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II. Class and Political Radicalism in London, 1831–2

  • D. J. Rowe (a1)

Class has long been used as an analytical tool in the study of history and much has been written with regard to the formation of class-consciousness, which has to a considerable extent been related to the first half of the nineteenth century and especially to the events surrounding the passing of the first Reform Bill. Professor Briggs has noted the growing use of the term ‘class’ in the early nineteenth century and has postulated a middle-class consciousness created by the media of the Reform Bill and Anti-Corn Law agitations. ‘Sandwiched between an entrenched landed Parliament on the one hand and a bitter but still imperfectly integrated labour movement on the other, the middle classes were compelled to lay down their own postulates and programmes.’ More recently E. P. Thompson, in a brilliant and wide-ranging study of the working classes, has seen the formation of a working-class consciousness which involved ‘consciousness of identity of interests between working men of the most diverse occupations and levels of attainment’ and also ‘ consciousness of the identity of interest of the working class, or “productive classes”, as against those of other classes; and within this there was maturing the claim for an alternative system’.

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1 Briggs, A., ‘Middle-class Consciousness in English Politics, 1780–1846’, Past and H Present, no. 9 (04 1956). See also Briggs, A., ‘The Language of “Class” in Early Nineiteenth-Century England’, in Briggs, A. and Saville, J. (eds.), Essays in Labour History (1960), PP. 4373.

2 Thompson, E.P., The Making of the English Working Class (1963), p. 807.

3 Ibid. p. 820.

4 Ibid. p. 814.

5 See for instance the account of this agitation in the parishes of St Marylebone and St Paneras in Brooke, J.W., The Democrats of Marylebone (1839).

6 Quoted in Sheppard, F.H.W., Local Government in St Marylebone, 1688–1835 (1958), p. 295.

7 Ibid. p. 278.

8 Brooke, op. cit. p. 28.

9 ‘Place Papers’, B.M. Add. MS 27823, f. 369.

10 rbid. 27789, f. 137.

11 Quoted in Morning Chronicle, 2 Feb. 1830.

12 Ibid. 8 Mar. 1830.

13 Penny Papers for the People, 12 Mar. 1831.

14 Ibid. 18 Mar. 1831.

15 Francis Place, a biased observer of the scene, stated that the radical artisans, called in to help the carpenters, converted the proposed trade society into a political union (‘ Place Papers’, B.M. Add. MS 27791, f. 280).

16 Quoted in ibid. f. 246.

17 Penny Papers for the People, 23 Apr. 1831

18 ‘Place Papers’, B.M. Add. MS 27791, f. 301.

19 Wakefield, E.G., Householders in Danger from the Populace (n.d. ? 10 1831).

20 ‘Place Papers’, B.M. Add. MS 27790, ff. 19–20.

21 The Morning Chronicle estimated the numbers in the procession at 300,000, but this was certainly exaggeration since the paper was biased towards reform. Edward Thompson seems, mistakenly, to have assumed that this procession was organized by the Rotunda Radicals (op. cit. p. 812) and he suggests that the size of the procession shows the importance of the Rotundanists. The procession was, however, the result of contacts through Place with reformers throughout the metropolis, and his pride in the procession and comment that ‘there was not one of the leaders of the N.U.W.C. in the procession’ suggest that it reflected the closeness of co-operation between the lower middle class and the artisans in support of the Reform BUI.

22 ‘Place Papers’, B.M. Add. MS 27790, f. 54.

23 This account is taken from Place's political narrative (ibid. 27791, ff. 4–28) and Erskine Perry's notes sent to Place (ibid. 27822, ff. 29–34).

24 Quoted in ibid. 27791, f. 41.

25 Ibid. f. 34.

26 Ibid. f. 54.

27 Morning Chronicle, 27 Oct. 1831.

28 ‘Place Papers’, B.M. Add. MS 27791, ff. 71–2.

29 Ibid. f. 94.

30 Poor Man's Guardian, 19 Dec. 1831.

31 Place to Erskine Perry, 28 Oct. 1831, quoted in Wallas, G., Life of Francis Place (1898), p. 281.

32 ‘Place Collection’, B.M., set 17, vol. 2, f. 108.

33 Quoted in ‘Place Papers’, B.M. Add. MS 27791, ff. 218–21.

34 ‘Place Collection’, B.M., set 17, vol. 2, f. 108.

35 ‘Place Papers’, B.M. Add. MS 27791, f. 333.

36 That there was a considerable difference in attitude between the working-class members of the council of the Political Union and those of the National Union was shown at a council meeting of the former when Hankin, a working man, moved ‘ That the council reprehended the mode in which the government acceded to the call of the enemies of the People, bloated with places, pensions, and power, in appointing, lately a fast day.’ His language was considered so strong that the motion could not find a seconder.

37 The procession did have its unfortunate side in that Lovett and Watson, who had an important moderating influence on the Union, resigned from its council because they dis approved of the conduct and language of Benbow.

38 ‘Place Papers’, B.M. Add. MS 27791, f. 153.

39 Ibid. 27794, f. 164.

40 Ibid. 27793, f. 26.

41 Briggs, loc. cit.

42 Thompson, op. cit. p. 807.

43 Several of those craft unions, most especially the tailors and cordwainers, came together in 1834 to provide the main support for the Grand National Consolidated Trades' Union. Its numerical strength in London was considerable but it was short-lived and the old structure of small independent unions continued in London. For the Grand National see Oliver, W.H., ‘The Consolidated Trades; Union of 1834’, Econ. Hist. Rev. (2nd ser.), vol. XVII, no. I (08 1964).

44 The Society for the Diffusion of Moral and Political Knowledge noted ‘ that it was the first half-penny of the tax that kept from the working man the cheap newspaper which would enable him to learn what were the laws to which he was subjected and how those laws were enforced, and that the remaining /10 was only a tax on the well-to-do classes’. C. D. Collett, History of the Taxes on Knowledge, 1, 45. Such middle-class groups therefore campaigned for the complete repeal of the duty.

45 See the accounts in Sheppard, op. cit. pp. 304–10, and Brooke, op. cit. pp. 101–6.

46 See my article ‘The London Working Men's Association and the “People's Charter”’, Past and Present, 36 (Apr. 1967).

47 Lovett, W., Life and Struggles (1920 edn.), I, 94.

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