Chartism and the Chartists of Ashton under Lyne

This page looks at the development of Chartism in the Lancashire town of Ashton under Lyne after 1838, and draws on the work of Dr Robert Hall to identify 65 Chartist leaders in the town.

Go straight to list of 65 Chartist leaders

Related pages
Chartist land company subscribers in Ashton under Lyne – 168 names
A shot in the dark: the Ashton-under-Lyne rising of 1848

There was no such thing as a typical Chartist town. In Leicester, Chartism drew its strength from the old hand-frame knitters with their tradition of Luddism; in Birmingham , the radical middle class predominated; and in the Lancashire cotton districts, Chartism appealed to the new industrial workers, providing a focus for economic as much as political grievances.

But Ashton under Lyne, a mill town with a long radical tradition and a brief but brutal history of urbanisation and industrialisation, was, in the words of the eminent Chartist historian Dorothy Thompson, “the most radical and Chartist of all the factory towns”, and it would play a central part in many of the most significant Chartist events of the 1830s and 1840s.

Essentially a working class stronghold, Ashton had grown, thanks to the coming of the canals and later railways, from a small market town at the start of the century to have a population of 45,235 by 1841. The Chartist movement that emerged there was led exclusively by factory workers and those in the lower echelons of the middle classes, including small shopkeepers, master artisans and lesser professionals. It also enjoyed widespread support in the town, contributing 14,200 signatures to the 1842 petition to Parliament.

Ashton under Lyne was also the adopted home of two of the most militant radical leaders of the Chartist era. The most important of these was Joseph Rayner Stephens, a Methodist minister who had been expelled from the Wesleyan Church and had established an independent chapel in the town.

Stephens was a leading figure in the ten-hours movement, campaigning for factory reform, and opposing the 1834 Poor Law. Although never a Chartist by name, he became a passionate public speaker for the cause of universal suffrage and probably did as much as any man to mobilise workers across the north of England behind the Chartist cause.

At the end of 1838, however, Stephens was arrested for sedition and sent to prison for 18 months.

On his release, Stephens rejected Chartism and returned to the cause of factory reform. His successor among the town’s Chartists would be Peter Murray M’Douall, a Scottish surgeon who built a medical practice in Ashton under Lyne, developing an interest in the effects of factory work on health.

Like Stephens, McDouall would also be imprisoned, following his arrest at Birmingham in July 1839. But his prison experiences appear merely to have confirmed his political beliefs, and he went on to serve on the National Charter Association’s executive and, during 1841-42, to publish his own Chartist and Republican Journal.

In 1842, Chartist activists from the town – among them Richard Pilling, William Aitken and Alexander Challenger – occupied a leading role in organising and agitating for the general strike which swept through the Staffordshire potteries and mill towns of the North West.

M’Douall, too, played a central part, shifting a sceptical Chartist leadership behind the strike. As a result of this, almost the entire Chartist leadership was arrested and tried http://www.chartists.net/Lancaster-Trial-1843.htm – M’Douall himself escaping a second period of imprisonment only be fleeing to France, where he spent two years in exile.

Six years later, when Chartism once again burst into life on a national scale and for a time revolution threatened, Ashton under Lyne was once again at the centre of controversy when a gathering of the Chartist “national guard” clashed with police and PC James Bright was shot dead.

Dr Robert G Hall of Ball State University , Indiana , has carried out extensive research into the Chartist movement in Ashton under Lyne. As a result, he has identified 65 activists and leaders from the period 1838-42 who lived in the area.

Their names and information about their Chartist activities are taken from Chartist and local newspapers, Home Office and Treasury Solicitor’s files, the records of the Palatinate of Lancaster, and from 1841 and 1851 censuses and local directories.

As Hall writes in his article ” A United People? Leaders and Followers in a Chartist Locality, 1838-1848″ (subscription required to see this article) (Journal of Social History, Vol. 38, 2004):

“The sixty-five Chartists who made up this small but crucial group were speakers and lecturers, nominees to the General Council of the National Charter Association (NCA), propagandists, travelling delegates and neighbourhood organizers. They sold Chartist newspapers and publications, drew up addresses and broadsides, chaired or spoke at mass meetings, and served as delegates, Chartist missionaries, and lecturers. Along with carrying out the mundane committee work and correspondence of the locality, these leaders and activists raised money for Chartist and labor causes and performed the necessary, but often boring and time consuming, work of organizing and publicizing meetings, lectures, tea parties and dinners.”

