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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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Mark Crail

Chartism in the localities
Chartists in Leeds - home of the Northern Star and civic Chartism

Leeds Chartism stood out from that of other towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire for its moderation, and its success in contesting municipal elections. For more than a decade, Chartist candidates fought and won elections to the town’s Improvement Commission and subsequently to the town council itself. Jump straight to names

But what pushed the working class radicals of Leeds down such a route while just a few miles up the road the Bradford and Sheffield Chartists were preparing for armed insurrection?

J.F.C.Harrison argued in the influential Chartist Studies (edited by Asa Briggs and published in 1959) that this wholly different approach could be accounted for by three factors:
* the history of middle class radicalism in the town which gave middle class sympathisers an alternative home, and gave them the strength to stand apart from the Chartists;
* the different types of employment on offer to people locally in the woollen industry, where the economic distress of the late 1830s and early 1840s was not as keenly felt as in the cotton industry; and
* the relocation, by Feargus O’Connor of his Northern Star newspaper from Leeds to London, depriving the town of some of its key activists and moving the centre of gravity away from what had always been a key centre of the movement.

The Leeds Chartists had not always been especially moderate. When a Leeds Working Men’s Association was formed at a meeting on Woodhouse Moor in August 1837, on the eve of the publication of the Charter and at the instigation of speakers from the London Working Men’s Association, its first executive involved such hardline activists as William Rider and George White (see biographies below).

Indeed, at the time of the first national petition, the Leeds Chartists were among the most vociferous in demanding direct action if Parliament resisted their cause. Alas for them, however, they proved unable to mobilise large numbers of working people for the demonstrations that were to be a feature of 1839.

The fact that O’Connor’s newspaper was published from Leeds gave both strength to the local Chartist movement, and created a personal constituency for O’Connor. In June 1838, his supporters transformed the Leeds Working Men’s Association into a Great Northern Union with ambitions to speak for the whole West Riding.

But as elsewhere, Chartism died down over the winter of 1839-40 and the Leeds men did not rise in rebellion with their comrades in Bradford and Sheffield. And with White sentenced to six months in prison in March 1840, the days of radicalism were over.

A new leadership now emerged. The Leeds Radical Universal Suffrage Association was specifically committed in its rules to achieving the Charter by “moral and lawful means”, and while the militants of the Great Northern Union signed up as members, they were never to dominate. Even the decision to transform the association into a branch of O’Connor’s new National Charter Association represented a change in name only.

The new direction was seen in the emergence of new causes – a Leeds Total Abstinence Charter Association was formed, and Chartists and teetotallers joined forces to run a Sunday school in Hunslett.

But all this was, at first at least, to be to little avail. The Leeds Chartists failed to gain significant support at the hustings in the general election of 1841, and the strong middle class Radical tradition in the town gave many of the Chartists’ potential allies an alternative outlet for their views.

Blocked in other directions, the Chartists first attempted to gain civic office as early as 1840, when Joshua Hobson, who was to become a dominant voice in the movement in Leeds, was nominated for the town’s elected Improvement Commission. Working with the Whigs and Radicals, the Chartists succeeded in defeating the Tory bloc, and although Hobson failed to gain a seat, his colleague John Jackson was elected.

By January 1842, the Chartists were strong enough to advance their own list of candidates, which was returned as a whole following the defeat of both Whigs and Tories, the Tory list being nominated by a local “Operative Conservative” group set up to win over the working class vote.

With the ending later that same year of an elected Improvement Commission, the Chartists turned their attentions to the town council itself. But with the election still some months away, they first tried their hand at that year’s election of churchwardens for Leeds Parish Church.

Like the Improvement Commission, the churchwarden’s committee was elected by list rather than individual candidature. In 1842, the Chartists swept the board. Even the introduction of individual-candidate voting failed to dent their hold, and the Chartists continued to be elected year after year.

The town council election results were, at first, less encouraging. But even in the wake of that year’s general strike and widespread rioting, the Chartists succeeded in taking two seats in Holbeck.

