This posting, about Chartism in Wotton-under Edge, was kindly shared by Richard Barton, after our Weavers and Workhouse Walk during the Stroud Fringe: the original focus was upon the family history of the Lacey family, and this section has been taken from that overall family history research. Many thanks again to Richard.
E.S. Lindley in ‘Wotton-under-Edge’, page 110:
‘Lacey’s diary also has some account of the mild Chartist agitation of 1839. He (Henry Ratcliffe Lacey of the Tabernacle), with his brother Rowland (whom we meet in other connections) made themselves prominent, but their brother Newton had to keep quieter, being master of the British School. There was a large meeting on the Chipping, addressed by Henry Vincent, a noted national leader then out on bail, who was very soon gaoled at Monmouth over a great riot of the Newport miners. At half past five on Saturday morning brother Rowland came to tell Henry that Mr. Cogswell and two others were waiting for him downstairs, and he had a warrant served on him for attending an unlawful meeting. After telling his mother he was going for a walk, he persuaded Mr. Cogswell to go on and he would follow. A little down Nibley road a fly was waiting and he took them to Dursley for examination. Friends had brought bail, and it was accepted; at assizes on the Wednesday they succeeded in getting postponement till the Spring Assizes. The prosecution wanted them to come to terms, and their friends persuaded them to plead guilty and enter into recognizances to keep the peace for two years. Nothing more happened.’
Feb. 28 to Mar. 9: Bristol, Cirencester and Stroud
WEDNESDAY, March 6. — Weather cold — took coach for Wootton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire. A very heavy fall of snow commenced as the coach left Bath. We had a bitter cold ride. Arrived at Wootton by one o’clock. The snow had ceased falling. Dined with Remy Lacey, a real good Radical and founder of the Wootton Association. After dinner Burns and I walked to the room of the Association — spoke to the people briefly, and were loudly applauded. The Wootton people are very intelligent and will soon upset the aristocratic power of the neighbourhood. At three o’clock a procession was formed, consisting of about 3000 persons, headed by an excellent band of music, with beautiful banners, flags, &., and proceeded through the town up to the Chipping, where a wagon was placed as accomodation for the speakers. [Meeting chaired by Henry Lacey; Burns and Vincent spoke] We returned to our inn in procession, and spent the evening in the company of 200 ultra rads. “Fall, tyrants, fall” was sung by the whole company in famous style. We separated about eleven o’clock.
THURSDAY, March 7. — Rose at seven — broke our fast in the cottage of Richard Skelton. Skelton is a stout, sturdy, six-foot Radical. … At ten we left Wootton for Cirencester, Gloucestershire. We reached Cirencester about three. The town is very neat and clean — the population about 7000. A meeting was convened for six in the evening, in the Market-place. At six, Burns and myself walked to the place of meeting. We found upwards of 4000 persons assembled. The agricultural labourers poured in from the surrounding villages. The town was in a very excited state. One man said such a stir had not been created since the town was taken by Prince Rupert. …. Burns and myself addressed the meeting at great length. An attempt was made by half-a-dozen “gentlemen” to interrupt the meeting, by throwing stones at the speakers. I had one capital knock — it did me more good than an electric shock. The people soon silenced the “gentlemen”. Al the resolutions were carried unanimously, and measures were adopted for obtaining signatures to the petition, and for collecting the National Rent. Burns and myself were elected Delegates. We had a great number of ladies present. God bless them!
Henry Vincent, ‘Life and Rambles’, in the Western Vindicator , no.4 (16th March 1839), p.1
Looking for the Charter “at the bottom of a glass of water”?
Both Lovett and Henry Vincent (an abstainer since 1836) appear to have been confirmed in their anti-alcohol beliefs by their experiences of prison, and in December 1840 Vincent would initiate an address arguing that the aristocracy ruled only because of the vices of the poor and that Chartists must therefore become teetotallers.
The address was widely disseminated, being published in full in the Northern Star, English Chartist Circular and the Odd Fellow, and it produced an enormous response, encouraging Chartists in many parts of the country to establish teetotal Chartist bodies alongside local branches of the National Charter Association, or to incorporate abstinence from alcohol within the objectives of their NCA branch.
Among the 135 signatories to the address were such other Chartist luminaries as Charles Neesom of the London Working Men’s Association, the bookseller and publisher John Cleave, and Henry Hetherington, the veteran campaigner against a stamped press and key ally of Lovett.
In “Teetotal Chartism”, a paper for the journal History (vol 58 no 193, June 1973) Brian Harrison wrote of the address:
“Judging by its signatories, Teetotal Chartism was strongest in the North of England. One hundred and thirty of the 135 signatories are known; of these, 48 came from Yorkshire, 26 from Lancashire, 20 from the Midlands, 13 from the Potteries, nine from London, four from Scotland, three from Ireland, two from Sunderland, two from Wotton-under-Edge and one from Brighton. But London had at least five Teetotal Chartist societies – at Bermondsey, Lambeth, Cheapside, Beak Street and East London.”
The East London Chartist total Abstinence and Mutual Instruction Society was led by Charles Neesom and his wife Elizabeth Neesom, who also founded the London Female Democratic Association and was the leading light in an East London Female Total Abstinence Society.
