Tuesday, 10 April 2018

170th Anniversary of Kennington Common meeting 10 April 1848

The National Charter Association (NCA) Executive, its funds depleted, had little control over the events in early March and found itself having to improvise to keep up with the popular mood. On 18 March, it announced that the National Petition would be presented to Parliament on 10 April, a month earlier than it originally intended. This left the Convention, already called for 4 April, less than a week to arrange for its submission. This was very different from 1839 when there was four months between the opening of the Convention and submitting the Petition and three weeks in 1842 when the NCA had an effective regional and national structure. O’Connor’s focus had already changed with his responsibilities as an MP and the Land Plan now taking up the bulk of his time resulting in his notable absence from all but one meeting outside London—at Oldham Edge and then he arrived late and left early.[1] Chartist rhetoric of varying hues proliferated during March and early April and talk of violence took on a greater resonance in the wake of the events in Paris but both were froth and melodrama lacking the insurrectionary substance of similar talk in 1839 and 1842. They did, however, provide justification for the massive retaliatory over-reaction of government on 10 April and after.

The Convention now became the key to success. Could it provide central co-ordination and leadership? In short, no. The NEC Executive may have seen it as the high point of constitutional protest but it was unclear whether they hoped to trigger a disturbance that would lead Chartists in the provinces to rise in support. [2] Forty-nine delegates met in London on 4 April. [3] Much of 4 April and the morning of 5 April were given over to hearing reports from the delegates on the state of Chartism in their localities. The two sessions on 6 April were concerned with how the movement should react if the Petition was rejected. Some delegates like G. W. M. Reynolds and William Cuffay[4] were bellicose at least in their rhetoric proposing on 6 April that the Convention, in the event of the rejection of the Petition, ‘should declare its sitting permanent and declare the Charter the law of the land.’ This, they suggested, would provide clear direction for extra-parliamentary pressure and allow the Convention to retain the initiative as the agitation intensified. Most delegates were more moderate in tone and after a heated debate, the relatively moderate programme agreed by the NCA Executive was passed unanimously. If the Petition were rejected, on 5 April the Convention would address a memorial to the Queen. In the interim, the Convention was to be dissolved. This was to be followed by widespread agitation throughout the country leading to the formation of a more fully representative Convention or, taking their lead from events in France, a National Assembly.

‘1st – That in the event of the National Petition being rejected by the House of Commons, this Convention prepare a National Memorial to the Queen to dissolve the present Parliament, and call to her council such ministers only as will make the People’s Charter a cabinet measure.

‘2nd – That this Convention agree to the convocation of a National Assembly, to consist of delegates appointed at public meetings, to present the National Memorial to the Queen, and to continue permanently sitting until the Charter is the law of the land.

‘3rd – That this Convention call upon the country to hold simultaneous meetings on Good Friday, April 21st, for the purpose of adopting the National Memorial, and electing delegates to the National Assembly.

‘4th – That the National Assembly meet in London on April 24th.

‘5th – That the present Convention shall continue its sittings until the meeting of the National Assembly.’ [5]

Parallel to the Convention, there were a series of meetings, at which some delegates spoke, that took a more radical stance. The Fraternal Democrats, for instance, met the evening of 4 April with Ernest Jones in the chair and Harney proposing a resolution calling for the ‘people of Great Britain and Ireland to take other and efficient means to enforce compliance with their just demands.’ [6]

kennington 1

The authorities were undoubtedly nervous, concerned to prevent London sliding into revolution as had already occurred in Paris. There were heightened expectations on both sides throughout the country with reports of Chartists arming and drilling on the moors in anticipation of the Petition’s rejection. The Convention arranged to present the Petition, which O’Connor hoped would contain five million signatures, to Parliament on 10 April. The plan, largely a decision by Reynolds with the outcomes of the meeting of 6 March in mind, was to hold a large demonstration at Kennington Commons south of the river after which the Petition would be taken in procession across Westminster Bridge to the House of Commons, something Lord John Russell was initially prepared to allow. [7] He was, however, persuaded by ‘a friend of mine, of great experience and acknowledged sagacity’ to prevent the ‘expected crowd from crossing the bridges’. [8] The Chartist decision to move south of the river made the authorities’ task on 10 April far easier for as long as they could hold the bridges, they could contain the demonstration.

Public opinion was firmly behind the Whigs and they exploited this to the full. The Crown and Government Security Bill was rushed through Parliament introducing a new charge of felonious sedition, a charge that extended to ‘open and advised speaking’. [9] Seventeenth century legislation against ‘tumultuous petitioning’ was revived to prevent any mass procession through the streets. Strong precautionary measures were taken by the authorities for whom the Chartist threat was very real and on 8 April, the Queen travelled with the Court to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The government considered banning the meeting but recognised that this would probably be counter-productive—the banning of the reform banquet in Paris had provoked revolution. On 3 April, magistrates were told to swear in special constables and Sir Charles Rowan and Sir Richard Mayne, the Commissioners of Police, asked to draw up a plan for dealing with the meeting and demonstration. On 6 April, the government banned the procession and took massive precautions to prevent Chartists crossing the river.[10] The Convention, however, was in no mood to back down and when it debated the proclamation the following day a motion that it should go ahead with its public meeting ‘notwithstanding the foolish proclamation of the Government’ was carried unanimously. The plans for the meeting and for escorting the Petition to the House of Commons was finalised by the Convention on Saturday 8 April and then adjourned until 8.00 am on 10 April.

Kennington 2

Government preparations were extensive, preparations for a full-scale insurrection that was never the Chartists’ intention. Over 4,000 police were positioned on the London bridges and in Kennington and Westminster. Over 3,000 troops were moved to the capital and its garrison was effectively doubled though they were deliberately kept in reserve so not to antagonise protestors. Twelve guns were brought from Woolwich. On the morning of 10 April, an additional 450 troops and two additional guns were dispatched from Gosport. 85,000 special constables, including William Gladstone and Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, were sworn in--some were workmen enrolled to defend their places of work and possibly to prevent them attending the meeting—and 1,231 pensioners were mobilised. [11] Public buildings, especially the Bank of England, were barricaded and protected by armed employees. A letter cited by Alexander Bain, a civil servant, explained the preparations:

In our office and all the other offices of Government, the windows of the ground floors were fitted with iron bars running up and down, like a lunatic asylum; there were, besides, barricades of deal boxes full of papers built up at each window to be a protection to the people within while firing out at the mob through narrow openings between the sides of the boxes. Each man in the office mustered between eight and nine in the morning, and had a musket given to him with twenty rounds of ball cartridge in a belt going round the middle...On the Friday after, all the officials of all the offices mustered in the Treasury Room and Lord John Russell gave us a speech of thanks for our readiness to take up arms on the occasion.[12]

The authorities may have been prepared, temporarily, to abdicate control of the streets to the Chartists but, learning from what had happened in Paris, they were unwilling to allow Chartists to occupy any buildings that might act as a centre for prolonged insurrection.[13] What was important about this extensive mobilisation was that the middle-classes allied itself to the ruling classes against the threat to property posed by a potential working-class rebellion. The Nonconformist correctly saw this as ‘a counter-demonstration on the part of the middle classes.’ [14]

Initially the Convention was not bowed by this massive response informing Grey that they were still resolved that the Petition would be carried to Parliament by a procession from Kennington Common. The issue was whether the meeting should proceed. Bronterre O’Brien had grave doubts recognising the determination of the government but also the likely effect on public opinion if the meeting went ahead and resigned as a delegate on 9 April. [15] Harney called for the meeting and procession to be abandoned at secret gatherings with delegates on 8 and 9 April. McGrath, as chairman of the Convention, sought a compromise with the Commissioners of Police suggesting that the procession could cross Blackfriars Bridge and move along Holborn and Oxford Street to Edgware Road while the Petition would be sent to Westminster, unaccompanied by the crowd, from Regent’s Circus. McGrath and Doyle, the Secretary, was informed by Mayne at 8.30 am on 10 April that his proposal had been rejected. The movement had reached an impasse.[16]