Over the years, the Chartist presence gradually grew, from two to four in 1843 and eventually to seven in 1849-50. Indeed, Chartist candidates continued to be elected until 1853, after which many of the same individuals continued to serve as Radicals or Liberals.

But what did all this achieve? In a council of 64 members, a small Chartist party had little power. The fact that the Chartists had no clear and consistent municipal programme also dissipated their effectiveness – though as individuals they were able to have some influence on specific issues.

Harrison notes that the Chartists had three particular interests: in opposing the “arrangements” and “jobbery” that made local politics the closed preserve of a town elite; in preventing any extension of police powers; and in keeping down expenditure – even where this conflicted with their other convictions.

Outside the council chamber, the prestige of the Chartist councillors was such that they tended to dominate the local movement. But their own backgrounds as small tradesmen and skilled artisans meant that their appeal was mostly to others of their type. Unlike elsewhere, Leeds Chartism was not a primarily proletarian movement.

Municipal Chartism may have proved a dead-end, as Harrison concludes. But it did provide yet another link to later political activism. In 1855, a Leeds Advanced Liberal Party was formed to unite old Radicals and Chartists under a single banner. At least eight of its 14 founder members were old Chartists.

They were to lay the foundations of the later manhood suffrage associations of the 1860s, and when the Leeds Working Men’s Parliamentary Reform Association was founded in 1860, it was to be led by the last of the Leeds Chartists.

The names below are extracted from the chapter “Chartism in Leeds” in the book Chartist Studies.

John Ardill: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Ardill was a clerk who had worked for the Northern Star, but by 1846 he was a milk seller. In 1846 he contested Holbeck ward as a Chartist candidate for Leeds town council but was defeated by the Liberals. He was elected in 1852.

Benjamin Barker: Elected to Leeds town council as a Chartist candidate either in 1848 or 1849, along with his brother Joseph.

Joseph Barker: Elected to Leeds town council as a Chartist candidate either in 1848 or 1849, along with his brother Benjamin.

Joshua Barnard: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Barnard was a toll bar farmer.

William Barron: Member of the committee established to organise the first Chartist attempt to win seats on Leeds town council in November 1842, and one of two unsuccessful candidates (with Hobson). Barron was a tailor and draper, and treasurer of the Leeds Charter Association.

William Binns: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Binns was a cloth manufacturer.

John Francis Bray: Member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men’s Association, founded in 1837, seconder of the resolution to establish it, and its first treasurer. Born in Washington in the United States in 1809, his family were originally farmers and clothiers around Huddersfield, and his father, an actor and singer, had lived in the town before emigrating. Bray returned to England in 1822 with his father, and following his father’s death was adopted by an aunt in Leeds. Bray was apprenticed to printers in Pontefract and Selby, and for some years experienced hardship while “on the tram” looking for work. In 1832, he returned to Leeds to work as a compositor, but volunteered to take over the Voice of the West Riding the following year when Bray was imprisoned. Bray wrote and lectured extensively on political and social issues, drawing extensively on the work of Robert Owen.

William Brook: Secretary of Leeds Charter Association and of the committee established to organise the first Chartist attempt to win seats on Leeds town council. Brook was a tobacconist and tea dealer in Kirkgate, who later set up a small nail-making business in Swinegate. He was elected as a Chartist candidate to the council in 1844 for Holbeck ward and retained his seat in the 1847 election.

Thomas Button: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Button was a cloth manufacturer.

Robert Meek Carter: Elected as a Chartist candidate to Leeds town council in 1850, and successfully re-elected in 1853, on the last occasion on which Chartist candidates stood. Carter was a coal merchant and co-operative pioneer.

Charles Connor: An Irishman and dominant figure within the Leeds Northern Union around 1839 who proclaimed himself a “revolutionist” and condemned the “sham radicalism” of the Leeds Times.

George Dufton: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Dufton gave his occupation as gentleman.

