Chartism, which began as a national movement with the publication of the People’s Charter in 1838, first publically manifested itself in Southampton in early 1839 with a meeting at the St George’s Arms in Bridge Street, under the chairmanship of Robert Pierce, a grocer of Canal Walk. Evidently Pierce was a man of some influence because he was a member of the local board of guardians in 1842. Nothing is known about the other men other than that they tended to be artisans and shopkeepers.
On the 1st April, 1839 one of the national leaders of the movement, Bronterre O’Brien, gave a speech at the Long Rooms on West Quay. An audience of some hundreds listened to him denounce extreme wealth, the New Poor Laws, the church and the aristocracy. In May another large meeting was addressed by other leaders of the national movement
The local Chartists were apparently on the ‘Moral Persuasion’ wing of the movement and there was no unrest in the town when the People’s Charter was rejected by the House of Commons in June 1839. The movement went into decline after this and in 1842 it was stated that only about fifteen or sixteen Chartists remained in the town.
There was a brief revival in 1841-1842 when local Chartists clashed with members of the Anti Corn Law League. Although both movements were in favour of repeal of the Corn Laws there was always animosity between the groups as Chartists felt repeal could be best achieved through the extension of the franchise, and they distrusted the middle-class make-up of the League. In January the audience at a Chartist meeting in the Long Rooms attended by about 300 people showered abuse on one of the League’s travelling speakers, and a few days later another League meeting in the Long Rooms was disrupted by Chartists and Conservatives (who were actually in favour of the Corn laws) and had to be abandoned.
The last resurgence of Chartism in 1848 led to a public meeting at the Guildhall, under the chairmanship of the mayor Daniel Brooks, to discuss the extension of suffrage. The meeting took place in March 1848 amid alarmist rumors. A series of revolutions in Europe and the prospect of large, threatening Chartist demonstrations in London had worried the propertied classes and the police were put on standby. But although the meeting was packed there was no serious disorder. It was opened by the local Chartist leader, a working man named Saunders, who denounced the use of violence. His resolution in favour of manhood suffrage was passed unanimously. Other speakers included Richard Andrews, Philip Brannon and Dr. Francis Cooper, all of whom expressed support for some of the Chartist’s aims without giving them complete backing. Open air Chartist meetings took place in Houndwell Park in March and April 1848, after which the movement declined in Southampton, as it did nationally. Later in the century, the Reform League attracted working class advocates of political reform some of whom had earlier been Chartists.
A postscript to the history of Chartism in the town occurred in 1851 when the great Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor, now suffering the onset of serious mental illness, gatecrashed the celebratory banquet at Southampton to the Hungarian leader Louis Kossuth on 28 October. He wildly rushed up to the platform with a cry "I love you, Kossuth". To quote the Gentleman's Magazine, November 1851, "Mr Feargus O'Connor obtruded himself on the notice of the party, but was dismissed to his seat by the mayor [Richard Andrews], and left the room in a dudgeon".


see also


Further reading:
History of Southampton Vol 2, by A. Temple Patterson, p31-32, 37-38, 146-148. (HS/h)


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