Just outside Witney in West Oxfordshire, if you look hard, you can find traces of one of the most remarkable episodes in British radicalism.
The Chartist movement is regarded as pioneering demands for a fair electoral system with manhood suffrage. It was a mass campaigning force which embraced both revolutionaries (physical force Chartists) and reformers (moral force Chartists). And while its immediate successes were limited, five of the six points of the People's Charter are now an intrinsic part of our democracy: the exception being the demand for annual Parliaments.
But in the mid 1840s, when it seemed that Chartism was in retreat, Feargus O'Connor - the most renowned of Chartist leaders - embraced a land plan, by which urban workers would have a prospect of being self-supporting rural smallholders. This reflected an arcadian desire for a return to a simpler, purer life, as well as an ambition to qualify more radicals through land tenancies for the vote in Parliamentary elections. It was also an attempt to boost urban wages by reducing the oversupply of labour.
Money was raised with which more than a thousand acres of land were bought at five different locations. These included Charterville, adjoining Minster Lovell, where some of the original (often much adapted and extended) allotment cottages, all of the same initial design, can still be seen.
The tell tale sign of the Land Plan cottages at Charterville is a clover emblem above the main door.
The scheme was ill thought through and the land bought was at best marginal in terms of productivity. The individual plots were much too small to sustain a household. Within a few years, the Chartist Land Plan had collapsed. But quite a few of its buildings survive, including at Charterville the community's school and meeting place.
British History Online has both a brief account of Charterville and some great plans and drawings of the cottages and allotments:
Charterville originated soon after 1842, when Feargus O'Connor's National Land Company bought 244 acres adjoining the Brize Norton road from the executors of John Walker, a wealthy Minster Lovell farmer. O'Connor, prominent in the Chartist movement from which the colony was named, hoped to take families away from factory-living or unemployment in towns and to set them up to be self-supporting on land in the country, thereby also giving them sufficient property to enable them to vote. The Minster Lovell estate was built by national subscription, land on both sides of the road and elsewhere, including Walker's homestead, being divided before 1847 into around 80 regular plots each comprising between 2 acres and 4 acres of arable and a small cottage. By 1848 some 73 of the plots had been filled, settlers coming from as far afield as Canterbury, London, and the northern manufacturing towns, though the experiment was at first unsuccessful because the allotments were too small to support a family, and the new tenants were not used to working on the land. By 1851–2 many of the original tenants had left, and the National Land Company itself was bankrupt and was later dissolved. Local farmers bought or rented the plots, often cultivating them in addition to other land, and Charterville became more prosperous towards the end of the 19th century. A visitor in 1861 described it as 'a large collection of cottages ... all inhabited by labourers and little farmers ... mostly exhibiting comfort, cleanliness and good order', and noted with evident approval both the presence of Nonconformist meetings and the absence of an alehouse. Other social facilities included a school, built by O'Connor at the settlement's inception.
Although it's easy to dismiss the Chartist Land Plan as utopian and an expensive failure, it was one of the more ambitious attempts at creating largely self-sustaining radical communities. It attracted 70,000 shareholders and raised a total of £100,000 (that's the equivalent of about £12 million today - a tidy sum).
There's more about the plan, and those who took part in it, here.
And if you are ever in this part of the country, do take a look. Charterville is not well signposted, but these maps may help.
This elegant memorial is tucked away in a corner of St Giles's Cathedral in Edinburgh. It's a war memorial, of course - to the dead of the Highland Regiment while in Sindh in what is now southern Pakistan.
The regiment served in the Anglo-Afghan war - but the dead commemorated in this plaque did not, by and large, die in battle. They succumbed to cholera. In their hundreds!
There is no extenuation of Empire, and the suffering it caused was not even remotely equal - but it was felt on all sides.
Britain's behemoth - its biggest public institution, its most expensive and by far the most beloved - is celebrating its seventieth birthday.
