Identifying and Mapping Chartist Children

I think if you refer to the Bible you would not have this child named Feargus O’Connor.

Rev. Henry Banfather, baptism ceremony
of Hannah Feargus O’Connor Steward, Sprowston, 1841.1Northern Star, 1 May 1841, p. 6.

Naming children after radical political heroes was something of a tradition in England in the nineteenth century.2David Jones, Chartism and the Chartists, London, 1975, p. 24; Jutta Schwarzkopf, Women in the Chartist movement, Basingstoke, 1991, p. 124. In particular, during the early 1840s thousands of working-class parents gave their children the names of imprisoned Chartist leaders such as Feargus O’Connor (pictured below) or exiled counterparts such as John Frost (also below) as a form of symbolic allegiance to these men and the radical-democratic cause.3For O’Connor see below. For Frost see David Williams, John Frost: a study in Chartism, Cardiff, 1939. For a general history of the movement see Malcolm Chase’s Chartism: a new history, Manchester, 2007.

Portrait of Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor.
Feargus O’Connor, c. 1796-1855. Source: National Portrait Gallery.

As we’ll see below, it’s possible to identify these children at a national level and then map the districts where their births were registered. Doing so gives us a hitherto unexplored means of evaluating where Chartism was strong and weak in the early 1840s, supplementing existing, more traditional primary sources and interpretation. The first part of this essay looks at the political christening phenomenon from a national perspective while the second takes a much more localised, micro-historical approach by examining political christenings in a small community of handloom weavers resident in the parish of Sprowston near Norwich.

Newport Rising Leader John Frost. Source: State Reference Library of Tasmania.

Part I: The National Context

Why Name Your Child After a Chartist Leader?

Why did so many Chartists choose to name their children after political leaders? In many ways it was a symbolic response to overt legal repression by the state. Chartism was a militant working-class movement for democratic reform which became prominent in 1838–39; following mass meetings in Yorkshire and Lancashire, a number of local and national leaders were arrested and gaoled (particularly in the wake of the Newport Rising of late 1839 and other quasi-insurrectionary activity in Yorkshire).4For Newport see David Jones, The last rising: the Newport insurrection of 1839, Oxford, 1985. John Frost and two others, William Jones and Zephaniah Williams, were convicted of high treason for leading the Newport Rising although their death sentences were commuted to transportation to Van Diemens Land (now Tasmania) for life. Similar waves of arrests and imprisonment happened again in 1842–43 and 1848–49 and throughout the decade many children were named for gaoled or transported Chartists.

Feargus O’Connor was the most popular Chartist leader: in fact, it would be fair to say that the charismatic Irishman was one of the most popular men in early-Victorian England.5Ben Wilson, the Halifax Chartist, made this point in his autobiography. See ‘The struggles of an old Chartist …’ in David Vincent, ed., Testaments of radicalism: memoirs of working class politicians, London, 1970, p. 222. For O’Connor see Donald Read and Eric Glasgow, Feargus O’Connor: Irishman and Chartist, London, 1961; James Epstein, The lion of freedom: Feargus O’Connor and the Chartist movement, 1832–42, London, 1982; Glenn Airey, ‘Feargus O’Connor 1842–1855: a study in Chartist Leadership’, PhD thesis, Staffordshire University, 2003; Paul A. Pickering, Feargus O’Connor: a political life, London, 2008. A former parliamentary member for Cork and skilled orator who also owned the main Chartist newspaper (the Northern Star), upwards of a thousand children were named for O’Connor in the mid nineteenth century. One of this group, the famous English actor and impresario Edward O’Connor Terry (born 1844, pictured below), appears to have been fathered by O’Connor himself.6Read and Glasgow, Feargus O’Connor, p. 142. Although O’Connor alienated a number of other leading Chartists and died insane in 1855, children continued to be named for him well into the second half of the nineteenth century. Other Chartist leaders including Peter Murray McDouall, William Lovett and James ‘Bronterre’ O’Brien were similarly honoured (albeit to a much lesser extent than O’Connor or John Frost).7For O’Brien see Michael J. Turner, Radicalism and reputation: the career of Bronterre O’Brien, East Lansing, 2017. So too were earlier radical heroes such as Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (of Peterloo fame, who died in 1835)8For Hunt see John Belchem, ‘Orator Hunt’: Henry Hunt and English working class radicalism, Oxford, 1985. and Robert Emmet (the United Irish revolutionary executed in Dublin in 1803 for high treason).9For Emmet see Marianne Elliott, Robert Emmet: the making of a legend, London, 2003.

Edward O’Connor Terry. Source; National Portrait Gallery.
Locating and Mapping ‘Chartist Children’

A legal requirement to register all births, deaths and marriages (in addition to traditional religious records of baptisms, marriages and burials) was introduced in England and Wales in mid 1837 as part of administrative reforms made by the Melbourne Whig government. This change and modern volunteer transcriptions of birth registration indexes held at the General Record Office (GRO) have made it practicable to systematically identify and locate children who were named after popular political leaders in the Chartist era. The heatmap of ‘Chartist children’ below is derived from a database I’ve collated from transcribed birth registrations from January 1840 to December 1842 (a peak period in which this phenomenon occurred). Each entry refers to a child with clearly Chartist-inspired forename(s) and the (quarterly) period and place of registration; note, however, that I’ve standardised the spellings of recognisably ‘Chartist’ forenames for data analysis purposes.10For example, transcribed spellings such as ‘Fergus OConor’, ‘Firgus O’Conner’ and ‘Fargus O’Connor’ (some of which are likely to have been erroneously recorded or transcribed) have been converted to ‘Feargus O’Connor’ (which was how O’Connor spelt his name).

