to learn handloom weaving but later took up joinery and machining at Francis
Sleddon’s workshop. When interviewed as an old man in 1893, John Leach recalled how he began to embrace radical politics at the age of seventeen or eighteen. It was a time he said when men discussed politics avidly in the workshops about town, while at night they met in groups by candlelight, listening intently while someone read to them Cobbets political register, to which they all subscribed a small amount each week. (PC March 18th 1893)
When Henry Hunt announced he would stand in the Preston election in 1830, John Leach and others were determined to support him and formed an organisation called “The death or glory boys”. Many working people such as John Leach revered Henry Hunt, regarding him as he recalled, “An apostle ofemancipation”. A banner was made which Leach proudly carried . It bore several inscriptions, one of which read, “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one”.
There were a number of violent episodes during the election campaign. On one occasion a number of Edward Stanley’s supporters who were opposing Hunt came to the Wellington St area near Moor Lane were John Leach lived and began attacking known radical sympathisers. Determined to resist any such further attacks, a number of tree saplings were cut and fitted at one end with a lead weight. When Stanley’s supporters came to the area once more, the radicals were ready and attacked them with the new home made weapons . Leach recalled,
“I gave the orders. Every drum was smashed to smithereens and as for the orange and blue chaps, Oh dear, we knocked corners off ‘em. We never were plagued again in Wellington St”.
On election day polling took place at the corn exchange and on one occasion a Hunt supporter who was entitled to vote was prevented from doing so by a Tory attorney. Leach remembered how he was so angry he hit the Tory, knocking him straight off his chair. In another incident while carrying the Hunt flag down Friargate, Leach and his comrades were attacked by a large group of Tories. Most of the Hunt supporters scattered but young John stood his ground still clutching the banner while he was continually beaten with bludgeons. Despite fighting like a lion he was forced to seek refuge in the Black Bull pub and as the door closed behind him, a huge paving stone smashed through the door panel. Eventually John made his escape through the rear door and rejoined his friends at the Maudland bridge.
So violent had the election campaign become that while in Walker St, John Leach was spotted by a gang of Tory roughs and was so severely attacked,he was left for dead. Word quickly spread throughout the district and a long horn was blown as a signal to assemble. Soon hundreds of radicals gathered in Walker St where they attacked the Tories and drove them off. Feelings of
Solidarity among the radical areas of Preston continued long after the 1830 election. John Leach vividly remembered a beerhouse keeper in his local area who openly declared his opposition to Henry Hunt. The locals refused to give him any more custom and within a short time he had closed down.
John Leach carried on his trade as a machinist and mechanic all his life. He died at the grand old age of eighty four in 1893 at his home in Essex St, Preston.
James Huffman 1775-1863
James Huffman was born in Manchester in 1775. After serving an apprenticeship to boot and shoemaking he came to Preston about 1795 and set up business in Friargate. Huffman was a devout radical with a deep interest in politics, who soon developed a deep mistrust with the cosy relationship which existed between Preston Borough Corporation and the manufacturing interests of the Derby family. This coalition of vested interests supported one another in order to secure their respective candidates at election time.(PG February 14th 1863)
At the 1807 Preston election Huffman attempted to break this political stranglehold by organising support for Mr Joseph Hanson, a political reformer, but without success. Nevertheless, this and future campaigns ensured James Huffman was to become one of the best known political characters of his time in Preston. Similar attempts at pushing for political reform were made in both the 1812 and 1818 elections but once again the strong vested interests within the Preston political scene won through. At one stage during the 1818 election Huffman was even threatened with arrest by the town Mayor. In 1820 he supported the first attempt by the fiery radical Henry “Orator” Hunt to secure the Preston seat. At the time Hunt was actually imprisoned at Lancaster while awaiting trial at York on charges of high treason and sedition, for his role in organising the huge demonstration in Manchester the year before known as “Peterloo”, and which ended in tragedy.
After being released from Lancaster when all charges were dropped, Huffman and a large number of radical supporters met Henry Hunt at the outskirts of Preston Borough and held a great demonstration. Unflinching in his radical political beliefs it was said James Huffman’s home became a refuge for individuals wanted by government agents. At times he was even under surveillance himself, such were his political connections .(PG February 14th 1863, January 12th 1889).
Once when he refused to pay what he considered an unfair tax, a seizure of his personal goods was made. When they were offered for sale at the market
Place he went along and addressed the public, encouraging them to bid freely as the goods were “only stolen”, as he put it. Such was the respect for Huffman that not a single bid was made and his property was returned. A strict
Teetotaller and peaceful man he was once summoned to a secret midnight meeting in Blackburn, where a plan to set fire to Manchester in retaliation for the infamous “Peterloo massacre” of 1819 was being mooted. Only his resolute opposition to such violence prevented this open rebellion. (PG February 14th 1863)
James Huffman died at his home at 26 Pole St, Preston on February 13th 1863. He was 87 years old. William Billington the Blackburn poet penned an ode,
To The Memory of James Huffman the Preston Reformer
Drape deep the hearse that bears the honoured dead
Proud Preston, thy apostle of reform
Hath truly triumphed in the life he led
Whose lesson lives to mock the mould and worm
Which rot and riot in the human dust
Firm in the faith and trustful to that trust
Philanthropy is ever prone to place
In golden features for our suffering race
In spite of labour long and scanty speed
His hopes ran high, though danger tracked the dead
Undaunted still in freedoms sacred cause
His spirit knew no barriers but the laws
The changeless laws of justice, truth and light
Which filled his soul with fire and nerved his arm for fight
John Lennon 1772?-1855
An Irishman by birth John Lennon was to serve a number of years in the Royal Navy before settling in Preston as a handloom weaver. At the time of the 1841 census he was living with his family in Park St in the Avenham district of town, though his presence in local affairs is recorded some years earlier. As the plight of the handloom weavers increased dramatically throughout the 1830’s and beyond, John Lennon campaigned vigorously on their behalf. In 1834 he was selected to be interviewed by a Parliamentary Royal Commission Select Committee to look into problems associated with the handloom weaving industry.(LCRO)
He carefully informed the committee how Preston hand weavers would often toil 16 to 18 hours per day and sometimes work right through Friday night going 34 hours without sleep on just one meal. He called for a uniformity of prices paid and a national minimum wage rate. An intelligent man Lennon also proposed solutions to the wider problems faced by the handloom weaving industry. He argued that the levy upon cotton wool when it arrived in Britain should be abolished and reintroduced instead on the cotton twist as it leaves the country, so the weaver at home may benefit from the tax relief and thus become more competitive.
