On this day in 1840 an unsuccessful Chartist rising took place in Bradford. In the wake of the failed Newport Rising in November of the previous year and the conviction of its leaders for high treason, Chartists in the Yorkshire town took to the streets to continue the fight for reform. The event would however be an unmitigated disaster.
Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain that existed from 1838 to 1857. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country and South Wales. The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic, including a vote for every man twenty-one years of age, a secret ballot and equal constituencies.
Prior to events in Newport, the Yorkshire and Welsh Chartists had been in contact, agreeing in September 1839 that Chartists in South Wales and northern England would rise simultaneously. Arms had been collected, bullets cast and an insurrectionary network established throughout the industrial towns and villages of West Riding in preparation. In October however, a delegate from Bradford visited South Wales and tried to persuade the Welsh leader, John Frost, to postpone the Welsh rising, as the Yorkshire Chartists were ill-prepared. Despite these pleas Frost was not to be dissuaded and so it was promised that Bradford would rise once Newport was captured.
As the Welsh rising neared, the Yorkshire leader Peter Bussey got cold feet and went into hiding leaving the northern Chartists leaderless and the Welsh Chratists isolated. On November 4th the Newport Rising failed and shortly after John Frost was arrested. In December he was convicted of high treason and although he would eventually be deported, he was originally sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered; this would be the last time such a sentence would be handed out.
In Yorkshire, as in other places, there was much anger at the death sentences passed to Frost and the other Newport leaders. In Bradford Robert Peddie came to the fore eager to replace Bussey as leader and take action in response. Peddie hatched a hasty plan with other militants to take the town at night, plunder the shops and banks and then, with the assistance of other West Riding towns, size the local iron works (a major manufacturer of arms) before moving on to raise further insurrections at Dewsbury, Sheffield and the East Midlands. They would then march on the capital.
The Bradford rising was however doomed from the very beginning, having already been infiltrated by a spy. Around 40 armed men gathered on the night of January 26th, but when they marched on the town centre just after midnight, they were met by authorities who were well prepared for them. Chartist contingents from Dewsbury and Halifax never arrived – the messages calling them had been entrusted to the spy, who had naturally never delivered them. The Bradford Chartists were quickly rounded in and set to trial in York. On Wednesday March 18th Peddie, and three others were found guilty of riot and conspiracy. Their sentences were therefore lighter than those at Newport, with Peddie receiving three years hard labour and nine others lesser sentences.
By the spring the government had largely suppressed Chartism through mass arrests and the imprisonment of most national leaders, scores of local activists and hundreds of the rank-and-file. The first and most dramatic phase of Chartism was at an end and efforts moved onto a process of internal renewal and more systematic organisation.
This model was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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