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Halifax as a Chartist Centre

Previously unpublished essay on the town of Halifax as a centre of Chartist activity by historians Dorothy Thompson and E.P. Thompson.

E.P. Thompson, Dorothy Thompson 6 January 2022

Halifax as a Chartist Centre

Note: This is the original version of 'Halifax as a Chartist Centre'. Typos and omissions in the notes have not been corrected. An edited version appears in The Dignity of Chartism: Essays by Dorothy Thompson (London, 2015)

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‘Our borough of Halifax is now brightening into the polish of a large, smoke-canopied commercial town’, Miss Lister, owner of Shibdon Hall, noted ironically in her diary in March 1837 (1). Head of an old and influential family, owning land, mines and property in the town and environs, her resentment against the March of Progress reminds us that Halifax was no mushroom-growth of the early nineteenth century. The upper Calder Valley, once the classic site of the domestic industry recorded by Defoe, was a stronghold of the small clothier well into the century. In Halifax there had been built the last of the West Riding ‘Piece Halls’, at which the stuff manufacturers still attended in Chartist times. The plentiful supply of water in the parish had delayed the introduction of steam, while scores of small masters established little water-powered spinning mills in the outlying cloughs and deans. Drouth in the 1820s speeded the introduction of steam; larger mills were built in the main valley bottom alongside the Rochdale canal; the advancing worsted industry became concentrated in fewer hands. From the large enterprises of such people as the Akroyd family there came much of the smoke and the ‘polish’.

The parish of Halifax in 1831 was the largest in England, stretching from Brighouse in the East to the Lancashire border at Todmorden seventeen miles to the West, and taking in a large upland population alongside the Calder and its tributary, the Ryburn. The population of the parish was close on 110,000, although the rapidly-growing township made up only 15,000 of this figure (2). ‘A great proportion of its population’, said a witness in 1829, ‘is not like that of Leeds, employed in the warp and woollens, nor in stuffs, as at Bradford, or fancy goods, as at Huddersfield or cottons, as at Manchester, but its trade is a mixture of all these combined …’ (3).

The parish contained by far the largest concentration of the cotton industry in Yorkshire (4); while Halifax was second only to Bradford as a centre of the rapidly expanding worsted industry. A return of mills in the parish in 1831 shows 57 cotton, 35 woollen, 45 worsted and 4 silk: employing in all above 18,000 juvenile and adult workers. A further return, in 1838, shows 80 worsted and 63 woollen mills; 71 cotton and 7 silk (5). While many of these were small and insecure ventures, large- scale enterprises were emerging, notably that of Jonathan Akroyd and his son Edward (employing, in 1845, 6,400 workers inside and outside his mills (6)) and that of the Crossley brothers, whose first large carpet mill at Dean Clough was built in 1841. By the boom year of 1850 over 15,000 workers were employed within the walls of the parish worsted mills alone (7).

Underneath the gathering canopy of smoke, there was to be found the same ‘polish’ as in other West Riding towns. Juveniles comprised nearly one third of the labour force within the mills of the parish in 1835; one half of the force of the borough in 1850 (8). The Halifax masters were among the most intransigent and uninhibited opponents of factory legislation (9). Wages, even in the new power-loom sheds, were low:

‘One man told me, with tears in his eyes, that he had been four weeks (six days in a week, and twelve hours a day) in earning 19s 6d at weaving with the power-loom. Formerly he could earn upwards of 20s a week by hand’ (10).

While some restraining influences were to be found in the township and immediate environs, the outlying districts and remoter valleys exhibited the blackest vices of early industrialisation. Page after page of Michael Armstrong might well have been drawn from such an isolated part as Cragg Dale, whose mill owners (one clergyman exclaimed) 'are the pest and disgrace of society … They say, “Let the Government make what laws they think fit; they can drive a coach and six through them in that valley’ (11). Here the abuses of truck were carried to extremes. ‘What say the shopkeepers of Rochdale about you?’, demanded Oastler:

‘Why, when they have stuff that they can’t sell to anybody else, they say to their apprentices, “Lay it aside for the Craggdale manufacturers to sell to their work people.” Why, you stink over Blackstone Edge!’ (12).

While the Mytholm and Colden silk mills were 'centres of democratic opinion', where the New Moral World circulated and Socialist Utopias eagerly debated (13), the strength of Chartism in the parish was to be

drawn not in the first place from the mills but from the thousands of handworkers - weavers, combers and others - who entered their long agony at the beginning of the decade. In 1832 Cobbett found the weavers of the valley to be ‘extremely destitute’: where they had formerly earned 20/- to 30/- a week, they were now reduced to 5/-, 4/- or less. ‘It is the more sorrowful to behold these men in this state, as they still retain the frank and bold character formed in the days of their independence’ (14). As the decade dragged on, continued parliamentary attention (15) served only to keep alight among the weavers a glimmer of hope in legislative assistance, and to bring redoubled bitterness when their desperate plight in the 1840s was met with nothing more than expressions of regret. The majority of them were now living on the edge of starvation, subsisting upon oatmeal, oatcakes, skim milk and potatoes. Despite the healthy moorland surroundings, their cottages were often insanitary, decaying and bare of furnishings, while the upland hamlets, (from the debility of the population), were as subject to epidemics as the slums of the town. ‘How they contrive to exist at all’, exclaimed a surgeon who has visited the weavers’ cottages at times of childbirth and sickness, ‘confounds the very faculties of eyes and ears’ (16).

The yeoman clothier of Defoe’s time had either – like the founder of the Akroyd fortunes – prospered as a manufacturer, or been reduced to the status of a hand-loom weaver (17). The increased output of yarn from the spinning mills had led to a brief period of prosperity for the weavers, and an influx of labour into the trade. While in Halifax some manufacturers – notably in the carpet industry – employed handloom weavers on their own premises, the great majority of weavers outside the township worked in their own homes, sometimes owning their looms, sometimes paying rent for loom and tackle, and living in perpetual indebtedness to their employers (18). Manufacturers, master spinners, or intermediate factors, put out the yarn among the weavers, paying them for the labour of the various weaving processes when the piece was finished.

The weaver was not an independent craftsman but a wage-labourer, working (like most outworkers) in exceptionally vulnerable conditions. His whole family employed – his children winding bobbins, his wife sometimes at a second loom – he had no regularity of employment, had to meet his own overheads (rent, candles, sizing etc), was subject to fines for spoilt work, and received no payment for time spent in fetching and carrying his work, setting up his loom, and a dozen other processes (19). His wages were beaten down by successive competing employers, the least scrupulous or least successful setting the pace. The employer was liable to no overheads, and need fear no costs of idle plant during bad

trade; he need only put out more or less yarn according to the state of the market (20). The degradation of the weavers was not caused by, but antedated, the widespread introduction of the power-loom; and, indeed, so far from the power-loom being the first cause of the weavers’ suffering, the slowness of the introduction of the power into worsted and (even slower) into the woollen industry, may be attributed in part to the cheapness of labour by hand. Correspondingly, the exploitation of the hand workers contributed to the debasing of wages in the power-loom sheds (21). As the mills continued to draw upon women and juveniles for a high proportion of their labour force, the adult men – without prospect of employment – preferred to find occasional work in the relatively unskilled trades of weaver or comber to the alternatives of total unemployment. Hence these two trades represent in the Chartist period an enormous pool of disguised unemployment in the parish.

The entry of the power-loom weavers served to bring the long agony to a crisis in the 1840s. Coming first into cotton (and affecting especially the coarse fustian trade carried on extensively in the upper Calder Valley), it threw more hand-looms onto the support of the worsted and woollen industries. In 1827 James Akroyd built the first large worsted power- loom shed in Halifax and introduced the Jacquard loom: ten years later the firm opened its Haley Hill mill, the largest in the worsted industry of the time : by 1850 there were 4000 power looms in the worsted industry in the parish (22). Meanwhile the power loom was being rapidly improved in efficiency (23). But the hand weaver was not presented with a head-on contest with the machine as the hand comber was to be in the early 1850s. Rather, there was a complex series of repercussions within an industry whose total output was increasing by leaps and bounds over the whole period (24). Forced out of cotton, facing severe competition with power in the worsted industry, the hand-loom was still the mainstay of the fancy woollen and carpet industries (25). Indirectly power competition served to intensify the exploitation of the weavers in these industries as well by flooding the remaining markets with labour. But this delayed and uneven development helps to explain the extreme tenacity of the weaver’s generation-long struggle with starvation, which co-incides with the rise and decline of the Chartist movement.

The worsted weavers of the district bitterly resented the introduction of power, demanding legislative restrictions upon its use, and (in 1835) protesting against:

' … the unrestricted use (or rather abuse) of improved and continually improving machinery …

… the neglect of providing for the employment and maintenance of the Irish poor, who are compelled to crowd the English labour market – for a piece of bread.

… The adaption of machines, in every improvement, to children and youth and women, to the exclusion of those who ought to labour – THE MEN' (26)

If trade union combination had been next to impossible before, in a scattered cottage industry riddled with variations of prices and practices, it was now out of the question. But – even if the weavers had not had strong traditional and moral objections to factory discipline and the factory system – age, inadaptability and lack of alternative employment prevented their absorption into other occupations (27). Their spokesman Benjamin Rushton - who was to become the most notable of Halifax Chartist leaders – declared their condition in 1835 to be:

‘so ruinous that, if matters are suffered to go on as they have done, and are doing … that useful body will very soon be annihilated, or they must degenerate into paupers, poachers or thieves’ (28)

Under Rushton’s leadership, they became Chartists instead.

The plight of the hand woolcombers was little different. Wage labourers, some working in small workshops, some in their own houses, they had pioneered trade unionism in the worsted industry. While Bradford was the centre of trade unionism, Halifax took second place, and many Halifax combers (as well as worsted workers) had taken part in the long strike of 1825 (29). From this year forward their decline set in apace, although serious competition from combing machines did not come before the 1840s. Working and living in cramped quarters, amidst charcoal fumes from the comb pot, their poor health and short span of life was a subject for frequent comment:

'Another peculiarity about these woolcombers was that were almost without exception rabid politicians … The Chartist movement had no more enthusiastic adherents than these men; the Northern Star was their one book of study …’ (30).

The swift introduction of improved combing machines after 1845 brought matters to a sudden crisis (31), although in Halifax the final extinction of the hand combers was delayed until 1856 when Edward Akroyd, who employed between 1000 and 1500 combers, replaced their labour with machines (32).

While the textile industries pre-dominated, still more than one half of the adult working population were engaged in a diversity of occupations.

Within a mile or two of the town’s centre were a dozen small mines, where young women and children on all fours dragged loads down passages 16 to 20 inches in height. Cheap coal, brought by canal from Wakefield, endangered the profits of local mine owners. ‘The bald place upon my head is made by thrusting the corves’, said Patience Kershaw of the Booth Town Pit:

'My legs have never swelled, but my sisters' did when they went to mill; I hurry the corves a mile and more underground and back; they weight 3 cwt … the getters that I work for are naked except their caps … I would rather work in mill than in coal pit’ (33).

But an enlightened Board of Guardians did not allow the waifs of industrialism this luxury of choice; in 1842 children were still ‘apprenticed’ at the age of eight to colliers, some of whom take ‘two or three at a time, supporting themselves and their families out of their labour’. A sovereign was thrown in with each child for good measure (34).

A small, but growing, number of the younger men found steady employment as overlookers in the mills, or in a host of textile ancillary trades, or in the iron founding, engineering and wire drawing concerns of the town. But the experience of many must have been similar to that of Benjamin Wilson, the young Chartist who lived to become the historian of the local movement:

‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays would have had no charm for me, as I had never been to a day school in my life; when very young I … was pulled out of bed between 4 and 5 o’clock to go with a donkey 1 ½ miles away, and then take part in milking a number of cows … I went to a card shop afterwards, and there had to set 1500 card teeth for a 1/2d.     From 1842 to 1848 I should not average 9/- per week wages; outdoor labour was bad to get then and wages very low. I have been a woollen weaver, a comber, a navvy on the railway and a barer in the delph that I claim to know some little of the state of the working classes … (35)

Living conditions conspired with working conditions to debase human life. The town’s brook, the Hebble, was a standing sewer; water was scarce and polluted; one twentieth of the population lived in cellar dwellings. A local surgeon, Dr. Wm Alexander, calculated that the

expectation of life in Halifax for “gentry, merchants and their families” was 55 years : for shopkeepers, 24: for the operative classes 22. One fifth of the adult deaths were 'unnecessary': for each death, there were 25 cases of sickness. The local Bounderbys attributed the high rate of working class mortality ‘to cheap Sunday trips on the railway or to drunkenness’. Dr Alexander countered by drawing up solemn balance - sheets to show that improved medical services would reduce the rates by reducing the number of pauper funerals (36).

On all sides conditions were such to brutalize. Economic parasitism flourished in every form: from the great Nonconformist and Liberal mill owner at the top, Jonathan Akroyd, through the intermediate levels of factors and agents, beating down the weavers’ wages, to the publicans and small tradesmen who owned the ‘folds’, or human warrens of damp mortar beside the Hebble (37), and the sub-contractors in the mines and the overlookers in the mills. With ghoulish foresight the children at Sunday school were encouraged to contribute their pennies to a burial society (38). The most common form of relaxation was to be found in the beer shops, thick in the town, well scattered on the uplands, where (in the apprehension of one anxious local gentleman):

‘the incendiary and the unionist fraternise together; from hence, under the influence and excitement of their too often adultereated beverage, they turn out at midnight … the one to fire the corn stack and the barn, the other to imbrue his hands in the blood of a fellow workman, or peradventure, the man to whom he was formerly indebted for his daily bread’ (39).

In the neighbourhood of the mills, infants of two and three ran around unattended, sucking rags in which were tied pieces of bread soaked in milk and water. Some of their mothers worked until the last day of pregnancy (40).


Visiting the town before the Reform Bill, Cobbett had been warned by a friend that ‘they were such aristocrats at Halifax, no one would come to hear me’ (41). They did come, of course: the meeting was crowded and enthusiastic. Despite Miss Lister’s belief that ‘the weight of property in the borough is decidedly Conservative’, the newly-enfranchised borough return two Whigs in 1832 with a radical runner-up and the Tory at the bottom of the poll (42). But Tory privilege was still a force to be reckoned with; landed families like the Listers had interests in coal, textiles, canals; the main local newspaper, the Halifax Guardian, was Tory; and, partly by dint of bribery and threats of eviction (43), the Tory candidate was assisted home against a Whig-Radical coalition in 1835 (44). In 1842 the Plug Rioters converged upon the town from both Lancashire and Bradford because (one speaker urged) 'great attempts would be made at Halifax, which was one of the most aristocratic places in the kingdom, to put down the people, and if Halifax were lost all would be lost' (45)

If the town had its aristocratic, it also had its revolutionary, traditions. Paine’s Rights of Man had been discussed in the cottages of many weavers and combers; a local Constitutional Society had struggled against the forces of ‘Church and King’; the reformers, never dispersed, had taken advantage of the Luddite agitation to give it – in this part of the West Riding – a revolutionary, as well as industrial, character (46).

Cobbett’s Register, the Black Dwarf , the unstamped press - including Hobson’s sheet The Voice of the West Riding - circulated widely in the area, there were men such as Robert Wilkinson (‘Radical Bob’), a shoemaker, and Ben Rushton, of Ovenden, the hand-loom weavers’ leader, whose record reached back into these years.

Perhaps it was Wilkinson who sat as the model for a sketch by a local essayist of ‘the village politician’. His library is a strange amalgam:

'There is the “Pearl of Great Price” and “Cobbett's Twopenny Trash”. The “Pilgrim's Progress” and “Flavell on Indwelling Sin”. “Baxter's Saints' Rest” and “The Go-a-head Journal” … “The Gentleman in Black” and “Howitt's Priestcraft”. “The Age of Reason” and a superannuated Bible


He is a great reader, a close student of the French Revolution, an admirer of Bony. ‘It warms his old heart like a quart of mulled ale when he hears of a successful revolution, a throne tumbled, kings flying and princes scattered abroad … No work is done that week.'

'He recollects the day when he durst scarcely walk the streets. He can tell how he was hooted, pelted and spurned … and people told him he might be thankful ihe was not burned alive some night, along with the effigy of Tom Paine … He is very eloquent on the Manchester massacre and woe to the leather that is under his hammer when he is telling that tale … He tells queer tales about Oliver and Castle, and how one of them tried to trap him, and how it was “no go”’ (47).

Ben Rushton, the weaver, was no such comic period-piece, although he drew some of his vigour from the same radical soil. ‘As steady, fearless and honest a politician as ever stood on an English platform’(48), he was born in 1785 and had suffered at the hands of the authorities in earlier struggles for reform. Perhaps he had known the old Paineite, Baines, who was transported to Botany Bay for ‘twisting in’ Luddites (49).

Certainly he reminds us that Luddite prisoners sang hymns on the scaffold while waiting execution: and that there were riots in Halifax when the Methodist minister refused the victims sacred burial (50). A local preacher with a wide following, it is not clear whether Rushton was formally expelled by the Methodists or whether he severed the link himself: while a Chartist leader, he was in great demand, not only at Chartist 'chapels' and camp meetings, but also on formal occasions, such as the Sunday school anniversary in the weaving hamlet of Luddenden Dean, where he preached in worn clothing and clogs to a congregation wearing ‘their best clothes, namely clogs and working clothes, including long brats or bishops’ (51).

For such men as these, agitation for radical reform passed almost imperceptibly into Chartism. The Political Unions, which organised the campaign leading to the Bill of 1832, remained in being: that at Huddersfield was debating, in June 1833, 'Whether any good can arise from the present Shopocrat Constituency' (52). At Hebden Bridge and Todmorden (under Fielden’s leadership) these bodies supported the 10 hour agitation. It is likely that in these centres they became, after 1832, loose popular forums from which middle class support had been withdrawn. In Todmorden a Working Men’s Association was later formed, with Fielden’s support, which played an active part in the resistance to the New Poor Law before becoming identified with Chartism. In August 1839 a Todmorden magistrate was writing to the

Home Office of the WMA ‘it has as I conceive been the great cause of the agitation which prevailed in this District and should if possible be broken up (H.O.40.37). In Halifax there were several years of sharp political conflict before the strands of middle class radicalism and of Chartism were untwined. Michael Stocks, a local mine owner, who claimed to be the ‘Father of Reform in Halifax’ fought both Whigs in 1832 with a radical programme which carried the support of influential sections of the middle class, as well as winning the applause of the hustings (53). To the 10 Hour Bill he was opposed: but children under the age of 12 should not work in factories. “Household suffrage he would let alone till education was a little riper.” During the next three years causes of working class discontent were multiplying. Trade unionism, widespread not only in the textile industries, but also among miners, delvers, joiners, masons and others (54), was met by the united resistance of the masters, and the presentation of the 'document' in May 1834. The 10 hour campaign heightened tension between Radical mill-owners, like Jonathan Akroyd, and working people. The Tory Halifax Guardian was favourably disposed to factory reform (and, later, strongly anti-Poor Law), and stirred popular discontent with the Whigs skilfully.

In 1835 the 'Radicals' chose as their candidate Edward Protheroe, ex- member for Bristol, and formed an alliance with the Whigs (whose candidate was the sitting member Charles Wood) to fight the borough. Protheroe was a popular candidate: his defeat by one vote by the Tory led to a riot in the town (55). But he was in reality a political trimmer of the weakest kind, brought forward by those mill owners like Jonathan Akroyd and his son, Edward, who were seeking a reconciliation with the ‘aristocratic’ Whigs. Tension still existed between the local Whig caucus and the self-made men – Nonconformists and free traders in the main – who followed the lead of Baines in the Leeds Mercury : in February 1836 a row blew up over the appointment of magistrates, in which Whig bigwigs were denounced for 'hole in the corner' methods and for constituting a ‘grand, secret conclave, self-appointed, irresponsible … imperious and profound’ (56). But these skirmishes were little compared with the gathering resentment of rank-and-file reformers against the Whig Government and its local supporters, which first found full expression on the occasion of Fergus O’Connor’s first visit to the town.

