Friday, 2 December 2016

The grave story of Peter Bussey, the Bradford Chartist

Peter Bussey’s gravestone in the Yorkshire town of Farsley is a substantial thing. It marks the last resting place of one of the leading figures in Yorkshire Chartism and in the radical causes of the 1830s that preceded it, and of his wife and daughters.

Peter Bussey's gravestone.
Photo: Helen Fields.
Bussey was an inn keeper from Bradford who had been an official of the weavers’ union and secretary of the local Radical Association since before the Reform Act agitation of 1832. He was also active in the campaign against the New Poor Law.

But it was as the delegate from the West Riding to the first Chartist convention that Bussey came to national prominence.

He was a firm proponent of the need to arm and take direct action in support of the Charter and was clearly one of those most deeply involved in plans for an armed uprising in 1839, organising local Chartists into sections and ensuring that they were equipped with pikes and guns.

In the wake of the abortive Newport rising that December, Peter Bussey clearly realised that the plan was doomed to failure and refused to join a mobilisation of the Bradford Chartists on the night of 26-27 January which was easily suppressed by special constables. Some, however, saw Bussey as a traitor. There were threats to shoot him for his failure to join the rising, and in its wake he fled to the United States.

Bussey became an American citizen, as is noted on his gravestone (click it to see a larger version), and did not return to his home town until the mid 1850s. Once back, he settled, starting a family and returning to the inn-keeping trade until his death in 1869, running the New Inn at Farsley and the Fleece Hotel at Horsforth.

I do not know whether the gravestone was erected at the time of Bussey’s death or not until some years later. Possibly later as the carving all appears to be in the same hand. His wife Hannah, who is also commemorated in the inscription, lived until 1903, and other family members remained in the town.

I am very grateful to Helen Fields, who sent me the photograph of Bussey’s grave after coming across it at St John’s Church in Farsley, near Leeds, while on a mission to track down some of her own ancestors.

There is more on the life of Peter Bussey on Chartist Ancestors, including a profile of him published by The Charter newspaper at the time of the Chartist convention.

More about the early years of the Chartist movement in the town can be found in Bradford Chartism 1838-1840 (published in 1869) and in many more recent general histories.

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