A year later in 1835 Lennon again highlighted the plight of Preston’s hand weavers with a remarkable letter to the Preston Chronicle newspaper. He described the deplorable condition of hand weavers families occasioned by constant wage reductions which forced the weekly income down to no more than five shillings and sixpence on average. Prices he said, for finished work were sometimes reduced even as the cloth was being worked at the loom, despite agreements made in good faith beforehand. He again urged Parliament to legislate as he had done the previous year and pleaded desperately for some degree of compassion by saying,
“Therefore Labour which is our property and the only inheritance we possess, who will dare to refuse us that lawful right which they claim to themselves. No conscientious man will wish to see us thrown a burden on public charity and doomed to starve amidst the useful and super abundant productions of our own labour. We labour for honour and we seek better pay, equal rights, equal justice, just laws and fair play”.(PC March 28th 1835)
Despite the obvious sufferings of this once proud body of men and women, the plight of the handloom weavers would not be alleviated by Parliamentary legislation. The findings of the Select Committee of 1834 concluded that market forces should prevail and the slow agonising death of the hand weaving industry continued unabated. With no Parliamentary assistance forthcoming despite the distress, hand weavers continued to be used ruthlessly as a form of reserve capacity, employed when the demand for cotton cloth was strong and powerlooms were fully utilised. Younger hand weavers were able to abandon the trade and seek work in the mills but the older ones were considered unemployable on the new factory based powerlooms and consequently left to the forces of exploitation. In 1837 Lennon arranged a meeting with the Mayor, Mr Haydock Esq. in the hope his influence could be harnessed in favour of the hand weavers, however little if any assistance was forthcoming. (PC June 3rd 1837)
On a personal level in 1842 while still a poor handloom weaver, John Lennon finally received some recognition for his eleven years service with the Royal Navy frigate “Endymion”. Even though he had not received a pension for his navy service, a donation of £2 was awarded to him by none other than Prince Albert. (PC June 18th 1842)
Sadly in 1846 a tragedy was to befall the Lennon family when John’s daughter Elizabeth Lennon aged 12, died of burns after her clothes caught fire at the family home in Paradise St, Preston.(PC November 14th 1846)
John Lennon lived out his remaining years in poverty, still weaving at his handloom in Paradise St before dying there in January 1885 aged 82
The Rise of Chartism in Preston
The Reform Act of 1832 increased the number of people eligible to vote, however it was mainly the middle classes who benefited. Most working class people remained disenfranchised and the anger this generated led to the emergence of the Chartist movement in 1836. Chartism was a mass working class movement which attracted many radicals, Trade Unionists and others who supported greater democracy. The principle aims of Chartism revolved around the six points which were,
1-A vote for all men over 21
2- The secret ballot
3-No property qualifications to become a Member of Parliament
4-Payments for MP’s
5-Electoral districts to be of equal size
6-Annual elections for Parliament
The Preston Operative Radical Association
Many Preston men rallied to the cause of Chartism and in November 1837 at the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Lawson St, The Preston Operative Radical Association held its first quarterly meeting. Richard Leaver was called to the Chair and Thomas Hardwick Taylor was elected Secretary. Richard Marsden also gave a lengthy speech. It was announced at this meeting that over 227 members had joined the Association since its inception three months previous. Among those early members were Edward Swinglehurst, George Cowell, George Halton, Daniel Clinton, James Brown and others. Many of these radicals had previously been active in the opposition to the New Poor Law of 1834, as well as the campaign to abolish the Corn Laws and the promotion of the “Short Time Movement”, which called for legislation to reduce working hours. (PC November 11th 1837)
November 1838-The North Lancashire Chartist Demonstration
The Preston Operative Radical Association was quick to embrace the ideals of Chartism and on November 5th 1838 organised a huge rally in Preston in support of Parliamentary reform. The guest speaker was Feargus O’ Connor, the celebrated leader of the Chartist movement whose presence caused a great deal of excitement among working people in Preston. Such was the importance of this rally that 500 workers walked from Blackburn to join the meeting. When the Blackburn contingent was enthusiastically met in the centre of Preston by over 2,000 additional local people, they marched to the area North of Preston known as the Moor.
Eight bands of music were present along with about 40 banners. Some of the inscriptions on the banners read as,
“A Nation should have Courage to Conquer its Liberty, Wisdom to Secure it, Power to Defend it and Generosity to Communicate it”
“No Corn Laws, Short Parliaments, Vote by Ballot”
“Universal Suffrage, Equal Laws and Equal Rights”
“Better to Die by the Sword than Perish With Hunger”
“Preston Radical Reform Association”
“Feargus O’ Connor, The Champion of The People”
“Justice to Ireland”
“Haste the Day When Every Man of Adam Shall be Free”
On one banner was represented a man striking a lion with the inscription,
“Who Would be Free; Himself Must Strike the First Blow”
Another Banner depicted the “Peterloo Massacre” of 1819 which had long been seared into the memory of working people throughout Britain.
