This page draws on the work of George Barnsby on Chartism in South Staffordshire and North Worcestershire.
Chartism was slow to take off in the Black Country – that swathe of central England across South Staffordshire and North Worcestershire that sits on Britain’s thickest and richest seam of coal and which, consequently, was home to some of the heaviest industries.
But the Bull Ring riots in the summer of 1839 loosened the grip of the middle-class Birmingham reformers who had represented the area at the first Chartist Convention that year and sparked a wave of working class activity just as the movement was in decline elsewhere.
In his 1980 pamphlet Chartism in the Black Country, George J. Barnsby pinpoints the starting point for the revival as a meeting at the Freemasons Arms Inn, Kidderminster, on Monday, 7 September 1840, when a Mr Turner, formerly of the Birmingham Political Union “but now a thoroughgoing Chartist” was in the chair and members were signed up for the Charter Association. Many of the 80 members at this time were women, and a Female Radical Association was formed. Further meetings followed at Stourbridge and at Wolverhampton.
Within months, the local associations were dissolved in favour of the setting up of local branches of the National Charter Association, which had been formed at a Manchester conference that same year. Further Black Country meetings followed at Darlaston and Bilston, and on 12 January 1841 a Dudley branch of the NCA was formed, to be followed by another at Wolverhampton.
The first committee members of the Dudley NCA were: Samuel Cook, W.Smith Lyndon, H.Loyd, G.Bullock, Wm Dunn, J More hints.Day and J.Cadley; Sam Cook, treasurer; John Cadley, secretary.
Wolverhampton council members elected February 1841 at a meeting held at William Mogg’s Coffee House: John Wilcox, J.S.Farmer (sub-secretary), John Driver, Thomas Dobson, William Hawkes, Wm Mogg (sub-treasurer), John Dunn, Thomas Broughall, John Moxfield.
At an initial meeting in Walsall in June 1841, 20 people enrolled in the NCA – despite the interruption of a contingent of anti-corn law campaigners. The following members were elected to the council at a meeting the following week:
Joseph Green, plater, of Portland Street;
Joseph Craddock, snaffle maker, of Wolverhampton Lane;
Richard Hunt, spur box maker, of Baycroft Street;
Wm M’Cullum, tailor, of Upper Rushall Street;
Thos Palmer, harness maker, of Hill Street;
Chas Barber, plater, of Little Street;
Joseph Dixon, hame maker, of Windmill;
George Osbourn, chainmaker, of Windmill;
James Scolefield, miner, of Marsh Lane (sub-treasurer); and
Thomas Smith, brassfounder, of John’s Street (sub-secretary).
Chartism now grew in strength at Bilston, where meetings were held at the homes of Robert Gitten in Oxford Street, and of George Dudley. The Chartists also adopted the tactic of breaking up taking over rival meetings – including those of the Bilston Auxiliary Bible Society and a highly respectable gathering called to present a congratulatory address to the Queen and Prince Albert on the birth of their son.
By July 1841, Bilston Chartists numbered 300. Nominations to the council, reported in the Northern Star a few months earlier, were:
John Stiran, tallow chandler;
John Cadley, cordwainer;
Joseph Jarvis, moulder;
Joseph Nicholls, screw turner;
James Damaine, cordwainer;
James Nicholls (sub-treasurer); and
James Moseley (sub-secretary).
A further list published on 27 November had the following names:
Joseph Nicholls, screw turner, Greencroft;
James Moseley, shoemaker, Pipes Meadow;
Michael Jaffa, tailor, High Street;
Joseph Evans, miner, Hall Street;
George Dudley, tin plate worker, Prouds Lane;
William Smart, miner, Hall Street;
John Davis, miner, High Street;
Francis Ferreday, furnaceman, Walsall Street;
Samuel Draper, miner, Pipes Meadow;
John Fenton, miner, Hall Street;
John Stiran (sub-treasurer), grocer and tallow chandler; and
John Cadley (sub-secretary), cordwainer.
By the autumn of 1841, signatures on the second Chartist petition were being gathered enthusiastically throughout the country, and plans were drawn up for a Convention to be held in London in April 1842. In November 1841, delegates from Chartist bodies throughout the district met to elect their delegates to the Convention. Present were:
Richard Thompson, Freeman Street NCA, Birmingham;
Thomas Davis, Steelhouse Lane NCA, Birmingham;
George Browning, Wednesbury;
James Scholefield, Walsall;
Francis Forbes and John Chance, Stourbridge; and
John Cadley, Bilston.
The meeting was chaired by John Cadley.