O’Connor spoke in Halifax in August 1836 , presumably with the aim of encouraging the formation of a Radical Association to press his 'five points'. He was warmly received, and a Committee was formed at once with the immediate aim of securing his invitation to a projected dinner of the supporters of Messrs. Wood and Protheroe. At least two members of

the committee (Thorburn and Tetley) were later to become Chartists. The official joint dinner committee (which included, for the Radicals, James Stansfeld and Edward Akroyd) agreed to the proposal: but later, under pressure from the (Whig) Reform Association, rescinded the invitation.

O’Connor’s Committee then resolved to hold a rival dinner, as a gesture of protest against the influence of 'masses of property and superior intelligence … Whigism in Halifax is the same as Whigism in London (57)’

Edward Protheroe attended both dinners, but the real feast was enjoyed by the Tory Guardian. The Whig dinner was attended by Lord Morpeth and Edward Baines: its ceremonies were marked (to the delight of the Tories) by ‘inebriety’, ‘bacchanalian phrensy’ and ‘loathsome excesses’. By contrast, the Guardian was pleased to note the ‘moral propriety’ of the Radical proceedings at the Theatre. Of Protheroe, who attended both functions in order to plead the dangers of disunity which might endager his chances of success at the next election, it aptly remarked, ‘a gentleman less disposed to stand by his own opinions … we deny any man to find.’     At the Radical function he spoke in qualified opposition to the 10 Hour Bill, with qualified approval of the Poor law Amendment Act, and in qualified opposition of universal suffrage. It is not surprising that it was O’Connor who stole the thunder. On arrival at the town he was met by 'some thousands' in procession. In his speech he welcomed the disunity which he found: 'Are we so blind as we have taken ourselves from the fangs of one party, to present ourselves to another?”. He demanded universal suffrage, lashed the Poor Law, endorsed the 10 Hour Bill, attacked the state church and the Irish Coercion Bill. He spoke directly to the non-electors, solicited their support and won their applause:

‘You think you pay nothing: why, it is you who pay all. It is you who pay six or eight millions of taxes for keeping up the army. For what? For keeping up the taxes’ (Hear, hear and cheers) (58).

If O’Connor fanned the storm winds, the New Poor Law was the rock on which all further hope of political unity between Akroyd’s free traders and working class reformers foundered. The struggle in the North, which opened with the visit of Assistant Commissioner Alfred Power to Huddersfield in January 1837, led directly into the Chartist alignment of forces (59). The attempts to enforce the new Law came in a year of severe depression and bitter hardship for the hand-loom weavers, whose independent outlook and moral sensibilities were outraged. While Huddersfield and Todmorden were the centres of outright resistance,

feeling at Halifax was no less intense, though less skilfully led. A meeting of 'ratepayers' called to nominate Gurardians in February, 1837, ended in disorder after a resolution denouncing the Bill had been moved by Robert Wilkinson (the shoemaker) and William Thorburn. The nomination of Jonathan Akroyd was met with cries of ‘The greatest tyrant in the town’ and ‘We want no grinders – no enemy of the 10 Hour Bill’ . Michael Stocks, junior, the local Coroner, and other Radicals who supported the nomination of Guardians (on the grounds that the law of the land must be enforced) were shouted down as ‘renegades’ (60). A great public protest at the end of March was addressed by Oastler and chaired by Wilkinson: among local speakers were at least three local preachers who were later to become prominent Chartists – Ben Rushton, William Thornton and Abraham Hanson (of Elland). It is clear that the leadership of popular 'Radicalism' was now in the hands of local weavers and artisans: although, as the involvement of the rising carpet manufacturer, Frank Crossley (whose radicalism had more in common with that of Fielden than that of Akroyd) demonstrates, Halifax Chartists were always to carry with them some middle class support (61).

The general election of 1837 brought a very temporary revival of the old political alliance. O’Connor considered entering the contest, but in the end the Radical Association came in behind Protheroe:

' … a song ‘Protheroe is the Man’ was composed, and played by all the bands in the district and nearly every boy met whistling was almost sure to be whistling the tune’; his popularity appeared to be principally amongst the working classes' (62).

But Protheroe’s victory was little consolation. Oastler's repeated failure to secure election in neighbouring Huddersfield underlined the inadequacy of the 'shopocrat' franchise. The Poor Law struggle continued unabated. O’Connor maintained his links with the Radical Association, addressing a meeting in the Theatre in August, where he announced his plans for forming the Northern Star (63) The distress of the hand-loom weavers deepened towards the end of the year, and in the Hebden Bridge district assemblies of two and three hundred weavers waited upon the masters, demanding advances in wages (64).

In January 1838 a meeting was held of the ‘Halifax radicals’ which illustrates the fact that in towns such as this the various agitations which merged into Chartism - and which, for convenience, the historian may treat as separate and distinct, were often pressed forward by the same group of reformers – whether through Political Unions, Short Time

Committees, hand-loom weavers’ demonstrations, Radical Associations or other forms of organisation appropriate to the moment. The Chairman William Thorburn, announced the purpose of the meeting to be the discussion of a resolution that Parliament be petitioned upon the five Radical points – the ballot, universal suffrage, annual parliaments, equal representation and no property qualifications for M.P.s The resolution was moved by Robert Wilkinson and seconded by Ben Rushton, who argued that taxation without representation was 'no better than robbing a man on the highway' . When this resolution had been passed, a new Chairman was introduced – Ben Rushton – and the meeting went on to consider the question of the Poor Law. Rushton declared that 'he had been a common labourer for 33 years',

'and after having toiled for 50 or 60 years, he had the consolation of knowing that he might retire into a bastile and finish his existence upon fifteen-pence halfpenny a week. They who produce the necessities of life had a right to live, and if any person ought to suffer it was the idler' (65)

Thus, some months before the People’s Charter was formally drawn up, there existed in Halifax a vigorous local leadership, with its own organisation, promoting an agitation around the main demands of the Charter. From this it was a short step to a meeting at the end of July 1838 convened to oppose the Poor Law and to establish the Northern Union in Halifax. The meeting was addressed by Wilkinson, Thornton Robert Sutcliffe and others prominent in earlier Radical agitation. Ben Rushton moved support for the 'Birmingham petition'. O'Connor spoke in extravagant style: “When presenting the petition, we, five hundred thousand fighting men, demand justice at your hands. (Cheers)' (66).

Oastler, recommended ‘everyone before next Saturday night to have a brace of pistols, a good sword and a musket … It was the right and duty of every men to have them’ (67). In October Halifax contingent marched behind two bands to the first of many West Riding Chartist demonstrations at Peep Green in the Spen Valley. Robert Wilkinson, the Halifax veteran ('For twenty years he supported the glorious cause of Radicalism …') took the Chair for O’Connor, Stephens, Fielden; for Peter Bussey, the Bradford radical leader: for George White, the outspoken advocate of physical force: and for as well as for Abram Hanson and William Thornton, among local men (68). By December Chartism, as an effective force, was in being. The Halifax magistrates applied for additional troops; but the Home Secretary could not oblige – he had ‘no troops to spare’ (69). Before the end of the year, however, a letter from Colonel Wemyss, Assistant Adjutant General, announced to the Halifax Magistrates that he had been directed to station a Troop of

Cavalry at Halifax, and that a troop of the 3rd Dragoon Guards would arrive there on December 27th. Mr J.R. Ralph replied on behalf of the Magistrates that -

'The arrival of the troop is a source of great satisfaction to all respectable inhabitants and will, by the circumstances alone of it being known in the neighbourhood, give sufficient check to the ill disposed’ (70).


1839 opened with the annual dinner of the Halifax Radical Association at the 'Labour and Health' Inn, Southgate. Robert Wilkinson resigned as chairman, because of the pressure of 'other duties', although remaining a member of the Association. Ben Rushton was appointed chairman in his place. Speakers included Robert Sutcliffe, Abraham Hanson (whose son, Feargus O'Connor Hanson, must have been born about this time) Thomas Cliffe and James Tetley. Cliffe welcomed the improvement in trade – and especially in the 'gun trade'. The more moderate Tetley hastened to make clear that 'the political Union of Halifax have not provided themselves with arms'. They recommended radical prayer meetings to petition 'the King of Kings and Lord of Lords' to grant them universal suffrage (71).

Joseph Rayner Stephens had been arrested at Ashton-under-Lyne on 27 December, and Chartist localities in all parts of the north of England held meetings of protest. In the first two weeks of January meetings were held in Halifax itself (on New Years’ Day with 500 people present) and in Pellon, Mythelmroyd, Ripponden, Luddenden, Hebden Bridge and Stainland. At all of them resolutions of support for Stephens were passed, usually coupled with an endorsement of O’Connor. The Pellon radicals followed theirs with one in support of Richard Oastler 'though he is not the advocate of universal suffrage, yet we believe him to be an honest man, and as such commands our respect …' (72)

At Hebden Bridge the meeting affirmed the right of the people to have arms, and a week later another meeting in Halifax at the 'Labour and Health' followed suit and issued to the press a strongly-worded resolution:

'That we view with indignation the tyrrannical conduct of the Whigs and with the no less censurable conduct of Daniel O'Connell and the Sham Radicals, it being evidently the intention of both parties to lead or drive the country into a state of anarchy and confusion. We therefore resolve to all in our power to presrve peace, law and order; and while we are determined not to commit a breach of the peace, we are equally determined that others shall not commit a breach of the peace upon us

with impunity if we can avoid it by any means in our power. For this purpose we consider it to be both our privilege and our duty to be prepared to defend our persons and that of our wives and families, our

Country and Constitution, against open and secret enemies, whether foreign or domestic; and that while we venerate the memories of the Sydneys and Hampdens of bygone days, and eulogise the patriots of the present day, such as Feargus O'Connor, Joseph Rayner Stephens, James Bronterre O'Brien and others, we must view with mingled feelings of pity and contempt the willing and timid slaves who would lay down and let tyrants ride roughshod over them’ (73)

Already in January money was collected for 'rent' to be taken with the signatures to the National Petition by the delegates to the forthcoming National Convention of the Industrious Classes. The need for working class representation in the House of Commons was stressed by John Fielden when he reported to his constituents at Oldham on his attempts to introduce two measures. He had presented a petition signed by 6,000 handloom weavers, and had introduced a motion to improve their conditions, which was defeated by 73 votes to 12; a motion to repeal the New Poor law which had been seconded by Thomas wakley had been defeated by 309 to 17. Fielden's name was associated with that of O'Connor and Stephens by the Hebden Bridge Chartists at a meeting at which they adopted the National Petition.

The West Riding delegate to the National Convention Peter Bussey of Bradford – for many years the leading advocate of universal suffrage in the West Riding, and a man with a long record as a leader of the Short time and Anti-Poor Law movements. The Halifax Chartsits gave a dinner for him before he left for the Convention. He recommended ‘that every man before him should have a musket, which was a necessary article that ought to provide part of the furniture of every man's house. And every man ought to know well the use of it that he may use it effectively when the time arrives that requires him to put it into operation …’ (74).

When Bussey took his place at the Convention, he was able to take with him 52,800 signatures from his 'constituents', of which 13,036 were from Halifax, and £225 'rent',of which Halifax had collected £40. Money and signatures continued to be collected, and Halifax was represented regularly at the meetings held in the West Riding to co-ordinate the work and keep in touch with their delegate. The Northern Star listed six agents for its sale in Halifax and one in Ripponden. As well as the collection of 'rent' for the Convention, there was also money to be raised for the expenses of Stephens' trial. Both Rushton and Thornton preached sermons in many of the districts around Halifax to raise money towards what must have been a very considerable fund (75).

In February a town meeting called to consider Corn Law Repeal was triumphantly captured by Rushton, Wilkinson and Tetley, the Repealers, led by Jonathan Akroyd, retiring in discomfiture (76). The old radical alliance was finally shattered.

The Halifax Chartists were strongly O'Connorite: Major-General Sir Charles Napier was soon to describe Halifax as ‘wickedly Chartist’ (77). Even if there were more moderate counsels among the leaders, nothing could have held back the handloom weavers of the district from their preparations for insurrection. The Guardian, normally cautious and well- informed, reported at the end of March that 700 in the neighbourhood – chiefly the upland hamlets – were armed with muskets. At a public house in the weaving village of Midgley firearms

were being ordered (78). In April a Halifax magistrate was writing to Colonel Wemyss at Manchester:

'It appears that there are parties in various parts of our neighbourhood not only in possession of arms, but undergoing drill – though then without arms in their hands. These misguided people are the very dregs of the population and amongst them are many of the Hand Loom weavers who, of all classes of work people, have experienced the greatest privations and they are prepared to amend their condition at the expense of the community when called on by their leaders’ (79).

Napier was alarmed at the scattered disposition of the cavalry in the town; 'only 36 dragoons amongst the ill-disposed population of Halifax, with a man in billet here and his horse there.' He had information that there was discussion in public houses to plans to cut off the soldiers in their billets. Macerone's New System of Defensive Instruction for the People was circulating, barricades were being planned. The local authorities vacillated. In his first enthusiastic letter welcoming the troops, Ralph had written -

'I … gave instructions, in accordance with your wishes that the Billits (sic) for the Cavalry should be so arranged so to keep them as much concentrated as possible, under all circumstances …' (80)

But four months later, Napier was still not satisfied. He wrote sharply to Ralph, on 23 April:

'The times are critical and the magistrates must see as clearly as myself, that either I must withdraw detachments, or the civil authorities must find more compact quarters. The dispersed state of the detatchment in Halifax

(where 42 troopers are in 21 different quarters!) has called forth the necessity, on my part, of requesting that the magistrates will, if they wish the detatchment to remain, find some building in which the soldiers may be safe ..' (80)

In an even stronger letter to the West Riding magistrates dated on the next day, he expanded the same point -

'The cavalry at Halifax are quartered in the very worst, most dangerous way … Fifty resolute Chartists might disarm and destroy the whole in ten minutes: and believe me, gentlemen, that a mob which has gained such a momentary triuph is of all mobs the most ferocious' (81)

There were now two companies of the 79th Highlanders in the town, and one troop of Dragoons. The magistrates applied to Miss Lister for the use of some of her property, they took over the old dispensary. But some local employers preferred the cavalry to remain scattered and near at hand to defend their mills. For weeks argument raged; on May 10th Napier wrote again

'I am … sorry to say that I consider the troops in that town as a force incapable of making proper resistance in so feeble a position and therefore to be withdrawn upon the first appearance of danger … ' (82)

This may have have had the desired effect, for by October the magistrates were being asked to find separate accommodation for soldiers who were ill ‘in consequence of the great prevalence of the Typhus fever in the Town and neighbourhood and the crowded state of (the) house occupied as Barracks …’ (83)

Whit Monday witnessed another great West Riding demonstration at Peep Green. Proceedings were opened with a prayer, led by William Thornton of Skircoat: ‘the sun shone on thousands of bared heads as he prayed that “the wickedness of the wicked may come to an end”’. With a characteristic gesture, O’Connor clapped him on the shoulder: ‘Well done, Thornton; when we get the People’s Charter, I will see that you are made the Archbishop of York.’ Other Methodist local preachers were well to the fore, Mr Arran from Bradford moving a resolution binding the meeting to 'not attend any place of worship where the administration of service is inimical to civil liberty … but to meet in such a way and manner in our separate localities in future as the circumstances of the case require'. He then, reported the Guardian,

‘spoke the most rank blasphemy, said that Christ was the greatest democrat that ever lived, that there should be no such thing as superiority or inferiority in the world, that they should cast the hypocrites (i.e. the Ministers of God who did not support Universal Suffrage) on their own resources, and they would then begin to bring forth the fruits of repentance' .

The resolution was seconded by Ben Rushton: 'For himself, he had given nothing to the parsons since 1821, and the next penny they had from him would do them good.' Hanson of Elland denounced the present sectarian preachers:

'They preached Christ and a crust, passive obedience and non-resistance. Let the people keep from those churches and chapels ('We will!') Let them go to those men who preached Christ and a full belly, Christ and a well-clothed back, Christ and a good house to live in - Christ and Universal Suffrage’ (84).

As in most areas, the Halifax Chartists were very much concerned with the possible danger of spies and provocateurs within their movement.

That there were some members, or close associates, in Halifax who were prepared to pass on information is clear from the Home Office and lieutenancy records. But it looks as though such men did have access to the inner councils, and that the Bradford agent, Harrison, probably did the Halifax Chartists something of a service by deliberately not involving them in his plans. In may a meeting at the 'Labour and Health' issued a resolution which had been passed unanimously:

'Resolved that the enemies of social order and good Government have their emissaries abroad, in order to prevent any member of the Radical Association from falling into the meshes of hired spies to apprehend, or cause to be apprehended, any person or persons who may be found recommending an organisation of physical violence, or any kind of training or drilling to the unlawful use of arms for the purpose of obtaining possession of our constitutional rights as Englishmen' (85)

The National Convention moved to Birmingham, and in July there were serious clashes in that City between the police and the Chartists. Some leading delegates were arrested, and tension mounted all over the country. Even the most determined opponents of physical force saw in the police attacks a justification for carrying arms. All over the country groups were discussing what ‘ulterior measures’ were to follow the rejection by Parliament of the National Petition.         There is no doubt that some kind of armed action was considered in Halifax. A letter the vicar of Sowerby to

the Home Office complained that the Chartists ‘were going about from house to house amongst the respectable shopkeepers, inn keepers etc, threatening them if they will not support them.' A respectable grocer, who refused his contribution, had his name entered on a list ‘in red ink , as one of the first to be attacked when they rise’ (86)

A meeting in Halifax of the West Riding Chartists elected three 'supernumary' delegates to act if the present delegtes to the Convention should be arrested. Ben Rushton was elected top of the poll, followed by Samuel Healy of Dewsbury and Thomas Vevers of Huddersfield. The Convention had called for a ‘sacred month’ - a general strike of all labour to begin on August 12. In the discussions in the Convention and throughout the country, this proposal was coupled with the idea of an armed rising, as many believed that violence was bound to follow such action. But having made the proposal, the Convention later rescinded the order, and local branches were left to discuss their own 'ulterior measures'.

On the Thursday before the strike was due to take place, the Halifax Chartists met under the chairman ship of Robert Wilkinson to consider what action they should take. One of their members Thomas Cliffe, had already spoken on the subject to a meeting at Bradford – where he said

'It is a very difficult matter to restrain the people; they were anxious for the commencement of the Sacred Month on the 12th of August, but they must defer it for a short time; the country was no all prepared for it as they were. They were not so well prepared at Halifax …' (87)

But he urged all Chartists to continue to procure firearms (87). The Halifax meeting began with a unanimous vote in favour of Universal Suffrage, and then followed the discussion. Ben Rushton spoke of 'the seriousness of refraining from work in small numbers, as it might be, not for three days only, but for a much longer period ..' Some of the workers asked 'what they were to do for three days, for when they worked one day it was to earn victuals for the next'. Tetley, too, advised caution, and the meeting adjourned until Saturday. On the next day they met again, and the chairman announced that those who wanted to make a demonstration were to meet on Monday the 12th at 9.30 at the meeting room. Between 3 and 400 men assembled on Monday morning, to hear addresses by Cliffe, Sutcliffe, Rushton, Wilkinson and Tetley, and to adopt an address to the Queen (88).    August ended with a parade and invasion with a parade through the streets and the invasion of the parish church.

For the next three months the public activities of the West Riding Chartists were much diminished. The curious events c0-incident with and following upon the Newport affair have never been satisfactorily explained. The arrest of Chartists throughout the country – though not in the West Riding – served to intimidate some and to make others cautious. At the same time there can be no doubt that some secret conspiratorial organisation was being built up. William Rider and George White of Leeds, Peter Bussey of Bradford, ‘Archbishop’ Thornton and William Cockcroft, a Halifax weaver, can be identified as the local leaders. Frank Peel, the historian of the Spen Valley, set down, at the end of the century, many recollections which fill the picture of nightly drillings and secret meetings in cottages and public houses (89). It is likely that some time before Frost's rising a delegate meeting was held at Heckmondwike to concert plans for a West Riding insurrection with the rest of the country (90).