The following lists are taken from the research notes created by Dr Robert G Hall and are reproduced here with his permission, for which we are immensely grateful.

Chartist leaders in Ashton under Lyne

40 leaders and activists (names and occupations)

William Aitken
Occupation: schoolmaster (ex cotton spinner)
Address: Park Street (1841)
Age/family: 28 (1840); married with two children
Religion/place of birth: of no particular sect – has own ideas on religion; born Scotland
Notes: His day school brings him about £3 a week.
Chartist activities: 1843 NCA nominee (Northern Star, 14 January 1843); 1839 arrested for seditious conspiracy and speeches, unlawful assembly; 1848 arrested on charges of conspiracy and sedition; 1842 delegate for Preston. Close friend of Peter Murray M’Douall.

John Broadbent
Occupation: A country watch and clock mender
Address: 216 Stamford Street (1841); 214 Stamford Street (1848)
Age/family: 28 (1840); married with three children
Religion/place of birth: Has own ideas but more inclined to Stephens than any other.
Notes: His wife keeps beershop in Ashton under Lyne; one of Thompson’s agents.
Elector/burgess: 1841 – Harrop
Chartist activities: Imbibed political principles during visit to US. 1840 indicted with conspiracy and conspiring to procure weapons for unlawful purposes.

Alexander ( Sandy ) Challenger
Occupation: powerloom weaver
Address: Mill Lane
Chartist activities: 1842, active; sub-secretary to Ashton under Lyne Chartists; 1842 delegate (to Preston ).
Notes: By summer 1848 Challenger is either in the US or on the way. Worked in cotton mills in Fall Rivers, Massachusetts, in company with other Lancashire and Cheshire émigrés and died there some time before 1858 (The Chartists, 1984, Dorothy Thompson).

W Clarke
Occupation: “a bill sticker” and old man
Chartist activities: Active in the movement c1838-39. Author of Doctor Dissected (1837); spoke at 20 April 1839 meeting; friend and admirer of Joseph Rayner Stephens. In Doctor Dissected, describes himself as “a plain working man” with half a century’s experience as an operative.

Lawrence Clemenson
Occupation: spinner
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee.

Robert Cunningham
Occupation: “mechanic”
Chartist activities: spoke at Chartist meetings in Ashton under Lyne, 1838-39

John Deegan
Occupation: cardroom hand; later radical newsagent
Religion/place of birth: Catholic; describes himself in August 1840 as an Irishman
Chartist activities: 1839, representative at National Convention for Stalybridge, Hyde and Glossop; 1839, arrested at Rochdale meeting for recommending arming; 1839, pleads guilty to avoid prison; February 1835, present at dinner for C Hindley; by January 1841 there is mention of John Deegan of Durham County as delegate to a Leeds meeting with Manchester radicals.

Thomas Dewships
Occupation: spinner
Address: Portland Street
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee

Abel Duke
Occupation: journeyman baker
Address: Old Street
Chartist activities: 1843, NCA nominee; 1842, arrested for chairing a meeting during the general strike; June 1839, chair of meeting of Radical Association.

James Duke
Occupation: mule spinner, but keeps public house
Age/family: 39 (1840); married with (?)6 children
Religion/place of birth: Belongs to no sect, has his own ideas
Chartist activities: describes himself as a republican; late of the Coach & Horses, has taken the Bush Inn, Stamford Street (by March 1838); 1840, charged with conspiracy; Carlile subscriber, 1822-31. In prison, was hostile to Stephens and a friend of M’Douall.

