Thursday, 18 April 2019

A Chorlton Chartist, co-operative ventures and a wish which almost came true

Finding a Chorlton Chartist is not an obsession, although I do have to admit it does flirt into my mind quite regularly.

During the late 1830s into the 50s the Chartists campaigned for an extension of the vote to working men alongside a raft of other issues which were about improving the conditions of the working class.  Now friends smile and point out that a rural community like Chorlton was both isolated and unlikely to entertain radical politics.  To which I have to reply why not?

We were only 4 miles away from Manchester, many of our people would have visited the city and certainly many more would have come into the township in the course of the year.  The French Revolution and the periodic “hard times” had stirred the pot and I just cannot see how the radical ideas for a better society would not have been known and debated here.

After all there is no special reason why rural communities can not challenge the establishment.  The Tolpuddle Martyrs who were transported for being in a trade union were farm labourers, the Swing Riots in the south and west were about agricultural workers protesting at new methods of farming and alongside our farming families there had been  handloom weavers who themselves became more radicalized during the early years of the 19th century.

So it is possible even if we don’t as yet have the evidence.

And I was reminded of this when I read my friend Lawrence’s recent post on his blog, Hardy Lane Scrapbook Now there were plenty of people attempting to follow the Rochdale Pioneers and set up local co-operative societies which aimed to offer good quality food and goods at a decent price with the added benefit of a loyalty dividend from the profits to be shared out amongst the members.  , The Manchester and Salford Co-op was founded on Christmas Day 1858 and Lawrence in his post, Origin of M&S goes a little way to disentangle the myth from the reality.*

Nor were the Rochdale Pioneers the first to attempt “co-operation” but what I suppose marks them out is that they succeeded where the others for a variety of reasons failed.
And one of those groups which did not make it long past their brave start was the Hume and Chorlton Joint Stock Provision Company founded in the October of 1840 with one shop on Clarendon Street Chorlton on Medlock.

The Chartist paper the Northern Star covered their launch and early expansion in 1840 and for me it sums up exactly what these early co-operators wanted to do.

“Hulme And Chorlton. – At a meeting of the Committee of management of the Hulme and Chorlton Joint Stock Provision Company, October 22nd it was unanimously resolved, in consequence of the increase in business, and for accommodation of shareholders and other, that we open another shop in the township of Hulme.  The above resolution has been carried into effect, and we have opened a shop at 10 Melbourne-street, Bradshaw-street, Hulme.  We are determined to make the shopkeepers of the above township sell their bread at the same price we have made them in Chorlton, that is, the 4lb. Loaf for 7d.  On opening our shop in Hulme, several customers, on calling for a 4lb. Loaf, tendered 8d. For it; and when the shopman returned them one penny they seemed surprised.  This shews that the working classes are not alive to their own interest, or else they would have known the advantage of co-operation.  If they will only pay us a visit, we will assure them they will lose nothing by it; but on the contrary, gain.  We likewise call on all Corn Law repealers to visit our shops, and we will give them what they have been fighting for a long time-namely, cheap bread.  Working men, come forward and assist us in keeping down the profitmongers.  Shares, 5s each may be paid in instalments of 6d per week.  The Committee meet every Thursday evening, at eight o’clock, at their rooms, over the shop, No 26, Clarendon Street, Chorlton.” The Northern Star November 7 1840

Sadly it seems they fell by the wayside.  A trawl of the directories for 1841 and 1850 show no listings for the Hulme and Chorlton Joint Stock Provision Company, and they are not mentioned again in the Northern Star for 1840.

It may be that like many of these early societies they lacked sufficient resources.  Certainly the price of their shares at 5s [25p] was far less than the Rochdale Pioneers who just four years later set their shares at £1.  And the 1840s were a hard time.

Now I have every expectation that more will come out about this co-operative venture in Hulme and Chorlton on Medlock.  It maybe that later editions of the Northern Star for the years from 1841 onwards will have something on them and locked away in the Working Class Library in Salford there may be a manifesto, a set of accounts or even a contemporary description.

And in just the same way I travel in hope that there will be a reference to my Chorlton Chartist.  After all just as I was concluding the chapter on the murder of Francis Deacon I came across a link to the Chartists.  Francis had been murdered in a local beer house by George Leech, the husband of the woman who ran it.

The papers at the time carried the lurid details of the murder and the degree to which George had a drink problem and regularly deserted his wife, but one of them in an almost throw away comment described how he had been involved in industrial action as a railwayman in 1847 and stood trial for conspiracy.

This was a time of heightened social and industrial unrest.  The second great Chartist petition had been rejected by Parliament just five years before and had been followed by a general strike commonly called the Plug Riots and in the year after the murder of Francis Deakin  another petition would also be ignored.

Leech was tried with others some of whom were Chartists and the trial popularly referred to by the Northern Star as the “monster indictment“ has the flavour of a show trial. But he was acquitted “as nothing more was proved than “picquetting.”

Now I would have preferred someone a little more heroic as my link to Chartism but history is messy and you don’t always get what you hope for.  And there might even be more to George than the murder and the drunken stories, so we shall see.

Picture’s The Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, April 10, 1848, photograph taken by William Kilburn, from the Wikipedia site  & the Parish Church as it would have looked during the 1840s from the collection of Tony Walker


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