According to firm tradition, Bussey broke down and hid at the critical moment before one projected rising. Ben Wilson, who had attended the demonstrations of 1839, although he can only have been fifteen years old at the time, says in his reminiscences that

'a meeting of delegates was held in Yorkshire to name the day when the people should rise; November of that year was fixed and Peter Bussey of Bradford was appointed leader … but, when the time came, Peter Bussey had fallen sick and had gone into the country out of the way or, being a shopkeeper, he was hiding in his warehouse amongst the sacks’ (91).

Wilson’s view is supported by an undated letter amongst the correspondence of the Halifax magistrates. Signed by Thomas Aked and James Rawson, it reports

'2 Houses taken by the Chartists of Nathan Smith that his their Meeting House the place his called the Street Queens head they was casting Bullets from Saturday night until Sunday Night the Day following Joseph Spencer says he as a pike and a Gun in is possession from the information we have received had not Peter Bussey been taken badly they would of commenced the same day that Frost did’ (92)

By the first week of January, Bussey was on his way to the United States, and the ballad singers in the district sang:

‘I’ve heard Peter Bussey Has fledged and flown; Has packed up his wallet,

And left Bradford town’ (93).

There seems to have been no attempt at all made at an uprising in the West Riding at the beginning of November. Whether, as Wilson and the Halifax Chartists seemed to think, this was due to the defection of Bussey and other leaders, or whether there never was a national plan, is not clear.

James Stansfeld, later to become M.P. for Halifax and in 1839 a student with Shelleyan and Chartist sympathies, wrote from Halifax to a friend in London that Newport -

'was an affair of combination through a great part of the kingdom … That secret organisation was going on to a great extent I knew before as far as this neighbourhood was concerned. It was known here (among the Chartists alone, of course) when the attack was to have been made; if successful a similar movement would have been attempted here. As it was there was some foolish thoughts of it. It would however … have been quelled immediately, as the magistrates on information received had sworn in special constables and had already a large military force stationed here. So you see the spirit has not subsided and the materials are good for a riper time’ (94)

There was considerable discussion in the Chartist press and in Chartist reminiscences in later years about the events of November 1839, but so far it has not been possible to build up anything like a clear picture from the conflicting accounts.

The events at Newport and the arrest of Frost Williams and Jones were a tremendous shook for Chartists all over the country. Reports from the magistrates in Halifax to Colonel Wemyss give some idea of the confusion that followed the failure of the Welsh Rising. A letter dated Nov. 12, 1839 reports:

‘There is a large meeting room in this town used by the Chartists for their meetings, their purpose being covered by sermon reading and psalm singing, but where the Committees sit and transact their business - last Sunday evening my informant went out of curiosity and got admittance

and stayed there about three hours. Fifty persons or thereabouts were present, mostly strangers with a few townspeople … After much talk, a leader well known here directed to write to the Chartist Secretaries throughout the West Riding to gather opinions as to their best mode of proceeding. - From the expressions of the speakers, their idea is to “go to work” (meaning an outbreak for the purpose of plunder) and to do it in a better fashion than it had been done in Wales, where they consider it to have been sadly mismanaged. It was also said that they might as well fight “to death” as be starved “to death” … Their plan as respects this town appears to be that one of the out-townships (Ovenden, which is the worst of them) is to send its force to join friends here, and the others are to march to Bradford’

In the out-townships the weavers were busy 'grinding their Pikes and casting Balls.' A week later (20 November) a witness reported that he had been -

'a few nights ago in the company with one of the Chartist leaders, named Thorburn (95), who was at the time a little intoxicated, and talking of the state of the people, Thorburn aid, that Chartism was now at a very low ebb, that on last Wednesday night all their books and papers were burnt.'

But a month later (25 December) Wemyss was still receiving reports from the office in charge of the Halifax troops of secret preparations: the Chartists 'are told off by squads, and have their leaders for each squad, and there are numerous meetings, termed Tea Parties constantly going forward' (96).

Early in December James Harrison, the agent who was reporting regularly on the activities of the Bradford Chartists, told the magistrates of a visit to Queen’s Head Chartists, in the company of George Flinn, of Bradford Curiously Harrison told the magistrates that he did not know the name of the local men apart from Flinn himself About a dozen men were at the meeting -

‘One of the speakers said we have made up our minds and sent our determination down to Bradford – we'll have no more public meetings nor pay no more money – we have 260 or 270 men well armed and ammunition is ready at any time by the sound of a horn ...’

After the meeting, they adjourned to the bar of the local inn, where they met a delegate from London, who -

'looked earnestly at me and asked Flinn if he knew me – Flinn said he had known me for three years and that I was as good a man as any in the room – this delegate said his reason for asking that was that he was aware there may be sies up and down the country …'

Harrison reported that the Bradford Chartists were waiting for a signal for a general rising. A delegate conference was to be held in london, a new Convention, on December 19th, and a lead was to come from it. The Bradford delegate was to be John Hodgson -

'Both Hodgson and Flinn have told me that the general rising is to take place upon receiving information from London but that they expected it would be about the 27th, four days before Frost's trial – Hodgson also told me that in the convention a place would be settled to meet the judges and to shoot them in their carriages on their way to Frost’s trial but that was to be settled by the convention in London'' (97).

There were no signs of any activity in Halifax or the villages around on Dec. 27th. On the night of 11 January 1840, after the news that Frost had been found guilty, armed Chartists occupied Dewsbury, Heckmondwike and Birstall, and a special constable found the road between Bradford and Halifax ‘completely filled with men, having torches and spears with them’. (98)

Later in January Bradford was the scene of another attempted rising, led by Robert Peddie, a Scot and stranger to the district. The whole story of the events in Bradford has not yet been pieced together, but it would seem that Harrison, who was without doubt at the centre of the whole exercise, had been entrusted with the task of notifying neighbouring Chartist groups, including those at Halifax, of the plans, and had failed to deliver this message. If this was so, he probably saved some of the Halifax men from being prosecuted, for the Bradford men were easily rounded up, and their leaders imprisoned.

The Halifax magistrates were worried in case the troops stationed in the town might be moved, and the town left unprotected. Mr J.R. Rhodes wrote to Colonel Wemyss on 28th January, asking for reassurance that the Commanding Officer of the troops would be responsible to the Halifax magistrates and not liable to answer a requisition from another district.

He referred to ‘the Bradford affair of the night before last’, and declared - ' … We are still in a state of uncertainty as to whether we shall be visited by the mischievous banditti around us, and are consequently on the alert. If, however, the military force should be drawn off to a disturbance, such

circumstances would be immediately made known to the disaffected. In the present temper they might take advantage of the opportunity and in a short time do a vast deal of damage, which now seems to be their main object … ' (99)


The leaders of the Halifax Chartists had not been arrested, and the local movement had not lost face as it did in Bradford and some other West Riding localities. The main preoccupations of the movement nationally was the attempt to secure pardon and release for the leaders of the Newport rising, and in the West Riding the Chartists of Halifax took the lead in discussions of this question. At a delegate meeting in Manchester at the beginning of February, Thomas Cliffe of Halifax took the chair on the first day. He opened the conference by saying that

'his constituents were willing to do anything to serve the prisoners, but was of opinion that harsh measures and expressions would injure them ..'

David Hitchin, also from Halifax, confirmed Cliffe's statement 'and would merely add that the people would sacrifice life itsef to save the prisoners from transportation' William Thornton was present, representing Bradford – e had presumably moved there from Halifax. During the discussion, he mentioned by name a police agent, Greensmith. Cliffe said that he had once lived seven doors from this man, who was ' a drunken fellow and had been confined six months for thieving.' The magistrates, Cliffe said, paid the agent ten shillings a week, but none of this went to his wife, who had to go begging.

The result of the Manchester conference was a memorial to the Queen, and an address signed by all the delegates calling for signatures to the memorial. In March another conference was held on the same subject. Halifax was represented on this occasion by James Rawson. This is the same name as the informer whose letter is preserved amongst the Halifax magistrates' papers.     Rawson is however an extremely common name in Halifax, and there is no indication that it is the same man. But it is not impossible, in the light of experience in other districts, that Rawson could have been at the same time a trusted and active Chartist and an informer. The one note which remains with his signature is not, in fact, a particularly damning one, and it contains only information which must have been fairly easily obtainable. The authorities obtained their information about the Chartists from a wide range of informants, ranging from criminals of Harrison's type (he was finally transported some years later for horse-stealing, which he had treied to make doubly profitable by informing against two young boys for his own crime) through vaguely

disreputable characters like Greensmith, whose access to information must have been minimal, professional police officers actually planted, as in Birmingham, who sometimes informed on each other, to Chartists, driven either by poverty to betray their associates, or by principle to inform on their opponents within the movement. Thus James Rawson could have been a Chartist who was worried by the 'physical force' preparations which he reported, or one so poverty-stricken that he made his fairly typical report for the reward. Since his report was never used in public evidence, he could perfectly well have continued his association with the Halifax Chartists. But there is in any case, no proof that it was the same man. At the Manchester delegate meeting, Rawson said his constituents were opposed to any more petitioning, but that 'something or other must be done'. They proposed using 'Bronterre O'Brien's plan'; this was the proposal to use the machinery of elections and other public occasions to bring the Chartist case before the public. Bronterre wanted Chartist candidates on all the hustings and the Chartist case to be put at every towns-meeting or other public meeting, whatever its purpose. But when the delegates should have re-convened in Manchester a month later to discuss the progress of the campaign, only two areas besides Halifax were represented, Leicestershire and Nottingham.

At this April conference, Cockcroft represented Halifax, and chaired part of the meeting. He again proposed O'Brien's plan, and said that the Halifax Chartists were as determined as ever to take 'every positive step' to obtain the Charter; 'things' he went on 'did not seem so bad in Halifax as in Leicester and Nottingham, but trade was bad, and the average earnings of many n work did not exceed 7/- per week' (101)

1840 a year of reorganisation and consolidation for Chartism. The character of the movement changed dramatically after the intense excitement of the mid-winter months. It was in the summer of 1840 that the National Charter Association was formed. The Halifax branch was formed some time during 1840, and by early 1841 Halifax and twelve branches in the out-districts made up a ‘District’

of the NCA (102).

In March 1840 the Chartist meeting and news-room, with their books, papers and banners, was burnt out (103), was burnt out. But meetings continued. In May, James Rawson chaired a delegate meeting of the Halifax groups. He reported that a large worsted manufacturer, James Aked Junr. Had reduced weavers' wages from 8-10%. He recalled that two years earlier a deputation had forced the same man to give up a similar reduction, but on this occasion a deputation had had no success.

'Aked is chief constable of the township, Midgley, a great enemy of Chartists, a liberal Whig, a Corn Law repealer, and a great friend to the New Poor law and Bastille system' (104).

In June a public meeting was called, protesting against the treatment of the Chartist prisoners. Ben Rushton warned defectors

'Every labouring man who gave up the principles of the Charter ought to be made to crawl upon his belly to the aristocracy all the days of his life, and be fed as they are fed at the bastille' (105).

Before he himself was imprisoned Feargus O’Connor had proposed that money should be raised for the Chartist prisoners by adding 1/2d to the price of the Northern Star. This additional 1/2d was to be nothing to do with him, but was to be administered separately by a committee, which was to include Robert Wilkinson from Halifax. In the course of recommending the proposed increase, it was suggested that readers might find the money by buying a gill less of ale a week. Robert Sutcliffe answered this suggestion in a furious letter to the Star -

'Good God! To tell starving men, who cannot afford to get a gill of ale in one month, no, nor in six months, and whose table is not graced with half a pound of meat during that time … is a tantalising and trifling with their poverty and misery' (106)

Nevertheless all through the year Wilkinson, as treasurer, continued to send donations to the funds for prisoners’ families. In June the Odd Fellows Hall was opened in Halifax, an enormous building with rooms of all sizes and a large meeting hall. After this there was no problem of a meeting place for the Chartists, however popular the speaker.

As in other parts of the West Riding, agitation for factory reform and against the New Poor Law continued to be part of the Chartist activities. The Tory Halifax Guardian supported them in these campaigns. The general Election of the summer of 1841 brought about a curious alignment in the town. Protheroe, by his support for the Poor Law, had forfeited all Chartist support; and one J. Gully Esq., late member for Pontefract, came forward as a Radical and Anti-poor law candidate against both Protheroe and Wood. A meeting of 3,000 non-electors, called by the Chartists, gave him support. At the last moment Gully retired. The Chartists attended the hustings in force, and the Liberal candidates underwent a severe questioning from John Crossland, a member of the hand-loom weavers’ central committee, demanding to know why no action had been taken to relieve their plight.- Wood’s

defence – that the only measure that would benefit the weavers was the abolition of the Corn Laws – was shouted down with cries of ‘I wish thou were brought down to be a handloom weaver’. Ben Rushton took the field to question Protheroe. The Chartists (he said) had been 'gullied':

'In all the speechifying I observe that we have plenty of gold and silver like the stones of Jerusalem streets, and leaves as large as Goliath and Gath (Laughter). They never told us that as trade increases, they will increase their machinery. Machinery is the standard of the hand-loom weaver, and in many cases of the woolcomber, for they now do the work with a woman and child, and take the labourer to a new scientific resistence'

The Chartists advised support for the Tory candidate, Sir George Sinclair, a strong advocate of factory reform and an opponent of the New Poor Law. In the event, Protheroe and Wood were once again returned (49).

The work of the local association was encouraged by O’Connor’s release from prison, which was announced by the Chartists through the public bellman. His visit to the town early in December was the occasion of a triumphal demonstration. A report in the Star described the local movement as ‘progressing most gloriously … Numbers are coming forward to enrol their names in our Association’ (108). The work which

had been put into consolidating organisation brought returns when the local Chartists engaged in the collection of signatures and money for the Second Petition in the early months of 1842 .(109)


While trade was stagnant in the cotton industry, it was good and even brisk in the worsted industry in August 1842 when the Plug Riots commenced (110). The strikers flowed through the valleys from Lancashire into Yorkshire, gathering support from the Yorkshire hand- workers on the way. Whereas in Lancashire the original impulse behind the strike was primarily industrial, in the West Riding towns the local Chartists responded to the call of the Manchester delegate meeting of the N.C.A., calling out all workers in support of the Charter. Placards were posted in the upper Calder Valley and elsewhere:

'Englishmen, the blood of your brethren reddens the streets of Preston and Blackburn, and the murderers thirst for more … The cotton-workers have taen the lead in declaring for the Charter. Follow their example … Intelligence has reached us of the wide-spreading of the strike, and now within forty miles of Manchester every engine is at rest; and all is still, save the miller's useful wheels, and the friendly sickle in the fields.

Strengthen our hands at this crisis; support your leaders; rally round our sacred cause, and leave the rest to the God of Justice and of battles (111)

Response in the West Riding varied. At Bradford the local Chartists seized the initiative, stopping most of the mills before the Lancashire strikers arrived. At Huddersfield the leaders were described as being -

'all strangers, evidently in humble life – sensible, shrewd, determined, peacable … the burden of their speeches was to destroy no propert, to hurt no human being, but determinedly to persist in ceasing from labour and to induce others to do the same until every man could obtain “a fair day's wages for a fair day's work”' (112)

'The Native operatives are quiet, but evidently wish success to what may be called an insurrection' (113). At Dewsbury support for the strike was complete, but the strike was halted on the western environs of Leeds, in part by the exertions of the authorities, in part by the indifference of the working population.

The strikers converged on Halifax from both Lancashire and Bradford, the main body of strikers crossing the Pennines from Rochdale into Todmorden on August 12th. The next day they moved up to Hebden Bridge, closing all mills, drawing the plugs from the boilers and letting off the mill dams on the way. While some of the strikers returned each

night to their homes, the crowd was swelled at each stage by local workers. At Halifax 1302 special constables were sworn in, at Hebden Bridge 170.

Contemporary accounts, as well as reminiscences, provide a vivid series of pictures of the events of the next two or three days. At dawn on August 15th an excited crowd – hearing that the approach of the strikers was imminent – assembled on Skircoat Moor. Ben Rushton addressed them, condemning the masters who had reduced wages 'for the purpose of obtaining the repeal of the Corn laws', urging people to support the strike and keep the peace. Upon the magistrates intervening to disperse the meeting, the crowd formed itself into a procession ' and marched towards Luddenden Foot to meet the Todmorden and Hebden Bridge turn-outs on their way to Halifax' (115). Some mills were stopped on the

way; the handloom weavers who joined the strike threw their shuttles into a common bag, depositing it in a public house.

‘It was a remarkably fine day, the sun shone in its full splendour, one eye witness recalled. ‘The broad white road with its green hedges … was filled with a long, black straggling line of people, who cheerfully went along, evidently possessed of an idea that they were doing something for a betterment.'

When the contingents met, ‘Ben Rushton stepped aside into a field and led off with a speech … Before the speaking a big milk can was obtained and filled with treacle-beer’. Some went into adjoining houses and helped themselves to food.’ (116)

In the late morning they entered the town in a procession about 5000 strong singing Chartist hymns and the 100th

Psalm (117).

'The women went first, and were followed by a long procession of more or less pretensions. They then dispersed, under orders given by a man on horseback, who told them what mills to visit’. (117)

Meanwhile, a formidable contingent, 4000 or 5000 strong, were approaching the town from Bradford:

‘The sight was just one of those which it is impossible to forget. They came pouring down the wide road in thousands, taking up its whole breadth – a gaunt, famished-looking, desperate multitude armed with

huge bludgeons, flails, pitch forks and pikes, many without coats and hats, and hundreds upon hundreds with their clothes in rags and tatters. Many of the older men looked footsore and weary, but the great bulk were men in the prime of life, full of wild excitement. As they marched, they thundered out … a stirring melody … (119)’

Despite the efforts of the soldiers, the two contingents joined forces. The Riot Act was read, and a sharp skirmish took place between the military and the crowd before the main body dispersed – only to separate into smaller groups which closed down the remaining mills, including the largest mill of Akroyd’s which the magistrates had been at great pains to defend:

‘The thousands of female turn-outs were looked upon with some commiseration by the inhabitants, as many were poorly clad and marching barefoot. When the Riot Act was read … a large crowd of these women, who stood in front of the magistrates and the military, loudly declared that they had no homes, and dared them to kill them if they liked. They then struck up the Union Hymn:

Oh! worthy is the glorious cause, Ye patriots of the union:

Our fathers’ rights, our fathers’ laws Demand a faithful union.

A crouching dastard sure is he, Who would not strive for liberty, And die to make old England free From all her load of tyranny,

Up, brave men of the union’ (120).

In the skirmishes a number of prisoners were taken by the military and the special constables, and several attempts at rescue were made. Food was handed out of doors and windows to the strikers, who at length made their way to the moor above the town, where they were further speeches and prayers, and where a number slept in the open air.

The Specials, it seems, had drawn upon themselves both ridicule and odium during the day. They had consumed an enormous

quantity of gin. Among their exploits were listed the capture of a sweep and the town’s bell man. Their valour was displayed mainly in breaking the heads of the women: one was compared to a ‘pair of tongues on horseback’.

One at least, to his credit, auctioned off his staff in disgust. (121)

By contrast, the behaviour of the strikers was restrained and even at times good-humoured:

'I have heard it said that there was much plundering at Halifax, but I saw none; although there might have been a baker’s shop or two entered, that would be the full extent’ .(122)

On the next day events took a more bitter turn. The story is best told by

F.H. Grundy, a civil engineer and friend of Bramwell Bronte, who was engaged in railway construction and had an office at Salterhebble on the Halifax-Wakefield road, just outside the town. On the morning of 16 August he found the road ‘like a road to the fair or to races … all busy - women as well as men – in rushing along the various lanes over my head with arms and aprons full of stones’. The mob were preparing to intercept the Omnibus conveying the prisoners of the previous day – with a military escort – to Elland railway station on route for Wakefield. The convoy passed through before their preparations were made, and the people determined to ambush the soldiers and magistrate on their return. Grundy decided to warn them, and attempted to leave his office on the excuse of paying a routine visit to the railway bridge:

'I have hardly got a dozen yards from my door when heavy hands are on my shoulders, and I turn to see two of my own men.

