Saturday, 20 May 2017

George Julian Harney on "something of vital importance"

In the summer of 1839, George Julian Harney found himself under arrest in Warwick Gaol and facing trial for his use of “seditious language” to foment the “Grand National Holiday” or general strike called for by the Chartist Convention.

Then just 22 years old and already a well known figure among London radicals, Harney was taken before a judge on 7 August and granted bail until the next assizes – on condition that he hand over £80 and find two sureties of £40 each. He would remain behind bars until the money was forthcoming.

Harney was not a wealthy man, but evidently the necessary £160 was found from somewhere and Harney was released.

Harney's letter. Click to see a
larger version
The letter shown here was written by Harney from an address in Blackfriars, near Ludgate Hill, in London.

Sent on the evening of August 27, 1839, and addressed to a Mr I Wilkins in Birmingham, it breathlessly summons the recipient to London for an immediate meeting, “as I have something of vital importance I wish to see you about”.

The letter is silent as to the nature of this important matter, but it was clearly too sensitive to be put in writing.

It is interesting to speculate about what it might have been: something concerning Harney’s forthcoming trial; plans for his resumed speaking tour (he would be addressing a large meeting in Hull the following month); or perhaps something still more secretive. Or maybe it was entirely innocent of political content.

I have tried but so far failed to find a Mr I Wilkins who might have received the letter; but the locations of both Harney and Wilkins are relatively easy to track down, despite the massive rebuilding work that has taken place since.

I picked this letter up on eBay and have added it to my collection of Chartist memorabilia and ephemera, along with others written by Feargus O’Connor and the French socialist Louis Blanc. If anyone can shed further light on its recipient or likely subject matter, I’d love to hear from you.

Transcript of the letter

London Tuesday Eve
August 27th 1839
Dear Sir
Please to let me see you in / town immediately, as I have something / of vital importance I wish to see / you about. You will find me by calling / at the undermentioned place.
Yours most truly
George Julian Harney
At Mr Ireland’s
No 9 Evangelists Court
(near Ludgate Hill)

The address on the other side reads
Mr I Wilkins
Black Boy and Woolpack Inn
St Martin’s Lane
Near the Old Church

The paper is embossed on the front with a crown symbol and the words "Superfine Bath" - presumably the maker of the paper. On the back, a date stamp confirms the date of August 27 1839.

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