Every time I think of the Chartists, I get the late Tony Benn’s voice in my head, talking about the achievements of the “Chartishts and the Shuffragettes and the Levellersh who battled for the rights of ordinary people…etc”
This may get annoying because I’ve started pondering what to do about my MA again. I finished the taught half of it last year, which apparently qualifies me for for Post Graduate Diploma in History Stuff. To get my full MA I have to sign back on with the Open University and complete a 15,000 word research project on a subject of my choice. The only rule is that the subject should be an event or subject confined to an area of Britain or Ireland.
The final essay for the first half of the MA was an outline project proposal for the second half, so I do have a topic that I have researched and presented and had accepted by my tutor.
Except that I didn’t really like it then, and I don’t like it now.
It was a study of the Peckham Experiment, a community health project that ran from 1925 to 1950. The Experiment is a bit of a local legend; there was a purpose-built centre, participants were encouraged to initiate their own activities, there was a creche, a farm that produced food for the community cafe, and there was a swimming pool in the roof. But the project wasn’t ultimately a success and I wanted to examine why that was. The founders blamed the newly-formed NHS (they were anti-socialised healthcare), but some historians have blamed the founders…so there was a lot to look at. BUT, I didn’t think that there was much in the way of a contribution to historical research.
Then I pondered doing something about the Asylum in Asylum Road. It was built in the early 19th century and was meant to provide sheltered accommodation for elderly licensed victuallers who had fallen on hard times. My project would compare the provision of care for the elderly in the Asylum with elder care at the nearby Camberwell Workhouse.
This one would involve a lot (and I mean a lot) of stats and analysing original source material.
Then I read this article on Chartism in Camberwell and it piqued my interest. The Chartists had large meetings down the road in Kennington Park. One meeting ended in a riot which resulted in houses and shops being looted in Bowyer Place. I had ancestors (market gardeners) in Bowyer Place. In addition to that, the ‘ringleaders’ who were convicted were two young black men local to the area. And one of the leaders of the Chartist was a black British-born tailor called William Cuffay. So it ticks the family box, the local box, black people in London before 1960, the yes-I’m-a-leftie box…
The Chartist thing also requires lots and lots of reading and notes. I’ll have to read The Making of the English Working Class again (yawn) and I’ve found Dorothy Thompson’s essays on Chartism. That and a few overall histories of early 19th century London should be enough to get started…