The National Health Service was the finest creation of Britain's most radical government, the Labour administration led by Clement Attlee which came to power in the 1945 post-war general election. It was the handiwork of the most left-wing of the main figures in that Labour cabinet, Aneurin Bevan. It's not the best health system in the world by a long way - it's creaking and floundering - it's beset by attempts at marketisation and privatisation ... but no government of any persuasion would dare to replace it.
The basic principle that health care should be free to all at the point of delivery is seen as sacrosanct - and what a testament to the British people's sense of social justice.
I don't normally include government publications in my collection of political pamphlets and ephemera. But I was very pleased to come across this wonderful leaflet quite a few years back - I think in a shop in Scarborough. It was issued in February 1948 to tell people what they need to do to get an NHS doctor and free services. It is written with stunning clarity. Take a read ...
Happy birthday, NHS!
This is one of the display boards at the excellent national museum in Torshavn, capital of the Faroe Islands. What it appears to suggest is quite remarkable - that the men who initially settled the islands were Norse, but the women were overwhelmingly Celtic.
This is how the Wikipedia entry on the Faroe islanders puts it: 'Recent DNA analyses have revealed that Y chromosomes, tracing male descent, are 87% Scandinavian. The studies show that mitochondrial DNA, tracing female descent, is 84% Celtic.'
The same is broadly true, though less emphatically so, for the early settlers of Iceland.
So, to put it bluntly, the Vikings who initially settled the Faroes picked up their wives on the way - perhaps they stopped over at Viking settlements on the Scottish and Irish coasts and met women there; perhaps these wives were slaves - some research suggests that up to a quarter of the population of Scandinavia during the late Viking period were in servitude; perhaps they were abducted.
What is inherently likely is that many of the first generation of women settlers on the Faroes (and in Iceland) were there against their will, in a marriage which was based in part on coercion.
During my recent trip to the Faroes, I saw more recent evidence of marriages which crossed borders - not in any way based on coercion, but which caught my attention.
In the western island of Vagar, there's a small but informative war museum - and close to it a plot of Commonwealth War Graves. While Denmark was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War, British troops managed to take over the Faroes. Several hundred were stationed on the islands. They suffered only light casualties - though Faroese seafarers endured a much higher number of fatalities. Indeed, the museum says that the Faroes suffered the loss of a higher proportion of their adult men than any other country except Russia.)
Among the many photos of the British troops displayed in the museum, a striking number display weddings: British servicemen with Faroese brides. The photo above is one of these - taken from the museum's website. The museum also has a display recreating such a wedding, along with the garments worn.
Skip forward to the current day: the Faroes have been one of the most ethnically homogeneous communities in the world. That's starting to change: a result in part of adoption (the country has a higher than normal adoption rate), but also of wives coming from abroad.
The BBC posted a story last year about the women coming to the Faroes because of gender imbalance. More Faroese women than men move away from the islands. The prime minister said the islands had a 'gender deficit' of about 2,000 women - and that in a population totalling just 50,000. The article said more than 300 foreign brides - many from Thailand and the Philippines - had married Faroese men and made their homes on these prosperous but remote and windblown islands in the North Atlantic
Travelling round the islands, there was a conspicuous number of non-white residents, not all women but largely so. In the hotel we stayed at in Torshavn, most of the serving staff in the restaurant were non-European. We spoke to one: she was Latin American, her husband was Faroese, and she had recently started working at the hotel - and earning good money - so the family would be able to make a visit to her home country, which she hadn't seen for two years.
What do I take from all this? Nothing - beyond three snapshots of how those in the Faroes have found their life partners.
The Faroe Islands are awash with marvellous sea birds - puffins, great auks, arctic auks, guillemots, razorbills, arctic terns, great black-backed gulls, the ubiquitous oyster catchers - but it was a land bird which I was most thrilled to see. I don't think I'd ever come across a curlew so close up. But from my hotel window, looking out on a pocket of moorland overlooking the capital, I could see a pair of curlews, hear their memorably shrill alarm call and witness them trying to fend off a carrion crow.
Anu took all the photos of birds on this post. We took a stroll through the moorland, and the curlews appeared on cue. That beak!
And here's a photo taken from roughly the same spot looking out over Torshavn, the capital.