Kennington 3

The Convention finally met at 9.00 am when O’Connor ‘labouring’ he said, ‘under severe illness’ and concerned that ’preparations had been made for shooting…on the leaders of the movement’, urged the quiet dispersal of the meeting at Kennington and abandoning the procession but other delegates disputed this. [17] The government may have banned the procession but it was prepared to accept the right of public assembly; in fact, it had little option with crowds already streaming across the river from Russell Square, Clerkenwell Green and Finsbury Square and Stepney Green. There are various estimates of the numbers present. O’Connor optimistically said three quarters of a million people, Gammage[18] more accurately put the number between 150,000 and 170,000 while Russell thought between 12,000 and 15,000. Shortly after arriving at Kennington, O’Connor and McGrath agreed with Sir Richard Mayne that the Petition would be taken to Parliament in a fleet of hansom cabs. O’Connor was at the Home Office at 1 pm where he informed Grey that the Kennington Common meeting had unanimously agreed to give up the procession and disperse quietly though this was unpopular with large sections of the crowd and many blamed O’Connor personally for the decision:

You will not walk in procession. You must go peacefully to your homes and to show that I am careful of the lives of all here, as these horses will not be allowed to cross the bridges, I will give them a gala day and ley them sleep to-night at Greenwich (Cheers and laughter) [19]

This was largely achieved without violence although there was confrontation with the police near Blackfriars Bridge, what the Northern Star called ‘treacherous conduct’, and this spilled over into skirmishes in the streets leading off Blackfriars Road. More significant in dispersing the crowds, many contemporaries believed, was the weather: by 3.00 pm, it was raining heavily. Three hours later, Grey had stood down those magistrates allocated to the detachments of troops and those in attendance at the Police Courts. The crisis had passed without serious incident. [20] The resolve of government, the authorities argued, was sufficient to ‘frighten’ O’Connor into asking his supporters not to confront the authorities and to disperse peacefully but this neglects that his intention was always that the meeting and the procession should be peaceful. The Petition was carried by O’Connor, Doyle, McGrath, Jones, Wheeler and Harney in three cabs, first to Kennington Common and then on to Westminster.

The meeting was immediately mocked by many as a ‘fiasco’ and two days later O’Connor faced further criticism when the five ton Petition was found to weight barely a quarter of a ton and contain less than two million genuine signatures. [21] This was ‘the real ‘fiasco’ of 1848’. In fact, O’Connor saw the meeting as a decisive moral victory. He had insisted that the meeting went ahead and had ensured that it was peaceful and had been able to call off the procession without any dissent. As Belchem rightly concludes that he was able to ‘extricate the movement from the difficulty posed by the intractability of the government’. The constitutional right of assembly was maintained and violence largely avoided. [22]

‘Fiasco’ or not?

Contemporaries interpreted the events of 10 April in two different ways. The establishment declared that it was a ‘fiasco’ and that Britain had been saved by popular support from those who were loyal to the Crown. The other interpretation, held largely by Chartists saw a proper moral force demonstration facing an overwhelming counter demonstration of the government’s physical powers. Of these two views, the first was the orthodox position until the 1960s. In recent decades, historians have revived the Chartist interpretation and helped demolish some of the myths of 10 April.

Not all Chartists shared the contemporary Chartist views and anti-O’Connorite feeling spewed out in the aftermath of 10 April. Lovett blamed O’Connor and his ‘boasting physical force followers’ for allowing the Whigs to have their ‘triumph’. April 10 was a ‘blundering demonstration’.[23] Gammage complained of the ‘boasting’ and how O’Connor had encouraged the ‘empty braggarts’ to think that the procession to the House of Commons would take place. However, he did think that O’Connor was right to abandon the procession but that his tactics caused disunion in the movement.[24] Lovett and Gammage proved very influential for many writers and their denunciation of O’Connor on 10 April helped reinforce the establishment’s interpretation as the orthodox account.

George Jacob Holyoake initially set out the Chartist interpretation in Bygones Worth Remembering, in which he denounced the establishment position as a ‘myth’ and ‘had become historic, and passes as authentic’ showing ‘the wild way’ in which history could be written. There had been no revolutionary plans, no disorder was threatened and ‘no a man was armed’ on 10 April. [25] He was furious about the ‘utterly groundless and incredible representations’ of 10 April in Charles Kingsley’s novel Alton Locke:

I have promised to say little about the Tenth of April, for indeed I have no heart to do so…We had arrayed against us, by our own dread folly, the very physical force to which we had appealed. The dread of general plunder and outrage by the savages of London, the national hatred of that French and Irish interference of which we had boasted, armed against us thousands of special constables, who had in the abstract little or no objection to our political opinions…Above all, the people would not rise…they did not care to show themselves. And the futility after futility exposed itself. The meeting which was to have been counted by hundreds of thousands, numbered hardly in tens of thousands…O’Connor’s courage failed him, after all. He contrived to be called away, at the critical moment, by some problematic superintendent of police. Poor Cuffy, the honestest, if not the wisest speaker there, leapt off the waggon, exclaiming that we were all ‘humbugged and betrayed’’ and the meeting broke up pitiably, piecemeal, drenched and cowed, body and soul, by pouring rain all the way home – for the very heavens mercifully helped to quench our folly -- while the monster petition crawled ludicrously away in a back cab, to be dragged to the floor of the House of Commons amid roars of laughter.[26]

Holyoake was convinced that the government knew the truth about the confrontations because it had been engaged in ‘political imposture’ in order to gain advantage from posing as ‘the deliverers of England’. This view was widespread among Chartists and appeared in whole or in part in numerous speeches and Northern Star editorials. The Chartist interpretation also had more extreme explanations. One of these was that a great victory had been gained on 10 April because the Chartists held their meeting and showed their resolute moral power. Writing in 1850, Ernest Jones thought the great display of government power was a

...homage paid to our power, and a tactic admission…that the bulk of the popular feeling was against the government. [27]

Another extreme explanation was that a victory had been won because the people were heroically resolute in their restraint, depriving the government of its opportunity to use its powers of coercion. According to Reynolds’ Political Instructor on 10 April:

...the people were goaded by insults and injury to expose themselves…unarmed and unprepared [to] murder…by the bayonets, sabres and muskets’ amassed by the government.[28]

The orthodox interpretation was created in the euphoric atmosphere immediately after 10 April. The cartoon in Punch lampooning a physical force Chartist was published a few days after the Kennington meeting; it may have reflected attitudes after 10 April with comical relief but it was certainly not how the metropolitan elite saw the Chartists in the days leading up to the demonstration. It was enshrined in the popular histories of the nineteenth century and has been so pervasive that even historians of aspects of the British working-class movement have incorporated it uncritically into their accounts. Hovell described the event as a ‘tragic fiasco’, the day ‘the government finally laid the Chartist spectre’ low. [29] More recently, Rowe has written of the ‘farcical official conclusion of the movement in the Kennington Common meeting’[30] while Leventhal called the meeting ‘pathetic’.[31] An alternative interpretation can be found in the writings of the Communist historian Reg Groves who saw the ‘ignominious surrender’ of 10 April as a disaster stemming from the ‘centrism’ of O’Connor who appeared to ‘advocate mass action, leads the workers almost to the point of struggle and then falls back into confusion and defeat’. [32]

Other historians have reasserted the fundamental Chartist interpretation beginning in the 1950s with the seminal article by John Saville.[33] He vigorously attacked the ‘commonplace’ account of the fiasco of 10 April that he found ‘almost always the same’. He reiterated the view that the demonstration of was ‘never intended to be anything more than a demonstration’ and that the press and the government exaggerated it into something else. Building on Saville’s views, Stevenson,[34] Large[35] and Goodway[36] emphasised the peaceful nature of the mass demonstration. Royle points out that the attempt to portray 10 April as a fiasco is ‘as much ideological as historical’ [37] while for Goodway if ‘there was a ‘fiasco’…it lay not with the Chartists’ holding their meeting…but in the massive over-reaction of their opponents.’ [38]