“Thou munnot go t'ut brigg to-day, sir” “Why, what nonsense is this?'

'We be main sorry, sir, varry, but thou mun come back agean. Thou'rt to go whoam into t'house, and we two are to watch thee, like.

Thou'lt nobbut be murdered, and then cannot do ony guid. There are a matter of fower thousand folk looking on; so coome sir. Thou’rt not to be fettled, but thou’rt to kept inside o’ t’house’.

At length the soldiers and the omnibus returned:

‘They slow into a walk as they breast Salterhebble hill. Then a loud voice shouts, “Now, lads, give it ‘em.” From every wall rises a crowd of infuriated men, and down comes a shower of stones, bricks, boulders, like a close fall of hail ... “Gallop! Gallop!” comes the order, as their leader spurs his horse up the steep hill. But the men, jammed together, cannot gallop. They come down pell-mell, horses and riders. Those who can get through ride off at speed after their officer … Then the command came,

“Cease throwing”. Eight horsemen, bleeding and helpless, crawled about the road, seeking shelter. Down come the hosts now, and tearing the belts and accoutrements from the prostrate hussars, the saddles and bridles from the horses, they give three cheers and depart … (123)’

A report was sent express to Leeds, with an urgent demand for more troops:

‘A most terrible affair has occurred at Salterhebble, and at the time I write it is feared there will be many lives lost before the day is over. I scarcely know how to inform you in a few lines the dreadful state of things in Halifax and the neighbourhood. The town presents an awful state of things …

' The military are all out, and the special constables, too; the mob are at Skircoat Moor, and it is said here at the Northgate Hotel that they are expected down shortly when the military will, I am positively assured, receive instructions to fire …

All the mills are closed. Mr Akroyd (I have seen him) is quite overwhelmed in difficulties. The mob keeps him at bay, and he has had his premises completely barricaded’ (124).

William Briggs, a local magistrate, and Mr Barker, of the Northern Star, were among those injured in the omnibus.

The soldiers were not slow in taking their revenge. They sallied forth from the Northgate Inn in strength, and a good deal of indiscriminate firing took place. 'A man coming to his door to see what was the matter, was shot dead'. The main body of rioters was ridden down by the hussars, who 'followed the flying people for miles … Many a tale of wounded men lying out in barns and under hedges was told’ A report in the Home Office papers listed 8 wounded, 4dangerously. Two at least of these men did not recover. (125)

The authorities pursued their advantage vigorously. Leading mill owners issued a notice urging all masters to re-start work, ‘furnish their workmen with arms’ and seize any persons found ‘skulking about their premises’ (126). The strikers appeared to lack central leadership: although the local paper reported that a group of men were seen at one time releasing carrier pigeons. Ben Rushton, who had been taken into custody, was released when the agitation subsided. (127). The strike spread to the West, but by 19 August many of the mills in Halifax were back at work. Thirty-six prisoners were sent to trial, and several received severe sentences –

including one of transportation – for their part in the riots. By 12 September the clerk to the Halifax magistrates was able to report ‘business … carried on as usual with the most perfect order and security.'

(128) The local satirist was able to address the 'scum of society', 'the 'many-headed plug-drawing public':

'Go to, ye senseless herd – go to a night-school, multi-headed monster – learn your alphabet – drink cold water – buy my book – read your Bible – reverence all authority, the Queen, and the Special Constables - eschew newspapers, and radical speech-makers – trust in Providence, and the powers that be – encourage no carnal longing for anything better than thin porridge and skilly – ask a blessing on small potatoes, and return thanks for large ones. If you live thus, you'll die happy, and be buried at the expense of the parish; and as they hurry you on your last journey they'll sing -

“Rattle his bones, over stones;

He's only a pauper whom nobody owns.” (129)


Once again the organised core of the Chartists were engaged in raising funds for imprisoned comrades:

'On Sunday next, Sept. 25, 1842 two


will be preached in the

WORKING MAN'S HALL, sun, St., Keighley by


of Ovenden, in Halifax

In behalf of the persons suffering confinement for what are commonly called


Halifax continued to maintain a Chartist organisation in the years following the Plug plots, although in some West Riding localities organised Chartism was extinguished for several years. (131). In Huddersfield the movement received a set-back from which it never completely recovered.       In Halifax the organisation was kept alive largely through the persistent,self-sacrificing work of local leaders.

The Halifax Chartists were less troubled by quarrels and defections than most centres. They were, in general, still staunchly O’Connorite. When O’Brien attacked O’Connor in his National Reformer, they took down O'Brien's portrait from their walls. But their leader,Ben Rushton, had seen the radical cause ruined more than once by faction fights among the national leaders: he seems to have used his influence to keep the local movement free from entering too closely into national wrangles. In the two or three years following upon the Plug Riots the local leadership underwent changes. Several names pass out of the records, perhaps through death or infirmity. At least one - Thomas Cliffe, the ardent agitator of 1839 - left the movement, denouncing O'Connor for his 'revolutionary' policies (132) But a group of younger and equally energetic men took their places: among them Ben Wilson, the historian of the movement: Isaac Clissett, who had played an active part in the movement in the Spen Valley (133): John Snowden, a self-educated shoemaker; George Webber, a weaver: John Culpan:and Kit Shackleton, ‘the finest speaker in the district’ (134).

Chief among the local leaders, however, was still the old handloom weaver, Ben Rushton, referred to – according to preference – as ‘an old bald headed rascal’ or as ‘the beloved veteran in the people’s cause’ (135). His long experience, his unquestioned integrity and lack of self- interest, his ‘sterling and warm-hearted good feeling’ served again and again to rally the local movement:

'There was something very attractive to the eye and to the ear of labour in this man's person and in his voice. He has stood all the trials, the chances, the risk and responsibilities, consequent upon fidelity to the Democratic principle; and his unswerving honour, his modest demeanour, indefatigable perseverance, have secured for him the universal respect of his order. (136)'

He was in demand throughout the West Riding: at camp meetings, as Chairman of demonstrations, and as preacher at Chartist chapels. Frank Peel has preserved an account of one such sermon, at the Chartist chapel at Littletown. After a Chartist hymn, Rushton preached from the text, 'The poor ye have always with you.' The poor he divided into three classes: the halt and the blind, who were 'God's poor': the idle and feckless, who deserved to be left to look after themselves:

'Then, thirdly, there were the poor who had striven and worked hard all their lives, but who had been made poor, or kept poor by the wrong doing and oppressions of others … With fiery eloquence he went on to denounce the men who refused political justice to their neighbours, and who held them down till their life was made one long desperate struggle for more existence. As he depicted in glowing language, the miseries of the poor man’s lot and the sin of those who lorded it so unjustly over him, the feelings of his audience were manifested by fervid ejaculations … until at last one, carried away by Mr Rushton’s strong denunciation of oppressors, cried out, “Ay, damn ‘em, damn ‘em”’. (137)

The Halifax Chartists maintained their organisation, and gradually extended and improved it. When the West Riding district organisation was revived, in February, 1844, it was centred upon Halifax, from which the Secretaries, Crossland and later Shackleton and Treasurer (Rushton) were drawn. Good relations were maintained with the Irish population. 'The Irish Repealers and the Chartists are upin the best of terms. The Repealers regularly attend the Chartist meetings, and in turn the Chartists do all in their power to aid and assist them'. (138)  In the upper Calder Valley, and on uplands, the small Associations also kept in being: although some were turning in the direction of co-operation. In June

1844, the Halifax Association was strong enough to move into much larger permanent rooms, in Bull Close Lane. The new hall was officially opened by two lectures from George White, once of Leeds, recently released from imprisonment for his part in the movement in Birmingham, and soon to settle in Bradford, as a woolcomber and leader of the physical force section. In the same week M'Douall also lectured, his quarrel with O’Connor seemingly not affecting the warmth of his reception. (139)

At the Chartist rooms there were 'lectures delivered on Sunday evenings' the meetings generally being opened with patriotic hymns' (140). At one time classes in reading and writing were run for the illiterate. In the summer months outdoor camp meetings, which combined the interest of a family outing and ramble with that of a political demonstration, were popular and well attended:

'Those who affect to sneer at the glorious struggle in which the working classes are engaged to free themselves from the trammels of aristocrats, priests and patronage, should have witnessed the camp meeting on Norland Moor, on Sunday last. It was pleasing to behold the groups of earnest and devoted friends of liberty ascending the stupendous hills in all directions, accompanied by their wives and daughters. The sun shone brilliantly, and on arriving at Sladstone, the extreme point of one of the loftiest hills, all seemed rejoiced at getting rid of the filth and stench created by our “commercial arrangements.”

On this occasion the 'Druid's Altar' was selected for the meeting spot: and Rushton, George White and Crossland were the speakers. 'Sons of Poverty Assemble' was 'sung in good style':

'Rouse them from their silken slumbers, Trouble them amidst their pride

Swell your ranks, augment your numbers, Spread the Charter far and wide:

Truth is with us,

God himself is on our side …' (141)

'The old veteran, Ben Rushton, followed in a fervent and most effective appeal to all present to stand firm by their principles.' (142)

O’Connor’s Land Plan found enthusiastic support in the district, and especially among hand workers. In the first year of the scheme £193 was invested by Halifax Chartists and supporters. ‘Several hundred pounds’ was collected. By Samual Moores, the Secretary of the Association at

Sowerby Bridge.           But, at the same time, the Land Plan gave rise to the first overt signs of dissatisfaction among the Halifax Chartists with O’Connor’s leadership. West Riding Chartists were disquieted by the legal side of the operation of the Land Plan, and Halifax was represented at a meeting (November 1845 in the Dewsbury Co-operative Store) of representatives from all the main west Riding centres, under the chairmanship of the Huddersfield Chartist, Lawrence Pitkethly. A report was considered from the radical lawyer, Henry Macnamara: and as a result of the discussions, in which the Halifax delegate participated, a number of constructive proposals were made, for tightening the organisation of the scheme, remedying certain legal shortcomings, and improving the financial arrangements. The proposals were forwarded to the Northern Star. O’Connor refused to publish any but a only a garbled version of the proceedings, accompanied by an editorial attack on the organisers.       The Huddersfield Branch of the Land Society responded by publishing a broadsheet, confined in the main to a factual account of the meeting, but concluding with a paragraph of protest, addressed to members of the Society:

'Why should it be insinuated that they (the organisers of the meeting), or any portion of them, are Socialists, seeking to acquire controul of the land movement? - why should the spirit that actuated them in their endeavours to make the society truly efficient and truly secure be represented as malignant - and the meeting characterised as 'THE DEVIL attempting to pull his hoof or horn into plans which he cannot subdue to his own purpose'? - why should this be? - the more especially when the reasons which actuated the meeting to its conclusions, and when even the most important part of the resolves were SUPPRESSED by the party making these scandalous attacks founded on gross misrepresentation?

Members of the Land Society: is this conduct fair?' (145a)

At the end of his life, Ben Wilson still looked upon the Land Plan with sympathy:

' … a great many thousands became members, including several of my friends, and although trade was bad, they cheerfully made great sacrifices to raise money. Fergus had a great many difficulties to contend against, for he had nearly all the press in the country against him … Two or three from Halifax went on the land, but the scheme was before its time; yet I believe the day is not far distant when it will be successfully carried out.' (145b)

Nevertheless the waning of O’Connor’s direct influence in Halifax may perhaps be traced to these disagreements; and it is significant that, in March, 1847, the town was one of only two localities in the country whose nominations for the Chartist Executive were published in the Northern Star and which did not include O’Connor’s name (146)

There seems also to have been a group of active Owenites. On September 9th 1846, James Rawnsey died of typhus fever. He had been Delegate to two Congresses of the Rational Society, and his death was noticed in Holyoake's periodical The Reasoner. The same journal includes correspondence at the time of the winding up of the affair of the Communist settlement of Harmony at Queenswood, which includes an anxious query from Mr Sturzaker on behalf of members of Northowran. (147)

The years from 1843 to 1846 were ones of fair activity in the worsted and woollen industries. Unemployment diminished among the hand workers, although conditions were little improved; but improvements both in wages and conditions were marked within the walls of the mills (148). In 1846, when the 10 hour agitation revived, a leading part was taken by local Chartists, among them the handloom weavers who hoped that a limitation upon the hours worked in the factories would increase the demand for their labour. Charles Wood entered the Government in July, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and was severely challenged on the hustings (in the subsequent by-election) for a statement in the House of Commons that 'the operative classes of Halifax are not in favour of a 10 Hour Bill' (149). Some slight connections had been built up between some Chartists and some leading Liberals in the town through the formation of the Halifax Union Building Society (or 'Go-a-Head Society') whose aim had been to secure not the purchase of dwelling- houses but the purchase by working men of votes by means of acquiring 40/- freeholdings in county constituencies. (150) This time it was the 10 Hour agitation upon which this tentative alliance foundered, the prominent Liberal, young Edward Akroyd, incurring odium by the vigour with which he led the resistance to the Bill of the local mill owners. (151) The town's second M.P., the once-radical Protheroe brought the Liberal cause into deeper discredit by becoming involved in a personal scandal.

(152) When Rushton, in November, took the chair for Oastler and Fielden, at the triumphant 10 Hour demonstration in the town, he was riding the incoming tide of renewed Chartist popularity. (153)

Meanwhile, a new star had risen on the Halifax horizon. In August 1846 there had taken place one of those striking demonstrations when the

Chartists of Lancashire and Yorkshire joined forces on the high and remote moor of Blackstone Edge on the county borders. The Northern Star estimated an attendance of 30,000: certainly many thousands were present. (154). Once again Ben Rushton was called to the chair.

O'Connor introduced a 'young and leaned friend, who had resolved to take the people – the legitimate source of all power – for his clients; yea, Mr Jones would ever hold a brief in their defence and vindicate their cause.' Ben Rushton then called on ‘Ernest Jones, Esq., barrister-at-law, who would make his maiden speech to his new allies’. Jones' speech, in the opinion of one Preston Chartist, was 'one of the most telling and effective speeches I ever heard … Before the meeting separated his arms and hands must have ached from having them so cordially grasped and shaken':

'I spoke to Benjamin Rushton ...who had to endure three Government prosecutions in his day, and asked what he thought of the new champion, to which he replied in the strongest praise, '”but”, said he, “if he continues steadfast, if he remains true to the cause of the people, he will not always have the chance of speaking on Blackstone Edge; nay, the Government will strike him down with the strong arm of the law, and a constitution like his is liable to be cut down in its prime.' (155)


Jones was the most important accession to the Chartist ranks during the 1840s, and he was in a position to choose the district which he should represent at the Chartist conventions and in later parliamentary contests. After his first visit to the West Riding, when he spoke on Blackstone Edge on the eve of the Leeds Convention of 1846, he was convinced that the heart of the movement lay in the industrial North. At the Leeds Convention he told Thomas Cooper that 'while Cooper had been in the byways, he had been in the highways of Chartism, and had only the other day seen thousands of the veritable though not enrolled Chartists on Blackstone Edge, and heard the thunder of their cheers …' (156) He attended the Convention as delegate for the Limehouse Chartists: later in the same year he was asked by one of the leaders of the South London Chartists to stand for election as a full-time officer in London. (157) This offer he apparently rejected, and he was later to reject another offer, this time from the Edinburgh Chartists, to undertake the editorship of the North British Express, for which they would ‘allow a liberal salary, the amount of which they leave to yourself’. (156) Both these offers would have given Jones a position and a certain income at a time when he had very few private resources: however it seems clear from his actions that he was not prepared to take work which would take him away from the district which he always felt to be at the heart of the movement.

Jones’ association with Halifax was cemented by the election campaign of 1847 (68).  The Chartist Central Election Committee (appointed by 1846 Convention) met on July 22nd, 1847 and approved his candidature, together with that of O'Connor at Nottingham and of McGrath at Derby.In an additional list of parliamentary candidates who had agreed to give support to the six points of the Charter there was the name of another Halifax candidate, Edward Miall. The Northern Star commented editorially on the Halifax prospects, concluding:

'the members of the land Company are vitally interested in being represented in Parliament – let them do their duty – and ere long we shall have a CHARTIST BENCH in the House of Commons.' (159)

By this time the Halifax Chartists had already been conducting an energetic campaign for some weeks. Amongst the more radical section of the electors there was considerable excitement and disarray. Sir Charles

Wood, now a member of the Government, had lost much support through his association with the Education Bill, a measure against which nonconformists throughout the country were up in arms. The Halifax nonconformist radicals turned to Miall, editor of The Nonconformist , and a leading opponent of the State Church. Miall's willingness to associate with Jones robbed Protheroe (Wood's 'Radical' colleague in parliament) of what stomach he had for the fight, and he retired from the contest shortly before nomination day – an event which greatly encouraged.

Chartist hopes. (160)

The list of candidates finally going to the poll was presented in the Nonconformist press as follows:

'Rt. Hon. Sir Chas Wood, Bart, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whig. Henry Edwards Esq., - Protectionist Tory

Ernest Charles Jones Esq., - Chartist and Anti-State-Church Edward Miall Esq., - Anti-State-Church and Chartist' (161)

Wood's position was vulnerable: he had incurred the odium attached by the nonconformists to the proposed measure for State-aided education, and the hearty dislike of the working classes for his opposition to the 10 Hours Bill, among other measures. Henry Edwards seems to have been a typical Halifax Tory: a local landowner and employer, a firm opponent of Free Trade, but a supporter of the 10 Hours Bill – whose provisions he enforced in his own works before its parliamentary enactment – and an opponent of the New Poor Law. His main campaigning plank was that he alone of the candidates was a Halifax man, but his limited powers of oratory made him something of a joke during the election.

Miall and Jones were close in their immediate programme, but in many ways their policies were very different. Miall, already known as an advocate of universal suffrage, was prepared to accept the other Chartist points: yet his main concern was the separation of Church and State,and in particular with the education issue. Although Ben Wilson found him 'a splendid speaker, full of wit and a close reasoner' (162) the local press seemed to find his speeches of less interest than those of the other candidates, and gave them only the briefest reports. An admirer described him at the time of the election:

' … his speeches during the canvass were only surpassed in strength and acuteness by the emanation of his pen. In the outward semblances of the orator – the mere frame gliding – he falls below the expectations of those familiar with his writings. An attenuated frame, a thin voice, a stiff

demeanour, a monotonous gesticulation, seem too slight a framework to sustain the operations of so mighty a mental machine as his …' (163)

If the principles of the Charter were secondary questions for Miall, there is no doubt that religious and educational questions came a very poor second (for the majority of the Chartists, including their candidate.

Thomas Cliffe, who had now left the Chartists and in this election supported Wood and Edwards, claimed that the Chartists had changed from support for the Education Bill to opposition only at the behest of Miall. Jones himself, at a meeting in Halifax in May, declared that like 'O'Connor 'he believed the best foundation for education to be roast beef and plum pudding.' (164)

The Chartist electoral campaign was an important event, both in the history of the Chartist movement and in the political history of Halifax. Jones won the loyalty of the local movement to an extraordinary degree: and this, combined with the dissension in the opposition, and the co- incidence of a trade recession in the woollen and worsted industries which began in the summer of 1847, resulted in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and excitement which had not characterised the activities of local Chartists for several years. Jones was an excellent candidate. Ben Wilson recalled the impression he made in the town:

' … nearly everybody seemed to know him as he walked through the streets. He had a noble and striking appearance, and by some might have been looked on as a proud man. If he had been, he would not have joined the Chartist movement, for it was composed chiefly of working men …' (165)

All the local stalwarts threw their efforts into the election campaign – Ben Rushton, George Webber, Isaac Clissett, Christopher Shackleton, Jonathan Gaukrodger, and others. Electioneering took three main forms. Canvassing was carried out to some extent: but this was still associated with the older forms of electioneering, as the means employed by wealth and influence to bring pressure on shopkeepers and others dependent upon patronage. The Chartists could not use such methods, and developed instead the form of pressure known as 'exclusive dealing', whereby they sought out and publicised the names of tradesmen sympathetic to their cause and called on all Chartist supporters – whether electors or not - to patronise only these shops. The Guardian attacked the method editorially,, and the Whigs placarded the town in protest.

