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Francis Place (1771-1854)

Francis Place, the 'radical tailor of Charing Cross', was born on 3 November 1771 in London and was associated with virtually every reform movement set up between 1790 and 1854. The son of a bailiff, Place was drawn into trade club and radical activity after suffering great hardships as a leather-breeches maker. In 1793 he organised an unsuccessful strike of the members of that trade. From 1794 to 1797 he was a member of the London Corresponding Society, one of the first working-class movements. He opened a tailoring shop in 1799 and rapidly became successful, not least because he provided a reading room of radical literature in the back room of the shop.

Place was already known as a radical politician when he took up the campaign against the Combination Acts in 1814. These laws had been passed in 1799 and 1800, prohibiting the organisation of working-class trade associations. In 1824, through Joseph Hume, a Member of Parliament, Place brought about the appointment of a parliamentary committee chaired by Huskisson that reported in favour of repealing the acts. Place and Hume argued that repeal would leave the trade and employers' associations equal in status and that, with their legal equity established, it would no longer be necessary for the trade associations to exercise the right to bargain with employers. Manufacturers in turn favoured repeal, feeling that the acts contributed to their difficulty with labour. The repeal legislation passed. The immediate result, however, was an increase in trade unions and their activity. The government, alarmed, failed in its attempt to reverse the repeal, thanks to Place and his allies.

In 1831 and 1832 Place rallied the supporters of the Reform Bill in London and attempted to supercede the Birmingham Political Union as leader of the reform campaign. Place then became involved in the London Working Men's Association which was the precursor of the Chartist movement. Place was a leading member of Chartism throughout its existence although later he became more involved in education as a means of self-improvement. Place died on 1 January 1854 in London.

Place's only published book was Illustrations and Proofs of the Principle of Population (1822). Place accumulated a huge collection of books, papers, pamphlets, manuscripts and press clippings between 1790 to 1850 which is an excellent source of political information albeit coloured by Place's personal views. The collection is in the British Museum.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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