Friday, 2 March 2012

Chartist Circular: the voice of Scottish Chartism

The Chartist Circular was among the most important and certainly one of the longest-lived of the many newspapers that sprang out of Chartism in Scotland. 

Launched in September 1839 by the former handloom weaver and co-operator William Thomson, the paper was published weekly “from the steam press of W & W Miller, 90 Bell Street”, in Glasgow, until July 1842 until growing losses and bad debts forced it to close. 

The complete run of papers was reissued in a single volume by the New York publishers Augustus M Kelley in 1968, but has not been easily accessible otherwise. Fortunately, the Google Books project has now caught up with the Chartist Circular and the whole thing has been published online. 

The paper is of relatively limited use to family historians since, unlike the Northern Star, it carried very few reports of Chartist activities either nationally or locally, and consequently names very few of those involved in the movement. 

Writing in Papers for the People: A Study of the Chartist Press (Chartist Studies Series), the labour historian W Hamish Fraser describes the Chartist Circular as “not a newspaper, but an educational journal intended to bring a greater understanding of the aims of Chartism”. 

He adds: “What one has is a display of the central ideas of Chartists and of the perceptions which shaped their beliefs." 

Thomson himself had been general secretary of the General Protecting Union of the Handloom Weavers of Scotland, and in the years before Chartism was editor of the Weavers Journal from October 1835 to April 1837. 

He subsequently became, general secretary of the Universal Suffrage Central Committee for Scotland from August 1839 until six months after its demise in January 1842, and the Chartist Circular proclaimed that it was published under the committee's ‘superintendence'. 

The paper did carry some of the lists of Chartists that make the Northern Star such a valuable paper. Among them were the names of:

In his final few issues of the paper, Thomson would also go on to name those who had ordered multiple copies of the paper but failed to pass on payment (most likely because they had been unable to sell the copies sent to them).

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