The Chartists: Perspectives and Legacies

by Malcolm Chase
Merlin Press. (2015) ISBN 978-0-85036-625-9, Paperback, £15.99

This is not a book for those just starting to explore the history of Chartism, but it is an interesting and informative read for those with a little background knowledge of the movement. It is not a straightforward history, but an examination of various facets of Chartism and the way in which its history has been written. One chapter deals with the effect the Canadian Rebellion of 1837-38 had on the struggle for democracy in Britain, not a subject usually covered by mainstream historians. It is all too easy to concentrate on local events without looking at the outside forces which may have influenced them, and this explains the importance that international news coverage can have on local political movements. This rebellion, though little known now in Britain, gave a clear message to those people who wanted to change the social order here that the ruling elite would not voluntarily give up their privileges.

The Chartist Penny Almanacks were produced each year. They were designed to be used daily as a diary, reminder of events, interspersed with household tips and other useful information. Pages would be torn off and disposed of once their use had ended, so the discovery of an intact almanack is an extremely rare event. The anniversaries noted in it were not the usual run-of-the-mill birthdays of monarchs etc but reminders of the beheading of Charles I, Cromwell’s birthday and the 1832 Reform Act amongst other radical events. This almanac was printed in 1844 by William J. Oliver of Darlington, who also distributed the Northern Star, the radical Chartist newspaper. Chase calls this “a snapshot of popular publishing and politics on the cusp of significant changes”.

Chase also covers the Chartist Land Plans in detail as well as looking at the radicalising of children in Chartist households and Welsh Chartist activity. This book is an enjoyable and enlightening read and throws a fresh light on some of the more obscure aspects of Chartism.