Friday, 2 March 2012

Chartism? Never heard of it

If you are reading this, then you probably have at least some interest in Chartism. But to what extent does that mark you out as unusual?

When researchers from Heritage in Action (Herian) stopped 110 people outside the Westgate Hotel in Newport, the site of the Chartist uprising of 1839, they found that two out of three (67%) had never heard of Chartism.

Among the one in three that had, only one in five (or just eight people in all) claimed to know what the Chartist cause was all about. (The full results can be seen here in a Powerpoint presentation.)

Intriguingly, half those that claimed to have heard of Chartism could name John Frost, the former mayor of Newport and a leading figure in the rising. Still more could name a monument to Chartism in the town – but this may not have been too much of a challenge as there is one outside the Westgate Hotel itself.

Focus groups organised by the locally based Herian in Newport and Merthyr to get a more rounded picture found that people tended to think of local history as something that had happened within the past 50 to 100 years.

Few in either focus group knew much about Chartism, and younger people in particular were put off by the idea of "industrial" heritage – a word which meant little to them and was seen as boring.

The idea of the vote also did relatively little to inspire. What captured the imagination was the unity of the marchers, and the violent aspects of the protest. Words such as "riot", "rebellion" and "revolution" pushed more buttons than "democracy".

Perhaps astonishingly, "democracy" was thought to be "too political".

The research has been used to help shape the Chartist Weekend events in Newport, set for 3 and 4 November, which focuses on how the vote was won. If the journey is a realistic one, then why not go along and lend your support.