(166) Despite such protests (which were testimony to the effectiveness of the system), the Chartists intensified the pressure, even dividing the town

into wards in which favoured shopkeepers were recommended. Ben Wilson recalled:

‘Mr Boddy, a grocer in Northgate, and a supporter of Messrs. Jones and Miall, became very popular: I have seen his shop many times crowded with customers, and considerable numbers of people in the street opposite; he did a large amount of business for many years and then retired. He erected the fine body of buildings in Northgate known as ‘Boddy’s Building’ and it was said that he saved the bulk of the money out of the profits of that agitation James Haigh Hill, a butcher in the Shambles and known as the Chartist butcher, employed a comber named Boden, a leader of the movement and one of the best speakers in Halifax

… The bulk of the publicans voted in favour of Wood and Edwards, but those who voted for Jones and Miall did a roaring business. The Queen Inn became one of the most noted and popular public houses in town … I have seen every room … crowded on a Saturday night, principally with carpet weavers …’ (168)

Wilson also describes how crowds collected outside the shops of supporters of Wood and Edwards, and hooted their customers. It is clear from these and other examples, that this form of economic and political pressure by the non-electors was not without effect.

But the main form of electioneering was the organisation of meetings and counter-meetings, demonstrations and counter-demonstrations. On July 11th the Chartists held a camp meeting on Blackstone Edge, attended by thousands from Yorkshire and Lancashire. (169) By the following week Jones was reporting in the Star on the 'moral certainty' of a Chartist victory in Halifax: he reported a meeting at which he addressed 10,00 from a window at the Bull's Head and another ast which he had spoken to a similar crowd from the window of the committee room at the Royal Hotel:

' … The town is in a complete state of excitement – and Chartism has done wonders. Electors of all parties are forgetting their prejudices, and rallying in support of the cause that is at once just, moderate and beneficient. The Tories look bluer than usual, and the Whigs turn yellower; - already a great triumph has been achieved, one of the Whigs is beaten from the field, Mr Protheroe has retired from the contest. The Whigs under the Chancellor of the Exchequer – and the Tories, are now coalescing – making their last effort, but even they themselves speak without confidence as to the result …'

In the face of the Chartist Opposition, Wood & Edwards came gradually closer together. The Halifax Free Traders and Whigs, who, in past elections had fought so bitterly against the older conservative interests, now moved towards a coalition against Chartism and Dissent. Michael Stocks, son of the Radical Candidate of 1832, proposed Wood on the hustings, and his chief supporter before the election was Jonathan Akroyd. The voting results clearly show a coalition between the supporters of Wood and Edwards, although this was at the time officially denied by the Whigs. (170)

There were many dramatic events before polling day. Meetings were held nightly, some by the non-electors, some made up of electors and non-electors. As nomination day drew near, the excitement increased. The writ arrived on Saturday, July 24th, and the election was ceremoniously announced for the following Wednesday. Sir Charles Wood arrived on the same Saturday, and on the following Monday,

placards were issued announcing a public meeting at the Northgate Hotel, of electors, to hear Sir Charles. ‘The awful events of that evening’, wrote the Guardian , 'will cause the borough election of 1847 long to be remembered in the history of Halifax’.

The meeting was timed to begin at half past seven, but long before that time, a considerable crowd had collected outside, 'chiefly of working people.' The genuine supporters of Sir Charles thought it more prudent to make their entry through the hotel from the back, rather than through the public entrance. - 'A very brief period had elapsed, however, before

an irruption of a motley stream of men and boys was made through the door in the rear of the hotel; these people leaving the street and making their way through the passages of the hotel. Efforts were made by a posse of doorkeepers to push back the intruders; but their efforts were of no avail: they were overwhelmed by the coming tide. These persons .. passed over the platform, and, jumping down to the floor beneath took up their position in the front …'

Soon the crowd on the floor began to laugh and cheer as each new arrival jumped down from the platform. Next numbers began to crowd in through the windows. The report continues:-

‘The room was in a very few moments nearly filled, chiefly with non- electors. We observed several of the leading friends of Miall and Jones in the body of the meeting … The yelling and the violent opposition of these

maddened partizans told fearfully in the subsequent events of this memorable evening.'

The meeting was opened by the chairman, Jonathan Akroyd, who appealed for a fair hearing and expressed his pain at the atmosphere of the meeting. He began by trying to justify the proposed education scheme, but was interrupted to such an extent that at one time he was forced to stop whilst order was restored. When he continued, it was again to express surprise at the opposition on the part of the working classes to the education bill -

'And why, you have risen up against it in this way, is to me most surprising, - is to me most surprising …' - the venerable chairman faltered in his voice while speaking the last sentence and then, as if making a bow to the meeting, he fell forward upon the table – dead … the scene in the yard beggars our powers of description - it is needless to say that every gentleman present was convulsed with grief’.(171)

The inquest of Jon. Akroyd returned a verdict of ‘Death by the visitation of God’. He was buried at Salem Chapel, but was subsequently converted to Anglicanism by his son, Edward, who – in 1856 – dug up the remains of his parents and had them re-interred in his own Church of All Souls at Haley Hill.

So Wood’s the pre-election speech of Sir Charles Wood was never delivered, and it may well be that the sentiments aroused amongst Liberals in the town by the pathetic circumstances of the death of Akroyd did more for his chances at the poll than any speech would have done.

Nomination day was a day of suppressed excitement. Out of respect for the Liberals, the usual display of banners and bands were dispensed with; but the authorities were clearly apprehensive of trouble and a troop of cavalry was stationed in the Riding School on polling day. At the hustings, however, there was no worse disorder than shouting and interjections. Thousands had assembled in the Piece Hall to hear the four candidates. Wood, who (Ben Wilson records) 'was not a pleasant speaker to listen to', was received with no enthusiasm. Edwards, who met with rather more support, won the good-humoured ridicule of the crowd by his frequent need for prompting from the platform, and by his many laudatory references – whenever stuck – to his own grandfather, which earned him the nickname of 'my grandfather' among the Radicals from that time on. Miall was proposed by Frank Crossley, the Radical carpet- manufacturer, and received a great ovation. He declared his support for

universal suffrage and the separation of Church and State. On the education question he said that ;he was not opposed to genuine education for the people, although he confessed that if a proposal was made by the hawks to educate the sparrows, he, as a sparrow, would say, “Thank you gentlemen, but we'd rather educate ourselves”'

The greatest applause of the ten or eleven thousand spectators was reserved for Jones. He was proposed by Jonathan Gaukrodger, seconded by John Sutcliffe. His speech was interspersed with cheers and laughter. When the Returning Officer called for a show of hands, not more than a hundred voted for Wood, for Edwards between two and three thousand, whilst for Jones and Miall about seven thousand hands were raised. (172) Jones and Miall were declared elected, and a poll demanded n behalf of Edwards and Wood.

After such a triumph at the hustings, the Chartists were bitterly disappointed at the results of the poll. Wood and Evans were returned with 507 and 511; Miall polled 351 and Jones 280.

In spite of their defeat the Chartists celebrated handsomely. The soiree in Jones' honour far outshone the celebrations of the victorious candidates.

Edwards spoke at his victory banquet of the 'disruption of the revolutionary party', and of 'those insidious Democrats, never again, he hoped, to raise their heads in the good old loyal town of Halifax.' But at the Chartist celebration two weeks later, thousands turned out, some 1,200 ticket holders to join events within the hall, and the rest to wait outside – to be addressed by Jones in the intervals between the sittings inside. The hall was decorated with banners, slogans and portraits of Chartist and other Radical leaders. The ladies determined that the radical colour should be well represented, turned up with green ribbons in their caps, green kerchiefs and some even in green dresses. 'I have been to many a tea party in my time', said Ben Wilson, 'but never saw one to equal this.'  Jones was presented with a gold watch, value £30, and after three sittings at tea, the speeches, interspersed with glee singing, began at eight o'clock. Resolutions in support of the Charter were passed amidst cheers, the speakers including Isaac Clisset, Joseph Hanson, and Robert Wilkinson. William Thorburn declared that of the population of 100,000 in Halifax, not 1,000 had voted at the election. The 'pretended friends of the people' he said 'were raising arms to keep down the people' -

'look at the destruction of the Sikhs in India – see the numbers of widows and orphans that that slaughter had made in a and where, he contended, we had no right whatever to carry our swords and cannons ..' (173)

When Jones rose to speak, the people cheered for several minutes.

At the meeting of the Halifax non-electors at the beginning of August, Bowden announced that many firms were turning off men 'who had taken any part in support for Jones.' However, he was pleased to be able to add that Crossleys, 'who had supported Mr Jones, were prepared to employ all those who were turned out of work for this reason. On the resolutions of Bowden and Rushton, the meeting of 7,000 gave three cheers for Crossleys' On August 9th, a meeting of 2,000 female Chartists at the Oddfellows' Hall listened to speeches by Clisset, Webber, Bowden and Rushton, and agreed to carry on exclusive dealing. They cheered Jones and Maill , O'Connor and his victory at Nottingham, and Frost Williams and Jones before the meeting closed. (174)

The 1847 election, with O'Connor's victory and the success of several notable Radicals, including Peronet Thompson at Bradford, heartened the movement. Trade was declining in the later months of the year: in September a strike of power-loom operatives in Bacup received support from Chartists in the surrounding districts, but the amounts contributed were small. Despite unemployment and distress, the Halifax Chartists kept their organisation going, both on a local and district scale, meeting regularly on Saturday evenings and also sending representatives to the periodical West Riding meetings.            At one such meeting the proposal was brought forward that a national fund be set up to allow 'a limited number of delegates to sit in London during the meeting of Parliament, to advise the country on the measures brought before that House' (176). But this scheme, more than once mooted in one form or another, once again appears to have been passed over.

The dramatic periods of Chartist activity – the Plug Riots, the election campaigns, the periods of heightened tension – are often described and have left their record in the documents of the time. In the main centres, such as the towns of the West Riding, activity of some sort continued in the months or years between the main bursts. One notable recruit to the Halifax Chartists at this time was a young wire-drawer, Edward Hoosen. Coming from a Methodist working class family, his interest was aroused by the Northern Star and he joined the movement in 1845, at the age of twenty. In 1847 he became Treasurer of the Halifax Chartists.

At the opening of 1848, the Guardian gave the number of destitute unemployed in Halifax as 1,577, chiefly among weavers and combers at Ovenden. This figure takes no account of short time in the mills or of

partial unemployment among weavers; and the inadequate weekly expenditure of £100 by the Relief Committee must have left many in the town faced with actual starvation. (177) Voluntary subscriptions were raised and some relief work started on roads and on the new Victoria reservoir, with payment at the rate of 2d an hour and a maximum of six hours a day.   The Relief Committee kept a sharp check on all men so employed, visiting their homes to make sure that they were destitute and enforcing a rigorous punctuality. (178) Meanwhile wages of those in employment were also exceptionally low. These were times, as ben Wilson said, that 'made politicians' -

'amongst combers, handloom weavers and others, politics was the chief topic. The Northern Star was their principal paper, and it was a common practice, particularly in villages, to meet at friends' houses to read the paper and talk over political matters'. (179)

Early in the year a demonstration of 400 woolcombers from Ovenden marched to the 'Bastille', demanding not relief but employment. At their approach the gates were hurriedly barred, but a deputation of eight was finally admitted. These eight leaders were offered relief, but they refused until their comrades were relieved also. They said that many in their neighbourhood were dying of actual starvation. (180)

The programme of the Charter, and the hope held out by the Land Plan seemed to offer a way out. The Guardian, in an editorial entitled 'Are our evils Social or Political?' looked wit some sympathy at the Land Plan as a means of solving some of the problems created by trade depression and the mechanisation of industry -

'The invention of the £10 franchise has not reduced, nor checked the increase of the pauper list, and Free Trade has not yet increased the wages of the factory operatives. Even the Chartists are beginning to recognise the non-connection of political changes with general social benefit, and are wisely looking to “the land” for their sole regeneration …'

But, while seeing in the Land Plan a means of absorbing a small number of the surplus labourers, the editorial goes on to propose a solution, which was more and more popular in the next few years, the large-scale assisted emigration of labourers, and points to the fact that at a vestry meeting in Bradford, £2,000 had been voted the day before, to assist the emigration of woolcombers. (181)

On January 24th, Ernest Jones paid a visit to his 'constituency'. The Guardian , describing the visit of the 'Self-styled “Representative of

Halifax”', reported that, in spite of admission charges of 3d and 1d, 2,500 tickets had been sold for the meeting. The Oddfellows' Hall was so full a few minutes after it had opened, that the Guardian representative was unable to gain admittance, though he reported that Jones had spoken for nearly two hours, on the financial position in the country, and the advantages of the Land Plan.

At this meeting, Halifax became the first, and probably the only provincial centre to appoint a delegate to a proposed International Congress of Nations to be held in Brussels in the Autumn of 1848. The original proposal came from Kark Marx and Frederick Engels, and it had the wholehearted support of Jones and Harney. (182)


Although Chartist activity in the West Riding, as in other parts of England, was already greater in the winter of 1847-8 than it had been for some years, there is no doubt that it was greatly stimulated by events in France. In particular, the revolution of February 24th gave encouragement to the physical force wing of the Chartists. Some members of the movement may have seriously contemplated an armed uprising and a direct confrontation with the armed forces of the Crown, but a far greater number, which almost certainly included O’Connor and the other national leaders, believed that a demonstration of force would be sufficient to coerce the Government. They took as their precedent the show of force offered by the middle classes in the Reform crisis of 1831-32, and also the experience of successful revolutions in Europe. The February revolution in France appeared to be another example of a determined show of force by a radical movement bringing down a Government.

Enthusiasm mounted during February and March, and many new recruits joined the Chartists, particularly from among the younger people in the town. It was at this time that Ben Wilson reports that 'It had .. become a common practice to march through the streets in military order ...' The slogan ‘France has the Republic, England shall have the Charter’ accompanied the drilling and organising.

The first reaction to events in France was a meeting at the Odd Fellows Hall to welcome the Revolution. The hall was so crowded that the audience had to stand. The meeting was chaired by Jonathan Gaukroger, who introduced it with an appeal to the principles of moral force. This, the Guardian reported, was booed by ‘the younger element’. The first resolutions was introduced by Isaac Clisset, who proposed that -

'this meeting rejoices with the republicans of France that they have completely overcome their enemies and established the power of the people in that nation; having set an example worthy of imitation by all nations crushed beneath the tyranncial sway of king craft, but more especially to these nations governed by a tyrannical oligarchy.'

James Boden, seconded by George Webber and supported by John Snowden, proposed next -

'That it is the opinion of this meeting that the sufferings and privations which the working classes of this country are at present enduring is a consequence of class legislation, and that no permanent relief can be obtained until the people's charter become the law of the land; and should this measure of justice be much longer withheld, nothing can prevent the people from aspiring after and ultimately obtaining, a similar change in

the constitution which the French people have so recently obtained ..' (183)

The Northern Star announced, on March 11th, the summoning of the new National Convention, which should arrange for the presentation of the National Petition. A meeting was called in Halifax for April 1st, and at a gathering of 10,000 (184), Ernest Jones was unanimously elected to represent them at the Convention. Marching back from the rally, the Chartists passed the barracks, where they were cheered by the soldiers. Such conduct , the Northern Star reported, so alarmed the authorities that, within a few days, the soldiers were ordered to be transferred to Dublin. On the day of their departure, 5,000 local Chartists turned out, with tricolour flags and a brass band to accompany them to the railway station 'with the evident hope', as the Guardian put it, 'of cultivating a mutinous spirit in their ranks …'

Meanwhile the date of the presentation of the National Petition, 10th April, drew near. This was the date on which most trouble was expected by the authorities in London. In Yorkshire, as in most provincial centres, the main demonstration in support of the National Petition was fixed for Good Friday, April 21st But tension rose throughout April. The collection of signatures for the National Petition embraced wide sections of the population: a Baptist minister at Queenshead concluded his sermon by explaining the points of the Charter and laying the petition for signature on the vestry table. In the first week of April the Guardian reported 'repeated outdoor meetings' with most violent language, and expressed the 'gravest apprehension'. Open drilling took place: arming was widespread. Ben Wilson recalled how he was drawn into this side of things:

'Bill Cockcroft, one of the leaders of the physical force party in Halifax, wished me to join the movement. I consented and purchased a gun, although I knew it was a serious thing for a Chartist to have a gun or pike in his possession. I saw Cockcroft, who gave me instructions how to proceed until wanted … I well remember only a few years ago some talk with a friend who told me he was moulding bullets in his cellar in 1848’. (185)

Ernest Jones, speaking on behalf of his ;constituents' on the National Assembly, described their mood:

' …. All his constituents were impressed with the desirability if possible of conducting the movement on Moral Force principles: but they warned him not to stoop to one act of unnecessary humility in urging their claims.

To a man they were ready to fight. If necessary they were ready to rush down the hills of Yorkshire and aid their brother patriots in London …' (186)

The Halifax magistrates prepared for trouble. 500 special constables were sworn in in one day. . In the event they were not given the opportunity to show whether they were made of better material than their predecessors of 1842. At least one Special's stave appeared in the hands of a speaker on a Chartist platform, garlanded with a tricoloured ribbon. (187). The order from London banning the Kennington Common demonstration was printed in full in Halifax with a further warning from local magistrates cautioning particularly those 'who attend such meetings

… only from curiosity' against 'joining or mixing with assemblages so dangerous to themselves and to the peace of the community.

In spite of the warnings, however, thousands attended a camp meeting in the evening on Skircoat Moor, and afterwards marched to the town centre where George Webber addressed them from a window of Nichol’s Temperance Hotel. The day had been marked by 'the most intense excitement', and several of the more timid inhabitants retired to the country. The commandeering by the Government of the electric telegraph system intensified the sense of suspense: rumours were circulating freely, including one that Ernest Jones had been shot.

Webber declared to the crowd s -

' … He called upon those who were for 'The Charter and No Surrender' to hold up their hands. He trusted they were well satisfied with what their delegate, Ernest Jones, had done for them in the Convention (shouts of 'We are!'). If Ernest Jones was yet alive, he would be with them in a few days. He had no doubt that if a drop of Ernest Jones’ blood were spilt that the men of Halifax would avenge it. (Great applause and shouts of “We will!”)’. (188)

In London itself the events of 10 April appeared as an anti-climax. The Guardian sounded a note, not of victory, but of extreme alarm, devoting no less than three editorials to admonishing the working man and going even to the extreme (for an Anglican and Tory newspaper) of quoting Pope Pius IX, no doubt for the enlightenment of the Irish labourers. On Good Friday an enormous crowd – estimated by the Guardian at 20,000 - assembled on Skircoat Moor. The Rev. Joseph Barker was one of the speakers, and he described the meeting as 'the largest Assembly I ever saw' (189). Ben Wilson describes it as the biggest gathering to take place in Yorkshire that year. The procession through the town was itself more

than 10,000 strong, accompanied by 12 bands , phaetons, a cart and hackney coach, and a sea of banners. The banners were menacing in tone: a black flag on a pike, with ‘We conquer or die’: 'He that hath no sword let him sell his garment and buy one': ‘Tyrants, prepare to meet your God’. Women marched prominently in the procession, bearing such legends as ‘Mothers, claim the rights of your children’. The great banner of the Ovenden Chartist Association bore on one side, 'England Free or a Desert': and on the other 'Be not ye afraid of them, remember the Lord, who is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your houses' (190).