Thomas Ellis: Led the Leeds Chartists to a mass demonstration at Peep Green on 21 May 1839. The meeting was “ model of peaceable organisation”: no alcohol was sold, and the event opened with a prayer.

Joseph English: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. English was a butcher.

William Foster: Member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men’s Association, founded in 1837.

Andrew Gardner: Secretary of the moderate Leeds Radical Universal Suffrage Association, founded in 1840.

George Gaunt: Elected to Leeds town council as a Chartist candidate in 1847, Gaunt was a painter from Wortley.

David Green: Member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men’s Association, founded in 1837. Green was a bookseller in Briggate, and later a founder of the Owenite community experiment the Leeds Redemption Society.

William Hartley: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Hartley was a broker.

William Hill: The son of a Barnsley handloom weaver, Hill had himself worked at the trade as a youth before keeping a school near Huddersfield. Hill published two books on English grammar before travelling the country to lecture on prenology. In the mid-1830s, he settled at Hull, where he became pastor of a New Jersualem Church (Swedenborgian). Hill combined his pastoral duties with editing the Northern Star from 1837-43, and later edited publications in Edinburgh and Hull. He died in 1867.

Joshua Hobson: Member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men’s Association, founded in 1837, and chair of the meeting at which it was elected. Hobson had earlier been a prominent member of the Leeds Radical Association. Born in Huddersfield in 1810, he was apprenticed to a joiner but later worked at Oldham as a handloom weaver, where he wrote for radical papers as “the whistler at the loom”. Back in Huddersfield, he became involved in the local Short Time Committee set up to back moves to cut working hours, and was one of the working men who built an alliance with the factory reformer Richard Oastler. Hobson published Voice of the West Riding from 1833 and was jailed three times for selling an unstamped paper. In 1834 he moved to Leeds where he continued to publish radical material – including Feargus O’Connor’s Northern Star until its move to London in 1844, and Owen’s New Moral World. Hobson was among the first of the Chartist candidates to stand for local office when he unsuccessfully contested an election to be an Improvement Commissioner for Leeds, but was successful two years later when the Chartist list swept the board. He also chaired a municipal election committee set up to organise the Chartists’ first attempt to win seats on the town council, and stood unsuccessfully as a candidate in November 1842. He was elected to the council in 1843 representing the Holbeck ward (with Jackson).

James Illingworth: Following the near collapse of Chartism in Leeds in the winter of 1839, a meeting was held at Illingworth’s public house (the White Horse Inn in Vicar Lane) where a new, and more moderate Leeds Radical Universal Suffrage Association was founded, with Illingworth as treasurer.

John Jackson: The first successful candidate put forward by the Leeds Chartists at a municipal election, Jackson was elected an Improvement Commissioner in 1840 as part of a bloc of Whigs, Radicals and Chartists formed to defeat the Tories. Jackson, a corn miller from Holbeck, was successfully re-elected in 1841. He was to be elected a Leeds town councillor for the Holbeck ward in 1843, one of the first two successful candidates (with Hobson). Jackson lost his seat to the Liberals in 1846 and failed to regain it the following year.

Joseph Jones: A shoemaker and chairman of the Leeds Northern Union in 1839.

Edward King: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. King was a wool-stapler.

Benjamin Knowles: President of the moderate Leeds Radical Universal Suffrage Association, founded in 1840. Knowles led a list of seven Chartists elected en bloc as churchwardens of the Parish Church first elected in 1842. Although subsequent elections were for individuals rather than lists, the Chartists remained completely successful until 1845.

Dr F.R.Lees: Elected as a Chartist candidate to Leeds town council in 1850. Lees was a temperance campaigner.

Alice Mann: Partner of Joshua Hobson in his radical publishing business from 1834, and widow of James Mann, formerly a leading Leeds Radical.

Robert Martin: Member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men’s Association, founded in 1837, and its first secretary.

Robert Nicoll: Member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men’s Association, founded in 1837. Nicoll had earlier been a prominent member of the Leeds Radical Association, and edited the radical Leeds Times.