Christopher Emmett
Occupation: weaver
Address: Portland Street
Chartist activities: NCA nominee

William Emmett
Occupation: weaver
Address: Portland Street
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee; 1843, NCA nominee; 1844, NCA nominee

Benjamin Fountain
Occupation: basket maker
Address: Old Cross Street
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee; 1843, NCA nominee

John Harriss
Occupation: grinder
Address: Canning Street
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee

Timothy Higgins
Occupation: mule spinner (later a greengrocer with a small shop in cellar at Stamford Street , later moved to Brook Street )
Address: Portland Street , Ashton
Age/family: 35 (1840); married with four children
Religion/place of birth: “No sect or religion – has own ideas about religion”; born in Ireland . Wife and children all born in Lancashire .
Chartist activities: avows himself a republican; George Thompson’s agent in Ashton under Lyne; in Stephens’ monthly magazine describes Higgins as an outspoken opponent.

John Hilton
Occupation: handloom weaver earning 5 to 7 shillings a week
Age/family: 55 (1840); married with six children
Religion/place of birth: Established Church
Notes: Neither reads nor writes; served in 34 th Regiment and was wounded.
Chartist activities: arrested for presence at riotous assembly in August 1839; may have chaired Chartist meeting in February 1840; may have chaired meeting in August 1842.

Edward Hobson
Occupation: newsagent and bookseller
Address: 109 Old Street (1841)
Age/family: c40 (1840); married with three children
Religion/place of birth: born in Lancashire
Elector/burgess: 1841, Hindley
Notes: Later proprietor of the Ashton Reporter. Had been present at Peterloo; Carlile subscriber, 1822-32

James Jackson
Occupation: weaver
Street address: Oldham Road
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee; 1841 NCA nominee

George Johnson
Occupation: hatter, retail
Address: 35 Old Street (1841); Stamford Street Arcade (1848)
Age/family: 38 (1840); married with no children
Religion/place of birth: former Wesleyan Methodist teacher under Rev Joseph Rayner Stephens
Notes: a close friend of JR Stephens
Chartist activities: 1839, arrested for seditious conspiracy and speeches, unlawful assembly; 1842 arrested on charges of sedition and conspiracy; 1842 delegate to Saddlworth meeting.

William Jones
Occupation: weaver
Address: Charlestown
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee

George Mellor
Occupation: spinner
Address: Old Street
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee; 1840 Chartist speaker

James Milligan
Occupation: cotton weaver
Religion/place of birth: born Ireland
Notes: father and son have the name James, both are weavers
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee; 1842, served with Pilling on “committee of public safety”; 1848, active in national guard.

James Moss
Occupation: hairdresser
Address: Mill Lane
Chartist activities: Sold tickets for Aitken et al’s return party

Richard Pilling
Occupation: powerloom weaver
Address: Henry Square
Age/family: c43 (1842); married, probably early 1820s, with six or seven children
Chartist activities: 1841, NCA nominee; 1842, NCA nominee; 1843, NCA nominee; Ashton’s delegate in 1848 to the National Convention; 1848-50, in the United States; arrested 1839 and 1842; 1842, delegate to Bolton meeting.

Samuel Ratcliffe or Radliffe
Occupation: cotton rover; operative
Notes: Father of Joseph Radlcliffe; in 1827 Samuel was a mill operative; in 1832, moved to Ashton and worked for some year’s at Mellor’s; subsequently travelled for a brewer and spirits merchant. Died Salford , 1849.
Chartist activities: 1843, NCA nominee; accompanied Aitken and J Taylor to US after 1842 strike; contributed to Frost Defence Fund, 1840; January 1842, speaker at a Stalybridge meeting. Described by the Manchester Guardian in 1848 as one of the Chartist leaders in 1842.

Samuel Sigley
Occupation: house painter
Chartist activities: 1848, captain of 6 th Division, Ashton National Guards; 1842, arrested for trying to halt work in August; 1848, fled to US and settled in Paterson, New Jersey, where active in trade unionism; chaired Royton tea party in honour of three 1842 victims; according to Northern Star (20 April 1844) served nine months in Kirkdale.

James Simpson
Occupation: clogger
Address: Portland Street
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee; 1843, NCA nominee; 1844, NCA nominee. Sold tickets for Aitken et al’s return party.