Most of the speakers were the local men, as the national figures were still occupied with the Convention in London. Barker records that he found himself very isolated after the expression of his views on the necessity of moral force only. But the meeting, for all the great numbers, passed off completely peacefully. The magistrate, George Pollard of Stannery Hall, described it in his report to the Home Secretary as 'a failure' (191). The other magistrates' reports mention merely that the meeting passed off without any breach of the peace and testified to the zeal and good conduct of the Halifax squadron of the Second West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry on the occasion. (192)

Some of the Halifax men went on to Bradford, where a similar demonstration was held the next day, which terminated in clashes with the military. (193) Ben Wilson went with his friends James Howarth and Job Jenkinson, a half-caste shoemaker. They were forced to make a hasty escape from the charging soldiers by climbing over a wall -

'Job never liked the thought of having to run at Bradford that day, but he said '”What could we do Ben? We had no arms, and it is my firm opinion that if they could have got us before we got over the wall, it would have been a bad job for us …' (194)

The local Chartists were now waiting for further instructions. Drilling continued in the open spaces in and around Halifax, with George Webber to the fore in the organisation. Hymns had given way to battle songs, and the Chartists were singing -

' .. Then charge, brothers! Charge! for your God, for your all! And cursed be he who cares aught for his breath!

We're free if we conquer, we're free if we fall

Hurrah for our country! On! Freedom or death! (195)

The National Convention, however, could not agree on a programme. Various proposals for discussion were suggested, to which Jones replied that this was not the time for the discussion of abstract principles. -

'Was it for that that the starving poor paid them to sit in that assembly? It was argued that the middle class were coming round and that therefore we should conciliate them by such temporising. Why were they coming round? because they felt the pressure of want. Agitation, action, not talking could increase that pressure. Wait for them indeed! - till a little more hunger gave them a little more sense! While they were growing a little more hungry what was to become of the men on 1.1/4d a day? - by the time the middle class got hungry enough to swallow the Charter the people would be starved into their graves.'

He proposed a discussion on the organisation of the movement, and an immediate memorial direct to the Queen (196). The discussions in the Assembly revealed a very great difference in the organisation and enthusiasm among the Chartists of the North and the South. From the reports of the delegates, and the cautious tone of so many of the speakers, it seems reasonable to conclude that many regions were lagging behind Lancashire and Yorkshire.

After the rejection of the National Petition by the House of Commons, the confusion in the Convention increased. Jones pressed for the better organisation of the National Charter Association. The comparatively high level of Chartist organisation in Halifax was again shown by the fact that they contributed £10 to the expenses of the Convention – by far the largest donation reported in the Northern Star. In his letter accompanying the donation, the treasurer, Joseph Riley, formally requested -

… 'You will get them acknowledged in next Saturday's “Star” in the following manner – From a few friends at Elland Edge 12/1. From the Halifax district £9.7.11 Will you send me the answer so I can lay it before a delegate meeting next Sunday … ' (197)

The Convention dissolved, with no formal decisions taken. The proposed Memorial proved an impossibility, and apart from a recommendation to hold further demonstrations on Whit Monday, little in the way of a lead was given to the localities through the Northern Star.

Following the dissolution, the leadership of the active portion of the movement fell more and more into the hands of Ernest Jones. He set out his proposals for further activity in the form of a letter addressed ‘To the

Men of Halifax’ in the Northern Star on 20th May. His main call was for, improved organisation, preparation and agitation -

'To the work then! The elements of success are around us; the raw material is there; the great mass of bone, of muscle, and sinew – of thought, experience and WILL: - it merely wants working up into a political colossus, that shall stalk over the miserable pigmies of Whig finality and middle-class Reform …'

The Halifax Chartists obeyed his call. In May, the first local elections to be held in the town took place. Undeterred by their defeat in the Parliamentary election of the year before, the Chartists organised to return their chosen candidates for the municipality,, once again in alliance with radical Dissent. According to Ben Wilson, 'the friends of Jones and Miall carried all before them'. Three members of the Akroyd family were among the defeated candidates. In the evening a black flag was hoisted in triumph from Nicholl’s Temperance Hotel.

After the confusion of the National Convention, and the rejection of the National Petition, many people began to celebrate the demise of Chartism. The Halifax Guardian took Richard Cobden to task editorially on the question -

'Mr Cobden declares the Chartists to be “a small, insignificant and powerless party”.There are a few people in Lancashire and Yorkshire who can tell him a different story. And if Mr Cobden will accept a single engagement to report for the Halifax Guardian the next Chartist demonstration he will either alter his story or prove himself vastly inferior in candour and intelligence to the ordinary newspaper reporter .. We are no Chartists … we have no wish to overrate the numbers or import of the Chartist body. But men who muster in tens of thousands to demonstrate their attachment to a political principle are neither ‘small’ nor ‘insignificant’. (151)

The Home Secretary on 20th May sent a message to the military commander of the district, Sir Thomas Arbuthnot, -

' ...There appears from the private accounts from Halifax as well as Bradford to be considerable apprehension of disturbance at both of those places, but Sir George Grey has no doubt that proper precautions will be taken by Major Gen. Thorn in communication with the magistrates for maintaining the peace of that neighbourhood ..' (199)

The Home Secretary also, at this time, began to advise magistrates to take action against drilling and any marching or parading. In Bradford and Bingley arrests were immediately made but, in Halifax, the magistrates held their hand.

A camp meeting was arranged to take place on Blackstone Edge on June 11th, Whit Sunday, at which Ernest Jones was to be one of the main speakers. He should have arrived at Halifax to address a meeting that evening at the Oddfellows' Hall, but instead a Manchester Chartist arrived with the news that Jones had been arrested that morning in Manchester.

He then spoke to the meeting about the circumstances of the arrest, and afterwards, according to Ben Wilson -

' … thousands congregated in the streets, talking the matter over in groups, and it cast gloom all over the town, for Mr Jones was very popular here ..' (200)

The Young Ireland trials, with their sentences of life transportation on Mitchel and Meagher were fresh in the minds of the Halifax Chartists, and they formed a procession and marched on to the moors, where George Webber addressed them by torchlight, declaring

' … that if a similar sentence should be passed on Jones as had been done on Mitchell, though they should stand alone, they would erect barricades and bid defiance to the bloodthirsty government of England … and, if necessary, proclaim the republic of Yorkshire and Lancashire’. (201)

The government was careful, when choosing which of the Chartist leaders to arrest in 1848, to concentrate on those who had influence in the North. In addition to Jones, Peter M'Douall, George White and John West were arrested - all men who had a considerable following in Halifax.

Later some local men were arrested for drilling or seditious speeches, amongst whom were George Webber, who served a sentence for sedition, and Joseph Lemming, who was sentenced for drilling. It is difficult to discover whether any other of the Halifax men were imprisoned that summer, as the local papers do not give very full reports, and also, according to one writer, the Yorkshiremen when arrested away from their own centres, gave aliases instead of their own names . (202) Certainly none of the well known Halifax names appears in the lists of trials at York, Manchester or Liverpool.

The Guardian welcomed the arrest of Jones, and indeed, began to show signs of being extremely worried by the continued mood of excitement in the district. (203) The effect of the Chartist support for Radical

candidates at the local elections, however, seems to have been a drawing together of some of the more radical middle classes with the Chartists.

The first towns meeting, convened by the Mayor, John Baldwin soon after the elections, passed a series of resolutions directly relating to the demands of the Chartists. The first of these, proposed by S. Swindel, and seconded by Isaac Clisset, said that the statement of Lord John Russell that neither the middle or working classes desired the reforms proposed by Hume or O'Connor was a 'wilful misrepresentation' of the true views of the people. The second stated that the House of Commons was unworthy of public confidence, this being moved by Alderman Dennis and seconded by John Snowden; the third was moved by Frank Crossley and seconded by Christopher Shackleton, and demanded that 'every member of the community' should be fully and fairly represented in the House of Commons. Finally, it was resolved that these resolutions should be signed by the mayor, and forwarded to Sir Charles Wood. The latter presented the document to the House of Commons on june 20th, and himself referred to it as a petition 'in favour of the changes embodied in the document known as the People's Charter.' (204)

Whether there was any real attempt to organise a rising in Halifax in 1848 will probably never be known with certainty. Ben Wilson, although he took no part in the 'physical force' side of the movement, makes no mention of any such plan. The only suggestion that a rising was planned comes from a report in the Guardian that on one night in August ‘hundreds of men sat up with pikes in hand, ready to fight’ but that the pre-arranged signal did not come.

By August 1848, the atmosphere in the town was changing. The leaders, both local and national, to whom the Chartists looked for direction, were in many cases imprisoned. The Northern Star was preoccupied with the problems of the defence of the prisoners, with raising funds for their dependents, and with issuing warnings against provocation by agents in the movement. A further blow came during July, when the Parliamentary Committee was set up to examine the legal irregularities in the Land Plan. The French Revolution, too, was losing momentum, and power appeared to be passing into the hands of the militarists – a matter which troubled

G.J. Harney, on whom the main editorial policy of the paper now rested, more than the local problems of the English movement. The trial of Ernest Jones in July had been closely followed by the Halifax men – of whom some had actually travelled to London to arrange bail. The speech for which he was indicted, contained a reference to his 'constituency' -

'part of the West Riding has got the true spirit in its heart, but two great towns stand like an incubus upon the W. Riding, namely – Leeds and Sheffield, which are torpid and apathetic .. it will be my duty to endeavour to get Leeds and Sheffield up to that mark at which Bradford and Halifax are now ..' (207)

Jones was sentenced to two years imprisonment, and soon after the West Riding delegate meeting passed a strongly-worded resolution -

'That this meeting is of the opinion that all former agitations for the obtainment of the People's Charter have failed in consequence of being based on moral arguments in opposition to an authority based on physical power and this meeting is of the opinion that that no other means short of that by which the people are opposed will ever gain their rights and privileges’. (208)

But if this resolution represented a new turn towards a determined insurrectionary strategy, the moment for that strategy to be employed with any hope of success had already gone by. Nor was the moment to return.


There were a number of reasons for the change in political climate – and for the failure of the preparations of such men as Webber to lead to any effective conclusion.

In the first place, it seems clear (from the evidence of the Home Office Disturbance Book) that the spirit manifested in the West Riding resolution was, by the end of July, confined almost entirely to the West Riding and to parts of Lancashire. The national leadership, as exemplified by the Northern Star, was certainly not of an insurrectionary, let alone revolutionary, character. Jones, in his last letters and speeches before imprisonment, had urged the need for organisation; but the other leaders seemed more concerned with recriminations for past errors than the re-organisation of the movement.

But perhaps more significant in changing the atmosphere, and certainly more important in its long-term implications, was the sudden and very considerable improvement which took place in the later months of 1848 in both the woollen and worsted industries. 'By the end of July great improvement might be perceived in the worsted market – confidence began to revive – and the mills to run longer time: thus affording more

employment to the hands.' (209) While in the worsted industry most hand weaving had by now been replaced by power, the upward turn in trade brought a respite of several years to the hand combers in the Halifax district. In the woollen industry, where hand weaving was still very widely employed, the improvement in trade was a few months delayed: but 1849 was to see an increase of nearly 60% in the export of woollen pieces over 1848. (210) For many years in the upper Calder Valley and Huddersfield districts the old ‘poverty-knockers’ were still to ply their trade.

And yet it is reasonable to assume that the centre of gravity of working class political agitation was now passing away from the hand workers into the mills and factories of the booming industrial centres. The twenty-year agony of the weavers had decimated their ranks. Howard, the surgeon who in 1844 was called in to treat the typhus epidemic in the upland village of Heptonstall-Slack found the inhabitants 'undergoing a rapid deterioration.' (211) The young and vigorous members of such communities now sought employment in towns or along the railways: other emigrated. Those who were too old, or who clung to their occupations and communities, tended to cling also to an outlook which was becoming foreign to their sons and brothers in the factory towns, who were coming to accept the industrial system in a way in which their forefathers who eagerly read Cobbett and followed Oastler could not do. The older outlook found expression in the words of the Barnsley delegate to the National Convention:

'Mr F. Mirfield, a hand-loom weaver … stated that his constituents were willing to carry out any measure which the Convention might consider necessary to make the Charter the law of the land as soon as possible … If Parliament rejected their petition, it ought to be regarded as a declaration of war by the property classes against the working classes of this country …'

If the Charter were won, he continued, 'they would divide the land into small farms, and give every man an opportunity of getting his living by the sweat of his brow.' (212)

The fact that these words were singled out for editorial abuse in the Guardian suggests that they reflected an outlook prevalent also in the Halifax district. In this sense the turbulent demonstrations of March to August ,1848, in the Halifax and Bradford areas can be seen as closely related to the last desperate protest of the hand workers. Certainly the agitation was by no means confined to these workers alone; but the outlook of these workers, their hatred of the factory system, their

nostalgic yearning for land and economic independence, their combination of ineffective industrial organisation with extreme political radicalism, was likely to divide them from the main currents of opinion among the younger factory workers in the industrial centres. There is no evidence that these divisions in outlook led to any sharp conflict among the core of the Halifax Chartists, who were held together by common political conviction and loyalty which transcended the economic and social roots of the mass discontent of the Chartist prime. But there is evidence enough that the Chartist agitators met with gathering defeatism and apathy among the people; and evidence also that the local mill owners and middle-class turned their attention, after the mid '40s, with greater subtlety, determination and effect to the task of winning over the minds of the working-class.

Thus both nationally and locally the autumn of 1848 marks the end of a definite period in Chartist history. In the West Riding boom conditions in the worsted industry lasted throughout 1849 and 1850. James records:

'Prosperous as the stuff trade became in the closing months of 1848, it greatly improved in the first months of 1849 … The sale of goods became so rapid that the Ten Hours' Factory Act was often in its spirit evaded … Like the preceding year, that of 1850 is a very marked one for prosperity in the worsted districts. In truth, were a spinner or manufacturer of modern times to point out two years of consecutive good trade, he would undoubtedly select these two for steady lucrative business … where the mass of the masters pursued a steady and profitable trade, and where the workman, along with the boon of cheap provisions, enjoyed high wages.' (213)

In 1850 ('a year ever memorable in the ledger of the worsted spinner and Manufacturer') Halifax maintained its place second to Bradford in the industry, with 75 firms employing over 16,601 workers. (214) Many new mills were built: December 1849 saw the opening of Akroyd’s great new Bowling Dyke mills with a grand celebration concert, including Haydn's Creation , attended by 2,000 workers. Despite a certain falling-away in trade in 1851, the general expansion continued. The solution of the problem of the application of power-loom weaving to carpets led to the great expansion of Crossley’s mills at Dean Clough in 1852:

' … weavers were working day and night, consequently as fast as the new shed floors were laid and the roof fixed, the part so finished was boarded off, and new power looms sprung up like mushrooms’. (215)

In such an economic climate it became possible for free trade politicians to gain the ear of the working man, while at the same time the 'knife-and- fork' urgency of the Chartist appeal diminished. Moreover, it became possible, as wages improved and prices fell, for other schemes of working class self help to be carried out. Still extant libraries of chapels and improvement societies in the Halifax district are testimony to the energy with which the clergy and lay missionaries sought to bring the Light from Manchester into Darkest Proletaria more a decade or more before the publication of Smiles' best-seller. Already in the late 1840s Edward Akroyd (the son of Jonathan) – had with the building of the model village at Copley (216) – embarked on a career of paternalism which was to lead him to promote Building Societies, a Horticultural and Floral Society, allotments, clothing clubs, a Cooking Kitchen for the Sick and Aged Poor, young women’s institutes, a Working Men's College and a Penny Bank. (217)

Within this new context, it is surprising, not that there was something of a rapprochement between the Halifax Chartists and the middle class Radicals, nor that there were developments of new forms of activity (notably co-operation), but that the local movement remained so steadfast in maintaining both the principles and organisation of Chartism. This may be attributed in part to the high quality of the local Association and the strength of mind of leaders such as Ben Rushton; in part to the direct influence of Ernest Jones. But at the same time it is important not to exaggerate the degree of alteration in the social climate in the boom years after 1848. While new trends and new alignments can be traced back into these years, the general extreme misery of the mass of the workers was little alleviated in the next decade. Thomas Latimer, who took part in establishing the Liberal Halifax Courier , recalled the atmosphere of the town in 1854:

‘I found the people at that time divided into two classes, and a bitterness of spirit dividing the capitalist and the workman which was very painful to witness – the separation was so sharply defined … I said I would rather be hanged in Devon than die a natural death up there. The workmen and the employers were in a state of hostility such as I had never witnessed.' (218)


Throughout Ernest Jones’ imprisonment, the Halifax Chartists made regular collections of money for his wife and children, a special committee being formed for the purpose. Other activity fell off as 1848 ended, but in December there was a parliamentary bye-election in the West Riding which the Chartists decided to contest. Samuel Kydd, one of the most influential of the unimprisoned Chartist leaders and a member of the Executive, was selected as candidate, and each of the Chartist localities in Riding was asked to attend the hustings at Wakefield, bringing an elector in their party. The Halifax contingent took with them Joseph Hanson of the famous Crispin Inn. (219) At the hustings the Tory candidate, Dennison, was shouted down. John Bright, who spoke on behalf of the Liberal, was according a good hearing. Kydd received the overwhelming majority in the show of hands, but did not go to the poll.

After the meeting some of the Halifax men walked to Batley, where O’Connor was paying one of his now rare visits to the district. He spoke to a room packed almost to suffocation and ‘quite electrified the audience’. This was one of his last visits to the West Riding. (220)

The main burden of work now fell to the small band of convinced Chartists. Many of these men were young: the names of several of the most influential only begin to appear after 1846, and their subsequent history shows that they must have been in their twenties in 1848. Ben Wilson, who was born in 1824 (and who was thus just a year older than Edward Hooson), mentions – when writing his memoirs in 1884 – several of the former Chartists still living at that time. The Secretary of the locality was John Culpan, a man who could still draw applause from an audience in 1891. (221). Ben Wilson said of him:

'I sat on the Committee for several years, and know something of the services rendered by the secretary. He was looked upon as the leader among the workers, and as a debater and writer he had not his equal amongst our party in this town.' (222)

These men kept the active members together, and continued with regular meetings and lectures in the Chartist rooms.

Meanwhile, with the improvement in trade and the falling off of other forms of activity, there was a general turn among many Chartists in the Halifax district towards consumer's co-operation. Support for co- operative principles had always been strong in the West Riding, though stronger in Huddersfield and on the Lancashire border than in Halifax itself. The Ripponden Chartists (six miles from the town) had long had an active association with their local society – one of the earliest with a

continuous existence in Yorkshire. (223) In Hebden Bridge the founders of what was to become one of the most vigorous co-operative schemes in the North were Chartists, holding their first meetings in the Chartist rooms; (224) while in Sowerby Bridge once again a leading Chartist, Samuel Moores, was the driving spirit in the Flour Society, formed in 1854. (225)

In Halifax itself a groups of Chartists took the initiative, and in January 1849 issued placards announcing the first meeting of the 'Halifax Co- operative Trading Society'. In order to prevent suspicions that it was a party affair they soon changed their meeting-place from the Chartist room to the Odd Fellows Hall; but the scheme was nevertheless unsuccessful. It lasted for five months only, and the small trading capital which its original members had contributed was lost. But the Chartists did not give up at this. Indeed, although the Halifax Industrial Co-operative Society, dates its existence officially from 1851, more than one false start was made. When firmly established, Chartists were still to the fore, despite the initial discouragement of Jones' opposition; and such men as Ben Wilson and George Webber served as directors throughout the fifties and sixties. They were also active in the Halifax Flour Society (founded 1848) and Cotton Company – an unsuccessful attempt at consumers' co- operation. (226)

In 1849, Wilson records his conversion to the idea of temperance – another notion gaining ground among the Chartists at this time. Halifax had a Teetotal Chartist Association for several years, for the Northern Star had recorded the meeting of such a group in 1847.