George Halton. 1811-1871
A shoemaker by trade George Halton was born in Preston in 1811 and was to spend all his life in the town. He first appears to have emerged as a political activist with the arrival of the Chartist movement in the 1830’s. At the large North Lancashire Chartist demonstration held in Preston in November 1838, Halton took the opportunity to address the 2,500 strong audience and moved the first resolution, saying,
“That this meeting considers the House of Commons to be not what the name implies- the people’s house- for the people are not represented there. That imposition, fraud and robbery are practised upon the people and treason committed by the volition of a fundamental principle of the British constitution.”
Halton then went on to say,
“I am one of those who have to labour for my bread and have to pay my quota of the taxes of the country. I consider I have a right to have a voice in the selection of those who make the laws I have to obey. 270,000 people are only represented and 25,000,000 are unrepresented. Now if the House of Commons were chosen by the people, does anybody believe that the Corn Laws would ever have been enacted, that one billion pounds would have been expended in carrying on an iniquitous war, that £15,000 per year would be given to the Bishop of Exeter to impose what few measures of liberty were sent from the House of Commons.
That the Duke of Cumberland whose first act was to upset the charter of the people on his arrival in Hanover, would be allowed to pocket £27,000 per year of the people’s money. Or that a grant of £100,000 would have to be made to Lord Durham to go over and massacre the poor Canadians
Undoubtedly not and be trusted that they never would be satisfied until they obtained the rights designed for them by the constitution, nor no longer submit or subscribe to the black catalogue, but at once stop the supplies”(PC November 10th 1838)
A well educated working man, Halton was by now clearly radicalised and in 1839 at a time of huge tension across the land when insurrection was a real possibility, he addressed a large meeting in Preston. Up to 8,000 people assembled at the “Orchard” to hear members of Preston Radical Association express their views. Halton urged,
“The necessity of an immediate arming and preparations of the people to resist force when illegally used against them”
He also spoke of the great necessity of union among the working classes. (NS July 20th 1839)
Now Secretary of the Preston Chartist Association, Halton represented the town as a delegate to the first Manchester national Chartist conference held in 1840. One year later he invited Bronterre O’ Brien, the celebrated radical who had been recently released from Lancaster castle following imprisonment for sedition, to speak to the Preston activists. Over 300 of the town’s radical supporters crowded into the Black Bull public house on Friargate to listen to O’Brien’s views and experiences. (PC October 2nd 1841)
The year 1842 was to become tragic for Preston when during the month of August, four young men were shot dead by soldiers in Lune St during a strike orchestrated, it was believed by chartist agitators. Fearful of even more fatalities George Halton quickly issued a statement on behalf of the Preston Chartists, urging working people to uphold the law. (PC August 20th 1842) Despite not being a subscriber to the Chartist land plan, Halton remained a steadfast supporter of the movement, even as it waned as a political force after 1848. In 1846 he became active in the ten hour day (Short time movement) and spoke at a public meeting on the subject at the Temperance Hall. (PC September 26th 1846)
Surprisingly he does not appear to have played a prominent role during the great Preston lock out of 1853/54, although any part he did play may have simply gone unrecorded. During the 1860’s Halton continued to agitate for Parliamentary reform and at an open meeting at the “Orchard”, he spoke defiantly saying,
“The working class have long been denied there honest and natural rights politically, but I hope the day would be drawing nigh when a full and fair concession would be made and a complete manumission would be affected”(PC April 7th 1866)
After living in the Lawson St and High St areas of Preston for over twenty years, by 1871 George Halton was tragically in dire circumstances, having found himself in the dreaded workhouse. Sadly he was to die there in July 1871 aged 60 and was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Preston cemetery. (LCRO 1871 census)
William Liddell 1802-1871
A Cordwainer or shoemaker by trade William Liddell was born at Carlisle in 1802 and arrived in Preston probably between 1841 and 1845. He soon became politically active in the town by joining the Chartist movement and in 1846 Chaired a meeting of local members. The activists at this meeting called for the release of the three Chartist’s John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones who were transported to Australia for their role in the Newport riots in 1839. A petition was made available for signatures at Liddell’s home in Russell St, Avenham. (PG January 17th 1846)
A passionate believer and subscriber to the Chartist National Land Plan,
William Liddell was selected as Secretary and Treasurer of the Preston Chartists Branch, which was aptly called the O’ Connor Brigade Branch, in 1847. (NS September 11th 1847 and www.Chartist.net)
He was also active in the Boot and Shoemakers Trade Union and its affiliation to the National Trades Association, a precursor to Trades UnionCouncils. Meetings were even held in Liddell’s own home. Such was his prominence in the local movement that William was elected the Preston delegate to attend the North Lancashire Chartist Conference in 1851. Following the death of Feargus O’ Connor the fiery chartist leader in 1855, Liddell was instrumental in establishing a memorial fund in Preston. In 1856 with the chartist movement in sharp decline he was still active along with the legendary George Cowell in receiving subscriptions for the O’ Connor fund. (NS April 8th 1848, March 29th 1851, Reynolds Newspaper October 21st 1855, April 27th 1856)
In his leisure time William was an avid bird fancier and in 1861 helped organise a fancy Canary bird competition to which he was elected Secretary to the rules committee.(PC January 12th 1861)
In 1871 William Liddell died aged 69 at his home in Russell St, Preston.
