'As I tried to bludgeon Chartist demonstrators in the square'

The quotation above of course is made up by Half Man Half Biscuit, in 'Letters Sent.'

Chartist demonstrations almost automatically bring to mind urban settings of protest - particularly 'monster' meetings in Georgian and early Victorian civic squares: Stevenson's Square in Manchester, Clayton Square in Liverpool, Paradise Square in Sheffield, and so on. Many of the big meetings - and conflicts - occurred in what should be 'public' space, but in fact were not freely open to all, but controlled by local elites opposed to any threats to public order.

Yet Chartist demonstrations were not solely urban in character. Partly because they were being forced out of 'public' spaces in towns, and partly because inhabitants still had connections with the countryside, 'camp meetings' and demonstrations also occurred in rural areas, especially on moors and commons. Processions from towns out to the more remote moors connected urban with rural. Monster meetings were held on Kersal Moor near Manchester, Blackstone Edge, on the Lancashire-Yorkshire border on the Pennines, Kennington Common in London, Newcastle Moor, Skircoat moor and Peep Green in the Calder and Spen valleys in West Riding, among many others. These were sites of sublime beauty, elevated ordinary working-class to feel powerful over the environment, or connected to it; they were sites of fairs and races; sites of free movement and free speech.

At the great Chartist meeting on Blackstone Edge in 1848, George Archdeacon was reported to have said in his speech:
We commented at great length on the police and said dare the police come here to stop our meeting. We are not now in the narrow streets where they can call upon Special Constables. We are on a broad field of free discussion — and such are the places where we ought to meet.
(Navickas, 2009, 107)

Further reading:
  • K. Navickas, 'Moors, fields and popular protest in South Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, 1800-1848,' Northern History, 46:1 (2009);
  • P. Borsay, ‘Culture, Status and the English Urban Landscape’, History, LXVII (1982), 1–12;
  • E. Yeo, ‘Culture and Constraint in Working-Class Movements, 1830–1855’, in Popular Culture and Class Conflict, 1590–1914: Explorations in the History of Labour and Leisure, ed. E. and S. Yeo (Sussex, 1981), pp. 155–86;
  • S. Poole, 'Till our liberties be secure: popular sovereignty and public space in Bristol, 1780-1850,' Urban History, 26:1 (1999).


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