A separate Staffordshire delegate meeting took place at the Lord Nelson, Eastgate, near Stafford and was addressed by G.B.Mart from the Potteries and Joseph Linney from Manchester. Present were:
G.B.Mart, Hanley, Shelton and Stoke;
J.Oldham, Upper Hanley and Smallthron;
J.Colclough, Longton; and
By August 1842, a Tipton National Charter Association had been formed and was said to have 100 members, including those from Princes End. Nominations to the council were:
John Wilkes, vice-maker;
Thos Catton, ironmoulder;
Michael Cooper, ironmoulder;
Richard Cooper, ironmoulder;
James Mason, millman;
Wm Yardley, miner;
Wm Rogers, miner;
Wm Wright, miner;
Geo Spruce, miner;
Thomas Catton (sub-secretary); and
Richard Smith (sub-treasurer).
At Walsall, that same summer, the following names were put forward for the council:
J.Livsey, brassfounder, Windmill;
John Griffiths, plater, Portland Street;
Jos Dixon, hammer maker, Stafford Street;
Thos Unitt, brass founder, St John’s Street;
John Mayo, plater, New Hall, Street;
Ed Wells, stirrup maker, Long Acre;
Wm M’Cullin, tailor, Rushall Street;
John Crow, plater, Peel Street;
Chas Goodwin, bridle cutter, Marsh Lane;
Jas Scholefield (sub-treasurer), miner; and
Robt Valoiose (sub-secretary), tailor, Dudley Street.
That July, Walsall appointed Fraser Pearson as its lecturer.
Nominations to the General Council from Wednesdbury, January 1842:
B.Danks, T & W Longmore, Baker, Thomlinson, Robinson, Fairburn, Browning, Finch, Hodgetts, Curtis.
During this period, Wolverhampton made three sets of nominations to the General Council. A consolidated list drawn up by George J. Barnsby reads as follows:
Joseph Steward, spectacle maker, Brickkiln Street;
John Stewad, spectacle maker, Graiseley Street;
Joseph Cheshire, cabinet locksmith, Stafford Street;
William Simms, keymaker, Graseley Street;
J.S.Farmer, accountant, Petit Street;
John Dunn, hingemaker, Falkland Street;
Mwhittingham, locksmith, Bradmore;
Wm Mace, hingemaker, Mill Street;
W.Freeman, forgeman, Portland Place;
Joseph Green, toysmith, Merridale Street;
James Holland, chemist, North Street;
Job Hammond, saddle ironmonger, Hallets Row;
James McKeaig, bookseller, Melbourne Place;
Wm Mogg (sub-treasurer), coffee house, Worcester Street;
John Wilcox (sub-secretary, newsagent, Worcester Street;
Nicholls, miner, Monmore Green;
H.Candy, mason, Walsall Street;
Wm Dumberline, tailor, Charles Street;
John Picken, miner, Monmore Green;
S.Pritchard, miner, Monmore Green;
Mr Nevill, miner, Monmore Green;
W.Hammond, miner, Monmore Green;
Oliver Jenkins, miner, Monmore Green;
Thos Pritchard, miner, Monmore Green;
David Gibson, cordwainer, Lichfield Street;
Thos Wolley, tailor, Charles Street;
J.Beeston, tailor, Graiseley Street
The main focus of the Black Country Chartists throughout 1841 and into 1842 was to collect names for the second Chartist petition. But its great organisational achievement locally was a massive procession held at Wolverhampton in honour of Feargus O’Connor on 14 March 1842. Thousands took part including 500 women, the participants marching up to 10 abreast with flags and banners flying and band playing.
There were also moves to open Chartist schools at Bilston and Wednesbury, although how long they lasted is not known. During this time the local leadership of the Chartist movement changed, apparently completely, with new people taking office. Bilston’s nominations to the council in 1841/42 were:
Joseph Hanley, screwmaker, Bridge Street;
Wm Rowley, miner, Wolverhampton Street;
Thos Bradley, miner, Walbrook Street;
Wm Walford, miner, Bilston Street;
Wm Davis, miner, Bilston Street;
John Crutchley, lathe worker, Temple Street;
Geprge Dudley, tinplate worker, Prouds Lane;
Wm Onions, miner, Bilston Street;
Ezekial Baker, labourer, Pinfold Street;
John Stiran, cheese factor, Greencroft Street; and
Francis Langston, schoolmaster, Oxford Street.
Evan Davies, chemist, Pipe Meadow;
Thomas Hammersley, miner, Parliament Street;
Richd Massey, labourer, Crown Street;
Thos Love, miner, Walsall Street;
Jos Carless, blank maker, Old Meeting Street;
Richard Hide, miner, Ettingshall Lane;
Joseph Calley, brass founder, Greencroft;
John Harney, moulder, High Street;
Wm Roome, sawyer and polisher, Old Pound Lane;
Frances Fereday, miner, Mount Pleasant;
George Bull, miner, Portobello;
George White (chairman), carter, Hall Street;
Robt Gettings (sub-treasurer), miner;
John Froggett (sub-secretary), labourer; and
Joshua Evans (assistant secretary), miner, Pipes Meadow.
