Tuesday, 12 July 2022

Stephen Roberts, Chartist historian, 1958-2022

Stephen Roberts, who has died aged 64, was an historian of Birmingham and of Chartism who did much to rediscover and rehabilitate many lost and forgotten Chartists. For me, he was a friendly and encouraging presence, especially during the early days of the Chartist Ancestors website, always supportive and helpful in offering advice when it was sought.

Stephen Roberts and Dorothy Thompson
outside one of the Chartist cottages
at Great Dodford.

Stephen’s introduction to Chartism came in his undergraduate years at the University of Birmingham, when he was taught by Dorothy Thompson, the leading Chartist scholar of the era. He continued his postgraduate studies under her supervision, completing an MLit on the Chartist and radical poet Thomas Cooper. Stephen would remain close to his mentor until her death in 2011.

Stephen’s career as an historian took place mostly outside higher education - as a secondary school teacher at Hagley Catholic High School in Worcestershire, where he worked for thirty years. However, he combined this with a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Research in Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Birmingham, and was later a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.

Stephen’s first book was Radical Politicians and Poets in Early Victorian Britain. The Voices of Six Chartist Leaders, Edwin Mellen, 1993. With Owen Ashton and Robert Fyson, he also edited a festschrift for Dorothy Thompson titled The Duty of Discontent, Mansell, 1995. And in 1998, he and Dorothy Thompson co-edited Images of Chartism. Stephen’s final book on Chartism was as editor of The Dignity of Chartism: Essays by Dorothy Thompson, Verso, 2015. I interviewed Stephen in 2016 about Dorothy Thompson and the Dignity of Chartism. Full interview here.

Alongside his publications, Stephen maintained a blog titled Chartism and the Chartists, where his books are listed in full. And in the mid 1990s, at the instigation of Dorothy Thompson and Owen Ashton, he was one of the main organisers of the early annual Chartism Day events. 

Stephen Roberts taking questions after a talk.

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