Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Brief lives of the Chartist Land Company subscribers

In his third blog post about a U3A project to extract information on Londoners and women from the Chartist Land Company share registers, Peter Cox looks in more detail at some of the individual subscribers found in the records.

Previous posts in this series
Transcribing the Chartist Land Company registers.
Analysing the Chartist Land Company registers.

With a wealth of online sources now available for the family historian, and plenty of experience, we embarked with some optimism on the attempt to track down individuals. They proved much more elusive than we expected, even limiting the search to the one in ten or so with less usual names.

Armed with a name, occupation and address in 1847/48, it should have been relatively easy to pinpoint people with some degree of certainty in the 1841 or 1851 censuses. Not so. While the names might have ben mistranscribed from a poorly handwritten local list, the subscriber would have a clear vested interest in ensuring their name was correctly spelt.  But only one in three of those we examined could be identified with any degree of certainty, and rarely were they in the same precise location – an indication of how frequently renters moved, particularly in early Victorian London.

Attempts to trace women were naturally less easy still, with marriage bringing a surname change.

Here, though, is a brief illustration of a few we found.

William Cuffay
Grandson of an African slave, the diminutive mixed-race London tailor, a popular leading Chartist organiser and orator, became the Land Company’s auditor, and was himself among the first to sign up. Unfortunately, after the 1848 debacle he was forced to carry on his radical activities in Tasmania, where he’d been transported for life (though later pardoned, he didn’t return). In fact he was more successful there, playing a leading part in the abolition of the hated Masters and Servants Act.

Edmund Stallwood
Edmund Stallwood
Edmund Stallwood, a London journalist who wrote articles for the Northern Star, and later for Julian Harney’s Red Republican, was another subscriber. In fact he has two entries, so he either bought two shares, or it’s one of the accidental duplicates. He won a two acre plot at Charterville, number 30b, but there’s no evidence he lived on it. Like many others, he probably sold it on.

After 1848, like so many other prominent Chartists, he moved to other radical causes such as health and supporting union-forming workers. In 1844 he had gone down to Crayford in Kent to speak to the skilled block printers at the Swaisland and Evans company, who were facing a sharp wage reduction, to explain the Charter’s Six Points. It’s no surprise that many of the Dartford and Crayford block printing community were active Chartists, and more than 20 of them became Land Compay subscribers. In 1852 they struck, and strike-breaking block printers were brought down from Lancashire. They were forced to sign a contract, and when they tried to return home, dissatisfied, were brought back to Dartford for trial and sentenced under the English version of the Master and Servants Act which William Cuffay was battling in Tasmania.

Stallwood had been born in Marlow in Buckinghamshire in 1810, and in 1841 was living in Hammersmith, described only as a labourer aged 30, with a wife and five children. But a year later he was working as a journalist for the Northern Star from London. In 1850 he worked briefly as well for George Julian’s Harney’s Red Republican, shown below, and left the Northern Star that October. By 1861 he had moved to Gillingham in Kent, espousing several radical causes while giving his occupation as ‘messenger’. He died there in 1866 aged 56.
More on Edmund Stallwood.

John Renham
John Renham was a shoemaker who had come from his Cambridgeshire birthplace of Chesterton to Saville Street in Marylebone, and was just 21 when he bought a Land Company subscription in 1847. He was awarded four acres in Lowbands but doesn’t seem to have taken it up: in 1851 he’d moved to New Street in Kensington with his young wife Sophia, a shoe binder, and their first child. He didn’t continue to make shoes. In 1861 he’s in Moore Street, Chelsea, now a widower with three children, and is an agent to an assurance office. In 1871 he has moved to 129 Kings Road, where he runs a tobacconist and confectioner. He’s still there in 1881, but has retired to Limerston Street in Chelsea by 1891, when he’s 66 and ‘living on his own means’. His three sons have become an engineer, a clerk and a butcher. He rents out the basement at four shillings a week, and when he dies at 78 in 1902 he leaves £1763-2-8 in his will, a tidy sum for a man born a rural shoemaker, approaching £200,000 today. It’s tempting to conclude that the money he made from selling his Lowbands plot gave him a leg up in life.

Alonzo Dunford
The splendidly-named Alonzo Dunford had been born in Cambridge in 1813, and married at 18 there in 1832. In 1839 he’s named in Pigot’s directory of Cambridge as a wheelwright in Newnham, but by 1841 he’s living in Ely with the first four of his six children, working as a coach builder, and that’s his occupation when he’s awarded a four acre plot in Minster Lovell, Charterville, in February 1848, when he’s described as living in the City of London. (Incidentally, his son Robert, also a coach builder, was an unsuccessful subscriber). It looks as though Alonzo did take up the plot, because by 1851 he has moved his family to Minster Lovell’s nearest large town, Witney, still working as a coach builder. In 1860 he’s on the electoral roll (long before other unfranchised men first got the vote, in 1867) with a freehold house and land, plot 27e, a Charterville cottage on the Brizenorton Road in Minster Lovell. Was he living there or renting it out? Next year in 1861 he’s moved as far as Walsall in Staffordshire, still with three of his children at home, but in 1871 he’s in Oxford, with all the children flown. Ten years later in 1881 not only has he moved to London again, to Rotherhithe, but like John Renham he has become a tobacconist. Is this the retirement occupation of choice for someone who has some money to live on? He survives until 1890, when he dies in the parish of St Olave, Southwark, at the age of 78. He doesn’t seem to have left a will.

The Sidaways
In 1846 there were estimated to be 66,000 British workers in France. They worked in British-owned factories which brought advanced techniques across the channel from the pioneer of the Industrial Revolution. The Chartist movement gained traction there, not least through Thomas and John Sidaway, who were both Land Company subscribers in their own right and its agents, two of the 103 British subscribers there. They were nailers living in Rouen, where they ran an English pub called the Nailers’ Arms, in Rue Clos-des-Marquers, which made available radical newspapers including the Northern Star, and a short-lived English language paper the Norman Times. The Northern Star, as in England, would be read out in factories to workers as they toiled. Here is a quote from the French historian Fabrice Bensimon, whose speciality is 19th century British workers in France, from the French newspaper L’Illustration:

"Not a single syllable is uttered during twelve working hours of the day, only in the centre of the room, concealed behind the broadsheet format of The Times, with a powerful voice which seems to borrow its notes from the locomotive, declaims to his fellow workers, all of them fervid Chartists, the contents of the gigantic newspaper from the date to the name of the publisher."

Needless to say, it is not in fact The Times that he’s reading from.

Two other Sidaways were in Rouen and subscribed to the Land Company, another John, a chairmaker, and Ann, who describes herself as a”domestic” and was the sister or wife of one of the men. The Sidaways were radical activists from Gloucestershire, turning up in reports of various meetings before and after their stay in France. In fact they’re difficult to trace in England before and after their French sojourn, because there are so many Sidaways, many nailers or chainmakers, exclusively from around Dudley in the Black Country, and it seems certain they hailed from there.

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