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Chartist Ancestors
What did your family to in the revolution?

Millions signed the three great Chartist petitions of 1839 to 1848. Thousands were active in those years in the campaign to win the vote, secret ballots, and other democratic rights that we now take for granted.

Chartist Ancestors lists many of those who risked their freedom, and sometimes their lives, because of their participation in the Chartist cause. The names included on the site are drawn from newspapers, court records and books of the time, from later histories and other sources.

I would like to thank the many historians, researchers and the descendents of those associated with Chartism who have helped with this site since it was launched in 2003.

Mark Crail, Editor


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Strikes and industrial action - 1901-2000

© Mark Crail

General Strike, 1842
Half a million workers demand the Charter and an end to pay cuts

"At its height, the General Strike of 1842 involved up to half a million workers and covered an area which stretched from Dundee and the Scottish coalfields to South Wales and Cornwall," wrote Mick Jenkins in his readable and sympathetic account of the event. "It lasted twice the length of the 1926 General Strike, and was the most massive industrial action to take place in Britain - and probably anywhere - in the nineteenth century."

Go straight to a list of delegates to the Great Delegate Trades Conference held in Manchester on 15 and 16 August 1842.

At the root of the strike were the swingeing wage cuts that accompanied a downturn in trade, at a time when the economy had been in desperate straits for a full five years. But the strike grew into something far more than that as workers took up the political demands espoused by Chartism, leading to confrontation not just with employers but with the state. This account draws largely on Mick Jenkins' work, and I recommend anyone interested in finding out more to buy a copy.

The idea for a general strike had been worked out in detail more than a decade before the events of 1842 by William Benbow, a self-educated Lancashire radical who had been involved in the Hampden Clubs after the Napoleonic wars, and later played a part in establishing the National Union of the Working Classes. Benbow had published his proposals in a pamphlet titled Grand National Holiday and Congress of the Productive Classes, and it formed part of the wider armoury of the Chartist movement - alongside petitions, "monster" meetings, and, for some at least, armed insurrection. Over the same period, the unions were also developing - changing in kind from secretive brotherhoods with pseudo-masonic rituals into early industry-wide organisations of the sort that would, despite the setbacks of the early 1830s, become commonplace in mid and late Victorian Britain.

Towards the end of 1841, the cotton industry entered a slump of unprecedented proportions. With unemployment rife, mill owners began to demand wage cuts – first at Droylsden, then into the new year at Chorley, Blackburn, Bolton and Ashton-under Lyne. Once obtained, they came back for more. There were also confrontations in the coal mines of Lancashire and the Midlands, and the chill winds of economic crisis even hit the engineering factories of Manchester and elsewhere.

During the summer of 1842, colliers in Staffordshire walked out over proposals to reduce their wages, and for the first time demands for shorter hours and better pay began to be linked with a demand that the People's Charter be made the law of the land. The unrest spread, and in July began to centre on South East Lancashire, where in response to demands for a wage cut of 25% the mill workers of Ashton, Stalybridge, Dukinfield and Hyde called meetings to formulate their demands for a return to the wage levels of earlier years and to plan their next steps.

In his well-regarded A History of British Trade Unionism , Henry Pelling argues that the direct links between the unions and Chartism were “rather tenuous”. All the evidence seems to show, however, that the same individuals were called on time and again both to hold office in their local union organisations and to represent their communities in the wider Chartist networks. And in The General Strike of 1842 (Lawrence & Wishart 1980), Mick Jenkins makes a compelling case that, far from being the desperate rabble so often described in other histories, the mill and factory workers of the North West were in fact politically aware and quite able to make the link between demands demands for better wages and conditions and the need for the Charter.

Jenkins shows how in in late July and early August 1842, the focus of activity was in South East Lancashire, where the Chartists played the leading role in organising mass meetings to oppose wage cuts and make the case for the Charter. This was an important stage in building support for collective action later. Jenkins argues that these leaders succeeded in uniting workers who were more hesitant in their opposition to the employers behind the more militant factories and mills, and created a base for a widespread strike.