And the puffins? Here we go ...
British villages have war memorials. In the Faroes - an island group midway between Scotland and Iceland - the public memorials are even more elegiac. Several coastal villages (and all villages here are coastal) have statues as memorials to those fishermen lost at sea.
This is the memorial in the tiny village of Gjogv, just opposite the Lutheran church: a mother and her children wistfully looking out to sea for the father who will never return. You can see the entire village below, one of several which lie quite literally at the end of the road.
Fishing remains the mainstay of the Faroes, constituing 97% of the islands' tangible exports. The islands are part of Denmark but self-governing and outside the European Union, which means the fishing fleet - now highly mechanised - has much more substantial territorial waters.
Another book bought for its cover - from the most rewarding of Oxfam Books stores, in Bloomsbury (and it was under a tenner). A first edition of Brendan Behan's autobiography, about how at the age of 16 and a member of the IRA he came over to Liverpool to blow up the docks. He was caught in possession of explosives and sentenced to three years in a borstal.
The cover design of this 1958 first edition is by B.S. Biro, (Val Biro), a Budapest-born writer, artist and illustrator who died just four years ago. Behan didn't last anything like as long. He died of drink in 1964 when aged just 41 - there as a IRA guard of honour at his funeral.
181 years ago today the most famous clown of them all, Joseph Grimaldi, died at his home in Pentonville.
Every year on this day, Clowns International lays a wreath at his grave - it's in Joseph Grimaldi park on Pentonville Road, once the burial ground of St James, Pentonville - in tribute to the man who devised harlequinade, donned the white face paint, and started the tradition of the comic/ melancholic clown.
Grimaldi was the biggest draw of his era, performing particularly at Drury Lane and at Sadlers Wells, He was a stage clown not a circus clown, and the injuries he sustained in his act - alongside a quarrelsome nature and incipient alcoholism - brought an early end to his stage career.
In the 1830s he moved to Southampton Street (now Calshot Street) on the north side of Pentonville Road. Grimaldi popped in most evenings to his local, the Marquis of Cornwallis, and when he lost the use of his legs, the landlord carried him to and fro on his back.
On the evening of May 31st 1837, Grimaldi was carried home as usual. The next morning he was found dead in his room.
There were just five clowns (still sometimes known as Joeys, after Grimaldi) at the graveside today to lay a wreath, raise a laugh, blow a whistle, do a conjuring turn and perform a comic shuffle.
In another corner of the former burial ground there's a curious coffin-shaped (really!) musical installation in tribute to Grimaldi - though it turns out that neither this, nor the gravestone, marks the precise burial spot:
Hot Codlins, Grimaldi's top tune, were baked apples which, 200 years ago, you could buy from street vendors.
Did I say there that no one around today knows how Hot Codlins goes? Wrong!!
A new and exciting acquisition - a bound volume of one of the most important of Chartist periodicals, the Chartist Circular, an unstamped paper published in Glasgow from 1839 to 1842. The volume is almost complete - just a handful of the later issues are missing.
And particularly wonderful, this volume was given to the Chartist leader George Julian Harney in Glasgow in 1846.
John Colquhoun, who presented the volume to Harney, is mentioned in its pages - attending a Scottish Chartist Convention in early 1842. He was a figure of some consequence in Scottish Chartism.
On the title page, there's Harney's ownership signature - such a wonderful association copy. Harney was one of the more left-wing of Chartist leaders and became a socialist and an internationalist. He lived until the closing years of the century.
The periodical is a reminder of how well organised and politically developed the Chartist movement was in its heyday. All the six points of the People's Charter were eventually enacted, excepted the demand for annual Parliaments - though the universal suffrage the Chartists advocated did not extend to women.
The Chartists were keen and effective propagandists and made good use of the press. The first issue of the Chartist Circular, priced at a halfpenny, sold 20,000 copies. The most renowned of Chartist papers, the Northern Star published in Leeds, was much more expensive - because as a newspaper (rather than a journal) it had to pay the stamp tax designed to restrict the readership and impact of the radical press.
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