Friday, 6 May 2022

A quick trip to Snig's End Chartist settlement

Fenced off, boarded up and long-since closed for business, the Prince of Wales pub in the Gloucestershire village of Corse is in a sorry state. Back in 1848, though, this building was the pride of the Chartist movement: a purpose-built schoolhouse intended to serve the new Chartist settlement of Snig’s End.

The schoolhouse turned pub at Snig’s End, now boarded up

Sadly, the dream did not last. The building never served its original purpose, although it did provide some sort of community hub for the newly arrived smallholders, and in 1849 it was the venue for a conference of delegates representing land company branches from across the country. But even then, the dream was turning sour, with arguments over what rent might be due, at the conditions the Chartist settlers had found when they moved in to their new homes, and at the financial management of the Land Company.

It was not for want of effort on the part of Feargus O’Connor. Snig’s End was to be the fourth of five Chartist land plan communities, and it was his personal energy that had made much of it happen. With a finger in every pie, from the financial arrangements, never satisfactorily disentangled by the subsequent parliamentary inquiry into the Land Company and associated Land Bank, to the purchase of the 268 acre estate, the design of the eighty or so cottages, and their construction, O’Connor was involved at every stage. He lived on site, and while delegating much of the construction work, took personal responsibility for the teams of horses required to move building materials from place to place. All while having oversight of his Northern Star newspaper, serving as MP for Nottingham, and rallying the Chartist movement - at least, those who still looked to him for leadership.

Many of the cottages at Snig’s End are still visible, as I discovered when paying a quick visit in May 2022. Driving from Gloucester along the A417, you come across the first of what are still clearly Chartist cottages on the left-hand side of the road somewhere between Corse and neighbouring Staunton. Others lie along the narrow lanes that head off to left and right, along School Crescent to one side of the main road, and Prince Crescent to the other. Walk up Prince Crescent, which is to the left of the former schoolhouse and the lane eventually runs out into what is still a working farm.

For the most part, the cottages have been modernised and extended - not surprisingly, as few people would now settle for three rooms and a back yard lined with buildings for small-scale agricultural use (see plan). There has, too, been an enormous amount of in-fill house-building all over the estate, which undoubtedly robs it of much of its charm. But the Chartist buildings are still generally easy to identify, even where porches and extensions have been unsympathetic to the original design. Among the best and nicest surviving examples is the house shown below, which is on Prince Crescent and even has a plaque explaining the Chartist Land Company to those who stop to look. 

Really nice example of a Chartist cottage at Snig’s End.

There is, too, a small exhibition in the nearby St Margaret’s Church, Corse - a short but necessarily slow drive all the way to the end of another very narrow lane. Watch out for tractors coming the other way. The villages seem understandably proud of their Chartist history, and it is mentioned on a number of signs in the area.

As to the former schoolhouse, Alice Mary Hadfield, who wrote a book, The Chartist Land Company, published in 1970, included a photograph of the building, commenting that it was probably only the fact that it had found a second life as a public house that had saved it from demolition years before. Half a century further on, I wonder what the future holds. The walls appear solid enough, though there are now holes in the roof as slates slip over time, and it is many years since drinks were served in either of its bars: public bar to the left, saloon to the right. If anyone knows of any plans for the schoolhouse turned pub, I’d love to know what they are. My hope is that no one is going to call time on the Prince of Wales.

More on the Chartist Land Plan.
Chartist land company officials in 1849 (with an Illustrated London News picture of Snig's End, 1850)

The former schoolhouse at the end of the 1960s, then a working pub

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