August 7 was a crucial day: two mass meetings of workers from Ashton and Staleybridge were held on Mottram Moor, and support was given for a "Grand National Turn-Out" to begin the next day. Support for the Charter was incorporated into the resolutions passed. The next day, the turn-out began as workers left their factories and began to move from workplace to workplace, "turning out" other workers to join them. The derogatory name often given to these events - the "plug plot" in fact derives from this time; as the workers closed down a factory they would frequently remove the boiler plug to prevent it restarting. The movement spread rapidly, not only in Manchester - a key objective of the political leadership - but in the towns around it. At Preston, Burnley, Blackburn, Chorley, Todmorden, Bacup, Stockport, Macclesfield, Leek, Congleton, Oldham, Glossop, Dukinfield, Wigan, Bolton, St Helens and in the mining villages, work ceased.

As the strike went on, the workers took control. Factories were permitted to operate only with the permission of "committees of public safety" that now began to emerge to co-ordinate action. These committees gave permission, for example, for work to be completed so that goods would not spoil or for humanitarian reasons. In one case, permission was granted to keep water pumps operating without which coal mines would have flooded. Jenkins concentrates on 15 men who constituted the leadership of the strike movement through their repeated appearnce at meetings, all of whom were local and 13 of whom were known Chartists. Go straight to a list of strike leaders.

The authorities were powerless: extra troops were drafted in from London and the South East - but even here, they had to run the gauntlet of angry strike supporters and were compelled to fix bayonets and march with police escorts to the trains that would carry them north. The civil authorities were powerless.

As all this played out, work was also under way to prepare for both a Trades Conference and a delegate conference of the National Charter Association. The former was unequivocally a forum for the leadership of the strike. Planned for 15 and 16 August, it was preceeded by meetings large and small across the region as groups of workers elected and instructed their delegates. Thousands attended such events in Manchester, Oldham and elsewhere. In Bacup, the Riot Act was read, but the workers continued their meeting for an hour and a half more. Elsewhere, the strike was spreading, with turn-out activities reported from as far afield as Glasgow and Merthyr Tydfil.

The Trades Conference itself opened on the morning of Monday 15 August at the Sherwood Inn. Alexander Hutchinson, representing the Manchester wiredrawers and card makers, was elected to the chair. Charles Stuart, representing the mechanics of Patricroft, was elected secretary. By lunchtime, the conference had adjourned to meet again at Carpenters Hall - the first venue proving too small. That day, 143 accredited delegates were present.

Attempts to separate wage demands from the Charter were soundly defeated - with 120 votes in favour of a resolution that explicitly linked the two. Of the 85 delegates who spoke or indicated their constituencies' views, 58 were for the Charter, seven for making this a struggle for wages alone, 19 had been instructed to abide by the decision of the conference, and one had no mandate.

The conference achieved a great deal in organising the strike. It agreed a series of positions, made provision to support those on strike and elected a 12-strong executive to carry forward its plans. But within days, as the authorities grew stronger and realised that they must srike back or stand to lose everything, the principal leaders of the conference and of the strike were behind bars.

In the mean time, the Chartist conference had also taken place on 16 and 17 August. This event had been fixed for some time and was to mark the anniversary of Peterloo. Some of the National Charter Association's leaders - principally Feargus O'Connor - were strongly opposed to the use of industrial action to promote their cause, and there is little reason to suppose that he or other leaders of the organisation knew in advance of the strike. Jenkins, however, argues: "It is tempting to suggest that the Peterloo commemoration represented an attemot by certain Lancashire Chartists to ensure the presence of the Association's national leadership at a time when the strike movement would have already taken on a momentum of its own. Given what we know about the personalities involved and the nature of inner-Chartist politics, such an interpretation has its attractions." He further points out that the man who proposed in March 1842 that the event should take place, Alexander Hutchinson, was also to be chair of the trades conference.

At first the Chartist leadership was suspicious of the strike, and O'Connor never quite abandoned the idea that it had all been got up by the Anti-Corn Law League - which largely represented the free-trade mill and factory owners - to discredit the Chartist movement and apply pressure to the trade protectionist government. In the midst of the events unfolding around Manchester, however, the conference had no option but to throw its weight behind the strike. From the moment it issued its first address in support, the strike became a national one. From Dorset to Norwich, Scotland to Somerset, turn-outs now spread. And in response, the government mobilised the troops - Grenadier Guards backed by artillery, the 34th regiment of foot, and the 73rd regiment were ordered north while a detachment of Royal Marines were moved to Woolwich to replace them.