Joseph Wilkinson 1821-1907
Joseph Wilkinson was the son of a handloom manufacturer from the village of Downham near Clitheroe in East Lancashire, having been born there in 1821.Around 1827 Joseph along with his family moved to Blackburn where he began his first job as a brush washer for the Dressers within a cotton mill. After progressing to weaving and having been recently married, he left Blackburn to find employment at William Eccles new mill at Walton-le-Dale. However, not long afterwards Joseph and his new family moved to Preston where he found work at Mr Paul Catterall’s mill in North Rd. (PG September 10th & 17th 1904)
Later in his life he recalled the tragic events of 1842 when the military opened fire in Lune St killing four young men. He spoke of events that happened the day before the tragedy while drinking in the Shooters Arms beerhouse in Park Rd, Preston. He said,
“I was approached by a man who issued a stark warning when he said, I will bet thee a gallon of beer we stop yo’ mill within twenty
Minutes after it starts next morning”
On the following day of August 12th 1842 groups of people began to gather before moving from mill to mill in a menacing manner. Joseph Wilkinson’s mill ceased work and he joined the protestors as they headed towards Lune St. He claimed he made his way towards the front of the mob as the Riot Act was read out and then witnessed the fearful volley of musket fire from the soldiers. Whether or not this incident influenced Wilkinson is unclear but he did join the Chartist movement shortly afterwards.
In the interview he gave to the Preston Guardian in 1904, Wilkinson maintained,
“The Preston chartists were in regular communication with chartists in Ireland and that these matters were conducted in great secrecy. Eventually, information arrived that insurrection was imminent in Ireland and the Preston men were told to prepare for a national uprising. Such was the expectation of violence that quantities of pike shafts were made for the purpose of resisting soldiers on horseback and one fellow even took his weapon to work with him.”
As the threat of revolution receded, Joseph Wilkinson became a committed subscriber, along with many others to the chartist national landplan of 1845. Even when the scheme was facing total collapse he and a number of other Preston men continued with their contributions to the very end until the enterprise was wound up. (www.chartists.net)
In the 1904 interview to the Preston Guardian Joseph Wilkinson proudly produced the faded National Land Plan membership book issued to him over 60 years previous. It was a poignant reminder of the ideals many working people aspired to all those years ago. Joseph Wilkinson died aged 83 in 1907.
Humphrey Odlem 1804?-1866
Born about 1804 somewhere in Ireland, Humphrey Odlem left his native land as so many did and settled in Preston about 1840. A Tailor by trade Odlem soon became involved in the Chartist movement and it was said by a local newspaper that he was present at a secret meeting in Preston that preceded the 1842 chartist inspired general strike of 1842. This agitation, like so much more throughout Lancashire and beyond at the time had strong support but it unfortunately led to the tragic deaths of four men after the military opened fire on protestors in Lune St, Preston. (PG June 11th 1870)
Humphrey Odlem’s contribution to the events that unfolded and ended in tragedy on that fateful day cannot be underestimated. On Saturday 20th August 1842 exactly one week after the Lune St shootings, an anonymous correspondent and probable chartist who insisted he was present in Preston on the day the fatalities occurred, wrote in the Northern Star publication what he had witnessed. He described how on Friday evening, the day preceding the shootings after all the mills and workshops in the town had been stopped,
“A large gathering of people assembled at Chadwick’s Orchard in the centre of town. The meeting was addressed by two known chartist agitators from Ashton-under-Lyne, named Aitken and Challenger. Another chartist named “Odleum” (more than likely a misspelling of Odlem, or Humphrey Odlem), also spoke and proposed the following resolution,
That the meeting pledged themselves to strike work until they had a fair day’s wages for that work, guaranteeing its continuance with the Charter” (Northern Star August 20th 1842)
Some historical accounts from the Preston tragedy of August 1842 suggest a group of workers from Mr Ainsworth’s mill assembled at the Orchard on Friday 11th August, to discuss a local matter wholly unconnected with the chartist call for a general strike. Was this local meeting infiltrated with the two chartist agitators from Ashton-under-Lyne and did Humphrey Odlem influence the meeting to turn the strike from a local affair into one for the Charter.
A man well known for his fiery temperament, Humphrey Odlem was prone to some rather spontaneous outbursts. When Feargus O’ Connor the celebrated leader of the Chartist movement visited Preston and began addressing the audience at a mass meeting at the “Orchard”, a woman stepped forward with a bouquet of flowers for the speaker. Among the flowers were some orange ones, the sight of which enraged Odlem. He let forth a torrent of abuse declaring the orange flower,
“A deadly insult to every Irishman” (PG June 11th 1870)
A subscriber to the chartist land plan as so many Prestonians were he spoke at a chartist meeting in the town in January 1846. At a further meeting at the venue known as the “cockpit” in 1848, which was held to discuss the expulsion of the monarchy in France, Humphrey spoke strongly on the issue. He congratulated the French Republic by proclaiming, “Oh that I had been born a noble Paris-e-e-an”(PG January 17th 1846 & June 11th 1870)
Following the gradual decline of the chartist movement after 1848 Humphrey Odlem became less active in political life, however controversy was never far away from the fiery Irishman. In February 1854 he had fallen on hard times and was put to work tailoring at the workhouse for one shilling and sixpence per day. After being accused of shirking his work he was told not to report for work again, however he turned up as normal but was unceremoniously ejected from the premises. It was alleged he responded by challenging the man to a fight. (PC February 18th 1854)
Humphrey Odlem died at his home in Syke Hill, Preston in July 1866 aged 62 and lies buried in an unmarked paupers grave in the local cemetery.
