Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Chartists, Regions and Economies

Like its predecessor volume it provides a characteristically illuminating, succinct and thoroughly researched regional and local perspective on this complex but fascinating movement. It identifies clearly the salient features of each geographical area under review, comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of Chartism within and between each region, and displaying a clarity and subtlety of analysis which will make this volume and its predecessors so valuable to both students and teachers…  John Hargreaves

This book looks at Chartists from the grassroots. It abridges and builds on the two separate volumes—Chartism: Locations, Places and Spaces--dealing with Southern England and the Midlands and The North, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The focus is on how Chartism played out regionally and locally reinforcing the point that local priorities and political agendas did not always correspond with those put forward nationally and that, although the national leadership developed principles and policies and who passed through Chartist communities on their never-ending peregrinations, daily operational details were left to local leaders and organisations. For those communities, individuals such as Peter Bussey and William Carrier were as much the leaders of the Chartists to local men and women as Feargus O’Connor or Bronterre O’Brien. Is it better to see Chartism as a network of semi-autonomous political organisations over which national control was limited rather than a unified political movement? Should we see Chartism as a national debate over the exclusion of the working-classes not simply from the parliamentary franchise but from playing any role in determining the future direction of society, the economy and cultural aspirations?

Although there have been many local studies since Chartist Studies was published in 1959, the question of how the movement relates to the changing historiography of local history has rarely been raised. In part this was a consequence of the historiographical focus since the 1980s on its role as a national political movement but also reflects the difficulty of drawing these studies together. Although there are inevitably omissions, this book is an attempt to do so. In doing this, I have summarised often unpublished theses to bring their insights to a wider audience. One consequence is that I have written more on those areas, such as Worcestershire, which are largely ignored in the current literature than, for instance, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire or Essex that have. Although the focus in the chapters on England is on how Chartism developed its county profiles, county boundaries--osmotic not immutable--are an artificial conceit since ideologically and organisationally the movement transcended them as trans-county and regional delegate conferences show. The influence of London and Birmingham went far beyond their geographical, constitutional and political limits. There are six chapters considering the nature of Chartism in the English regions and a chapter each on Wales, Scotland and Ireland and the Isle of Man. Each chapter contains a detailed analysis of social and economic structures as well as a consideration of Chartism. The book ends with discussion of people, places, classes and spaces. It considers the question of ‘who were the Chartists?’ and the difficulties in identifying who they were and why they became Chartists and how far class played a part in this process. It also examines Chartism within its geographical context drawing on points made in the regional chapters. Finally, it looks at the whole question of radical spaces and how these spaces were created and contested.

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