Friday, 2 March 2012

Chartism and an Ashton under Lyne print business

The culture of Chartism was inextricably tied up with the development of popular print. Many  leading Chartists were long-time opponents of stamp duty taxes on newspapers, and the movement spawned some remarkably successful publishing businesses.

The Manchester Chartist Abel Heywood graduated from running a penny library to printing Chartist tracts and books while serving as treasurer to the National Charter Association. None of which prevented him from serving twice as a Liberal mayor of Manchester. Heywood’s publishing business, meanwhile, would continue to turn out popular travel guides well into the 20th century.

But if there is a prize for longevity, it must go to the printing business established in the Chartist stronghold of Ashton under Lyne by John Williamson, which kept going under its own steam until the 1970s, when it was finally taken over by Henry Booth Ltd before closing in 1981.

I am indebted to Michael Green, a former employee of Alfred Williamson Ltd (Alfred being John Williamson’s son), who has been researching the history of the business, for the following information.

John Williamson (1807-62) began his print business in premises on Oldham Road, Ashton under Lyne in 1835. Williamson may have had the support of the very active local Chartist movement in establishing his business, and in the early days he collaborated with Joseph Rayner Stephens.

Robert G Hall’s recent book Voices of the People, which focuses on Chartism in Ashton under Lyne, records Williamson selling tracts on guerrilla warfare, and as a leading member of the Ashton secularist society.

Over the years, the focus of the firm changed. Williamson’s grandsons were both prominent local members of the Conservative Party, and the company evolved a profitable line in the printing of tickets for the home and overseas markets.

By 1893, they had relocated to North Mill, Cotton Street, where the business remained until it closed. The area is now a car park.

Michael Green, who worked for Williamson’s from 1959-65 and is a member of the Transport Ticket Society, would of course appreciate any information on the firm that you might have. Please drop me an email and I will be happy to pass it on to him.

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