Another task tackled by the Halifax Chartists was the raising of funds for the exiled Hungarian democrats, some of whom visited the town, and at least one of whom settled down and became a successful tradesman. The Chartists approached likely sympathisers among the middle-class for subscriptions for this purpose – among them Judge Stansfield, father of James Stansfeld.

These activities were carried on at a time when the popular support for Chartism was on the decline. A passage in Wilson's reminiscences refers to activities at the end of 1850, and shows continuing loyalty amongst the convinced Chartists:

' A great many having left the Chartist Association, the expenses of the room were found to be too heavy for the number remaining, so that we removed and continued the Association at Nicholl's Temperance Hotel in

Broad Street. Our aim was to carry on the agitation by engaging such men as Kidd, Fynland, (227), Gammage, and others to lecture in the town, but it appeared to be to no purpose for very few came to heat them, I well recollect our engaging the Old Assembly Rooms for a lecture on the labour question by Mr Kidd, but, in addition to the committee, there were very few persons present; the rent of the rooms, the printing and posting of bills, together with the travelling expenses and small remuneration of the lecturer had all to be paid by us, and this kind of business had to be done for one thing or another for a good many years, yet no part I have taken since I became acquainted with the movement gave me so much pleasure as this time for the memory of those men will ever be kept dear to me.' (228)

A stimulus was given to the movement by the release from prison of Ernest Jones in the summer of 1850. A rally of Lancashire and Yorkshire Chartists was held on Blackstone Edge on July 14th. Many thousands were present (229), once again under the chairmanship of Ben Rushton.

The speakers – who included O'Connor, White, M'Douall, and Harney – were clearly encouraged by the attendance. Great attention was paid to the question of 'social rights', a resolution being moved that 'it could not be for the benefit of society that those who erected mansions and clothing were without.' Christopher Shackleton, now Secretary of the West Riding Chartists, seconded: -

'The constitution of man required that he must labour in order to exist – He required land whereby to live, consequently the land ought to be available to all. If therefore society were properly constituted no money- monger or aristocrat could make men into slaves. Whilst they talked of political rights they should not overlook the great question of social rights.' (230)

On the next day (July 15th) Jones was given a tumultuous welcome into Halifax, one of the first places he visited. A great demonstration met him, with an open carriage drawn by four greys, and a band of music, leading to a gala in West Hill Park. At the meeting a purse of 38 guineas was presented to Jones; and Wilson recalled with pleasure that, at the reception that evening at Nicholl’s Hotel, Jones refused an invitation from a group of middle class gentlemen to attend a private meeting and instead spent his time amongst the Chartists. The following evening the Chartist

committee, thirty or so in number, entertained Jones and Harney to dinner and a ‘jovial evening.' (231)

The loyalty of the Halifax Chartists touched Jones deeply. In one of the first numbers of his Poetry and Notes to the People he published his prison poem ‘Beldagon Church’, with a Dedication to the Chartists of Halifax:

' … I do not, and I never shall forget your conduct during my imprisonment: while professing democrats, false friends, and the nearest kindred, shrunk from the excommunicated of monopoly … you nobly stood in their place, and showed the world that the persecuted of the rich was the well-regarded of the poor. I do not, and I never shall, forget the glorious day, when, in your thousands, you shook out the folds of the red flag over the hills of Yorkshire, to welcome me back once more – a tribute not to myself but to the cause for which I battled …

… During our recent trials, it was you, men of Yorkshire! Who kept the democratic principle erect and pure – who, by your powerful voice, by your united action, saved the Chartist body from disruption – and impregnated its political energies with the long neglected germs of social knowledge …' (232)

Halifax remained loyal to Jones, and appointed him as their delegate to the Chartist Convention in March, 1851. But the quarrels and defections among the national leadership, which culminated in a breach between Jones and Harney, and the Manchester Convention of May, 1852, were not without effect in the district. Halifax (represented by William Cockcroft) was one of the handful of localities represented at the Conference,, and gave its support to the new Executive of three. But Harney’s supporters included Christopher Shackleton and George White (of Bradford), and there was a period of fierce dissension among the West Riding Chartists before the issue was resolved in Jones’ favour ‘and many who had been very strongly opposed to him became his friends’. ‘I have often thought’, wrote Wilson, with an understatement which throws these years of rank-and-file devotion into sharp relief, ‘that, if the leaders of our movement could have worked a little more harmoniously together at times, we might have been more powerful’. On the formation of the People's Paper (continued Wilson) 'I wrote Mr Jones a letter asking him to keep personal quarrels out of the paper as they did no good.' 'Not one syllable of personality shall intrude itself into its columns' was Jones' response. (233)

Jones' influence among the Halifax men was strengthened by his uncompromising opposition to the Middle Class Movement, and his increasing concern with 'The Charter and Something More'. In the winter of 1851-2 the woolcombers of the district struck against repeated wage

reductions – a prelude to their complete replacement by machinery in the next three or four years. Jones, in giving support, admonished them for the conciliatory language of their appeal:

'Woolcombers! place not your trust in the “kindly feeling and gentlemanly manner' of any capitalist. I impute no bad motves to Mr Akroyd, more than the general policy of the whole capialist class – to depress labour, and pay wages as low as possible … How long will you be led in leading-strings, and twisted round the little finger of the capitalists – your enemies – your bitter enemies, by the very constitution of your false social system … Working men, arise! and learn to know yourselves and your foes.' (234)

There can be no doubt of the wide support in the district for such leadership, for when the People's Paper was founded, and the all too common Chartist practice began of wrangling amongst the London promoters about the finances of the paper, it was Halifax that proposed that the paper be put on a sound financial basis by raising a fund of £100. Jones announced the proposed fund early in 1853; by the issue of June 4th that year, he was able to announce its achievement, enabling him to expand the paper and increase its circulation. Ben Wilson recalled that Halifax from the outset raised weekly contributions, finding founds wher 'some towns did not raise as many shillings.' 'We sent from this town upwards of £30 in the first three months, which would be nearly one- fourth of what the country sent.' (235)

Jones again contested Halifax as a Chartist candidate in 1852. This time, however, there was no split among the Radical electors, for they had a candidate in Frank Crossley (Miall's proposer in 1847) who well satisfied the Nonconformist wing of the Liberals. The Chartists were dependent for their votes only on those electors who retained a real sympathy with the movement. The atmosphere was by no means as tense as in 1847, although on the night before the election there were plenty of incidents, including the ‘bottling’ of Chartist voters and their forcible rescue.

According to Gammage (a witness unlikely to show undue favour to Jones) when it came to the hustings,

'Jones delivered what was considered by good judges to be one of the most powerful and magnificent orations ever listened to. He held that heaving mass at one moment breathless, and silent almost to the grave; then he excited a burst of frantic cheering; and again he drew from the meeting terrific groans for the whig candidate, Sir Charles Wood. Out of

that immense multitude only about five hundred held up their hands for Sir Charles, while thousands declared for Jones …' (236)

But the result showed a great falling-off in electoral support. Wood and Crossley were elected, with 596 and 573 votes, whilst Jones gained only 37 votes. Shortly afterwards, a bye-election of was brought about by Wood's acceptance of office. The Chartists did not enter the contest again, but demonstrated their neutrality on the day of the poll by gathering their sympathisers amongst the electors into an upstairs room in Nicholl’s Hotel and guarding the stairway against the forcible intrusion of canvassers.

The last great demonstration held by the Chartists in Halifax was in June, 1853, when the veteran Ben Rushton died. He had been a leader of the movement throughout its entire course, and his reputation extended throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire. He remained loyal and active to the last, and a week before his death an appeal for help was made by Jones in the People's Paper:

'We remember, a few months since, visiting him in his cottage, where still the loom was fixed, and there saw this aged son of toil weaving the finest and most exquisite textures, at a time of life when he should have been resting in competence on the earnings of the past.' (237)

But before the appeal could have effect, the old man died, and the next issue of the paper appeared in black mourning: it called on all West Riding Chartists to attend the funeral.

The funeral of Ben Rushton was the last great West Riding Chartist demonstration. Jones hailed the occasion optimistically as a 'Glorious Revival of Chartism', and the Executive wrote of 'the re-inauguration of Chartism … The overwhelming Demonstration of the West Riding … is an event European in its importance.' (238). The funeral (on June 26th) but was indeed an event of importance; but Jones mistook the tribute to the man who – as leader of the handloom weavers and political radicals: as lay preacher who had chaired a score of monster rallies and whose scorn had flayed the Poor Law and the factory system - represented in his own person the dignity of the Chartist prime, for the evidence of a new determination. The coffin, carried by six of the oldest Chartists in the town, was followed by a procession many thousands strong. Five extra trains brought people from Bradford, whilst another contingent, with a band, marched over the hills by road. The Odd fellows provided pall bearers: younger Chartists carried wands draped in black crepe. Rushton

had expressed the wish that no paid priest officiate at his burial, and the orations were given by Gammage and Jones, with the final words pronounced by another Halifax veteran, Robert Sutcliffe. After the ceremony the procession walked the two miles back to the town, and a meeting in favour of the Charter was held, the speakers including George White and (from Halifax) Isaac Clissett and John Snowden. A resolution calling for the Charter was forwarded to Frank Crossley, the new M.P.

The Halifax Chartists continued to organise lectures for several more years:

'It was said that Mr Jones and other Chartist lecturers were making plenty of money out of us, but there was not a worse paid lot in the whole country than they were. All places were not as good as Halifax, and 10/- would be something like an average of what they would get, out of which they had their expenses to pay. Many were the trials and hardships they had to undergo when on their lecturing tours … Mr Harney, when lecturing in this district, stayed at the “Labour and Health, and sent for Mr Burns, a tailor, to mend his trousers whilst he remained in bed. Mr Kydd ...had to sit in a shoemaker's shop in this town whilst his shoes were repaired. On one of Mr Jones' visits he stayed at Mr Nicholl's and the person who had the boots to clean notice that his boots were worn out and showed them Mr Nicholl, who went across the street to Peter Taylor's and bought him a pair of new ones. On another occasion we had to buy him a new shirt and front before he could appear at the meeting.' (239)

In their attitude to the Crimean War, the Chartists again came into conflict with the 'Free Traders' – and on at least one occasion took over a meeting which had originally been called by 'Manchester Peacemongers' to protest against the war. For the Chartists, of course, the war was an important blow against the reactionary might of Imperial Russia.

In 1857 John Frost, pardoned at last, came to the town, ad lectured – mostly on his chief interest of penal reform. The Chartists welcomed him warmly, for his release had been an important part of their programme since 1840.

The People's Paper continued to circulate in the district, and although Jones was now constantly in London, it is clear that he remained in contact with the town. (240) The local Chartist Association was still in existence in December, 1857: and appointed John Snowden as their delegate to the Chartist Conference of February 1858, which adopted the compromise of Manhood Suffrage. The demise of the People's Paper was

a serious blow, 'it having a great circulation in the town and district, and although it had cost a great amount of time and money its services to the people's cause were of such a character as to make us satisfied with our effort.' (241)    The agitation for the People’s Charter had now come to an end: but the evidence as to the actual end of Chartist organisation in the town is conflicting. In 1859 Jones was in an even worse financial position than usual and wrote to former friends appealing for help. ‘ the reply from John Snowden (dates 16 October, 1859) has been preserved:

I am sorry to inform you that there is no Chartist organisation in Halifax nor any of the numerous villages surrounding it. This being the case the collection of subscriptions is a somewhat difficult and awkward task.

Many of those who were once active Chartists have emigrated and others, who resided here as usual, have become so thoroughly disgusted at the indifference and utter inattention of the multitude to their best interests, that they themselves are resolved to make no more sacrifices in a public cause.

Moved as I am with the deepest grief for the situation in which you are placed through your foolish integrity and zeal to bring about the enfranchisement of the unthinking and ungrateful multitude, I have consulted with Isaac Crowther and the result is an agreement on our part to go among our friends and collect a small sum if possible … With this ardent wish that you will in future look to your own personal interest and work for yourself regardless of the multitude.'

However, in reply to the same appeal there came a donation of 11/6d from the village of Ripponden, together with a list of subscribers. (242)

Snowden was not – in 1859 – an entirely reliable witness. He was a hand comber, and after the introduction of the Nobel comb by Akroyd in 1856, he, like many other combers, was reduced to the workhouse. (243) His Chartist friends collected money for him, but he refused their assistance. Later, however, he accepted a pension of 10/- a week from Edward Akroyd, on whose election committee he served in 1868. A pamphlet from his hand reveals a self-educated mind cluttered with the antiquities and precedents of democracy, contemptuous of fellow-workers who had failed to attain the same knowledge as himself. In 1866-7 he allowed himself to be used, on platforms as far afield as Manchester, as a specimen of the sober working man who had no truck with the excesses of the Reform League. (244)

In 1859 the Radical James Stansfeld had become one of the members for Halifax. Ben Wilson records, of the period between this election and the birth of the Reform League:

'The Chartists and Radicals of this town, still agitating for manhood suffrage and the ballot, met at Stephenson's Temperance Hotel. The organisation of the Radical movement in the country was at the lowest ebb that it had been for some time, for the peopleappeared to have lost all confidence in agitating for political reform. Our old friend, Mr John Snowden, left the radical party and joined the middle class movement.' (245)

Thus, Snowden's letter to Jones depicts accurately the general appathy, and the mood of disillusion which took him into the Radical grouping around Stansfeld: but at the same time there remained a small group of Chartists, including Wilson and George Webber c(both active Co- operators) who continued to meet, who did not share Snowden's pessimism, and who regarded their old friend as a defaulter.

There certainly existed in Halifax a direct, if tenuous, organisational link between Chartism and the Reform League: and a section of opinion in the town, influential in the working-class movement, regarded itself as distinct from middle class Radicalism. George Webber was the moving spirit, and secretary, of the Halifax branch of the Reform League. The Chartist survivors, like Wilson, were at his side. At Ripponden Samuel Moores pressed forward the agitation. In September, 1866, the Odd Fellows Hall was packed to capacity, with hundreds unable to gain entrance, when once again Ernest Jones – supported by Edmund Beales, George Potter and Webber – addressed a great meeting calling for Reform. In the general election of 1868 Chartists and radicals united in a last agitation before merging into the stream of Gladstonian Liberalism.

Edward Akroyd was now a Liberal Member for Halifax, and this autocratic industrial grandee, with his extravagant paternalism and long enmity towards the Chartists, had alienated Radical opinion generally by his desertion of Methodism, opposition to Reform, and support in the House for Conservative motions. Webber and others, from the Reform League initiated a committee to bring forward a Radical candidate to oust Akroyd. Their first choice fell upon Ernest Jones, who was already committed to Manchester. On his advice, they selected Edward Owen Greening of Manchester, a rising man in the Co-operative movement, and a sharp contest took place. (247) Jones and his wife were invited as guests of honour to the tea meeting to celebrate the campaign. (248).

Jones' funeral in that same month (January, 1869) was attended by four delegates from the Halifax Reform League, who included Webber and Wilson.

Thereafter there were tributes to veterans and reminiscent meetings enough: but Chartism as a movement merged into Liberalism. Snowden joined his old friends in raising money for Jones’ widow. Later, Hebden Bridge Chartists were prominent in raising the memorial to Jones in Ardwick. In 1885 Ben Wilson called together a meeting of old Chartist friends: John Culpan, Christopher Shackleton, George Webber and nearly twenty others were present. The best thanks of the meeting were given to Gladstone and to the Liberal MPs for various blessings. No one thanked the old Chartists, but the local newspapers took some notice of this political curiosity:

'Their humble origin nevertheless, the majority of those attending the meeting have become men of business and in some cases employers of labour, and a few by economy, industry, and temperance have secured a competency for their old age.' (249)

It was a far cry from Webber, on the run from York Gaol, and Wilson, drilling in 1848, to these old buffers, placed in a humble station in the pantheon of Self Help. After another such a gathering, in 1891, now smaller through the attrition of time, old Ben Wilson collapsed and died. He died convinced that the Chartist movement had justified itself:

'The Chartists were called ugly names, the swinish multitude, unwashed, and levellers. I never knew levelling advocated amongst the Chartists, neither in public or private, for they did not believe in it, nor have I known a case of plunder in the town, though thousands have marched through its streets to meetings … What they wanted was a voice in making the laws they were called upon to obey; they believed that taxation without representation was tyranny, and ought to be resisted; they took a leading part in agitating in favour of the ten hours' question, the repeal of the taxes on knowledge, education, co-operation, civil and religious liberty and the land question, for they were the true pioneers of all the great movements of their time.' (250)

1. Extracts from the diaries of Anne Lister, Halifax Guardian , August 1891.

2. Halifax Township: 1811, 9, 151: 1821, 12,628: 1831, 15, 382: 1841,

19881: 1851, 25, 180. The 1831 figure might be doubled to get a rough estimate of the population at that time within the present boundaries of the borough.

  1. Quoted in Halifax Courier & Guardian Almanac, 1894, p. 93.

  1. See E. Baines, History of the Cotton Manufacture (1835), p. 387

  1. J. Crabtree, A Concise History of the Parish and Vicarage of Halifax (1836), pp. 308-9: J. James, History of the Worsted Manufacture in England (1957), pp. 619-20: Parliamentary Gazeteer (1841), p. 234

  1. Halifax Guardian, 10 May, 1845.

  1. H. Forbes, Rise, Progress, & Present State of the Worsted Manufactures of England (1852), p. 318.

  1. W. Ranger, Report on a Preliminary Inquiry as to the Sewerage Drainage & Supply of Water of Halifax (1851), p. 15

  1. See C. Driver, Tory Radical (New York 1944), pp. 65-6 and Appendix A, for the notorious 'Halifax resolutions' of the master worsted spinners: also R. Oastler, The Rejected Letter, with a Dedication to th Man Wot would not have it read (John Holdsworth) (1836)

  1. W. Dodd, The Factory System Illustrated, (1842), p. 150.

  1. C. Crabtree, operative, A Brief Description of a Tour Through Calder Dale (1833)

  1. Account of a Public Meeting held at Hebden Bridge, August 24, 1833: Voice of the West Riding, 20 July 1833.

  1. 'Memorabilia of the late John Hartley … Chartist, Radical, Socialist, and Co-operator', in Todmorden & District News, 1903.

  1. Cobbett's Political Register, 30 January 1832.

  1. A Select Committee was appointed, issuing Reports in 1834 & 1835. After raising hopes by recommending a form of minimum wage, periodically reviewed in each district, a further Commission was appointed in December, 1837. Assistant Hand-loom Commissioners toured the districts in 1838; their reports being published in 1839 and 1840. The conclusion of Chapman Assistant Commissioner for the West Riding, suggests that these labours need not have been undertaken: 'The general conclusion which I have endeavoured to establish is, that it is the business of legislation to remove all checks upon the accumulation of capital, and so improve the demand for labour; but with the supply thereof it has nothing to do.' Reports, 1840, Part III, p. 590. While the Commissioners did not visit Halifax parish, full details of declining

wage-rates, drawn in part from the Todmorden district, are in National Regeneration (Letters between Mr Fielden & Mr Fitton), (1834), pp. 27-


  1. R. Howard, History of the Typhus of Heptonstall-Slack, which prevailed as an epidemic during the winter of 1843-4 (1844)

  1. See evidence of John Fielden, Report, 1835, p. 10 (Q. 49): 'I think three-fourths of the manufacturers at least in the neighbourhood where I reside, have been reduced to poverty.'

18. Report, 1835, p. 7. Q. 28.

  1. R. Howard, op. cit: 'I can remember the time when manufacturers hired rooms in districts, and the warps and wafts were conveyed to them, by horse and cart, for convenience of the weavers, and the employer inquired after the employed; but the case is now diametrically opposite, the labourer not only undertakes long journeys in quest of work, but is doomed to many disappointments.