Staffordshire was at the heart of the general strike of 1842, part of a wave of disturbances that spread from Lancashire to Yorkshire, and across Scotland –the result of severe hardship caused by a long economic depression that lasted through much of the early 19th century, and which in the early 1840s led to wage reductions for many men. As in Manchester, Chartists in the Black Country combined the demand for better wages with the demand for the vote.
In May 1842, when local Chartists tried to hold a meeting at the Bull Ring, Sedgley, the parish constable intervened. The crowd resisted, and seven men were taken into custody: Thomas Caswell, Job Smith, John Jones, Edward Richards, Samuel Rawson, William Maurice, William Caswell. The lecturer John Mason was also charged later, and the men committed for trial at the quarter sessions. All were sentenced to between two and six months in prison.
The disturbances continued. At West Bromwich eight men were arrested at a miners’ meeting at Parksfield Colliery. Thomas Lewis was given two months’ hard labour; William Chatterton, Samuel Rose, James Crisp, George Lewis, George Young, Charles Fowke and Charles Smith received one month’s hard labour. The same week, a mob several hundred strong was confronted at Best & Barrs’ Haden Hill Colliery in Rowley Regis by Mr A.H.Barrs, who was armed with a pistol. Thomas Millership, Wm Morris, Wm Holyoake, Wm Francis, Wm Perry, and James Harley were arrested.
Thousands continued to protest and the strikes went on throughout the summer as a general strike spread from here to cover much of industrial England, Scotland and parts of Wales. The town of Bilston was controlled by the Chartists. Some were unassailable: Joseph Linney was credited both with rallying the crowds and keeping the peace in the town, while at Wolverhampton, Henry Candy won the trust and leadership of the miners. Others were not so fortunate. Samuel Cook was arrested and held in custody to await trial after displaying a poster in his shop window advertising a meeting. Arthur O’Neill was arrested after holding banned meetings at Oldbury and Dudley. At Brockmoor, the Riot Act was read, but the speaker, Linney, escaped only to be arrested four days later and charged with breaching the peace at an unlawful assembly.
Despite the solidity of the strike action for many months, by mid September, many had exhausted their resources and were drifting back to work. The following month, a Special Commission sat at Stafford to try those arrested during the strike. Those from South Staffordshire dealt with at the hearing were:
Arthur O’Neill (sent to the next assizes);
Wm Hollyoake, 6 months in prison;
Wm Parry, 6 months in prison;
Samuel Jones, 15 months hard labour;
Thomas Walker, 12 months hard labour;
Wm Gittings, 12 months hard labour;
Sampson Bates, 20 months hard labour;
Thomas Byrne, 6 months hard labour;
William Jones, 6 months hard labour;
Thomas Hughes, 6 months hard labour;
John Griffiths, 6 months hard labour;
Benjamin Bowling, 12 months hard labour;
John Morris, 12 months hard labour;
Soloman Allen, 9 months hard labour;
John Simmonds, 6 months hard labour;
Thomas Pitt, 6 months hard labour;
George Skett, two years hard labour;
George Powell, 18 months hard labour;
George Cowell, 18 months hard labour;
Thomas Gold, not guilty;
Benjamin Dudley, 8 months hard labour;
Wm Page, 12 months hard labour;
John Fownes, 12 months hard labour;
John Deakin, 8 months hard labour;
John Hodgetts, 5 months hard labour;
Robert Williams, 5 months hard labour;
Joseph Linney, 15 months hard labour and 6 months in prison;
Charles Lee, 6 months hard labour;
Benjamin Whittingslow, 6 months hard labour;
Thomas Priest, 6 months hard labour;
Richard Smith, 6 months hard labour;
Francis Fudge, 12 months hard labour;
Wm Leech, 12 months hard labour;
Wm Burnes, 2 months hard labour;
John Room, transported for life;
James Mottershaw, 9 months hard labour;
Francis Taylor, transported for life;
John Hollis, transported for life;
Samuel Simpkins, 18 months hard labour;
Robert Clish, transported for life;
Wm Ditchfield, acquitted;
James Mason, transported for life;
George Fletcher, acquitted;
Mark Baugh, 9 months hard labour;
Matthew Hart, acquitted;
Michael Breeze, 6 months hard labour;
Joseph King, 6 months hard labour;
Cornelius Hickin, 6 months hard labour;
Thomas Rowley, 6 months hard labour;
Thomas Smith, 6 months hard labour;
Wm Bickley 6 months hard labour;
Samuel Smith, acquitted;
Mark Ball, 9 months hard labour;
George Sharp, acquitted.
With this and other trials elsewhere in the country completed, the Chartist movement found itself without many of its national and local leaders, and a long period of political inactivity now descended on it, broken only by the campaign for the Chartist Land Plan.
George J. Barnsby comments in his pamphlet on the considerable continuity in the leadership of Black Country Chartism in the period from 1843 to 1847. Perhaps this reflects the lack of appeal that Chartism held in this period for many people.
After a brief late flowering in 1848, however, Chartism in the Black Country lingered on for many years on a much reduced basis.