Mass meetings took place in London between 17 and 20 August, and both the police and military were sent to disperse them. In Preston, troops fired on an unarmed crowd, killing four; soldiers also charged and fired on crowds at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Halifax and Skipton. But some elements of the state's response proved less than solid - in Manchester, a troop of Chelsea Pensioners refused to confront a crowd of strikers; shopkeepers and others called up to act as special constables declined to act against the workers, and there were reports of soldiers being taken away in chains for refusing to fight.

Despite this, with regular troops now on the streets with fixed bayonets and many of the strike's leaders now under arrest, the tide had turned against the strikers. The turn-outs ran on through August, and in many cases into September, with the Manchester weavers holding out to the last at the end of September. In many cases, mill workers went back with some element of their demand for a return to earlier wage levels met - or, at the very least, employers' demands for wage cuts abandoned. But all hope of achieving the Charter was now lost.

In the aftermath of the strike, there were at first plans for a large-scale show trial, to take place in London, with O'Connor and others facing charges of treason that could have resulted in the death penalty. In due course, these plans were shelved, and a new approach was adopted. By the time of the trial, it had become clear that the government and judiciary had thought better of presenting the strike and the Chartist involvement in it as a well-thought out plan. Instead, it was to be presented as little more than an episode of mob violence by desperate workers in which the Chartists had become almost accidentally involved.

When the trial of O'Connor and 58 others eventually took place at Lancaster in 1843, the charges - though sounding draconian - were now less serious. And in the event, though some of those charged were found guilty, none was ever sentenced. Those arrested in Staffordshire and elsewhere were to prove less fortunate, and harsh sentences were handed down.

Elsewhere on this site you will find:
* An account of the trial of delegates to the Chartist convention and leaders of the General Strike, along with a list of defendents, jury members and witnesses.Go to Lancaster trial 1843.
* The names of those transported for their part in the strike and associated riots in Staffordshire. Go to Transported to Australia
* An account of the National Conference of Trades of 1845 listing delegates and a short discussion of Chartism's relationship with trade unions. Go to Trade unions

A series of pictures relating to the General Strike of 1842 can be found on our sister Chartist Pictures.

The local strike leadership
The following lists are taken from The General Strike of 1842 (Lawrence & Wishart 1980) by Mick Jenkins.

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Delegates to the trades conference

Name Trade represented Town Co-defendant at Lancaster? Delegate to Chartist conference? Comment
Thomas Abbott Warpers Miles Platting, Manchester No No Nominated for General Council, NCA, Dec 1841
William Ainscough Wheelwrights' and blacksmiths' society   No No  
Joseph Ainsworth Calico printers Middleton No No  
Samuel Barow Hammermen Oldham No No  
Edward Baker Bootmakers Manchester No No  
Edward Barker Fustian power-loom weavers   No No  
William Bradley Plumbers and glaziers   No No  
Robert Bell Boot and shoemakers Oldham No No  
William Bell Fustian cutters Heywood No No Active Chartist 1848
George Bertenshaw Hatters Ashton No No  
John Bennett Piecer to mule spinners   No No  
Binns     No No Elected to credentials committee
Isaac Blease Cordwainers Leigh No No  
Bernard Bourne Labourers Manchester No No  
William Brown Rope and twinemakers Manchester No No  
John Bury Colliers

Eccles

No No  
Henry Buxton Steam engine makers Manchester No No Elected to credentials committee
George Candelet Factory operatives Hyde Yes No  
Cavanagh Silkweavers   No No  
James Clarke Tailors Manchester No No  
James Collinson Power-loom overlookers Manchester No No Elected to EC of conf. on Wed 17 August
Samuel Cooke Wiredrawers and cardmakers   No No  
John Connor Fustian cutters Manchester No No Elected to EC of conf. on Wed 17 August
Thomas Crabtree Dressers and dyers   No No  
Robert Davies Moulders Manchester No No  
Thomas Davies Grinders and strippers Glossop No No  
Thomas Davies Dressers and dyers Manchester No No  
James Dempsey Hand-loom weavers Eccles No No  
Abraham Denny Trades of Bury Bury No No  
William Dixon   Ashton No No