James Brown 1817-1875
Originally from the village of Caton near Lancaster James Brown was born in 1817. A power loom weaver by trade he settled in Preston some time prior to the 1840’s where he joined the expanding Chartist movement. Around 1843 he was elected Secretary of the Preston Chartists and held the position almost continuously from that time until the movement faded away in Preston in 1849. As with many chartists Brown was suspicious of the Anti CornLaw League. When its leader Richard Cobden visited Preston in 1844, he challenged him to justify his accusations that Feargus O’ Connor and other leading chartists were, according to Cobden, “In the pay of the Tories”(PC March 16th 1844 & December 13th 1845)
In August 1845 Feargus O’ Connor the chartist leader visited Preston and delivered a lecture in the Temperance Hall. With Brown chairing the meeting, O’ Connor spoke of the Chartist Cooperative land plan and his vision of creating land ownership for all factory workers. James Brown as with many others embraced this radical idea with great enthusiasm and not only became an active subscriber to the land plan, but also became the local official responsible for collecting subscriptions in the Preston area.(PC August 16th 1845 & NS December 12th 1846. Also www.chartistancestors )
A public meeting held to broaden the appeal of the critical six points of the charter was held in Preston in November 1846, with Brown again occupying the position of Chair. He expressed disappointment at how a meeting of such importance had failed to attract any influential or wealthy individuals. Of the current state of political representation Brown said,
“We are met to petition Parliament simply for the right of having a voice in the making of the laws by which we are governed. I think that there is no individual present who does not earnestly wish for its accomplishment. The next great object for which we are assembled is to see what our views are in respect of the next general election. If we look at the present House of Commons we find there are members representing all classes except the working classes. The mill owner, the landlord, the tradesman and all but the labouring classes have their representatives and I think it high time that labour, which is the source which all the different interests acquire their stock, should be represented”(PC November 14th 1846)
In 1849 another huge attempt by chartists across the land was made to petition Parliament for change, by adopting the “six points”. As secretary of the Preston Chartists, James Brown wrote to local politicians Sir George Strickland, Mr C P Grenfell, Mr Wilson Patten and Mr James Heywood, requesting them to present the chartist petition to the House of Commons. The four men all agreed
To present the petition, however they also made clear they disagreed with the fundamental chartist aim of universal suffrage. This rebuff infuriated Brown so much he immediately moved a resolution stating,
“That considering the unsatisfactory letters which have been received from the members of this Borough, but particularly that from Mr Grenfell, we consider that it is our duty to take immediate steps for bringing forward a candidate to be ready for the next election who will be prepared to do justice to the whole people by supporting the People’s Charter in its entirety”.(PC June 30th 1849)
With reports that chartist activists were being arrested across the length and breadth of the country on dubious charges, a meeting was organised in Preston to discuss the situation. After considerable deliberation it was decided to memorialise her Majesty the Queen, for the release of chartist prisoners who were incarcerated within various institutions. Brown was tasked with drafting this memorial and explaining how in their view, chartists were being imprisoned simply because of their political beliefs. The reply Brown received was surprisingly favourable and sympathetic and even named a number of men who had been recently pardoned. (PC October 20th & 27th 1849)
The national land plan which Feargus O’ Connor had been so keen to promote and which James Brown had become the agent for in Preston, had by 1849 begun to attract disturbing criticism. In December of that year Brown wrote a lengthy letter to the sympathetic chartist publication the Northern Star, dismissing accusations of impropriety against O’ Connor over his involvement in the land plan. However it was true that the national land plan had suffered serious legal problems from the outset, which resulted in its collapse amid serious recriminations in 1851. There was no question O’ Connor had benefitted financially from the land plan but it had been beset with problems. James Brown defended both O’ Connor and the spirit of the land plan to the very last in a series of letters to the Northern Star. He even initiated and contributed to a defence fund for the discredited chartist leader. (NS December 22nd 1849, December 28th 1850, June 5th 1851, March 13th 1852, April 17th 1852)
For more information of the life of James Brown see the entry under Trade Unionists
Following the collapse of the National Land Plan the health of the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor deteriorated significantly. He was pronounced insane in 1852 and removed to a private asylum where he remained until 1854. In August 1855 he died penniless and insane at his sister’s home aged 59.However he was not forgotten by ordinary working class people and a quite extraordinary 50,000 people attended his burial service at Kensal Green cemetery London.
Richard Marsden 1803-1858
By far the most famous of all chartist activists from the Preston area was Richard Marsden who not only found national prominence during the 1840’s, but dedicated his life campaigning against the many injustices working people faced. Born in Leyland in 1803 he became a handloom weaver and left his birthplace, as so many did to settle in Manchester sometime in the 1820’s where wages were higher. (LCRO Leyland St Andrews Baptisms January 9th 1803).
It was in Manchester he married Margaret Raynor at the Cathedral on November 6th 1825, however following a trade depression in the late 1820’s, he left and settled in Bamber Bridge with his family. In 1834 an unsigned letter almost certainly written by Marsden appeared in the Preston Chronicle newspaper. This cleverly written correspondence concerning the lives of named weavers within a street in Bamber Bridge including Marsden himself, sought to dispel the myth held by many that poverty among working class people was largely self induced. The content of the letter deliberately made the case that intemperance was not the major contributory factor responsible for the wholesale poverty that existed among the working masses. Also, in mocking reference to the cynics who regularly attributed all causes of poverty to drunkenness alone, the writer exclaimed,
“No politics my lads, never mind that, stick to the temperance and you will soon get plenty of roast beef, plum pudding and cheese”(PC January 18th 1834)
We may never know for sure who the author of the letter was but it was certainly written in the style that Richard Marsden would later excel at. As the privations and exploitation of the poor handloom weaving communities intensified, with the increased introduction of power looms in to the factory system, a government Royal Commission was established to examine the whole industry and its effects on workers. Marsden became secretary of the Preston Handloom Weavers Association and was invited to give evidence at the public inquiry established by the Royal Commission in December 1837.