Teetotal Chartism was also strong in Scotland. In response to Vincent’s address Scottish Chartists used the Chartist Circular of 9 January 1841 to issue their own call to “dedicate this year to total abstinence”. Their own address was signed by 101 Scottish Chartists, including some of the movement’s leading figures.
On the other side of the argument, Peter McDouall would condemn the teetotal movement at the National Charter Association’s 1842 convention as “more of a religious than a political body”.
His views were firmly in line with those of Feargus O’Connor, who in the face of a rapid advance by teetotal Chartism and Lovett’s New Move denounced church, teetotal, knowledge and household suffrage Chartism as “trick, farce, cheat or humbug”. All were, he warned, distractions and potentially divisive, raising the spectre that those who were not Christian Chartists or teetotal Chartists might be judged not good enough for the vote.
His intervention was enough to prevent Warrington Chartists establishing a teetotal body, but marked a decisive split with Lovett and his supporters.
But the anti-teetotal line was about more than the personalities of leading Chartists and their positions within the movement. More politically advanced Chartists believed that Chartism could triumph only by organising and confronting its opponents in the ruling class.
Much later, speaking in Manchester on 20 October 1850 after his release from prison, the Chartist leader Ernest Jones told the crowd: “Some will tell you that teetotalism will get you the Charter: the Charter don’t lie at the bottom of a glass of water.” In the same speech, he marked his change of political stance by warning the authorities that before his imprisonment, “I spoke of a green flag waving over Downing-street. I have changed my colour since then—it shall be a red one now”.
Signatories to Henry Vincent’s address on teetotalism
Members of the late General Convention
Henry Vincent, late Resident in Oakham Gaol
John Cleave, 1 Shoe Lane, Fleet Street
Henry Hetherington, 126 Strand
C H Neesom, 76 Hare Street, Bethnal Green
W Rider, Leeds
J Harris, London (late of Brighton)
Rev W J Jackson, now of Lancaster Castle
W Shellard of Ponty Pool, Wales; now resident in Oakham Gaol, Rutlandshire
W Edwards of Newport (Mon.) now in Oakham Gaol
G E Boggis, Brick Lane, London
Messrs Williams and Binns, Sunderland
Isaac Johnson, now resident in Chester Castle
RD Lacey, Wotton under Edge
H R Lacey, ditto
G M Bartlett, Bath
R Spurr, London
Perry, ‘Wotton-under-Edge, Times Past – Time Present’, 1986, pages 136 –6:
‘Within a few years the desire for further reform found expression in the People’s Charter, calling for votes for all adults, the payment of M.P. s and the secret ballot. The driving course was the London Working Men’s Association. Henry Vincent, a fiery orator, was sent to do missionary work in the West of England and a Chartist newspaper, the Western Vindicator, published in Bristol, circulated in this district. Early in 1839 branches of the W.M.A. and its complement, the Radical Women’s Association, had been established in Wotton.
The moving spirits were Henry and Rowland Lacey, sons of a prosperous local family, and Joseph Witts, a weaver. On Whit Tuesday a great Chartist meeting was held on Selsley Common, near Stroud. The Wotton contingent marched there in good order led by a band and members banners inscribed ‘Liberty, Equal Rights and Equal Laws’, a slogan alarmingly reminiscent of the French Revolution though harmless enough to modern ears. The meeting was addressed by Witts, who stressed the importance of action within the law, and by Rowland Lacey, calling for economic sanctions such as the mass withdrawal of savings from banks and a general strike. At the close, the Wotton members reformed and marched home as a disciplined body.
Lord Segrave (Colonel Berkeley’s new title) wrote to the Home Office that Wotton was the stronghold of Chartism in Gloucestershire. Joseph Witts was busy founding Chartist branches in Uley and other villages. In July Henry Vincent came here to address meetings on Wotton Hill and in the Chipping; he belonged to that section of the Chartists advocating violent means. ‘Pull down the Palaces of Tyranny with your own hands… pull down their castles’. Lord Segrave, feeling himself threatened, wrote again to the home Office asking for leave to recruit a troop of Berkeley Yeomanry, to be commanded by Grantley, to combat ‘the spreading poison’ which was beginning to infect agricultural workers as well as unemployed weavers.
Henry Lacey and Joseph Witts were charged with attending an illegal meeting and were sent for trial to Gloucester, but the case was postponed until spring. Those leaders of the Wotton establishment, including Eusebius Foxwell and T.S. Childs of the Tabernacle, who had given evidence against them, were the objects of noisy demonstrations in the town; they were followed around by a crowd of up to two hundred persons, ‘abusing them in the coarsest terms’, kept within bounds only by the extraordinary authority of Rowland Lacey.
In the meantime Henry Vincent had been tried in Monmouth and committed to Newport Gaol. Chartists in Wotton were in daily expectation of a national rising. Three secret meetings were held at the Red Lion and a delegate was sent to the clandestine Chartist headquarters; the proceedings were reported by a government spy. Though there had been talk of joining, no one from Wotton took part in the Chartist march to Newport Gaol, in which twenty-four persons died. When, early in 1840, many Chartists involved in the Newport attack were imprisoned or transported, the movement in Wotton seems to have died. Though Chartism continued in the eighteen-forties, the emphasis was on peaceful propaganda; there is no information about its survival in Wotton. Henry Lacey and Joseph Witts were bound over to keep the peace.’