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Chartism

Diary extracts (with transcripts) and other useful sources are discussed below.  Where possible, images of the source items have been provided and can be viewed online.

 

Extracts from the Duke's diaries  

12 Sep 1838 (Ne 2 F 5/1, p. 265)

[...] I this day received a letter from Mr Unwin a magistrate residing at Sutton in Ashfield in Notts’ who informs me that the people of the town have to the number of 350 which is still encreasing [sic] enrolled themselves into an association called National association, for political purposes, that [sic] are training diligently by night & sometimes by day, that some muskets & arms have arrived from Birmingham & that he beleives that at Mansfield & all the neighbouring villages the same system is adopted, but hitherto he is unacquainted with its extent, but he beleives it to be spreading & formidable - & so do I, for I beleive that it will continue untill [sic] a contest shall decide the issue & the present very high price of bread may induce many to join the ranks of the disaffected who otherwise would refuse to mix in such dangerous company -

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5 Mar 1839 (Ne 2 F 6/1, pp.14-15) 

Wrote to [the Home Secretary] Ld J. Russell transmitting the Resolutions of Yesterday’s meeting [of magistrates at Southwell] & also an extract from a letter to the D. of Portland from his secret correspondent, which informs him of the intentions of the Rebels, the number of their army in & near Mansfield 12 or 1400 - how they behaved at their Unions, when they might rise &c / perhaps in a fortnight / he describes the scenes which he witnesses as wicked & atrocious [-] After making various Statements to Ld John I called upon him either by proclamation or otherwise to provide for the deficiency in the existing laws & to devise some instant means for surpressing [sic] the tumultuous & treasonable proceedings of the disaffected = I have written frequently to Lord John but have not received answers to my letters - This is rather a Strange mode of Conducting the affairs of the Home Office in troubled times -

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31 Mar 1839 (Ne 2 F 6/1, p.21)

The Chartist meetings at Sutton yesterday & Mansfield on a previous day have passed off quietly - [Richard] Oastler was pleased on all occasions to compliment me in terms of high panegyric, which was well received by the surrounding hearers - His language however & that of others was desperately bad, & such as ought not to be permitted by any Govt desiring the peace & order of the country - Such declamations & the utterance of sentiments so repugnant to social order, cannot fail to operate upon the minds of many most mischievously -

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22 May 1839 (Ne 2 F 6/1, p.35)

[...] at Nottingham I saw many people & learnt from them that the meeting [of Chartists held there] had been conducted in a very peaceable & orderly manner - At the most, including Spectators & every one there were never so many as 3000 at the Meeting - The harrangues [sic] were in the old style & upon the whole moderate - The orators invited the Chartists to submit whenever required to abstain from work for a month & from all liquors & spirits - This did not meet with general concurrence - They separated quietly -

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The first ‘phase’ of Chartism, in 1838-9, coincided with the final few months in which Newcastle held the post of Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire (he was dismissed from the office in May 1839). The diary entries for the period show how pressing the threat of Chartist agitation was regarded by the Duke.

They also demonstrate his consistently difficult relations with the Home Office and the Whig Government of the day. Newcastle was constantly pushing for government action, in terms of proclamations or extraordinary powers for magistrates, to deal with the issue.

To some extent, Chartism must have reminded Newcastle of the problems he had encountered as Lord Lieutenant during the Luddite disturbances twenty five years earlier. The Duke’s underlying view of the Chartists as agitators and troublemakers is apparent throughout.

Newcastle retained his interest in countering popular agitation throughout the 1840s but did so as a prominent landowner and magistrate rather than as the county’s Lord Lieutenant.

 

Other relevant sources

Use the links to view images of these sources.  Transcripts are available for download:

 

Mr Unwin's opinions on the possible Chartist threat

Unwin, an opponent of reform, wrote to the Duke claiming that the Chartist groups 'are for the most part armed'; although he conceded that 'there is great difficulty in ascertaining this point'. The Duke sent the letter on to Lord John Russell in the hopes of persuading him to allow the setting up of armed associations of citizens to defend lives and property.

Lord John Russell agrees to send Metropolitan Police to Mansfield

Lord John refused to allow armed associations to be established, pointing out that laws were already in place to prevent and punish insurrection. However, in this letter he did agree to send some police officers to help keep the peace, and agreed that Special Constables could work with them.

The magistrates swear in Special Constables

The magistrates in the Mansfield area immediately swore in 31 (unarmed) Special Constables to act for three months. In this deposition they state that it is in response to the threat of the Chartists, and add that 'such persons have in great numbers provided themselves with Guns Pistols Pikes and other Weapons and that such arming still continues to the terror of the peaceable Inhabitants of the Neighbourhood'.

The magistrates demand further action

At a meeting of the county magistrates in Southwell, chaired by the Duke of Newcastle, they agreed that, although they were grateful to Lord John Russell for sending the policemen, this force would not be enough to tackle a genuine insurrection.

Lord John Russell refuses to allow armed associations

The Resolutions of the Nottinghamshire magistrates were sent by the Duke to Lord John Russell. However, Lord John was very firm in refusing to extend the law to allow groups such as Special Constables to be routinely armed.

In the first letter, he details the laws currently in place to deal with armed insurrection and adds that 'in such a case the Military Force in the County is sufficient to put down disturbance'. In the second, he points out that people had the right to purchase and bear arms, and that a proof of unlawful combination had to exist before action could be taken.

The Dukes of Newcastle and Portland disagree over providing armed forces

The complete sequence of letters between the two Dukes has not survived, but in March they appear to have been corresponding daily with regard to measures against the Chartist threat. The Duke of Portland wished the Duke of Newcastle to contribute towards a paid permanent force to defend the Mansfield area; Newcastle refused, but reiterated his support for arming the corps of Special Constables as long as they were properly trained and disciplined.

Lord John Russell agrees to send the Yeomanry to Nottingham

In keeping with Lord John's desire to use the regular police and military forces to tackle any Chartist disturbances, he agreed with the Duke of Newcastle's request to convene the South Notts Yeomanry Cavalry - a volunteer auxiliary force.

Dismissal of the Duke of Newcastle

Because of his refusal to appoint two dissenters (non-conformists) to the magistracy, the Duke of Newcastle was dismissed from his post as Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. Nevertheless, he continued to take an interest in the affairs of the county.

Continuing threat of Chartist disturbances

Chartist meetings were being arranged for Whit week, and in this letter, the Duke of Portland reports that the magistrates and the inhabitants of Mansfield were keen to form Volunteer Corps.

The Whitsun meeting of Chartists in Nottingham, May 1839

According to this letter, the Chartists had initially asked their supporters to come armed to the meeting in Nottingham on 22 May. However, thanks to the prominent military presence, and not wishing to provoke any response from the authorities, they changed their mind and advised attendees to 'leave even your Walking Sticks at home'. The meeting, addressed by Bronterre O'Brien, passed off peacefully.

 

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