He described in detail how wages paid to hand weavers had been systematically reduced by most if not all of the manufacturers who outsourced work on a regular basis. He was particularly critical at the way the employers would offer work at a mutually agreed price, only to later renege on the agreement and pay less once the work was completed. He called for a “ticket ofleave” system whereby a written agreement bound by law for work outsourced to the hand weaver had to be agreed to by both parties. Marsden also went on to describe the shocking poverty that existed within the hand weaving communities, especially among families with young children. Despite the Commision gathering a great deal of evidence into the widespread exploitation of handloom weavers, the government refused to offer any assistance. (PC June 2nd 1838)
With the formation of the Chartist movement in 1836 Richard Marsden with all his enthusiasm, embraced its radical ideals of Parliamentary reform. At a demonstration in favour of the six points of the charter held in Preston in November 1838, Marsden delivered a rousing speech which resulted in his selection as North Lancashire delegate to the first Chartist National Convention in London on February 4th 1839. (PC & PG November 10th 1838)
While at the convention he delivered a long and moving speech outlining the scale of abject poverty and wretchedness many working people were enduring, the brutal detail of which brought sensational gasps from many of those assembled. Marsden was describing an occasion when he himself was so destitute and told the audience,
“One Wednesday morning breakfast came and past without food. Dinner time came but no dinner with it. Supper time and we were yet in starvation, while such was the destitution of my house that not one article
Remained to be pawned. All this time my wife had a strong healthy child tugging at her breast like a leech draining her of her life’s blood. When in bed I addressed some questions to my wife but she did not answer and I became alarmed and ‘twas horrible to find that she had fainted from exhaustion. I rose, turned the meal bag inside out, shook the fragments on the table, collected them in to a bowl and made a little oatmeal porridge and to this I unhesitatingly attribute her life being saved” (NS March 2nd 1839)
Later on in 1839 a petition introduced by chartists calling for Parliamentary reform, including the six points of the Charter was presented to Parliament. Though containing over 1.25 million signatures the petition was rejected out of hand. Marsden, like many other activists became ever more distinctly radicalised by this snub from Parliament and while still in favour of pursuing change through peaceful means, refused to distance himself from the physical force element that existed within the movement. With increased vigour Marsden now engaged on a speaking tour of North Wales before heading to Ireland to spread the chartist message there. What he witnessed ii Ireland appalled him. (PC June 8th 1839)
“Oh Ireland” he wrote,”Thy wretchedness what pen can depict, what tongue describe. I have seen, I have felt poverty in England but never shall I believe that we endure a thousandth part of the misery here undergone. The multitude of miserable beings which swarm through the streets craving charity as you pass must surely draw a tear at least from every stranger. The aged female, often barefooted and barelegged and the old man in rags, which no Englishman however poor could even think of putting on his person. And the dirt and the filth by which they are unavoidably surrounded, all this amount of evil, all this human misery strikesthe beholder at once and if his sympathies melt not into tears, a volume of curses upon the heads of the authors of all this woe unconsciously rolls from the tongue”
On his return from Ireland Marsden again took to speech making, this time on a tour of North Lancashire where his all consuming passion for the Charter attracted enthusiastic audiences. However a similar tour of North Wales undertaken by Marsden received a hostile response. At a meeting of representatives of the People’s Parliament held in Birmingham in early July 1839, he reported how it had been impossible to hold a single gathering. When they arrived in Newtown he described how the venue was filled with the military, while the secretary of the local radical association had been deterred
From even attending. (NS June 29th & July 6th 1839)
Following the unsuccessful Welsh tour Marsden next appeared in Newcastle on August 6th 1839, where he was enthusiastically received at the lecture room in Nelson St. Here he delivered a powerful and inflammatory speech, calling for more physical force if necessary, saying
“Some may say that if men struck work for the Charter they would be immediately attacked. That, they must not allow. The man who submitted once to be kicked would be kicked again, but the people acting on the defensive would know what to do if they were attacked. Let them offer no violence but let them declare that they will defend themselves”
He ended the meeting calling for the men of the Tyne to be ready for a general holiday (strike). Among the cheers the audience roared back, “We are, we are”. (NL August 10th 1839)
This provocative speech did not go unnoticed and in a matter of days a warrant for Marsden’s arrest on a charge of using seditious language was in the hands of the police. (PC August 17th 1839)
With Richard Marsden now a fugitive and in hiding, chartist agitation was to witness one of its most violent episodes. Following the failed attempt at a general strike in August 1839, a violent chartist insurrection occurred in Newport, Wales, in November of that year in which lives were lost. As a result many leading chartist activists were arrested and imprisoned, while in Bradford another apparent armed uprising was thwarted, with Richard Marsden allegedly involved in this plot. (NS February 15th 1840)
After eleven months evading capture Richard Marsden was finally apprehended on July 16th at Bolton, where he had been living for some time in a cellar dwelling. At the time of his arrest he was teaching his young daughter to weave on the handloom and had assumed the name of John Sumner. (PC July 25th 1840)
In a state of near starvation Marsden was taken to Bradford where he remained for over a week before being transferred to Newcastle. During his time at Bradford the attorney assigned to represent Marsden described how he was struck with his pallid, emaciated countenance and said he was so impoverished that he had not tasted food for a considerable time. Although in a terrible state Marsden refused to plead guilty in order to obtain a lesser jailsentence. He considered himself not guilty of, “The base Whig charge of creating riots and insurrection against our liege lady the Queen, the Crown
And her dignity” (NS August 1st & 8th 1840)
