The first Chartist Convention opened in London on 4 February 1839 – a date carefully chosen to coincide with the start of a new parliamentary session.
The Convention brought Chartist delegates to the capital from across the country, and its purpose was far more than simply to organise the delivery of the monster petition Chartists had gathered in support of the six points.
With an “electorate” of hundreds of thousands at their backs, delegates could claim a political legitimacy to rival that of the undemocratic Commons to which the petition would be presented, and they sought to speak on behalf of the country.
This was a potentially revolutionary alternative to Parliament. Its opening stages, however, would do little to reinforce such an impression.
Delegates to the General Convention of the Industrious Classes, to give the assembly its full title, initially gathered at Brown’s Hotel in Westminster Palace Yard – only to discover that the venue was double-booked for the inaugural conference of the Anti Corn Law League.
They then moved on to the British Coffee House at Cockspur Street, where they spent a cramped few days before finding a home at the Honourable and Ancient Lumber Troop, a radical drinking club in Bolt Court off Fleet Street.
William Lovett, who had drafted the Charter for the London Working Men’s Association and was to be secretary to the Convention until his arrest later in the year takes up the story...
Above: Delegates to the Convention.