Friday, 2 March 2012

The Charter: voice of London Chartists

The Charter had all the necessary elements to become one of the great success stories of the radical press.

A short history of The Charter and those involved with it, including a list of the members of its management committee, now appears on Chartist Ancestors.

The paper’s editor was a veteran of the unstamped press; its publisher had been a founder member of the London Working Men’s Association; and the secretary of its management committee was none other than William Lovett, who had personally drafted the famous six points.

The Charter was even adopted as the official organ of the General Convention of the Industrious Classes – the first Chartist convention.

Yet it failed to exploit all these elements to its advantage, either by using its connections to provide a better insight into Chartism’s inner workings, or to reach out to a large audience throughout the country which badly wanted to know what was happening at the convention and beyond.

In the end, its publisher’s limited enough ambition of selling 10,000 copies a week and turning a profit that could be used to fund other political activities proved too much, and by the end of its first year of publication sales were running at barely a quarter of the anticipated level.

The Charter was pulled apart by internal strife, poor management and a lack of the imagination needed to turn it from an in-house journal for metropolitan activists into a mass-circulation newspaper. The contrast with Feargus O’Connor’s Northern Star is instructive.

The short account on Chartist Ancestors of The Charter’s all-too-brief run of 60 issues is, as far as I know, the first published attempt at a history of the paper.

I know a little of what became of Robert Hartwell, its publisher, and William Carpenter, its editor. For much of the information on Carpenter I am indebted to Richard Brown’s History Zone blog, which provides extensive details of his publishing career.

However, I would like to know more about The Charter – and in particular to find pictures of its principal figures if any exist.

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