As a consequence he was refused bail. Surprisingly, despite the seriousness of the charges the authorities for some reason appeared reluctant to press ahead with the charges and Richard Marsden was acquitted. Upon his release Marsden wrote a long letter to the Northern Star describing his arrest in Bolton by the head of Preston police, Mr Bannister, along with his associate. He described how Bannister had treated him with respect and no harsh treatment was offered. Once conveyed to the Bradford lockup Marsden remarked how breakfast was three or four ounces of dry bread with a pint cup of tea or coffee and supper the same. The dinner said Marsden, “Was better in quality than I could ever afford at home but not half sufficient to satisfy hunger, owing to the little allowed at the other meals” (NS August 15th 1840)
With renewed enthusiasm Marsden once again used his considerable skill as a writer to further the cause of Chartism with a number of letters to the Northern Star. (NS October 3rd & 24th 1840)
He had at this time left the Preston area with his family to live in Bolton once again and was chosen to represent the town at the National Chartist DelegateConference held in Manchester in February 1841. With his usual passion he also delivered a lengthy speech at a public meeting in Bolton, in which he attacked the Poor Law Amendment Act and in particular, the infamous workhouse system. (NS February 20th 1841)
Still a poor handloom weaver, Marsden’s financial plight was recognised by none other than Feargus O’ Connor the chartist leader, who commented on the matter, saying,
“Why Richard Marsden, one of the most honest chartists in the world and the man who drew tears from the flinty eyes of the Birmingham patriots and London reporters, is allowed to work fifteen hours a day for seven shillings a week, while there is such a demand for chartist lecturers. Marsden is a modest man but why not drag him away from hisloom into the field” (NS June 19th 1841)
This view was held by a chartist named Campbell who had met Marsden and delivered a lecture in Preston in August 1841. He said,
“Although I was glad to meet a man of Mr Marsden’s sterling worth and integrity, yet was I sorry to meet him in his present position. Is it just or right that a man whose honesty has been tested like his
Should be doomed to go into a factory, to be driven like a slave as thousands of our countrymen are” (NS August 14th 1841)
Even though he did deliver a series of lectures throughout the North West for which he likely received remuneration, sadly, Richard Marsden would remain at his loom for the rest of his days. Having left Bolton to return to Preston Marsden was nominated as delegate for the Preston ChartistAssociation and in June 1842 was further nominated to the Chartist GeneralCouncil. He was at this time living in Croft St, off Marsh Lane, Preston. After attending a chartist camp meeting at Enfield moor near Blackburn in June 1842, Marsden was again embroiled in controversy. During a speech he was alleged to have said,
“They must all obtain arms, march up to Buckingham Palace and demand the Charter. If the Queen granted it, well, but if not, they would know how to use their arms”(NS September 18th 1841, January 29th 1842, June 4th & 11th 1842)
Bearing in mind his former experiences with the representatives of law and order, Marsden was quick to repudiate these allegations. (NS June 18th 1842)
Later in 1842 as chartist agitation intensified across the country, serious rioting occurred in Preston which led to the shooting dead of four young men in Lune St. This well documented event reveals that the pursuit of chartist ideals did have an effect on the shocking events of August 12th & 13th, but to what extent is debatable. Chartist sympathisers and agitators would most certainly have been among the mob that day but it remains unclear if Richard Marsden was present as the Lune St tragedy unfolded.
During the following week however, Richard Marsden was certainly present at a serious disturbance at Walton Bridge on Wednesday 17th August. A large crowd of angry strikers from Chorley and surrounding areas attempted to march on Preston with the intention of creating a complete stoppage of work. Led by a man named James Williams, a militant young shoemaker and chartist of Russell St, Preston, the angry mob was charged and dispersed by the military as they attempted to cross Walton Bridge. Many people were arrested including James Williams and Richard Marsden, however for reasons unknown Marsden was released almost immediately. (PP August 20th 1842)
Marsden continued his correspondence to the Northern Star in August 1843, where he lamented the tragic fate of Zephaniah Williams, the chartist conspirator arrested after the failed Newport rebellion. He described how Williams had been imprisoned in the colonies and gave an impassioned account
Of the injustice of transportation. Other letters to the Northern Star by Marsden mentioned the fate of men arrested following the chartist inspired strikes of 1842 and the dreadful consequences such confinements created. Over the next few years Marsden continued his involvement with Chartism, though opposed the idea of the national land plan which Feargus O’ Connor and many of Marsden’s colleagues embraced. He also distanced himself from the Anti Corn Law League, which again saw him at odds with many Preston chartists. (NS August 19th, December 16th & December 23rd 1843)
By the end of 1843 he had even been replaced as secretary of the Preston Chartist Association, however his involvement in local politics continued with a passion. He would play a senior role campaigning against the proposed changes to the Masters and Servants Act, as well as being active in the Short Time Movement (ten hour struggle). (PC April 27th 1844, PG February 7th 1846, NS March 29th 1845)
Richard Marsden was also instrumental in reforming the Preston Power Loom Weavers Association which had collapsed some years previous. As secretary of the new weavers association Marsden, in a series of letters to the Preston Chronicle newspaper, diligently set out the reasons and the necessity of Trade Unions. (PC December 24th 1846 & January 2nd 1847)
Time and again he would also relate to the terrible privations that existed in Ireland. It was an issue he felt tremendously passionate about ever since he visited that troubled land in 1839. The scenes and images he witnessed were to burn deep within his consciousness as long as he drew breath. He would write regularly to the press on what he believed was the gross injusticesuffered by the Irish people. (PG January 2nd 1847 & April 3rd 1847. NS June 10th 1848)
His last letter to the local press was to the Preston Guardian on January 29th 1848, while a further letter by Marsden appeared in a short lived publication named the Red Republican on September 28th 1850. After this all references to Richard Marsden cease.