John Oldroyd: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Oldroyd was an innkeeper.

Thomas Otley: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Otley was an innkeeper.

William Parker: Elected as a Chartist candidate to Leeds town council in 1851. Parker was a coffee-house keeper.

William Paul: Secretary of the Leeds Operative Conservative Society, founded in 1835. The organisation, said to have 200 members in 1836, aimed “to combat the Whigs and Radicals and to organise the working class for the Tories”.

Joseph Pickard: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Pickard was a machinemaker.

Joshua Raper: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Raper was a builder.

William Rider: Member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men’s Association, founded in 1837. Rider had been secretary of the Radical Political Union established in 1831. He chaired a meeting at Walton’s Music Saloon in Leeds in October 1838 in preparation for a public meeting planned the following week at which delegates to the first Chartist Convention would be elected. Rider was himself to be elected a delegate, with Feargus O’Connor and Pitkeathley. Rider resigned from the Convention when it failed to support his call to arm itself.

George Robson: Elected as a Chartist candidate to Leeds town council in West Ward in 1844, he retained his seat in the election of 1847. Robson was a butcher.

Thomas Scholey: Elected as a Chartist candidate to Leeds town council in 1852. Scholey was a butcher.

William Sellers: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Sellers was a chandler.

Dr Samuel Smiles: Editor of the Leeds Times from 1839. Smiles condemned the government for using force to put down Chartism, but dissociated himself from physical force Chartists. Smiles proclaimed himself a Chartist in principle, and regarded the movement as principally “a knowledge agitation”, but few Chartists were prepared to work with him. Smiles later dropped even this dalliance, becoming secretary of the Leeds Parliamentary Reform Association, which advocated household suffrage, and moving his paper to the right by abandoning its support for shorter factory working hours.

T.B.Smith: Leading figure in the Leeds Total Abstinence Charter Association. Smith was also vice-president of the National Anti-Tobacco and Temperance Association, and in 1841 suggested a National Charter Association Sunday School Union be formed.

Thomas Tannet: Member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men’s Association, founded in 1837.

William Thornton: Methodist local preacher who opened the Chartist mass meeting on Peep Green on 21 May 1839 with a prayer. Benjamin Wilson of Salterhebble, who was present, records that at the end of prayers, Feargus O’Connor placed his hand on Thornton’s shoulder and said: “Well done Thornton. When we get the People’s Charter I will see that you are made Archbishop of York.” (source: Chartist Studies)

George White: Member of the provisional committee of the Leeds Working Men’s Association, founded in 1837, and mover of the resolution to establish it. White was an Irishman who worked as a woolcomber, who was later employed by Feargus O’Connor as a reporter and agent for the Northern Star. White became secretary of the Leeds Northern Union set up to replace the Leeds Working Men’s Association. White was first arrested and imprisoned after visiting shops in Leeds in 1839 with a subscription book (in aid of the Chartist movement) and a black book into which he entered the names of “enemies of the people” who would not contribute. Imprisoned again in 1840 at Wakefield House of Correction, he suffered considerable hardship and was said to have fallen from the treadmill twice through ill health. Later White moved to Bradford, where he worked with a more militant group of Chartists than could be found in Leeds.

Thomas White: The only one of four Chartist candidates in 1845 to be elected to Leeds town council, when he held the North West Ward.

John Whitehead: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Whitehead was a machine maker.

Joseph Wilkinson: Vice-president of the moderate Leeds Radical Universal Suffrage Association, founded in 1840.

Henry Wilks: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Wilks gave his occupation as gentleman.

John Williamson: Elected as a Chartist candidate to Leeds town council in 1853, the last occasion on which Chartist candidates stood. Williamson was a greengrocer.

George Wood: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Wood gave his occupation as gentleman.

Horatio Wood: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Wood was a solicitor.

Joseph Woodhead: One of the list of 19 Chartist candidates who swept the board at elections in 1842 for Leeds Improvement Commissioners. Woodhead was a builder.

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