Quinault argues that the peaceful outcome of the Kennington Common meeting ‘soon induced a public mood of cautious reformism rather than complacent conservatism.’ [39] This was clearly evident in the press with The Times arguing:

...upon the Government and the metropolis the wisdom of an over powering and conclusive display against the threaters of the brand and the sword, we were careful to observe…that every point of ‘the Charter’ was a fair subject of discussion…England will always be a reforming nation. [40]

The discrediting of the Chartist leadership in April enabled parliamentary radicals to reassert their own popular authority. Just as in 1842 when Joseph Hume founded the NCSU on the wreck of the Second Petition, radicals quickly stepped into the void left by the failure of the Third. [41] Less than a week after the Kennington meetings, middle-class radicals launched their own campaign for parliamentary reform when, on 13 April, a group of fifty Liberal MPs led by Joseph Hume signed a requisition in favour of extending the franchise. It achieved its objective of a debate on the constitution on 20 June with a motion calling for household suffrage, secret ballot, more equal electoral districts and triennial parliaments. [42]

The mythology of Kennington Common as a ‘fiasco’ was largely created in retrospect. This view needs revision in three important respects. Most people were not laughing until it was all over and this is clear from diaries kept at the time by prominent figures. The build up to 10 April had been government policy partly to overawe and discredit the Chartists and partly to impress foreign governments that had shown themselves unable to cope with their own revolutionary crowds. The ‘fiasco’ effect was in part planned by the government to discredit the Chartists.

The result is a caricature of the whole affair into self-congratulatory farce in which an elephant of order crushes a mouse of rebellion. [43]

From the point of view of revolutionary threat, worse was still to come.


[1] Northern Star, 25 March 1848.

[2] Chase, Chartism, p. 299.

[3] ‘The National Convention’, Northern Star, 8 April 1848, pp, 1, 8, 33, reports the sessions from Tuesday 4 April to Friday 7 April.

[4] Hoyles, Martin, William Cuffay: The Life & Times of a Chartist Leader, (Hansib Publications Ltd.), 2013, Gossman, N., ‘William Cuffay: London's Black Chartist’, Phylon, Vol. 44, (1), 1983, pp. 56-65, and DLB, Vol. 6, pp. 77-80, are useful biographies. See also, Gregory, M., ‘William Cuffay in Tasmania’, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Vol. 58, (1), 2011, pp. 61-77.

[5] Gammage, History of the Chartist Movement, p. 309.

[6] ‘The National Petition’, Northern Star, 8 April 1848, p. 5.

[7] John, Earl Russell, Recollections and Suggestions, 1815-1873, (Longman, Green and Co.), 1875, pp. 252-253.

[8] Russell, nonetheless made it clear that ‘a petition so numerously signed as the hon. Gentleman has declared the petition he has to present will be, should not be received, and meet with every consideration from the House’: Hansard, House of Commons, Debates, 7 April 1848, Vol. 98, cc4-5.

[9] Hansard, House of Commons, Debates, 7 April 1848, Vol. 98, cc20-59.

[10] Hansard, House of Commons, Debates, 6 April 1848, Vol. 97, cc1353-1355. Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary, ‘directed a notice to be issued, which, I trust, will be published in half an hour throughout the streets of London, and circulated over the country, pointing out that by the statute and common law of these realms this intended procession is illegal, and warning all loyal and peaceable subjects of Her Majesty to abstain from taking part in such procession..’ For the second reading of the Crown and Government Security Bill, Hansard, House of Commons, Debates, 10 April 1848, Vol. 98, cc73-135; it went into committee, Hansard, House of Commons, Debates, 12 April 1848, Vol. 98, cc223-259, 14 April 1848, Vol. 98, cc340-379; and then to the Lords, Hansard, House of Lords, Debates, 19 April 1848, Vol. 98, cc485-507, 20 April 1848, Vol. 98, cc534-537.

[11] The problematic nature of using workers as special constables is illustrated by a meeting of workmen of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company on 23 March: ‘The Working Class as Special Constable’, Northern Star, 25 March 1848, p. 3. The meeting passed three resolutions: the first, objected to the ‘abrupt manner’ in which the authorities called on them to act as special constables; the second, accepted that it was the duty of ‘all classes to protect life and property’ pledging to do so if ‘the middle class pledges themselves to protect our capital, namely our labour’; and finally, that existing distress was caused by ‘class legislation’ and that this would not be resolved ‘until the working classes are fully and fairly represented in the Commons’ House of Parliament…’

[12] Bain, Alexander, Autobiography, (Longmans, Green, and Co.), 1904, p. 206.

[13] Goodway, David, London Chartism 1838-1848, pp. 76-77, provides a lucid account of the sequence of events on 10 April.

[14] Nonconformist, 12 April 1848.

[15] ‘Meeting at Lambeth. Resignation of Bronterre O’Brien’, Northern Star, 15 April 1848, p. 6.

[16] Presentation of the National Petition. Great Chartist Demonstration’, Northern Star, 15 April 1848, p. 7, includes the proceedings of the Convention on 10 April, ‘The Chartist Demonstration’, Morning Chronicle, 11 April 1848, p. 5, ‘Preservation of the Peace of the Metropolis’, Morning Chronicle, 11 April 1848, p. 6.

[17] ‘Presentation of the National Petition. Great Chartist Demonstration’, Northern Star, 15 April 1848, pp. 7-8, provides a detailed account of preparations for the meeting and the meeting itself. Goodway, David, London Chartism 1838-1848, pp. 69-70.

[18] Gammage, History of the Chartist Movement, p. 314.

[19] Presentation of the National Petition. Great Chartist Demonstration’, Northern Star, 15 April 1848, p. 8.

[20] This should be compared with the similar way in which the Provisional Government in France dealt with the workers’ demonstration in Paris on 16 April and the demonstration on 15 May when a radical procession invaded the National Assembly in an attempt to overthrow the government. Traugott, Mark, Armies of the Poor: Determinants of Working-Class Participation in the Parisian Insurrection of June 1848, (Princeton University Press), 1985, pp. 21-22, Lignereux, Aurélien, La France rébellionnaire: Les résistances a la gendarmerie, (1800-1859), (Presses Universitaires de Rennes), 2008, pp. 187-196.

[21] ‘The Prostitute Press’, Northern Star, 22 April 1848, p. 2, printed extracts from the ‘infamous press’ of the ‘lies and calumnies directed against the Chartists’.

[22] Ibid, Belchem, John, ‘1848: Feargus O’Connor and the Collapse of the Mass Platform’, in Epstein, and Thompson, (eds.), The Chartist Experience, p. 282.

[23] Lovett, Life and Struggles, 1876, p. 285.

[24] Gammage, History of the Chartist Movement, pp. 331-332.

[25] Holyoake, G. J., Bygones Worth Remembering, 2 Vols. (E. P. Dutton and Company)., 1905, Vol. 1, pp. 73-81.

[26] Ibid, Kingsley, Charles, Alton Locke, pp. 309-310.

[27] Saville, John, Ernest Jones, (Lawrence & Wishart), 1952, pp. 109-111, where he cites an open letter in the Northern Star, 9 July 1850.

[28] Reynolds’ Political Instructor, 23 March 1850.

[29] Hovell, The Chartist Movement, pp. 292, 343.

[30] Rowe, D. J., ‘The Failure of London Chartism’, Historical Journal, Vol. xi, (1968), p. 482.

[31] Leventhal, F. M., Respectable Radical: Howell, George, and Victorian Working Class Politics, London, 1971, p. 22.

[32] Groves, Reg, ‘The Class Leadership of Chartism’, The Labour Monthly, Vol. 2, (April 1929), p. 128.

