A national movement
The Newport Uprising
Chartism was a national movement. Though it was particularly strong in the textile towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire, as well as in the east midlands, the Potteries and the Black Country, Chartist lecturers such as Dean Taylor and E.P. Mead travelled throughout the country. Local leaders held the movement together, organising the collection of signatures for petitions, arranging processions, putting up placards and selling the 'Star'.
These local leaders were not failures or dropouts. George Binns, of Sunderland, sacrificed involvement in a family business to be part of the movement. Peter McDouall, active in Bury, was a surgeon. Thomas Cooper was a journalist in Leicester, who encouraged poetry writing, gave lectures and opened an adult school. Weavers, shoemakers, tailors, carpenters - all became Chartists. Women were drawn into active support for Chartism. They signed petitions, raised funds, made banners, attended rallies; some founded female Chartist associations, and Mary Ann Walker, one of the 'Hen Chartists' attacked by 'The Times', became well known as a lecturer.
In 1842 more force was thrown against the authorities than in any other year in the 19th century. In May of that year, a wave of strikes in the industrial districts followed the government's rejection of the second Chartist petition, which had 3.3 million signatures. In Preston, in the face of Chartist crowds, soldiers opened fire; in Halifax there was an attack by Chartists on soldiers escorting prisoners. The authorities struck back harshly; 56 Chartists from the Potteries were transported. This defeat did not, however, spell the end of Chartism.
In 1845 Feargus O'Connor became interested in the land question, and the Chartist Land Plan was launched. The idea was that people might be helped to leave their factory towns, to live independently in a cottage with an allotment. This had huge appeal, and in 1847 about 600 branches of the Land Company were formed. Members of the company paid a small weekly subscription and drew lots for the cottages. With the £100,000 collected, five estates were bought, the first being Heronsgate near Watford in 1846. The scheme touched deep feelings of attachment to the land, and greatly bolstered Chartism, although only 250 working people were eventually settled on the estates.
The project soon ran into legal difficulties: O'Connor was harried on the subject in the House of Commons, and in 1851 the company was dissolved. One of the Chartist cottages, restored to its original appearance, can still be seen, in Dodford, Worcestershire.