Delegate to Chartist conf: Dec 1845. Delegate to Nat Assembly: May 1848

Daniel Donavon Power-loom overlookers Manchester No No Delegate to Nat Chartist Convention April 1848. Nominated for Gen Council 1841
Daniel Douglas Joiners   No No  
Thomas Doyle Painters   No No  
William Doyle Fustian power-loom weavers Manchester No No  
William Duffy Tailors Manchester No No Elected to EC of conf. on Wed 17 August
Samuel Easthope Sawyers Oldham No No  
Thomas Evans Colliers Oldham No No  
Joseph Farrar Wiredrawers and cardmakers   No No  
James Farrill Dressers and dyers   No No Elected to EC of conf. on Wed 17 August
Fielding Winders Lees No No  
Luke Fletcher Silk dyers Middleton No No  
Peter Frazer Steam engine makers Manchester No No  
William Gant Silk weavers Middleton No No  
Robert Gardner Engravers and printers Manchester No No  
William Graham Rope and twine makers Manchester No No  
John Greaves The public of... Crompton No No  
James Greenwood Power loom weavers Heywood No No  
Richard Gregory Colliers Hopwood No No  
George Hadfield Spinners and stretchers Manchester No No  
Henry Hayes Mechanics   No No Elected to EC of conf. on Wed 17 August
Robert Hayes Silk weavers Astley No No  
John Higginbottom Skinners   No No  
Julian Hilbert Hatters Ashton No No  
Thomas Hilton Roller makers Oldham No No  
Henry Holt Mule spindle makers Manchester No No  
Alexander Hutchinson Wiredrawers and smiths and cardmakers Manchester No No Standing chairman of trades conf.
Isaac Isherwood Trades of Radcliffe Bridge Radcliffe Bridge No No  
Joshua Jenkinson Mill Hands Leeds No No  
Thomas Johnson Sizers   No No  
John Keighley Metal planers   No No  
John Kelshaw Boilermakers Manchester No No  
James Kirby Course carding   No No  
James Knight Power loom overlookers Manchester No No  
John Knight Warpers   No No  
John Leach Factory operatives Hyde Yes Yes  
John Lewis Grinders and strippers Glossop Yes No Elected to EC of conf. on Wed 17 August
Robert Linsey Machine makers Heywood No No  
Patrick Loughlin Labourers Manchester No No  
Joseph Manary Bricklayers Manchester No No Moved main resolution at trades conf. 16 Aug
William Marshall Spindle and flymakers Manchester No No  
John Martin Dressers and dyers   No No  
Bernard M'Cartney Silk weavers of Leigh Liverpool Yes Yes Address of trades conf, 12 Aug drawn up by him
Thomas Melrose Mechanics   No No Elected to EC of conf. on Wed 17 August
Robert M'Farlane Calico printers   No No Elected to EC of conf. on Wed 17 August
James Mitchell Spindle and flymakers Manchester No No  
John Mollineaux Cotton spinners Bolton No No  
Robert Monks Hydraulic packers   No No  
James Mooney   Colne Yes Yes  
Alexander Moore Sawyers   No No  
Isaac Morris Bootmakers   No No  
John Morris Calico printers   No No  
David Morrison Mechanics Patricroft Yes Yes  
Thomas Mosley Spinners and stretchers Manchester No No  
John Neild Hatters Oldham No No Nominated for Gen Council NCA Dec 1841
William Norris Hand-loom weavers Eccles No No  
Thomas Oxford Skinners   No No  
Robert Parry Fustian cutters Manchester No No  
A. Patrick Trades of Bury Bury No No  
George Peavy Cordwainers Leigh No No  
Samuel Pemberton Ladies' shoemakers   No No  
James Peeling Public meeting of trades Staleybridge No No  
David Pickup Hydraulic packers   No No  
Thomas Pitt Public meeting of trades Ashton Yes Yes  
Thomas Pollitt Moulders Manchester No No  
William Potter Twiners   No No  
Thomas Reed Stonemasons   No No  
Robert Rushton Stonemasons   No No  
John Roberts Boilermakers Manchester No No  
William Robinson Wiredrawers, cardmakers and smiths Manchester No No Elected to credentials committee
Richard Rogers Colliers Clayton No No  
Charles Rourke Fustian cutters Manchester No No  
Henry Rushton Hand-warpers Manchester No No  
Richard Riley Plasterers Manchester No No  
Thomas Saunders Silk small ware weavers Manchester No No  
Samuel Scholfield Public meeting Mossley No No  
Charles Smith Sawyers Manchester No No  
Charles Smith Sawyers   No No  
Kinder Smith Weavers Oldham No No Active Chartist 1848
John Spencer Factory operatives Brooksbottom No No  
Charles Steuart Mechanics Patricroft No No  
Benjamin Stott Bookbinder Manchester No No  
John Stott Colliers Hopwood No No  
William Stott     No No  
James Sutton Mule spindle makers Manchester No No  
John Sutton Cotton yarn dressers   No No  
Augustus Frederick Taylor Power-loom weavers Manchester Yes No  
John Thompson Sawyers Manchester No No  
David Tomkinson United order of smiths   No No  
Thomas Townsel Cotton spinners Heywood No No  
James Wainhouse Silk small ware weavers Manchester No No  
Robert Walsh     No No Elected to EC of conf. 17 Aug
John Ward Sawyers Manchester No No  
Warral Silk weavers Failsworth No No  
Henry Watson Ladies' shoe makers   No No  
David Webb Glassmakers Manchester No No  
Alexander West Dressers Oldham No No  
Henry Hunt Whithead Cardroom workers Oldham No No  
Thomas Whittaker Joiners   No No  
John Widowson Cotton yarn dressers   No No  
T Williamson Weavers Oldham No No  
Thomas Wilmott Metal planers   No No  
Patrick Winter Labourers Manchester No No  
George Winterbottom Twiners Oldham No No  
Albert Wolfenden Public meeting Ashton Yes No  
William Wood Colliers Clayton No No  
William Woodruffe Cordwainers Ashton Yes No  
Henry Worthington Plasterers Eccles No No  
Edward Worsley Spinners and stretchers Manchester No No  
James Worral Wheelwrights and blacksmiths   No No  
John Wright   Stockport No No  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The local strike leadership: Chartist speakers in Stalybridge-Ashton-Hyde