[33] Saville, John, ‘Chartism in the Year of Revolution, The Modern Quarterly, (Winter 1952-1953), later extended into his 1848: The British State and the Chartist Movement.

[34] Stevenson, John, Popular Disturbances in England 1700-1870, (Longman), 1979, p. 268.

[35] Large, David, ‘London in the Year of Revolution’, in Stevenson, John, (ed.), London in the Age of Reform, (Basil Blackwell), 1977, pp. 177-203.

[36] Ibid, Goodway, David, London Chartism 1838-1848, p. 74.

[37] Royle, Edward, Chartism, (Longman), 1980, p. 43.

[38] Ibid, Goodway, David, London Chartism 1838-1848, p. 77.

[39] Quinault, Roland, ‘1848 and Parliamentary Reform’, Historical Journal, Vol. 31, (4), (1988), pp. 836-837.

[40] The Times, 17 April 1848.

[41] Ibid, Saunders, Robert, ‘Chartism from above: British elites and the interpretation of Chartism’, p. 480.

[42] Hansard, House of Commons, Debates, 20 June 1848, Vol. 99, cc879-966.

[43] Ibid, Goodway, David, London Chartism 1838-1848, p. 78.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

What were the social and economic effects of the Famine?

The ‘Great Famine’ began unexpectedly in the late summer of 1845. By September, potatoes were rotting in the ground and within a month blight was spreading rapidly. Three-quarters of the country’s crop, the chief food for some three million people was wiped out. The following year blight caused a total crop failure. In 1847, the blight was less virulent but in 1848 a poor grain harvest aggravated the situation further. 1848 proved to be the worst year in terms of distress and death during the whole history of the Great Famine. Both 1849 and 1850 saw blight, substantial in some counties, sporadic in others.

Why was there famine?

Famine caused by potato blight was nothing new to Ireland. There had been failures in 1739, 1741, 1801, 1817 and 1821. In 1741, perhaps 400,000 people died because of famine. The Great Famine in the 1840s was only one demographic crisis among many but most historians regard it as a real turning point in Irish history. It was simply a disaster beyond all expectations and imagination.

Chap 1 Famine2

Contemporaries and historians have considerable difficulty in explaining why the Famine took place. It is, however, generally agreed that the structure of the Irish economy and especially its system of land tenure played a significant part. Most of the cultivated land in Ireland in the 1840s was in the hands of Protestant landowners. Estates were regarded as sources of income for these landowners, many of them absentees in England rather than long-term investments. This led to a failure to invest in Irish farming. Tenants were unable to invest in their land because of high rents. Where improvement in farming did occur in Ireland, it proved very profitable. Irish agriculture promised returns of between 15 and 20 per cent compared to 5 to 10 per cent yields in England. There was insufficient land available to satisfy demand, despite the conclusion of the Devon Commission that over 1.5 million acres of land suitable for tillage was uncultivated. This led to the division and sub-division of land. By 1845, a quarter of all holdings were between one and five acres, 40 per cent were between five and fifteen acres and only seven per cent over thirty acres. This created under-employment and forced many of the labourers to become migrant workers in England for part of the year. They became navvies for road building, canal digging and railway construction. Many turned seasonal migration into permanent settlement and were largely involved in work English people found dirty, disreputable or otherwise disagreeable--jobs like petty trading, keeping lodging-houses and beer-houses. Inadequate investment meant that Irish industrialisation could not provide the employment necessary to absorb its growing population.

Chap 1 Famine1

The potato made the division and sub-division of land possible. It was easy to grow even in poor soil and produced high yields. Two acres of land could provide enough potatoes for a family of five or six to live on for a year. Potatoes could also be used to feed pigs and poultry. Subsistence on the potato allowed tenants to grow wheat and oats to pay their rent. The precise relationship between the potato and population growth in Ireland is difficult to establish. It is clear that there was a dramatic rise in Irish population in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The high birth rate and the early age of marriage were largely responsible for dramatic growth. Between 1780 and 1841, Ireland’s population increased from about five million to over eight million people, despite the emigration of one and a half million people in the decades after Union. This placed even greater pressure on land and greater reliance on the potato.

How did the British government react?

Peel’s response was rapid and, within limits, imaginative. The crisis convinced him finally of the necessity for dismantling the Corn Laws but he realised that this would, because of its contentious nature, take time. Immediate solutions were needed. In November 1845, a Special Commission was established to co-ordinate relief efforts. It did two things. First, work was needed so that labourers could afford to buy food. The government established public work schemes but on a much larger scale than before. These were the boom years of Irish railway construction. Food had also to be kept at a level that prevented profiteering. £185,000 was spent on supplies, chiefly Indian meal. These measures, however, only met the immediate crisis. Lord John Russell succeeded Peel in mid-1846 but he lacked Peel’s Irish experience. Economy and efficiency replaced Peel’s more humane policy. The full extent of the Famine was seriously under­estimated in official circles. The problem, however, was not the shortage of food in Ireland--between September 1846 and July 1847 five times as much grain was imported as was exported--but of ensuring that those in need had access to that food. The failure was one of awareness, not compassion.

What were the consequences of the Famine?

Between 1841 and 1851, the population of Ireland fell from over 8 million to some 6.5 million. Emigration accounted for perhaps 1.5 million and became an accepted part of Irish life. This leaves about a million deaths as a result of the Famine. Actual starvation rarely caused death but weakened people sufficiently for dis­eases like typhus and fever to take their toll. In early 1849, a serious outbreak of cholera added to the problem. The impact of famine was felt differently in both regional and social terms. Western and south-western counties were hardest hit. Counties on the east coast, where food could be more easily imported, were least affected. The north-east did not suffer a crisis, despite its high density of population, because of the more industrial nature of its economy. But it was not unaffected. Many disease-ridden migrants crowded into Belfast, where poor living conditions helped spread disease, but this was a public health not an economic problem.

Chap 1 Deverall_The_Irish_Vagrants_1853


Labourers and small farmers were the chief victims of the Famine. In 1841, 71.5 per cent of holdings were less than 15 acres but by 1851 the figure was 49.1 per cent. There was a consequent increase in the number of holdings over 15 acres from 18.5 to 50.9 per cent. Livestock farming expanded encouraged by attractive prices in Britain and by reductions in transport costs. In 1851, the agricultural economy was apparently still in a state of crisis: the potato had lost its potency, low agricultural prices gave little promise of recovery to those who had survived, and slightly larger holdings hardly made up for increased Poor Law rates. But from the 1850s change was rapid. Livestock increased in value and numbers, arable farming declined slowly and tenant farmers, whose numbers remained relatively stable for the next fifty years, enjoyed some prosperity.

The Famine marked a watershed in the political history of modern Ireland. The Repeal Association of O’Connell was dead. Young Ireland made their separatist gesture in the abortive rising of 1848. A sense of desolation, growing sectarian divisions, the rhetoric of genocide and the re-emergence of some form of national consciousness eventually led to the emergence of a movement dedicated to the independence of Ireland from English rule.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Why was Ireland so important in Peel’s career?

The Conservative victory in 1841 brought the conflict between Peel and O’Connell that had festered for twenty-years centre stage. Peel was not prepared to compromise on Repeal of the Act of Union. However, he recognised the need to build confidence in the benefits of the Union. Peel’s Irish policy was therefore a combination of strong opposition to O’Connell and the Repeal movement combined with legislation that addressed some of Ireland’s problems.

Peel 1

Calls for Repeal

The creation of the Repeal Association in 1840 and the reduction of his MPs to 18 in the 1841 Election led O’Connell to concentrate on extra-parliamentary agitation. There is a problem with what Repeal meant to O’Connell. He never came down firmly on the side of repeal or reform. O’Connell wanted the restoration of an Irish Parliament but with a more representative structure. This Parliament would then be able to legislate to improve conditions for the Irish people. O’Connell was vague and inconsistent in his statements on Repeal. Some historians have suggested that he was not seriously committed to Repeal and that the whole campaign was a ploy to get the British government to introduce further reforms within the framework of the Union.