  1. Chapman's Report (1840), p. 564: 'In the event of a decreased demand, the manufacturer who employs power, as well as hand-looms, will, of course, work his fixed capital as long as possible. Hence the services of the hand-loom weaver are first dispensed with.'

  1. Report, 1835, p. 60 (Q. 465-6): 'In Halifax there are two very extensive manufacturers, two brothers (Messrs. Akroyd); the one weaves by power-looms and the other by hand-looms … they have to sell their goods against each other, therefore they must bring their wages as near in point of comparison as possible … to obtain a profit.'

  1. Report, 1835, p. 129 (Q. 1741): S.C. Moore, Evolution of Industry in the Sowerby Division. p. 15: J. James, op. cit., pp. 618-20: History of the Firm of James Akroyd & Son Ltd. (1874), p. 13.

  1. Estimates in the Leeds Times (28 March & 11 April 1835) show that the power-loom weaver could then produce 2 1/2 to 3 times as much work in a week as the hand-loom weaver. According to Forbes, op. cit.

p. 318, the speed of shuttle movements on a mix-quarter loom more than doubled between 1839 and 1852.

  1. Consumption of wool in Halifax worsted industry: 1830, 3, 657 lbs: 1850, 14,423,040 lbs.

  1. Problems of applying the power loom effectively to carpets were only overcome in 1851. But the Crossley Power Loom, patented on the last day of that year, could weave 12 to 14 times the speed of hand. 'Reminiscences of Fifty Years by a Workman', Halifax Courier, 7 July 1888.

  1. Report and Resolutions of a Meeting of Deputies from the Hand- Loom Worsted Weavers residing in and near Bradford, Leeds, Halifax, Etc. 21 March 1835.

  1. See John Fielden, The Curse of the Factory System (1836), pp. 67-9

  1. Leeds Times, 11 April 1835.

  1. James Burnley, Wool and Woolcombing (1889), pp. 159-185.

  1. Frank Peel, 'Old Cleckheaton', in Cleckheaton Guardian, 1 March 1884

  1. Se Dr. E. Sigsworth's essay on Bradford in Fay, Round About Industrial Britain, 1830-1850 (1952), pp. 123-8.

  1. E. Baines, Yorkshire Past and Present (         ), Vol. II, p. 415.

33        First Report of the Children's Employment Commission (Mines), (1842) p. 80.

34. Ibid., p. 42.

  1. B. Wilson, of Salterhebble, The Struggles of an Old Chartist, (1887) p. 13.

  1. W. Ranger, Report … on water and sewerage … of Northowram & Southowram (1850), p. 11: W. Ranger, Report … on Halifax, 1851), pp. 100 ff.

  1. Second Report of the Commissioners for Enquiry into the State of Large Towns … (1845), p.

  1. Chapman's Report, (1840), p. 539. The example is from Birstall.

  1. G. Crabtree, op. cit., p. 18

  1. W. Dodd, op. cit., p.149.

  1. Cobbett's Lecture Speech … Jan. 16th. 1830.

  1. Rawdon Briggs (L), 242, Charles Wood (L), 235: M. Stocks (R), 186., the Hon. J.S. Worltley (C), 174.

  1. See diaries of Anne Lister, Halifax Guardian, 14 May 1887.

  1. Charles Wood (L), 336, the Hon. J.S. Wortley (C), 308; E. Protheroe (R ) 307.

  1. 45.

  1. 46.

  1. E. Sloane, Essays, Tales, and Sketches (1849), pp. 61-5.

  1. Commonwealth, 16 November 1866

  1. Report of Proceedings … of Over & Terminer … for the County of York (1813), pp. 116-8

  1. 50.

  1. History of the Luddenden Dean Chapel (1928), p. 5

  1. Voice of the West Riding      1833. Also reference to the Hebden Bridge Political Union (in the Halifax parish) in Poor Man's Guardian, 17 November 1832, 13 July 1833.

52 (a) H.O. 40.37

  1. Triennial Parliaments, vote by ballot, abolition of sinecures, abolition of the slave trade, ending of the E. India monopoly, abolition of the Corn Laws. Halifax Courier & Guardian Almanac, 1895, p. 37

  1. 54.

  1. See J. Crabtree, op. cit., p. 541-2

  1. Placard of Michael Stocks, Jnr., Inhabitants of the Town and Parish of Halifax, 25 February 1836. Also correspondence in Harewood papers Feb.-March 1836

  1. Leaflet, To the Electors and Non-Electors of Halifax

  1. Halifax Guardian, 8 October 1836.

  1. See especially the excellent account in Driver, op. cit., Ch. XXV- XXVII

  1. Halifax Guardian, 4 February 1837.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 1 April 1837.

  1. B. Wilson, op. cit, p. 2. Result: Protheroe (R ), 496, Charles Wood (L), 487: Wortley (C ), 308.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 15 August 1837.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 28 November 1837.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 23 January 1838

  1. Halifax Guardian, 4 August 1838. 67.
  1. Halifax Guardian., 20 October 1838. Leeds Times, 20 October 1838

  1. Halifax Guardian, Editorial, 22 December 1838.

  1. MS letters in the possession of the Hx Antiquarian Society.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 5th January 1839, and Northern Star of same date.

  1. Northern Star 5th January 1839 and 12th January 1839.

  1. Northern Star 19th January 1839

  1. Northern Star 19th January 1839

  1. Northern Star (passim)

  1. Halifax Guardian 16 February 1839

  1. Sir W. Napier, The Life and Opinions of General Sir. C.J. Napier (1857), Vol. II, p. 77.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 30 March 1839.

  1. H.O. 40.43 J.R. Ralph to Col. Wemyss, 20 April 1839

  1. MSS letters in possession of Hx Antiquarian Society

  1. Napier, op. cit., Vol 11, pp. 8, 16, 77. MSS in possession of Hx Antiquarian Society.

  1. MSS letters of Hx Antiquarian Society. See also Hx Guardian 11 and 25th May 1839, 26th March 1892.

  1. MSS letters of Hx Antiquarian Society

  1. B. Wilson, op.cit., p. 3: Halifax Guardian, 25th May 1839. Hanson was expelled for this speech.

  1. Northern Star 18th May 1839.

  1. H.O. 40.51 Rev. H. Bull to Home Office, 26 July, 1839.

  1. He was later rebuked for this by Tetley. Halifax Guardian 10th and 17th August, 1839.

  1. Northern Star 17th August, 1839.

  1. Frank Peel, Spen Valley: Past and Present (1893), pp. 313 ff: Risings of the Luddites

  1. The story comes from two opposed sources, Lovett and O'Connor: see Lovett, Life & Struggles (1920), Vol. I, p. 243: Thomas Frost Forty Years' Recollections (1880), p. 113.

  1. Ben Wilson, op. cit.

  1. MSS letter in possession of Hx Antiquarian Society.

  1. Peel, Spen Valley: Past and Present, p. 315. See, however, The Commonwealthsman, 2 – 4 – 1842 for a defence of Bussey.

  1. J.L. & B. Hammond, James Stansfeld (1932), p. 8.

  1. Presumably William Thorburn. 96. H.O. 40.43
  1. MSS report in Harewood Papers, 5 – 12 – 39.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 18 – 1 – 40.

  1. MSS letter in possession of Hx Antiquarian Society.

  1. H.O.

  1. Northern Star, 18.4.40

  1. G.R. Dalby, 'The Chartist Movement in Halifax and District' Halifax Antiquarian Society 6 – 11 – 1956.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 28 March 1840.

  1. Northern Star 33 – 5 – 40

  1. Halifax Guardian 26 6 40, Northern Star 27 6 40

  1. Northern Star 18 – 5 – 40

  1. Halifax Guardian, 12 and 26 June, 3 July, 1841. Protheroe, 409, C. Wood, 383, Sinclair, 320.

  1. Northern Star, 4 Dec. 1841: Halifax Guardian, 4 December 1841.

G.R. Dalby, op. cit., estimates that there may have been five or six hundred paying members in the Associations of the district

  1. Halifax collected £9 out of £40 collected in Yorkshire for the petition. G.R. Dalby, op. cit.

  1. J. James, op. cit., p. 491.

  1. T.E. Ashworth, The Plug Plot at Todmorden (1901). The placard is condensed from the manifesto of the Executive written by MacDouall.

  1. H.O.     14 August. 'Strangers' probably included many Yorkshire weavers from the surrounding uplands.

  1. H.O.     15 August.

  1. Certain accounts suggest that the main body of the strikers were strangers from Lancashire. This does not correspond with the lists of those arrested during the subsequent riots. While some thousands of Lancashire men and women were in the West Riding, we accept in general the evidence of F.H. Grundy, Pictures of the Past (1879): 'few of the people, excepting enthusiasts among the enthusiastic, marched many miles from home, because multitudes were seen returning to the various towns passed through … I had unusual opportunities of noticing them closely, and was surprised at the number whom I recognised as factory hands round about, and navvies …' Also B. Wilson, op.cit., p 6: 'Those who attacked the soldiers at Salterhebble were neither Lancashire people or people from a distance, but principally young men from the surrounding districts.'

  1. Halifax Guardian, 20 August 1842.

  1. 'Memorabilia of the late John Hartley, Todmorden & District News, 1903

  1. Illustrated London News, 22 August 1842.

  1. F.H. Grundy, op.cit, p. 98

  1. F. Peel, Risings of the Luddites, Etc, pp. 331 ff.

  1. F. Peel, op. cit., 331 ff.

  1. The Great Plug Plot a scurrilous 8 page pamphlet by 'Isaac Tompkins': responded to in kind in A Vindication of the Special Constables (Halifax, 1842)

  1. B. Wilson, op. cit., p. 6

  1. F.H. Grundy, op. cit., pp. 98 ff.

  1. H.O.     An account sent to the Leeds magistrates by a Leeds newspaper reporter, who had been sent to Halifax to discover the state of affairs.

  1. H.O.     B. Wilson, op. cit., p. 5-6.

  1. Illustrated London News, 22 August 1842.

  1. Northern Star, 3 September 1842. 128.
  1. A Vindication of the Special Constables.

  1. H.O.

  1. The Chartist lecturer, John West, found Dewsbury 'very low' in February, 1844, and had to form a new Association with Rushton's help. Batley he described as 'a great nest of the Leaguers. The poor men here are sadly coerced; and ever snce the 'plug-plot' dare not avow their principles. There has not been a meeting there since, no person daring to let a room.' Northern Star, 10 February 1844.

  1. Hx Guardian

  1. F. Peel, Spen Valley, Past & Present, p. 320.

  1. B. Wilson, op. cit., pp. 10-11.

  1. The Great Plug Plot: Northern Star, 16 May 1846.

  1. Northern Star, 8 August 1846.

  1. Frank Peel, op. cit., pp. 317-9.

  1. Northern Star, 13 January 1844


Northern Star, 29 June 1844


B. Wilson, op. cit., p.10


National Chartist Hymn Book


Northern Star, 14 September 1844.



G.J. Holyoake, History of Co-operation in Halifax (

), p. 16

  1. Improvements suggested included increasing the size of allotments, and the prices of the shares: improving the type of cottage: regularising the position of the Society under the Benefit and Building Societies Acts: and the appointment of independent Trustees.

145a. Broadsheet, Chartist Co-operative Land Society. Important meeting of members resident in the West Riding, Huddersfield, Nov. 18,


145b. B. Wilson, op. cit., p. 14

  1. Nominations were printed in the Star from 19 localities, of which 15 appear to have nominated the existing Executive en bloc. Halifax nominated Ernest Jones, John West (a 'missionary' popular in the West Riding), Donovan, Tattersall (a local man), and Ross. The other locality which did not nominate O'Connor was Liverpool.

147. The Reasoner 7. 10. 46 and 14. 10. 46.

  1. E.g. the statement of a working man at Charles Wood's by-election: 'He had no less than 6 children all working in concerns under Mr Akroyd's management, and some of them have so worked during the last fourteen years … One girl, who was now above 21 years of age, when she first went to work received nothing for the first fortnight, and afterwards only 1s a week for working about 14 hours a day; but now a younger sister of hers was receiving 2s 6d a week for only six hours a day labour.' Halifax Guardian, 11 July 1846.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 11 July 1846. George White was proposed as a Chartist candidate at this election, but his nomination was not accepted, on the grounds that his seconder was not an elector.

  1. E. Akroyd, On Improved Dwellings for the Working Classes (1862), p. 4. J.L. & B. Hammon, James Stansfield, p. 15.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 12 September 1846.

  1. He was accused by his valet of homosexual practices: and the matter was made a great deal worse by the savage sentence of 20 year transportation imposed upon the valet for attempted blackmail. Halifax Guardian, 31 October 1846.


Halifax Guardian, 14 November 1846.


Northern Star, 8 August 1846.


Preston Guardian,


Gammage, op.cit., p 280


C. Bubb to E. Jones, 19 December 1846, Columbia Papers.


John Grant to E. Jones, 24 May 1848. Columbia Papers.


Northern Star, 24 July 1847.


Ibid., 24 July 1847.


Halifax Reformer, 18 August 1847.


B. Wilson, op. cit.


Henry B. Stanton, Sketches of Reform and Reformers (1860)


Northern Star, 15 May 1847.


'Reminiscences of the late Ernest Jones', Halifax Guardian, 31 jan



Halifax Guardian, 10 July 1847.


Northern Star, 31 July 1847: the resolution was proposed by J.

Bowden; presumably the butcher's man mentioned by Wilson.

  1. B. Wilson, op.cit. p. 9

  1. The Northern Star (17 July 1847) says 30,000 were present, the Halifax Guardian of the same date calls this figure 'a great exaggeration'.

  1. Halifax Guardian

  1. Halifax Guardian, 31 July 1847.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 31 July 1847.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 28 August 1847.

  1. Northern Star, 14 August 1847.

  1. Northern Star, 18 September 1847. In Halifax the combers contributed 2/6d, the joiners 5/-, the stocking manufacturers 6d.

  1. Northern Star, 8 January 1848.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 15 January 1848.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 8 January 1848.

  1. B. Wilson. op.cit.

  1. 'Halifax in the Forties', Courier and Guardian Almanack, 1901

  1. Halifax Guardian, 12th February 1848.

  1. Correspondence, Marx-Engels November 1847 – January 1848, Harney – Marx 18th December 1848

  1. Halifax Guardian, 18 March 1848.

  1. Guardian estimate, 3000 to 4000.

  1. B. Wilson, op.cit., p. 13

  1. Northern Star, 8 April 1848. According to the Guardian (of the same date) his language was less florid: 'They were ready to a man to fight, if necessary, through the hills of the West Riding, and to march up to London.'

  1. Halifax Guardian,      The report does not state whether the stave was in the hands of its owner, or whether it was a spoil of war.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 15 April 1848.

  1. Ed. Thos Barker Autobiography of Joseph Barker, p.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 21 April 1848.

  1. H.O. papers, Disturbance Book 1848

  1. H.O. papers ditto

  1. Gammage (op.cit. CXII p. 332) describing the Bradford Meeting, says that 'Numbers brandished their pikes in the Halifax procession …'

  1. B. Wilson, op.cit. p.

  1. Halifax in the Forties, Courier and Guardian Almanack, 1901.

  1. Northern Star, 6th May 1848

  1. Letter J. Riley to E. Jones, Columbia papers.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 27 May 1848.

  1. H.O. Papers, Disturbance Book. 1848

  1. B. Wilson, op.cit.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 17th June 1848.

  1. Charles Henberry McCarthy, a Bradford Weaver who was arrested in Manchester in September. He says that George White and George Webber were both arrested with him, the latter having escaped from York Castle, where he was serving a sentence for drilling.. 'Chartist Recollections, a Bradfordian's reminiscences' Bradford. n.d.

  1. Even to the extent of blossoming forth into verse in an effort to appeal to the better natures of workingmen, publishing on 27th May a long poem which ended -

'Remember you are Englishmen, and up and proudly tell

The traitors that would tempt you, or would teach you to rebel - 'We're poor but we are loyal men; and we'll be as we have been, True to ourselves, our honest hearts, our country, and our Queen'”

  1. Halifax Courier, 16th November and 23rd November 1901.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 19 August 1848.

  1. Letter from E. Jones 'to the Chartists' Northern Star 1st July 1848


Report of trial – Northern Star 15th July 1848


Northern Star, 22 July 1848


J. James, op.cit., p. 504


1848, export of woollen pieces, 196,876: 1849, 331,809: 1850,

608,926. See E.M. Sigsworth, 'The West Riding Wool Textile Industry and the Great Exhibition', Yorkshire Bulletin of Economic and Social Research January, 1952.

  1. R. Howard, op.cit.

  1. Halifax Guardian, 8 April 1848.

  1. J. James, op.cit., pp. 506-8 214. Ibid., pp. 509, 512.
  1. 'Reminiscences of Fifty Years, by a Workman' Halifax Courier, 7 July 1888.

  1. Commenced in earnest in 1849, completed in 1853. E. Akroyd, On Improved Dwellings for the Working Classes (1862), p. 4.

  1. See History of the Firm of James Akroyd & Son Ltd: W.G. Blackie, Heads and Hands in the World of Labour (1865): obituaries.

  1. Letter from T. Latimer, printed in F.R. Spark, Memories of My Life (1913), pp. 88-9.

  1. An inn with long associations with Halifax Radicalism. The coiners of the 18th century and the Luddites had both used it as a meeting place.

  1. B. Wilson, op.cit., p. 14

  1. Memorial meeting to Ernest Jones, reported in Halifax Courier.

  1. B. Wilson, op.cit., p. 10.

  1. Northern Star, Priestley Hist. Of Ripponden Co-operative Society Ltd (Halifax, 1933)

  1. 'Memorablia of the late John Hartley …' Todmorden & District News, 1903.

  1. G.J. Holyoake, History of Co-operation in Halifax, p. 57.

  1. See R. Blatchford, History of the Halifax Industrial Society (1901): Holyoake, op.cit.: B. Wilson, op.cit., passim.

  1. Kydd, Finlen.

  1. B. Wilson op.cit., pp. 15-16

  1. Gammage's estimate of 30,000 may be an exaggeration. But the MS notebook of a rank-and-file Chartists, present at the meeting, has the entry: 'Immense Meeting, beyond voice of speakers.'

  1. Abbreviated notes of J. Ramsden in MS notebook (in our possession). See also Gammage, op.cit., p. 354.

  1. B. Wilson, op.cit., p. 16 and accounts in Halifax Guardian and Northern Star. See also account from Reynolds in J. Saville, Ernest Jones: Chartist (1952), pp. 38-9.

  1. Poems and Notes to the People, Vol. I No 2.

  1. B. Wilson, op.cit., pp. 17-19: Gammage, op.cit., p. 389.

  1. Notes to the People, 3 January 1852

  1. People's Paper, 4 June 1853: B. Wilson, 'Reminiscences of Ernest Jones' Halifax Courier, 31 January 1891: Life & Struggles, p. 19

  1. Gammage, op.cit., p. 391

  1. People's Paper, 18 June 1853.

  1. People's Paper, 2 July 1853: Saville, op.cit., p. 53

  1. B. Wilson, op.cit., pp. 20-21.

  1. In the first of his Evenings with the People, 'the Workman and his Work' (1856), Jones dealt in detail with a piece of magisterial bloody- mindedness in the treatment of vagrants in Halifax.

  1. B. Wilson, op.cit., p. 26
  1. Letters in Chethams Library, Manchester and Columbia papers.
  2. See letter of Snowden on the plight of the combers in the Halifax Guardian.
  3. J. Snowden, Radicalism Vindicated ( ): Halifax Guardian, 17 March 1866.
  4. B. Wilson, op.cit., p. 30
  5. Halifax Guardian, 8 September 1866.
  6. Stansfeld, 5,278: Akroyd, 5,141: Greening, 2,802.
  7. Minute book of Greening's election committee (in our possession).
  8. Halifax Courier, quoted in Wilson, op.cit., pp. 39-40
  9. B. Wilson, op.cit. pp. 13-14
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