Date of meeting Place of meeting Speakers Home town Occupation Chartist
26 July Thacker's Foundry, Ashton William Woodruff
William Aitken
Richard Pilling
Ashton
Ashton
Ashton
Cordwainer
Schoolmaster
Weaver

Yes
Yes
Yes

29 July Haigh, Staleybridge

James Fenton
Alexander Challenger
Patrick Murphy Brophy
Thomas Storah
William Stephenson

Staleybridge
Ashton
xx
Ashton
Staleybridge

Shoemaker
Weaver
Chartist lecturer
Weaver
xx
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
1 August Sportsman's Inn, Hyde George Candelet
William Muirhouse
Robert Wilde
John Leach

Hyde
Hyde
Hyde
Hyde

Fact. operative
Bellman
xx
Tailor
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
2 or 3 August Hall Green, Dunkinfield Richard Pilling
Alexander Challenger
William Stephenson
Thomas Storah
Robert Wilde
Ashton
Ashton
Staleybridge
Ashton
xx
Weaver
Weaver
xx
Weaver
xx
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
5 August am Haigh James Fenton
Thomas Mahon
John Durham
William Stephenson
Staleybridge
Staleybridge
Staleybridge
Staleybridge
Shoemaker
Shoemaker
Shoemaker
xx
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
5 August evening Haigh James Fenton
Thomas Mahon
John Durham
William Stephenson
Patrick Murphy Brophy

Staleybridge
xx
xx
Staleybridge
xx

Shoemaker
xx
xx
xx
Chartist lecturer
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
6 August Haigh James Fenton
Thomas Mahon
John Durham
William Stephenson
Patrick Murphy Brophy
Staleybridge
Staleybridge
Staleybridge
Staleybridge
xx
Shoemaker
Shoemaker
Shoemaker
Shoemaker
Chartist lecturer
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
7 August 10.30am Mottram Moor William Muirhouse
George Candelet
Robert Wilde
William Stephenson
Hyde
Hyde
xx
Staleybridge
Bellman
Fact. operative
xx
Shoemaker
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
7 August 2pm Mottram Moor William Muirhouse
George Candelet
Robert Wilde
William Stephenson
Thomas Storah
Thomas Mahon
John Leach
John Crossley

Hyde
Hyde
xx
Staleybridge
Ashton
Staleybridge
Hyde
Staleybridge

Bellman
Fac. operative
xx
Shoemaker
Weaver
Shoemaker
Tailor
xx

Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No