The Repeal campaign was closely based on the Emancipation movement of the 1820s though on a much larger scale. It was financed by the ‘Repeal Rent’ and used ‘monster meetings’ to get its message across and put pressure on the British government. Support came from the Catholic peasantry, for whom Repeal appeared to offer the loosening of landlord control, and the Catholic Church. He also had the support of ‘Young Ireland’, a small group of more radical nationalists. The Catholic middle-classes were less committed than in the 1820s. They were far more concerned with retaining the gains they had achieved because of Union and were suspicious of the suggested advantages of Repeal. There was, however, an important difference between the Repeal campaign in the 1840s and the successful Emancipation campaign. In 1828-1829 Wellington led a divided and, to some degree demoralised party. Peel, by contrast, had the support, especially between 1841 and 1844 of a strong and united Conservative Party with a large majority in the House of Commons. Peel was prepared to tolerate the Repeal campaign as long as it remained within the law. The ‘mon­ster meetings’ and O’Connell’s claim that 1843 would be the ‘Year of Repeal’ worried Peel’s administration. A mass meeting at Clontarf on 7 October was banned. O’Connell accepted the decision, though many of his supporters were disappointed and was arrested, tried, imprisoned and then released.

Clontarf marked the end of an effective Repeal campaign. O’Connell did not have the united support he had in 1828-1829. The Catholic middle-classes were ambivalent in their attitudes. ‘Young Ireland’ differed sharply with O’Connell over long-term aims and tactics. In 1846, its leaders came out in favour of the possible use of force and seceded from the Repeal Association. Peel’s reforms and then the Famine took the sting out of the campaign. O’Connell could do little to alleviate conditions during the Famine and his parliamentary party was eclipsed after his death in 1847. O’Connell’s enduring achievement was to make clear that the grievances and claims of Ireland were now an intrinsic part of British domestic politics.

Peel’s reforms

Peel had considerable first-hand experience of Ireland and recognised that there were two main obstacles to good government there: poor relations between tenant and landlord, and bad relations between the British government and the Catholic middle-class and moderate clergy. Responsibility for the first problem was delegated to a Royal Com­mission headed by the Earl of Devon set up in 1843. Peel’s solutions for the other half of his programme were put forward in a series of cabinet memoranda in the spring of 1844. Only if, Peel argued, the moderate Catholic clergy could be detached from the Repeal movement would the Church of Ireland be able to retain its privileges. But a policy of religious concessions had difficulties. Irish Conservatives were unwill­ing to give offices to Roman Catholics. Some members of his cabinet, especially Stanley and Gladstone, were implacably hostile to concessions. The changed state of British public opinion towards Catholicism was equally important. Anti-Catholic feeling had hardened since 1829 because of the violence of O’Connell’s movement and increasing numbers of Irish Catholics on mainland Britain.

Peel identified charitable endowments as an area of reform that would benefit Irish Catholics and the 1844 Charitable Bequests Act aimed to remove obstacles to endowments to the Catholic Church. Without directly recognising the Roman Catholic hierarchy, a supervisory Charitable Trusts Board was created with Catholic members to facilitate endowment of chapels and benefices. Many Catholic bishops and clergy did not immediately welcome the Act but it was soon recognised as a useful working solution and as the first gesture of conciliation.

In 1845 Peel turned to Irish education, both to the better training of Catholic priests at Maynooth College, near Dublin, and to the creation of improved higher educational facilities. Each proposal ran into strong opposition. The principle of state support for Maynooth went back to 1795 but the annual grant of less than £9,000 was inadequate. Peel wanted it increased to £26,000 plus a special building grant of £30,000 and aimed to raise the social and intellectual level of the priesthood, hoping this would make priests more moderate. In late 1844, he had pulled back from this proposal in the face of opposition from Stanley and from William Gladstone, who left the cabinet in January 1845. Peel introduced his Maynooth Bill in April 1845 without fully appreciat­ing the nationwide hostility to the proposal. Anglicans saw it as implicit official recognition of the Catholic Church and as a chal­lenge to the position of the Church of Ireland. Nonconformists opposed the payments because they disliked any link between Church and state. A joint central Anti-Maynooth Committee was set up and over 10,000 petitions poured into Parliament between February and May.

Peel pressed ahead with his plan. For opponents Maynooth was yet another example of Peel’s ‘flexibility’. They pointed to 1829 when he had argued that Maynooth’s charter should be revoked and Irish priests brought under government control. Despite widespread extra-parliamentary opposition from the Anti-Maynooth Committee the bill went through, as Emancipation had in 1829, with large cross-bench majorities. The debate on Maynooth is important less for the discussion of the principles of the bill than for the vehemence of attacks on Peel’s ‘betrayal’. The Conservative Party split 159 to 147 in favour of the bill on the second reading but 149 to 148 against it on the third.

Peel’s third proposal, the Academic Institutions (Ireland) Act intended to improve the education of the Irish middle-classes by establishing non-denominational university colleges at Belfast, Cork and Galway. The hope was that this would make it more resistant to political extremism or clerical influence. Anglicans were damning in their criticism of the idea of the non-denominational ‘Godless colleges’. Irish Catholic attitudes were split and in July 1846 the Vatican decided that such institutions would be harmful to the Catholic faith.

Peel’s policies for Ireland in 1844 and 1845 attempted to kill repeal and detach moderate Catholic clergy and middle-class from the repeal movement. Of his three reforms, only two proved successful. The price of con­cessions to Ireland was the break-up of Peel’s own party. It never recovered from the shock administered by the Maynooth grant. The Famine administered the coup de grace. Famine with its deep social, economic and psychological effects changed Ireland’s political agenda. Under O’Connell Ireland had been generally loyal and pacifist. That loyalty and pacifism perished in the Famine. Whether English rule was in fact to blame for the Famine mattered less than the widespread belief that it was. John Mitchel was not alone in believing that ‘the Almighty indeed sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine’.

Peel 3

Peel, the Corn Laws and the Famine

The impact of Ireland on British politics was at its starkest in Peel’s response to the Great Famine. By the summer of 1845 the press and many politicians were predicting the ending of the Corn Laws and that Peel would attempt further revision in the 1846 session. The news of the potato blight in September 1845 and imminent and widespread famine merely brought matters to a head. Peel had no illusions about the effects of blight. As Irish Secretary, he had lived through the famine of 1817. A scheme of national relief at the taxpayers’ expense would have to be organised before the full effects of famine were felt the following spring. Could the taxpayer be asked to contribute to the feeding of Ireland and still tolerate the existence of the Corn Laws? Peel had three alternatives open to him. He could leave the law intact, suspend it until the Irish problem was resolved or abolish it. Leaving the law intact while the Irish starved was a non-starter. Suspension posed political problems. The length of suspension was unpredictable but was likely to be for more than a year. This meant that an unpopular resump­tion of the law would occur in 1847 when a General Election was due. Peel already intended to prepare the country gradually for a change of policy and fight the elections due in 1847-1848 on a platform of free trade. This would deprive the Whigs of the electoral advantage from cries of ‘cheap bread’. The problem with abolition was that the Conservatives were wedded to Protection. Peel also recognised that repeal in itself would not alleviate the problems facing Ireland, as the Irish affected by the famine would not be able to afford to buy the cheap grain from Europe. In that respect, the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 had little to do with the situation in Ireland. The Famine was the event that precipitated repeal; it was not its cause.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Why was Catholic Emancipation such a contentious issue?

