Friday, 2 March 2012

A new look at Thomas Clutton Salt

A quite remarkable and unexpected new image has come to light of Thomas Clutton Salt, one of the leaders of the Birmingham Political Union and a delegate from Birmingham to the first Chartist Convention.
As part of a small-scale project to republish biographical sketches on 12 of the delegates which first appeared in The Charter newspaper in 1839, I added a page on Thomas Clutton Salt to Chartist Ancestors last week.
Over the Easter weekend, Todd Longstaffe-Gowan got in touch to say that his T. Knox & T. Longstaffe-Gowan Collection had bought the medallion shown below at Bermondsey Market in London back in 1992 for £20, simply because it was an exquisite piece of 19th century sculpture.
Although the medallion had the inscription “T. Clutton Salt” to the right of the sitter’s collar, it was not at all clear whether this was the artist or the sitter. With the appearance of the Chartist Ancestors piece on Thomas Clutton Salt, all became clear.
The medallion is a gilt-bronze relief, 170mm in diameter, and appears to be from around the same era as the Convention sketch. As Todd points out, Salt’s lamp manufactory would have been capable of producing this sort of high-quality bronze, so perhaps it was made in his own works.
Although Salt ceased to be active in Chartism after 1839, he had played a leading role in the Birmingham Political Union, both in support of the 1832 Reform Bill and subsequently in the early days of Chartist agitation.
"He was widely regarded as a good-hearted man, and his espousal of the causes of the lower classes seemingly was more genuine than was that of the other ‘currency’ leaders, whose bent was aristocratic. He was loquacious, and although his voice was thin and his reasoning often poor, he spoke at every opportunity."
The 1851 census shows Salt aged 60  and living at Bay Cottage, Garbett Street, in Birmingham, with his sister Elizabeth, children John Clutton Salt (aged 24), Ann Maria (17), Charlotte Elizabeth (16), and a cook and housemaid. It describes him as "master lamp manu. employing 80".
I believe he died in 1859, but this is based on an entry in the deaths index rather than sight of a death certificate. Incidentally, there was a Thomas Salt of the same era who became chairman of Lloyds Bank, but this appears to be a quite different man.
I am immensely grateful to Todd Longstaffe-Gowan for getting in touch and for the permission of the T. Knox & T. Longstaffe-Gowan Collection to reproduce the medallion here.
Image: T. Knox & T. Longstaffe-Gowan Collection, London