Friday, 7 September 2007

Chartist Lives: Arthur Wade

Wade[1], a Chartist and Church of England clergyman, was baptised on 19th September 1787 at St Mary’s, Warwick, the second son of Charles Gregory Wade, an attorney and leading Warwick Tory, and his wife, Susanna, née Savage. Educated at the town’s grammar school, Wade served briefly as a naval midshipman before entering St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1806. Graduating in 1810, he was presented by Warwick Corporation to the living of St Nicholas in the borough in 1811. This he held until his death. Influenced by Samuel Parr (the ‘Whig Dr Johnson’), minister of nearby Hatton, Wade became latitudinarian in theology and a moderate radical. In 1821, he was among a borough deputation presenting a loyal address to Queen Caroline (whose chaplains Parr headed). He supported emancipation of dissenters and Catholics and on four occasions nominated the successful Whig parliamentary candidate at the borough hustings. In 1831, Wade convened a county meeting to press for parliamentary reform that marked an important stage in the evolution of the Birmingham Political Union (BPU). He was elected to the union’s council shortly after.

In November 1831, Wade moved to London. He was soon involved in co-operation and labour exchanges and took a leading role in supporting the Derby spinners and Tolpuddle labourers. Within the National Union of the Working Classes (NUWC) Wade opposed military flogging, the new poor law and emigration and supported Irish home rule and the reform of theatre licensing. Profits from the sale of his sermon A Voice from the Church went to those imprisoned under the laws against unstamped newspapers. In October 1832, with Henry Hunt, Wade led a NUWC delegation to Birmingham to initiate the Midland Union of the Working Classes. Their impact was such that Henry Hetherington dubbed them the Castor and Pollux of radicalism. The BPU, however, sought to expel Wade. In his most important political statement[2], Wade replied that he ‘would feel proud to be ostracised’: he now believed the interests of property and labour were irreconcilable and a separate workers’ reform movement was thus inevitable. He gravitated naturally to the Grand National Consolidated Trades’ Union and, as its chaplain, led with Robert Owen the great Tolpuddle demonstration of 21st April 1834: ‘he was dressed in full canonicals, and wore the red badge of a Doctor of Divinity, which corresponded with the Union badge’[3]. The episode widened Wade’s notoriety: The Times pronounced him ‘half-witted’[4] and he was formally forbidden to preach by his bishop. Owen’s journal The Crisis retorted, ‘Dr Wade’s is the true Christianity’[5].

Wade was energetic in the metropolitan organisations that developed into Chartism: the Great (Marylebone) Radical Association, the Central National Association, the Universal Suffrage Club, and particularly the London Working Men’s Association (LWMA). In May 1838, he was sent by the LWMA to present the People’s Charter to a mass gathering on Glasgow Green and represented the association at the Birmingham demonstration in August, both pivotal moments in the emergence of Chartism as a national movement. In his person, Wade bridged middle and working classes, the midlands and London, and his reputation for class-based radicalism, at a time when many Chartists were suspicious of both the BPU and LWMA, made him a useful ally in O’Connor’s bid to unite the movement. In September Wade, like O’Connor, spoke at a mass meeting in Westminster Palace Yard. Wade’s presentation of fraternal greetings from Parisian workers (the LWMA had recently sent him to France to publicise the Charter) was an early forerunner of Chartist internationalism.

Wade represented Nottingham at the national convention (and led its opening prayers). He was among those delegates whose mail was intercepted by the government; but Wade proved a resolute opponent of physical force, resigning on the issue from the convention after seven weeks. This inevitably diminished his role within Chartism, though he presented its principal petitions supporting the Newport prisoners to Queen Victoria in February 1840. He initially supported the Complete Suffrage Union, attending its inaugural conference at Birmingham in April 1842. However, delegated by Tower Hamlets to a second conference in December, Wade spoke to support Lovett’s and O’Connor’s resolution that the title of the Charter must be retained. He also supported Lovett’s National Association and Place’s Metropolitan Parliamentary Reform Association. Wade’s last recorded political commitment was as chairman of a dinner organized by the London trades in honour of Thomas Slingsby Duncombe in February 1845. He died of apoplexy in a tailor’s shop on Regent Street, London, on 17th November 1845. It appears that he was never married; his sole beneficiary and executrix by the terms of his will was a woman named Mary Anne, whose surname is uncertain but whose father came from East Dereham, Norfolk.

Wade ‘was a short thick-set man, and walked rather lame’. This enhanced a corpulent appearance, which was commented upon as frequently as the ‘full canonicals’ worn at the 1834 Tolpuddle demonstration. That event sealed Wade’s reputation among critics and admirers alike, but has diverted attention from his broader radical career assisting a national movement to cohere in the formative years of Chartism. It would be fallacious to claim that his prominence derived purely from ability. As a clergyman and Cambridge DD (conferred in 1825), Wade was a sought-after member of committees and platform parties; but his conversion to a class-based political analysis in the early 1830s was genuine. ‘He was proud to be a link between the poorer and the richer classes of society; and if his poorer brethren were to fall, he would rather perish with them than flourish with the rich’[6].


[1] Sources: T. H. Lloyd ‘Dr Wade and the working classes’, Midland History, volume 2 (1973–4), A. S. Wade A voice from the church, 1832, R. G. Gammage History of the Chartist movement, 1837–1854, 1894, C. Flick The Birmingham Political Union, 1978 and I. Prothero Artisans and politics in early 19th century London, 1979.

[2] Poor Man’s Guardian, 17th November 1832.

[3] Pioneer, 26th April 1834.

[4] The Times, 24th April 1834.

[5] The Crisis, 3rd May 1834.

[6] The Crisis, 28th April 1832.

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