The Catholic question was left unresolved by Union and until 1823 the issue stagnated. There were two main reasons why the campaign for Catholic Emancipation before the formation of the Catholic Association by Daniel O’Connell in 1823-1824 made little headway. The leaders of the campaign were very cautious. The British Catholic upper-class supported a compromise bill giving Catholics Emancipation but allowing the British government the right to veto appointments to the Roman Catholic Church in the United Kingdom. Daniel O’Connell denounced this approach.[1] By the early 1820s the Catholic cause in Ireland was divided and bankrupt. In addition, Parliament would decide Catholic Emancipation in London. Between 1815 and 1827 the Catholic question was a major problem for Lord Liverpool’s government. The electorate voted overwhelmingly against Emancipation in the General Elections of 1818, 1820 and especially 1826. The Cabinet was divided on the issue.[2] Between 1815 and 1822, an open agreement existed that Emancipation would not be raised as a matter of government business but that when it was raised independently ministers could vote as their consciences dictated. Emancipation Bills passed the Commons in 1821, 1822 and 1825 but were all rejected in the Lords. The 1825 Bill precipitated a major political crisis for Liverpool with ‘Protestant’ Peel and then ‘Catholic’ Canning threatening resignation. Canning argued that the government could no longer remain neutral on the issue. His ‘Catholic’ colleagues persuaded him otherwise and the ‘agreeing to disagree’ formula was re-established.

O'Connell

O’Connell and The Catholic Association.

O’Connell recognised that even with a majority in favour of Emancipation, with or without the veto in the Commons, the House of Lords and the king could obstruct change. The result was the formation of the Catholic Association in the spring of 1823. Its main aim was Emancipation. O’Connell, however, took a broader view of the Catholic problem and included electoral reform, reform of the Church of Ireland and tenants’ right. This allowed him to advance the interests of the whole Catholic community. It was the introduction of the ‘Catholic Rent’ of one penny a month for supporters that proved crucial. Some £20,000 was raised in the first nine months of collection in 1824-1825 and a further £35,000 was collected between 1826 and 1829. It enabled the Catholic Association to become a truly national organisation run from Dublin with support across the Catholic community. O’Connell realised that making the Irish Catholic Church an integral part of the movement was essential. Parish priests were made members of the Association. They could mobilise the mass of the Catholic population, something the Establishment viewed with some alarm. The great open-air meetings often addressed by O’Connell played a central part in the work of the Catholic Association. This allowed him to demand justice for Ireland but also let him to make veiled threats to the British government. Mass support could lead to mass disobedience, the possibility of violence and growing demands for separation from Britain.

The 1826 General Election.

Growing support for the Association across Ireland allowed O’Connell to intervene in the Irish elections in 1826. He called on voters in certain areas to support only pro-Emancipation candidates. The votes of tenants had been taken for granted by their landlords but in many places, Catholics voted for candidates fav­oured by local Catholic agitators. Four pro-Emancipation candidates were returned. It was clear that the backing of the Association enabled Catholic voters to defy their landlords with relative immunity.

The support for Emancipation demonstrated in Ireland was not evident on the mainland. The 1826 General Election showed the depth of anti-Catholic senti­ment among the British electorate, attitudes not helped by the steady influx of Irish immigrants after 1800 and especially after the 1821 famine. Irish Catholics concentrated in London and other cities, were seen as a political threat and, for much of the nineteenth century, government was haunted by the spectre of union between Irish nationalism and radical agitation. After Lord Liverpool’s resignation in early 1827, tensions over Emancipation could no longer be contained. Peel and Wellington opposed Emancipation on principle while Canning was more pragmatic recognising that Emancipation would strengthen the Union and allow the government to deal with Ireland’s economic problems. Peel and Wellington refused to serve in either Canning’s or Goderich’s administration. Wellington himself became Prime Minister in January 1828 with Peel as his Home Secretary. Canning’s former supporters soon resigned from the new government. The Tory party was in turmoil.

O'Connell 2

Emancipation achieved 1828-1829.

In early 1828, Parliament repealed the Test and Corporation Acts. This ended all legal restrictions on the civil rights of Dissenters and made it extremely difficult for Wellington and Peel to ignore Catholic Emancipation. Resistance to Catholic Emancipation inside Westminster had been crumbling since 1812. In 1813, a motion had passed the Commons only to fail by one vote in the Lords. In 1823 Nugent’s Bill, supported by Peel, passed by 59 votes only to be wrecked in the Lords and in May 1828 there was a majority of six for Emancipation in the Commons. It is, however, ironic that it was finally carried by perhaps the most ‘Protestant’ Commons elected since 1800.

Wellington and Peel were now faced by two contradictory pressures. O’Connell’s victory brought the prospect of civil war in Ireland closer. Yet, English public opinion was overwhelmingly opposed to further concessions. In the event, County Clare was a fortunate accident.[3] It allowed Wellington and Peel to introduce Emancipation to prevent widespread disturbances in Ireland. This led to a widespread petitioning cam­paign and by March 1829, when the first reading of the bill took place, there had been 957 petitions in opposition compared to 357, mostly from Ireland, in favour. Emancipation was easily achieved despite opposition in the Commons (142 Tory MPs voted against) and the campaign led by Winchelsea and Eldon in the Lords. The cost for Wellington and Peel was high. Both were criticised as betrayers of the ancient constitution and Church. Peel felt obliged to offer himself for re-election at Oxford University and was defeated. Wellington fought a duel with the Ultra Lord Winchelsea. More important was the legacy of bitterness within the Tory party. A group of Ultra-Tories announced their conversion to parliamentary reform as the only way of defending what was left of the existing constitution.

The Roman Catholic Emancipation Act 1829 gave full civil and political rights to Roman Catholics. They could now become MPs and occupy public offices with a few minor exceptions such as the office of Lord Chancellor. O’Connell believed that Catholic advancement in politics, government service and the professions would eventually lead to the end of Protestant dominance. There was, however, a change in voting qualification that was raised from a forty-shilling freeholder to a ten-pound householder. This cut the Irish electorate to a sixth of its former size. Despite this, Emancipation was seen as a victory for Catholicism and this further increased sectarian tension.


[1] Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) came from the Irish Catholic gentry, his father was a small landowner and shopkeeper. Educated in France, he studied law at Lincoln’s Inn in London between 1794 and 1796 qualifying as a barrister at the Irish Bar in 1798. He was involved in drafting the 1805 Petition and was increasingly involved in the Emancipation debate. In 1823, he established the Catholic Association. He was known as ‘The Liberator’ because of his success in getting Emancipation. He was much less successful in his campaign for Repeal of the Act of Union in the 1840s

[2] In broad terms ‘Protestants’ like Peel and Wellington did not agree with Catholic Emancipation on principle. ‘Catholics’ like Canning took a more pragmatic view arguing that Emancipation was necessary for the stability of Ireland.

[3] The County Clare election in July 1828, caused by the promotion of Vesey Fitzgerald to the Board of Trade, brought the issue to a head. O’Connell decided to stand against Fitzgerald. This placed the government in an awkward position. Fitzgerald was a popular landlord and a supporter of Emancipation. If O’Connell won, as a Roman Catholic he could not take his seat in the House of Commons. However, the government would run of risk of widespread disorder in Ireland with the inevitable prospect of further Catholic election candidates in the future. With the support of the Catholic Association and the local priests, O’Connell won easily beating Fitzgerald by 2,057 to 982 votes.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Resisting tithes

