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Chartism in the West Country

This was an agricultural/rural area where there was a cloth trade and cottage industry elements. The development of technology meant some job losses, so poverty existed in many areas. Bath, an 18th century spa town, was the centre of a declining tourist industry.

See here for Bridport WMA

Events

In March 1834 the Tolpuddle Martyrs were convicted under the Illegal Oaths Act and were sentenced to seven years' transportation. In August 1837 the Bath Working Men's Association was founded by Samuel and George Morse-Bartlett and Anthony Phillips. It advocated universal manhood suffrage and a secret ballot. In 1838 the Bath WMA adopted the Charter.

In November 1839 a torchlight meeting attended by 3,000 people.was held in Trowbridge and on 1 April 1840 a large meeting at Devizes was addressed by Vincent. The Charter and National Petition were adopted. Four thousand people attended, but a hostile group set upon the Chartists with stones and bludgeons. Vincent was knocked senseless and the anti-Chartist mob seized the Chartists' banners. The Chartists barely escaped alive. This violence effectively put a stop to public meetings of Chartists in this area but some Chartists then armed themselves and rioting occurred: many Chartist leaders were arrested.

Leaders

George Morse-Bartlett was a reporter, dogmatic speaker, convinced democrat, republican and mainly a moral force man. William Young, a Bath jeweller and pawnbroker; was a physical force man. John Moore was "as determined a Chartist as any in the West". He bridged the gulf between the physical and moral force elements. He was treasurer of the Trowbridge W.M.A. in 1838 and became sub-treasurer of the National Charter Association in April 1841.

The Style of Chartism

During its 10 years of activity, Chartism gained hardly any hold in the rural areas of Somerset and Wiltshire. The amount of activity was limited because of a "deep suspicion of the urban mob by countrymen." Where Chartism did exist, cloth was usually being manufactured and a technological revolution was in progress which caused distress to some workers. Chartists were a very mixed bunch: farmers, lawyers, clerks, handloom weavers, parsons. Chartism started in a phase of violence and depression but became more stable and highly organised later.

Women attended early Chartist meetings and a Female Radical Association was set up in 1840. Many Chartist chapels were also set up in this part of the world. Vincent came to Bath and started a stamped Chartist newspaper, the National Vindicator.


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