Thomas Storer
Occupation: master shoemaker
Address: Old Street
Age/family: 35 (1851)
Religion/place of birth: Leicestershire; active in Ashton under Lyne secularist society in 1850s and 1860s
Chartist activities: 1841, NCA nominee; 1842, arrested on charges of conspiracy and sedition; 1843, NCA nominee; 1844, NCA nominee; 1848, arrested on charge of conspiracy; 1841, lecturer; 1842, delegate to Bolton meeting

Abel Swann
Occupation: master tailor (Pigot’s directory, 1841 – clothes dealer, Market Place; Slater’s directory, 1848 – tailor, Stamford Street)
Address: c1835-42, lived in Les; 1842-50 in Ashton
Age/family: 30 (1841)
Religion/place of birth: Stamford Street Methodists, Ashton under Lyne; Stephenite; born Kirkburton, Yorkshire
Notes: local preacher, admirer of Rev Joseph Rayner Stephens; involved in anti-poor law movement and 10 hours movement and 1842 general strike; at one time active Oddfellow, Druid and Orangeman; later avid Conservative
Chartist activities: chaired Chartist lecture in Ashton under Lyne, October 1840

John Swindells
Occupation: surgeon
Address: Style Barn (1841)
Chartist activities: active 1838040; Chartist speaker

James Taylor
Occupation: probably a “dresser”; “operative” (Times, 22 April 1844); “factory operative” (Manchester Guardian, 17 January 1846)
Address: Turner Lane (Oct 1848)
Notes: described as the “late” James Taylor in Aitken’s obituary of 2 October 1869; Northern Star (4 March 1840) mentions school room occupied by James Taylor
Chartist activities: 1843, NCA nominee; accompanied S Radcliffe and Aitken to US after 1842 strike; secretary to Land Company in Ashton; 1848 acquitted at Liverpool Assizes of conspiracy and sedition charges related to Bright’s murder; 1840 lecturer; 1842, delegate to Saddlworth meeting

John Toft
Occupation: grinder
Address: Moss-side
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee; 1843, NCA nominee

Bernard S Treanor
Religion/place of birth: 1847, describes himself as an Englishman
Chartist activities: 1840, marshall at McDouall procession; Jan 1842, speaks at operative meeting in Stalybridge with William Aitken; 1843 supporter of O’Connell; 1848 flees to US; by 1856, member of Suffolk Massachusetts bar; leader of Boston Irish community; 1848 described as auctioneer and printer

James Wilcox
Occupation: keeps chandler’s shop
Address: Turner Lane
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee; 1843, NCA nominee

John Wilde
Occupation: tea dealer
Age/family: 24 (1840); single
Religion/place of birth: Established Church
Chartist activities: 1839, arrested for seditious conspiracy and speeches, unlawful assembly; 1842 arrested; chaired several meetings

Abel Williamson
Occupation: shopkeeper and beer retailer
Address: Portland Street (1841)
Elector/burgess: 1841 Hindley

John Williamson
Occupation: letterpress printer
Address: 202 Stamford Street
Chartist activities: arrested in August 1839 (Manchester Guardian, 17 August; Stockport Advertiser, 19 August); sold tickets for Aitken et al’s return party; former spinner who turned to the printing business (Manchester Guardian, 3 July 1839); spoke at Henry Hunt birthday dinner; possibly active in Ashton under Lyne secularist society in 1850s

Albert Wolfenden
Occupation: tailor, in employ of John Smith
Chartist activities: 1842, frequent speaker at meetings and delegate to Manchester Convention; arrested September 1842

William Woodroffe
Occupation: shoemaker
Chartist activities: spoke at mass meetings in July-August 1842; arrested 1842 on charges of sedition and conspiracy; chaired meeting of Chartist Association in Ashton under Lyne, August 1841; April 1848, speaker at Chartist meeting, Ashton under Lyne (Manchester Guardian, 22 April 1848)

George Wynne
Occupation: weaver
Address: Oldham Road
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee

25 Chartist leaders and activists (names but not occupations)
Thomas Ashton
Address: Mill Lane
Chartist activities: 1843, NCA nominee