Tithes were traditional payments that entitled the Church to a tenth of people’s annual income. Usually the payments were made in kind in the form of crops, wool, milk and other produce, to represent a tenth of the yearly production. After the Reformation, much land passed from the Church to lay owners who inherited entitlement to receive tithes, along with the land. This payment was demanded whether or not the parishioner attended Church and they—and church rates--were a bone of contention across the country. In Scotland, a form of commutation of teinds applied from 1633 even though full reform was not carried out until the 1930s.[1] The main difference between tithes in England and teinds in Scotland was that tithes were calculated as a proportion—a tenth—of produce whereas teinds were calculated as a proportion of the rateable value of agricultural land set against the current price of produce. This made Scottish ministers more vulnerable to loss of income than the English clergy particularly after poor harvests. It also meant that tithes were far less contentious in Scotland than elsewhere in Britain and Ireland.[2] Though compulsory church rates were not abolished until 1868, legal judgements made it clear that they could only be collected where authorised by the churchwardens and a majority of the vestry. As Nonconformists were eligible to vote for both, in some towns such as Birmingham the rate lapsed.  This was preferable to Nonconformists than the scheme that the House of Commons seriously considered for repairing all parish churches from public funds.[3] The Tithe Commutation Act 1836 ended tithes in kind in England and Wales replacing them with money payments called tithe rentcharge based on the average prices of corn, oats and barley over the previous seven years. Tithes remained contentious issue in England and Wales for the remainder of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. Legislation in 1925, 1936 and 1951 reduced payments but it was not until the Finance Act 1977 that tithes were finally abolished.[4]
Tithe_Pig_Group_of_Derby_Porcelain_c_1770
Resistance to paying tithes was common in East Anglia, Sussex and Kent where there had been a long tradition of Nonconformity that in their geographical links to Lollardy pre-dated the Reformation. In Kent for instance, about 3,000 people met at Barham Downs in May 1834[5] to denounce the evils inflicted by tithes while the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported in 1883 that support for tithe protestors was especially strong in the Weald.[6] Tithe disputes intensified in the inter-war years largely because of the major changes in land ownership after the Great War when tenant farmers bought farms, paying ‘over the odds’ and taking out large mortgages. Bailiffs who were sent to distrain farmers’ goods for non-payment of tithes or even to evict non-paying farmers were met with violent resistance and Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury was burned in effigy by a crowd in Ashford in 1935.[7] Feelings ran particularly high in Kent and Norfolk, where the novelist Doreen Wallace was a leading campaigner.[8] In some areas farmers were supported by local members of the British Union of Fascists but during the anti-tithe militancy in Suffolk in 1933, Blackshirts went down from London to join the disturbances.[9] There was also a legacy of tithe payment levels after 1918 that were pegged at what had become unrealistically high levels that was coupled to the centralised collection of tithe through offices at Westminster Abbey. This was exacerbated by agricultural depression of the late 1920s and into the 1930s when prices tumbled making tithe payments increasingly onerous. A national Tithe Payers’ Association was formed in the mid-1920s to campaign for the abolition of Tithe Rent Charge and there were at least six branches in Kent by the mid-1930s, at Ashford, Elham, Paddock Wood, Sandwich, Stansted and the Weald. Across communities there was a common hatred of what people saw as an out-dated system that mercilessly exploited rural communities.[10]
 Tithe2
The Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ policy of seizing goods in lieu of tithe payments required them or their agents to turn the goods into cash, and initially the means used for the latter was to auction them off. Following several very public debacles at Ruckinge and Stelling Minnis in September 1931 where those sympathetic to those refusing to pay tithes put up ridiculously high bids and otherwise disrupted the auction process, the authorities turned to alternative methods--public tender using the services of possession men. Perhaps the best known incident in the ‘Kentish Tithe War’ was ‘the battle of the ducks’, their ‘liberation’ and return to their ‘rightful’ pond at Beechbrook Farm in Westwell.[11] The campaign began when between 70 and a 100 people, mostly young men and some with trucks met at the Half-Way House on the Dover Road. This was not far from Shepherdswell where the ducks had been taken on the orders of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to their farm called West Court Farm, run by their tenant. The ducks and other livestock had been seized because the farmer at Westwell, the Rev. Roderick Kedward, had refused as a matter of principle to pay the tithes demanded of him. Kedward (1881-1937) was a Methodist minister from a Westwell farming family, Ashford’s only ever Liberal MP from 1929 to 1931 and President of the National Tithe Payers' Association in 1932. The night-time raid in September 1934 was reported in the national press the following day making the Church authorities even more furious. They sent General Dealers their agents to retake the ducks and the other items that had not been collected during the first sequestration, and also persuaded the Police to provide a substantial guard at West Court Farm for the whole of the following week.
Tithe 1
In Wales there was often a deep-seated antipathy between largely English-speaking Anglican landlords and their Nonconformist Welsh-speaking tenants. A government report of 1844 observed that the existence of the Welsh language and a widespread ignorance of English were ‘felt in a practical shape in the obstacles which it presents to the efficient working of many laws and institutions’.[12] Welsh was linked to poverty and a general lack of prosperity: an ignorance of English stated another report of 1846, was ‘one of the great causes of the backward state of the Welsh part of the population’.[13] It was perceived as excluding its speakers from participation in that key element of British imperial identity, economic trade.[14] Nonconformity was mistrusted not only for its strong identification with Welsh culture and language, but also because of its democratic structure, its populist and community orientated appeal. It was considered potentially dangerous and politically destabilising to encourage ordinary working-class people to debate contentious theological issues or participate in the election of their ministers. The growing antagonism between the Established Church and Nonconformity soon developed into a political movement that was rural society’s contribution to Welsh radicalism. In 1836, the Church Rate Abolition Society was formed and branches established in Wales. Irish disestablishment was also a burning issue and the Anglican Y Gwyliedydd condemned this as a symptom of an alliance to destroy church and state.[15] The conflict between church and chapel generated an aggressive religious radicalism among some Nonconformists and in 1837, a Baptist periodical called on its readers in the following terms: ‘Christians! Use your vote as those in the service of God, not man’.[16] The accusation of atheism fired Nonconformists to a more determined effort to break the connection between church and state.
Constabular and lancers in Denbigh
Police and lancers in Denbighshire in 1888
Despite the introduction of cash payment instead of payment in kind after 1836, there was persistent unhappiness among Welsh farmers, most of whom were Nonconformists while the agricultural depression in the 1870s further aggravated tensions.[17] Many farmers refused to pay the tithe and during the 1880s enforced sales of possessions were made by the authorities in order to collect the taxes owed. This led to confrontation between farmers and the authorities across the country. There were disturbances in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and other rural areas. The people who suffered most from suspension of paying tithes were the clergy who relied on tithes for the bulk of their stipend. One clergyman who was supposed to received £200, actually got £8 in 1887. A Clergy Defence Association was established in Cardigan to protect their interests and took charge of the legal process of enforcing payment of tithes. When distraining goods for non-payment, collectors were faced with large crowds that jostled and verbally abused bailiffs and attempts to sell the distrained goods at auctions often saw crowd violence. ‘Tithe Horns’ were sounded to summon the scattered population to farms where sales were to be held.
1894
Police in a ‘Tithe train’, Denbigh 1894
The confrontation was most pronounced in Denbighshire.[18] Denbigh was the headquarters of the Welsh National Land League--modelled on the Irish Land League—that lobbied against tithe payment. Denbighshire farmers were not necessarily any more resentful than those in the country but the presence of the League’s headquarters and the influence of Thomas Gee meant that tensions were particularly high in the area. Gee was the owner of the local Welsh-language newspaper Baner ac Amserau Cymru and was active in the anti-Tithe campaign. During the late 1880s many farmers took direct action refusing to pay tithes. This led to further enforced sales of land and property and violent protests took place in Llangwm in May 1887, Mochdre in June 1887[19] and Llanefydd in May 1888.  Following the incident at Llangwm, 31 protesters were sent to court and at Mochdre 84 people, including 35 police officers were injured. Dubbed the ‘Tithe Wars’, the protestors’ actions were praised by Gee’s newspaper as the campaign’s momentum reached its peak when troops were deployed to the Denbighshire area in May and June 1888 and August 1890 to control the discontent and protect the tithe collectors in carrying out their unpopular duties.[20]   The disturbances largely ended in 1891 when the Tithe Recovery Act transferred responsibility for the payment of the tithe from the tenant to the landlord. This made the payment of tithes easier to enforce and the unpopularity of the tithe-owners rapidly declined. Protests and violent action continued to the mid-1890s and surfaced again in 1913 but they lacked the intensity of those in the 1880s. The struggle brought Welsh issues to the forefront of the British political agenda especially its links to the campaign for the disestablishment of the Welsh Church. Individuals such as David Lloyd George and particularly T. E. Ellis seized the opportunity to strengthen the case for disestablishment that was eventually achieved in 1920 with the passing of the Welsh Church Act. As the Church in Wales became independent of the state, tithes were no longer available leaving the church it without a major source of income.

