Friday, 6 May 2022

A quick trip to Snig's End Chartist settlement

Fenced off, boarded up and long-since closed for business, the Prince of Wales pub in the Gloucestershire village of Corse is in a sorry state. Back in 1848, though, this building was the pride of the Chartist movement: a purpose-built schoolhouse intended to serve the new Chartist settlement of Snig’s End.

The schoolhouse turned pub at Snig’s End, now boarded up

Sadly, the dream did not last. The building never served its original purpose, although it did provide some sort of community hub for the newly arrived smallholders, and in 1849 it was the venue for a conference of delegates representing land company branches from across the country. But even then, the dream was turning sour, with arguments over what rent might be due, at the conditions the Chartist settlers had found when they moved in to their new homes, and at the financial management of the Land Company.

It was not for want of effort on the part of Feargus O’Connor. Snig’s End was to be the fourth of five Chartist land plan communities, and it was his personal energy that had made much of it happen. With a finger in every pie, from the financial arrangements, never satisfactorily disentangled by the subsequent parliamentary inquiry into the Land Company and associated Land Bank, to the purchase of the 268 acre estate, the design of the eighty or so cottages, and their construction, O’Connor was involved at every stage. He lived on site, and while delegating much of the construction work, took personal responsibility for the teams of horses required to move building materials from place to place. All while having oversight of his Northern Star newspaper, serving as MP for Nottingham, and rallying the Chartist movement - at least, those who still looked to him for leadership.

Many of the cottages at Snig’s End are still visible, as I discovered when paying a quick visit in May 2022. Driving from Gloucester along the A417, you come across the first of what are still clearly Chartist cottages on the left-hand side of the road somewhere between Corse and neighbouring Staunton. Others lie along the narrow lanes that head off to left and right, along School Crescent to one side of the main road, and Prince Crescent to the other. Walk up Prince Crescent, which is to the left of the former schoolhouse and the lane eventually runs out into what is still a working farm.

For the most part, the cottages have been modernised and extended - not surprisingly, as few people would now settle for three rooms and a back yard lined with buildings for small-scale agricultural use (see plan). There has, too, been an enormous amount of in-fill house-building all over the estate, which undoubtedly robs it of much of its charm. But the Chartist buildings are still generally easy to identify, even where porches and extensions have been unsympathetic to the original design. Among the best and nicest surviving examples is the house shown below, which is on Prince Crescent and even has a plaque explaining the Chartist Land Company to those who stop to look. 

Really nice example of a Chartist cottage at Snig’s End.

There is, too, a small exhibition in the nearby St Margaret’s Church, Corse - a short but necessarily slow drive all the way to the end of another very narrow lane. Watch out for tractors coming the other way. The villages seem understandably proud of their Chartist history, and it is mentioned on a number of signs in the area.

As to the former schoolhouse, Alice Mary Hadfield, who wrote a book, The Chartist Land Company, published in 1970, included a photograph of the building, commenting that it was probably only the fact that it had found a second life as a public house that had saved it from demolition years before. Half a century further on, I wonder what the future holds. The walls appear solid enough, though there are now holes in the roof as slates slip over time, and it is many years since drinks were served in either of its bars: public bar to the left, saloon to the right. If anyone knows of any plans for the schoolhouse turned pub, I’d love to know what they are. My hope is that no one is going to call time on the Prince of Wales.

More on the Chartist Land Plan.
Chartist land company officials in 1849 (with an Illustrated London News picture of Snig's End, 1850)

The former schoolhouse at the end of the 1960s, then a working pub

Friday, 22 April 2022

Want to live in a Chartist cottage? Here’s your chance

If you like the idea of living in a former Chartist cottage, then a very nice one has come up for sale at Lowbands in Gloucestershire (provided the £795,000 price tag doesn’t put you off).

Lowbands was one of five Chartist settlements created in the 1840s as part of the Land Plan championed by Feargus O’Connor. Houses and a smallholding of two, three or four acres were allocated by lottery to those who had taken out shares in the National Co-operative Land Company. 

The second of what would become five such settlements, Lowbands consisted of 170 acres and was bought in October 1846 for £8,100. In addition to its 15 two-acre plots, eight of three acres, and 23 of four acres, the site also included a ten-acre water meadow and a common. “Location Day”, when the first settlers moved in, was on 16 August 1847.

The much-extended cottage now up for sale apparently comes with three acres.

There are a couple of photos below showing the front of the cottage. From the estate agent’s description, it would appear that the original cottage was made up of the front three rooms shown on the plan (the sitting room and bedrooms two and three). The rest is later extension. This is entirely consistent with other plans and photos of Chartist cottages elsewhere.

Let me know if you move in - I’d like a nose around.

Monday, 21 March 2022

Chartism Day 2022: a truly enjoyable day

Chartism Day returned in 2022, following an enforced break, to honour and celebrate the life of Professor Malcolm Chase, great scholar of Chartism, who died in February 2020. 

The event took place on Saturday 19 March at the University of Leeds, where Malcolm spent much of his career, and attracted some 70 attendees - ranging from academic historians, to family historians and those who are simply interested in the history of Chartism.

A full report of this truly enjoyable and interesting day can be found on the website of the Society for the Study of Labour History, which has run the event for nearly a quarter of a century and which co-sponsored this year's event with the Social History Society.

Read the report.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

Register now for Chartism Day 2022

Chartism Day returns on Saturday 19 March after a forced two-year break. This year’s event is to be held at the University of Leeds, and will honour Professor Malcolm Chase, a truly exceptional Chartist scholar, a good friend to the Chartist Ancestors website, and a genuinely lovely man.

Registration is now open. Click the link to see the programme and book your place:

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Minute book of the Democratic Committee for Poland’s Regeneration: an exciting Chartist discovery

Minute books are absolutely central to the collective memory of any organisation. They record who was there, what they discussed and agreed, often what financial assets they had, and what they decided to do to advance their cause. No less so the Chartist movement.

Extract from the minute book

Alas, of the many hundreds of minute books that must have at one time recorded the activities of local branches of the National Charter Association, its delegate bodies, its central executive and its satellite organisations, barely one has survived. So the news that the original hand-written minute book of the Democratic Committee for Poland’s Regeneration has come to light is hugely exciting.

The 62-page vellum-bound quarto notebook, hand-written by the prominent Chartist George Julian Harney, recorded the life of the committee between 1846 and May 1847. It includes a list of the 29 founder members, and of 70 later members, in alphabetical order by town of residence, followed by minutes of the committee’s meetings, and newspaper cuttings.

In addition to Harney, other leading Chartists involved in the committee included Feargus O’Connor, Ernest Jones, William Cuffay, Thomas Martin Wheeler and Philip McGrath. Among the European exiles taking part were the German radicals Karl Schapper and Heinrich Bauer, and BartÅ‚omiej Beniowski, a veteran of the 1831 Polish uprising and himself an active Chartist.

The story of the book’s discovery by the historian David Goodway (author of the classic London Chartism 1838-1848 [Cambridge University Press, 1982]) and of what it can tell us about the committee and its place in London radicalism is told in an article for Cairn International Edition by Fabrice Bensimon, Professor of Modern British History at the Sorbonne University. His article was translated by Adrian Morfee.

The full text of this fascinating article can be found (in English) here.