Joseph Britain
Chartist activities: Ashton delegate to National Delegate Meeting. Manchester (Feb 1841) to reorganise the NCA

Elijah Broadbent
Chartist activities: chaired Henry Hunt birthday dinner (Northern Star, 17 November 1838); chaired meeting on Thomas Paine’s birthday, February 1839 (Northern Star, 2 February 1839); spoke at January 1842 meeting of operatives at Stalybridge with Aitken et al; teetotal Chartist (Northern Star, 20 March 1841)

John Buckley
Chartist activities: 1844, NCA nominee

James Dale
Address: Booth Street
Chartist activities: 1843, NCA nominee

William Ellison
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee

William Fenton
Chartist activities: speaker at Chartist meetings in Ashton under Lyne, 1838-39; spoke at Henry Hunt dinner

James Fawley
Chartist activities: president of Chartist Juvenile Association, c July 1839

Robert Green
Chartist activities: secretary of Chartist Juvenile Association, c July 1839

John Hart
Address: Duckinfield
Chartist activities: 1843, Ashton under Lyne NCA nominee

Peter Harrison
Address: Oldham Road
Chartist activities: 1843, NCA nominee

Mary Ann Hughes (Miss)
Chartist activities: chair of meeting of female operatives of Ashton under Lyne and vicinity to support National Convention, c May 1839

James Johnson
Address: Cotton Street
Chartist activities: 1843, NCA nominee

William Knott
Chartist activities: treasurer of Chartist Juvenile Association, c July 1839

Edward Mellison
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee

Andrew Newton
Chartist activities: 1841, NCA nominee

William Ogden
Chartist activities: 1841, NCA nominee

Irwin (?Erving) Platt
Address: Charlestown
Chartist activities: 1841, NCA nominee; 1843, NCA nominee

John Redmaine
Occupation: operative
Address: Dukinfield
Notes: John Redmayne “mechanic” of Church Street, Ashton under Lyne Mechanics Institute committee of managers, 1825
Chartist activities: Feb 1839, chaired meeting to celebrate Thomas Paine’s birthday; Feb 1842 chaired anti-corn law meeting which Chartists took over

George Roberts
Chartist activities: 1841, NCA nominee

John Shater
Chartist activities: 1841, NCA nominee

Joshua Taylor
Chartist activities: 1842, NCA nominee

William Wild
Chartist activities: listed as chairman of a meeting of Ashton Radical Association, July 1839

—– Williamson (Mrs)
Chartist activities: chair of meeting of Ashton under Lyne Female Union, c January 1839

William Wilson
Chartist activities: 1841, NCA nominee

7 members of the Chartist rank and file
John Bardsley
Occupation: iron turner
Age/family: 20 (1839); brother of Samuel Bardsley
Chartist activities: arrested for drilling, April 1839; charged with unlawful assembly and military training; believed to be a member of Ashton Radical Association

Samuel Bardsley
Occupation: powerloom weaver
Age/family: 23 (1839); brother of John Bardsley
Chartist activities: arrested for drilling, April 1839; charged with unlawful assembly and military training; believed to be a member of Ashton Radical Association; captain in Ashton under Lyne National Guards (HO 48/40)

William Cox also known as Braithwaite
Occupation: collier
Age/family: 20 (1839)
Chartist activities: arrested for drilling, April 1839; charged with unlawful assembly and military training; believed to be a member of Ashton Radical Association

John Hague
Occupation: spinner
Chartist activities: imprisoned for role in 1842 strike; described by Political Victims Fund as a Chartist (English Chartist Circular vol 2 no 133: 321-22)

Abraham Jackson
Occupation: spinner
Age/family: wife and five children
Chartist activities: imprisoned for role in 1842 strike; Political Victims Fund said “has been a Chartist” (English Chartist Circular vol 2 no 133: 321-22)

John Stafford
Address: Charlestown
Chartist activities: Chartist poet and singer; could neither read nor write; published in 1840 Songs Comic and Sentimental

James Wardle
Occupation: blacksmith
Age/family: 20 (1839)
Chartist activities: arrested for drilling, April 1839; charged with unlawful assembly and military training; believed to be a member of Ashton Radical Association