Friday, 2 March 2012

Mark Hovell and the Chartist movement

It has been claimed that between 1854 and 1916, “not a single book of permanent value on the history of Chartism had been published in England” (1).

This is certainly going too far: the autobiographies and memoirs published by Thomas Cooper (1872), George Jacob Holyoake (1892) and W E Adams (1903) may not be the work of professional historians, but they certainly bring permanent value to the study of Chartism.

Nonetheless, it was not until a new generation of youthful academics turned their attention to the Chartist movement in the early years of the 20th century that the history of Chartism began to be written by those not personally involved in the politics and intrigues of the 1840s.

One of the most important contributions to Chartist history in this period was made by Mark Hovell (pictured here), the author of The Chartist Movement.

Born in Manchester in 1888, Hovell had been a lecturer for the Workers Educational Association, who refined his historical knowledge and techniques at Manchester University and in Germany, returning to England shortly before the outbreak of the first world war.

When he joined the army as a second lieutenant in the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters, in the spring of 1915, work on his book was incomplete. On completion of his training, Hovell was sent to France and to the trenches.

He came back to England on leave and married the following June, but two weeks later was in France once again. Just weeks later, on 12 August 1916, he was killed in fighting at the age of just 28.

Hovell’s book was still unfinished. His former Manchester University colleague Professor Tout took the story on beyond 1842, using notes of Hovell’s WEA lectures and his own knowledge of Hovell’s thinking on later Chartism to complete the task.

The book would eventually be published in 1918 – and the full text of The Chartist Movement is now available online at the ever more impressive Minor Victorian Poets and Writers website.

Hovell’s work has not necessarily stood the test of time. His hostility towards Chartism’s most significant figure, Feargus O’Connor, was based largely on the accounts left by Francis Place and William Lovett, both of whom had fallen into bitter feuds with O’Connor.

Nevertheless, it remains import both for its contribution towards the opening up of Chartist studies and for the influence it had over later historians of Chartism.

The first wave of Chartist historyChartism and the Churches: A Study in Democracy, by Harold Underwood Faulkner (1916)
The Chartist Movement in its Social and Economic Aspects, by Frank Rosenblatt (1916)
The Decline of the Chartist Movement, by Preston W Slosson (1916)
A History of the Chartist Movement, by Julius West (1918)
The Chartist Movement, by Mark Hovell (1918)
Full text Chartist biographies

1. The Chartist Movement by Mark Hovell; T. F. Tout. Reviewed by Edward Porritt, Political Science Quarterly 34(1) March 1919, pp175-177.

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