Chartism and agriculture in English history

This music video from England says about itself:

Moving into Heronsgate

16 March 2012

Sung by Linda Birmingham. Inspired by the Chartist Movement of 1838 and the Land of Liberty community play performed st the Rickmansworth Canal Festival 2011.

By Pauline Fraser in Britain:

Dwellings ‘too good for the workers’

Saturday 10th October 2015

Five little villages in the Chilterns and Cotswolds built in the 1840s to rehouse workers from the mills and mines of industrial Britain caused quite a furore among the well-to-do of the time. PAULINE FRASER tells the inspiring story behind the undertaking.

DOTTED around the Chilterns and Cotswolds are five little villages that were built in the 1840s with the aim of rehousing workers from the mills and mines of industrial Britain. They speak to the history of our class in a way that the stately homes and castles of the land cannot.

They were the brainchild of Feargus O’Connor, the charismatic Chartist leader and editor of the Northern Star, the most popular and longest-lasting newspaper of the first worker-led movement in history.

If workers owned property, then they could qualify for the vote and so gain the power they needed to change society, O’Connor argued.

O’Connor alienated many other Chartist leaders, but such was his popularity among the rank-and-file, and so persuasive the power of his oratory, that he was able to push the Land Plan scheme through in April 1845 at the Chartist national delegates’ meeting.

He posted advertisements in the Northern Star inviting his supporters to look for suitable sites on the market where he could establish the settlements.

The first of these, appropriately called O’Connorville, was a couple of miles west of Rickmansworth, on the Buckinghamshire-Hertfordshire border.

Now renamed Heronsgate after its pre-O’Connorville days, it lies in prime commuter land just off the M40. Four-by-fours brush the hedges on either side as they squeeze through its original nine-foot wide lanes.

Some of the original cottages were modified and enlarged beyond all recognition before a preservation order was placed on them in the 1980s. Enough still exists, however, to make a fascinating day out for anyone living in the London area.

To qualify for inclusion in a ballot for plots, working families bought one or more shares in the National Co-operative Land Company. These were then entered into a ballot. Excitement grew as the day approached for the ballots to be drawn. The shares were put into a huge rotating drum, which was then turned to a great flourish and the lucky winners announced.

They were welcomed to their new homes at O’Connorville on May Day 1847 and moved into their cottages, complete with outbuildings for livestock. There was even a steaming tower of manure waiting at the gate to greet them and a cow for communal use named Rebecca, after the Rebecca Riots.

These procedures were replicated at the four settlements that followed: Charterville at Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire, Snig’s End and Lowbands in Gloucestershire and Dodford, Worcestershire.

All the villages survive in one way or another and you can easily spot the simple and durable design of the mostly single-storey cottages. Each settlement was distinguished by its own emblem above the doorways.

The cottages were erected very rapidly to O’Connor’s specifications using local labour and some parts, such as doors, were pre-fabricated off-site and slotted into place. They included built-in furniture and all cottages had a bookshelf.

The “Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells” of their day wrote letters to The Times complaining that such comfortable accommodation was too good for the workers.

Snig’s End, now re-named Staunton and Corse, had a preservation order put on it in 1963 by a far-sighted council, so many cottages remain unaltered in design.

Lowbands is three miles further on the A417. Turn right on to the appropriately named Chartist Lane, where you can see a few well-preserved cottages.

Minster Lovell, the Charterville of the Land Plan, is close to Burford where three leaders of the Levellers were shot by order of Cromwell on May 17 1649.

At Dodford, near Bromsgrove, you can visit Rosedene — the only Chartist cottage owned by the National Trust. It is open on the first Sunday of the month.

O’Connor saw education as key to unlocking the potential of the re-housed workers and his builder designed the same imposing schoolhouse at four of the settlements. No longer used as schools, the schoolhouse at Staunton and Corse is now the Prince of Wales pub, while at Heronsgate it is a private house.

There were no churches, as O’Connor, though not irreligious, regarded the “fat parson” as one of the scourges of the poor. If the wealth of the Anglican Church was one of his targets, the demon drink was another and no public houses were allowed on the settlements.

However, a beer shop pre-dating the settlement, now a pub called The Land of Liberty, stood just outside O’Connorville, perhaps undermining his teetotal principles.

O’Connor had a disingenuous faith that the powers that be would warm to his scheme, but the idea of re-settling the much-needed workforce of industrial Britain was clearly anathema to them. They were out to get him and he proved an easy target.

Carried away by enthusiasm when selecting sites, O’Connor put misplaced reliance on his farming background in Ireland to choose suitable land for mixed farming that would make a marketable surplus.

O’Connorville, for example, was built on stony ground and too far from the nearest market, while the plots were too small to support a family. Many of the industrial workers who relocated there, as at other settlements, lacked agricultural skills.

Perhaps the most successful was Dodford, where allottees continued to grow garlic and sold it to the local Worcester sauce firm even after the Land Company was wound up.

The settlements fell victim to the ambivalent way the Land Company was set up. It couldn’t be registered as a friendly society, nor as a company limited by liability. After fierce battles through the courts and in Parliament, the scheme was wound up in August 1851 and plots sold off.

Few of the original allottees managed to stay the course. At O’Connorville only three — all from rural backgrounds — were left in 1858, out of an original 36 families.

O’Connor’s behaviour became increasingly erratic following the demise of the scheme and he died, aged 57, on August 30 1855. Huge crowds followed his coffin to its final resting place in Kensal Green Cemetery, where you can still visit his fine memorial today.

2 thoughts on “Chartism and agriculture in English history

  1. Pingback: Free war crimes whistleblower Assange, London meeting | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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