In Ireland, Catholic peasants had to pay tithes to maintain the Anglican Church of Ireland and demands for their abolition was the most pressing Irish problem facing Whig governments in the 1830s.[21] The 22 Protestant bishops were paid £150,000 a year while the rest of the Established Church received £600,000 more, largely from Roman Catholics who were supporting their own church as well. Resistance to tithes was seen as a prelude to resistance on the payment of rent, a far greater threat to public order and institutional stability. Parliamentary investigations into the rampant abuses and severe structural problems of the Church of Ireland left it with few defenders, while the ranks of tithe opponents swelled with the addition of large farmers and graziers after legislation in 1823 extended tithes to their previously exempt grasslands.[22] The existing protest against tithes but this took on a more organised dimension after 1830 first in the southern provinces of Leinster and Munster spreading quickly to Connacht and Ulster.[23] Protest soon became violent and in 1832 there were 242 murders, 300 attempted murders and 560 cases of arson. Initially responsive to tithe owners’ demand for protection during tithe collection, Dublin Castle’s willingness to provide police escorts waned after the murder of 12 constables at Carrickshock in late 1831.[24] Tithes were of less concern to either smallholders or landless labourers than middling and large farmers. Tithe owners were instead encouraged to accept the money offered to them in 1832 and 1833 while more substantial legislation was under consideration. Unfortunately, parliamentary action was delayed for the next five years, leaving tithe owners free to continue collecting payments with its unchecked potential for violence, such as the murderous affray at Rathcormac in December 1834, when 12 men were killed.[25] The tithe war finally quieted down after the spring of 1835 when the new Whig government and especially Thomas Drummond, the Irish Under-Secretary refused to allow police escorts for tithe business. Tithe opponents resorted to holding meetings to petition Parliament to abolish tithes until the 1838 Tithe Rent Charge Act effectively ended hostilities by transferring responsibility of paying tithes from the Catholic peasantry to Protestant landlords.[26] With the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland by the Irish Church Act 1869, tithes were abolished.



[1] Black, William G., What are Teinds? An Account of the History of Tithes in Scotland, (William Green & Sons), 1893, pp. 66-91.[2] ‘History and Settlement of Tithes in Scotland’, The Edinburgh Review, Vol. 75, (February 1823), pp. 1-26[3] Brent, Richard, ‘The Whigs and Protestant dissent in the decade of reform: the case of church rates, 1833-1841’, English Historical Review, Vol. 102, (1987), pp. 887-910.[4] Evans, E. J., The Contentious Tithe: The Tithe Problem and English Agriculture 1750-1830, (Routledge), 1976, pp. 163-168, considers developments after 1836.[5] ‘Meeting on Barham Downs’, Kentish Gazette, 20 May 1834, p. 3, an extensive report on the meeting.[6] ‘The Extraordinary Tithes’, Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 14 September 1883, p. 5. [7] ‘Sir W. Wayland and Tithes’, Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald, 13 April 1935, p. 16.[8] For instance, ‘Intensive Campaign in Kent and Sussex’, Kent & Sussex Courier, 13 October 1933, p. 19. [9] ‘Fascists’ Retort’, Bury Free Post, 12 August 1933, p. 8, ‘Week-end Tithe Scenes’, Bury Free Post, 13 August 1933, p. 8. See also, Mitchell, Andre M., Facism in East Anglia: The British Union of Fascists in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, 1933-1940, D,Phil., Thesis, University of Sheffield, 1999.[10] Twinch, Carol, Tithe War, 1918-1939: The Countryside in Revolt, (Media Associates), 2001), Griffiths, Clare, Labour and the Countryside: The Politics of Rural Britain 1918-1939, (Oxford University Press), 2007, provides context.[11] ‘Sixty Ducks Seized’, Kent & Sussex Courier, 7 September 1934, p. 2, ‘Excitement in East Kent Tithe War, Dover Express, 7 September 1934, p. 8.[12] Roberts, Gwyneth Tyson, The Language of the Blue Books: The Perfect Instrument of Empire, (University of Wales Press), 1998, p. 20.[13] Jones, Ieuan Gwynedd, Mid-Victorian Wales: The Observers and the Observed, (University of Wales Press), 1992, p. 123. [14] Jenkins, Geraint H., Language and Community in the Nineteenth Century, (University opf Wales Press), 1998, and Jenkins, Geraint H., Welsh Language and its Social Domains: A Social History of the Welsh Language, (University of Wales Press), 2000.[15] Y Gwyliedydd, 1836, pp. 172, 267.[16] Greal y Bedyddwyr, 1837, p. 225.[17] Thomas, Revd D., The Anti-Tithe Movement in Wales, (Llanelli), 1891, pp. 4-5, attached great importance to the depression in farming as a cause of the anti-tithe demonstrations.[18] Davies, Russell, Secret Sins. Sin, Violence & Society in Carmarthenshire 1870-1920, (University of Wales Press), 1996, pp. 135-139, Jones, Tim, Rioting in North East Wales 1536-1918, (Bridge Books), 1997, pp. 56-74, Edwards, E. R., The Tithe Wars in North-East Wales, (Coelion Publications), 1989, Dunbabin, J. P. D., Rural Discontent in Nineteenth Century Britain, (Faber), 1974, pp. 211-231, 282-296. .[19] ‘The Tithe Riots in Wales’, The Spectator, 4 June 1887, pp. 7-8.[20] ‘The Anti-Tithe Agitation in Wales’, The Spectator, 4 January 1890, pp. 26-27, review of work by R. E. Prothero published in London the previous year.[21] O’Donoghue, Patrick, ‘Causes of the Opposition to Tithes, 1830-38’, Studia Hibernica, Vol. 5, (1965), pp. 7-28.[22] See, for instance, Select Committee concerning Tithes in Ireland, First and Second Report, 1831.[23] For the tithe war from a local perspective, see O’Hanrahan, M., ‘The Tithe War in County Kilkenny 1830-1834’, in Nolan, William, and Whelan, Kevin, (eds.), Kilkenny: History and Society: Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County, (Geography Publications), 1990, pp. 481-505, Higgins, N., Tipperary’s tithe war 1830-1838 : parish accounts of resistance against a church tax, (St. Helena Press), 2002, and Tierney, Mark, ‘The Tithe War in Munroe, 1831-8’, Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 103, (1965), pp. 209-221.[24] Owens, G., ‘The Carrickshock Incident, 1831: Social Memory and an Irish cause célèbre’, Cultural and Social History, Vol. 1, (1), (2004), pp. 36-64.[25] Garner, Edward, Massacre at Rathcormac, (Eigse Books), 1984. See also, McMahon, R., ‘‘A violent society’? Homicide rates in Ireland, 1831-1850’, Irish Economic and Social History, Vol. 36, (1), (2009), pp. 1-20, places the violence in Irish society before 1837 in a European context. [26] In 1832, the Tithe Arrears Act allocated £600,000 to the relief of tithe owners and empowered the government to collect arrears for 1831. The Tithe Composition Act also in 1832 converted the tithe into a money payment and made landlords responsible for payment. Tithe bills introduced in 1834, 1835 and 1836 foundered on the question of appropriation.[27] See Article III of the Articles Declaratory contained in the Schedule to the Church of Scotland Act 1921.[28] Dominguez, Juan Pablo, ‘Religious toleration in the Age of Enlightenment’, History of European Ideas, Vol. 43 (4), (2017), pp. 273-287, Henriques, Ursula, Religious Toleration in England, 1787-1833, (Routledge), 1961, pp. 18-53.[29] Salbstein, M. C. N., The Emancipation of the Jews in Britain, (Associated University Presses), 1982, pp. 17-55.