Research indicates that after 1848 Richard Marsden again left Preston and by 1851, the Manchester census of that year shows him living as a handloom weaver with his family at No 12 Passage, Gun St. For reasons unknown Richard appears to have abandoned any further political involvement by this time and was to spend the rest of his days toiling at his handloom for very meagre reward. The Chartist movement had faded into history and seemingly Richard had faded away with it too. He would however return once again to Bamber Bridge and it was here he died in Club St from chronic Bronchitis in 1858.
Richard Marsden was buried in St Saviours graveyard, Bamber Bridge on January 31st 1858 aged 55. No headstone for his grave exists.
His life ended as it had begun, in relative poverty and throughout that time he came to despise the callousness and indifference shown towards the plight and condition of the working class. He could also be particularly critical of persons from his own social class who had managed to escape that life of struggle, yet went on to demonstrate disdain towards those not as fortunate. He once wrote,
“The tools employed to do the dirty work of the millowners justify themselves on the plea of necessity and tear with remorseless hand from the famished operative his hard earned pittance. The fellow who is the manager in the mill where my daughter once worked and who had treated her unjustly, was once I understand a weaver and consequently poor. By little and little he rose to his present situation and now he struts with airs more ridiculous and disgusting than the most pompous aristocrat in the land and the tyranny he evinces makes the situation of every workman under him precarious and miserable in the extreme”(NS September 10th 1842)
Twelve years after his death on June 11th 1870 the Preston Guardian newspaper wrote a short account of the life and work of Richard Marsden. It read,
Active enough in agitation he was slothful and impotent as regards his own affairs and seemed to have an utter contempt of pounds, shillings and pence. Efforts made by Joseph Livesey (the famous Preston Temperance reformer and businessman) and possibly others, to push him on in the race of life were unavailing and perhaps he had other drawbacks besides the inertia and contemplative inaction of his nature. And then perhaps he thought an active enterprise in business would only add further to the numbers already plunged over head and ears in the hurly burly of hostile competition.
This account of Richard Marsden brought an immediate response with a letter from his son, Thomas Marsden appearing in the Guardian the following week
“Had my father consulted his own inclinations his life would have been spent in the investigation of science and not amid the turmoil of political life. When only a young man he wrote a letter to the Preston Chronicle addressed to astronomers on the subject of planetary
After his participation in politics ceased he returned to his favourite studies and shortly before his death he wrote a lecture on astronomy, which he designed for the instruction of young people and which he hoped to deliver. My father had no ambition to rise in the world, the acquisition of wealth would have yielded no pleasure. Able to endure his own severest trials with almost stoical indifference, he showed weakness in contemplating the simplest forms of suffering in others. Hence, he was ever more bent to raise the wretched than to rise.
A Preston gentleman now deceased, instructed a benevolent clergyman who paid frequent visits to my father, to offer him a situation that would have raised him from poverty to comparative independence. He calmly asked the clergyman if he had ever seen anything in his conduct that led him to suppose that he would ‘turn his coat for a paltry living. It is not myself and my family’, said my father, ‘that I seek to place beyond the reach of poverty. I wish to see all workmen similarly situated’.
Not being in his power to accomplish what he sought, it afforded consolation to a mind like his to know that his condition in life was no better than the rest of his class. Although many years have elapsed since he went to his final rest the remembrance of one whose philanthropic spirit in its aspiration for human brotherhood knew no distinction of colour, race or creed, whose heart never throbbed with one selfish feeling but gathered bliss from seeing others blessed and who is still cherished by the little family circle to which he was so much attracted”. (PG June 18th 1870)
The Aftermath of Chartism
Chartism as a mass working class movement for Parliamentary reform was at its height between 1836 and 1848. During those years three large petitions calling for the six points of the Charter were presented to Parliament.
The First petition was submitted in June 1839 with over 1.25 million signatures
The Second petition was submitted in May 1842 with over 3 million signatures
The Third petition was submitted in April 1848 with over 6 million signatures
All three petitions were rejected out of hand by the House of Commons
The rejection of the third petition in 1848 led to the gradual decline of Chartism and although it lingered on for some years after, its appeal as a national mass movement was ended.
Ernest Charles Jones, a chartist who was sentenced to two years imprisonment in 1848 for seditious speeches, became a leading figure in the National CharterAssociation in 1850 during its decline. The final National Chartist Convention was held in 1858 and attended by only a handful of people. In the latter years Ernest Jones was joined by Julian Harney who helped to give the movement a clearer Socialist direction. Both Jones and Harney were personal friends of KarlMarx and Freidrich Engels
Even though the six points of Parliamentary reform proposed by the Chartist movement never materialised, the idealism of those working men and women was carried forward by the next generation until,
The Reform Bill of 1867 gave the vote to all male heads of households over the age of 21 and all male lodgers paying £10 rent per year.
The Ballot Act of 1872 ensured votes could be cast in secret
The Third Reform Act of 1884 extended the qualification of the 1867 Act to the countryside, so that two thirds of all men had the vote.