Chartist Children Heatmap, 1840–42

This section mainly will be of interest to those seeking to follow the process by which registered names have been deemed ‘Chartist’. This is fairly important from a scholarly perspective but if you’d prefer to skip this section you can move on to the commentary below.

The main criterion for inclusion in the database is the use of the surname (or forename and surname) of a well-known radical/Chartist leader in a child’s forename. Identifying these might seem relatively straightforward but it’s actually a subjective process and there will be some discrepancies between parents’ intent and my interpretation. However, as outlined below, this should be negligible due to precautions I’ve taken to exclude potentially ambiguous data. The basic process was fairly simple: I searched the FreeBDM database for prominent Chartist leaders’ surnames registered as forenames—surnames such as O’Connor, Frost, Lovett and so forth. Note that because of spelling variations and transcription errors wildcard searches are necessary to achieve comprehensive results. It’s also necessary to check and eliminate numerous duplicates returned in the search process. However, this is fairly straightforward as photographic images of the original GRO index folios have been made available at the FreeBDM website for the years 1840–42.

While I’ve tried to identify as many children’ as possible I’ve also deliberately excluded two quite substantial categories of potentially ‘Chartist’ names. The first applies to children named ‘Feargus’ (and its spelling variations) for males not having another forename signifying political intent (e.g. George Feargus Steward, one of the children discussed in the section below upon Norwich). Ostensibly, this might seem an obvious precaution but, using the first year of civil registrations (mid 1837–38) as a rough guide, Feargus (and its alternative spellings) was actually a very uncommon name given to children in England and Wales—just four instances are returned in a search for that particular year. As such, it seems quite reasonable to attribute the huge rise in children named Feargus from mid 1840 to O’Connor’s influence (see below for more on this point). However, without a further name signifying political intent (or other positive historical evidence, which does exist in George Steward’s case), we’ll never really know on a case by case basis. Somewhat reluctantly, I’ve thus excluded about 200 or so children from the database despite most of them very likely being named for Feargus O’Connor.

Genealogists might point out that in the nineteenth century family surnames often were given to children as forenames; female children occasionally also were given male middle names. However, O’Connor was not a particularly common surname in England and Wales in the early Chartist era either. Birth registrations encompassing the 1840–1860 period (which I’ve quickly checked) do suggest that it became more prevalent in England in later years, presumably as a result of the Irish exodus spurred by the potato famine. In the pre-famine era, on the other hand, I think I’m on reasonably safe ground by including all children given the surname ‘O’Connor’ as a forename—even with no other identifier of political intent.

The situation with children forenamed ‘Frost’ is different as it was a somewhat more common surname in England and Wales (and thus more likely to be used in a family-name-as-forename context). For this reason I’ve also excluded male and female birth registrations containing ‘Frost’ without another signifier of political intent. These precautions have reduced the 1840–42 database quite substantially—from about 1,250 to 838 entries. On the other hand, the number of non-politically inspired names surviving the filtering is likely to be quite small. Overall, while the database is not particularly large (given its national scope) it is arguably quite robust in terms of its identification of political intent and allegiance from an unconventional primary source.

Geographic Distribution of Chartist Children

The database contains 838 entries that might reasonably be correlated to committed Chartist support; as such, it gives a snapshot of the places where Chartism was strong in its early years. I stress the word ‘snapshot’ and I don’t want push this evidence too far; nonetheless, the geographic distribution of children named after Chartist leaders does follow some fairly well established historiographical themes pertaining to where Chartism was strong and weak in the early 1840s.11See Dorothy Thompson, The Chartists: popular politics in the industrial revolution, New York, 1984, pp. 61–62 for the areas of particular support in England and Wales. The mapped data is not weighted against local populations but it is still clear that support (at least on this fairly novel indicator of active Chartist allegiance) was not as pronounced in London as it was in this period in Manchester, nearby textile towns or those in West Yorkshire (the northern heartland of Chartism in the early 1840s). At a regional level, we can see the comparatively low level of Chartist support in Liverpool compared to other parts of Lancashire while a similar dichotomy is evident between York and the towns of West Yorkshire. More broadly, the comparatively high level of support in the north and Midlands can be contrasted with the obvious weakness of Chartism in the Home Counties and rural Wales.

The movement was quite actively supported in coal mining and iron producing districts and at least sixteen children were named for Chartist leaders in south Wales in 1840–42. However, these largely were restricted to Merthyr Tydfil and Newport. About 20 men were killed in the Newport Rising led by John Frost and, perhaps unsurprisingly, all the the six ‘Chartist’ children registered at Newport where named for him (but one also for O’Connor). At the national level, we can make some very rough comparisons adjusted for population and the explicit use of Chartist leaders’ names was significantly higher in England than Wales (by a factor of about three). Scotland was not part of the English civil registration system so it isn’t included in this mapped data. Nonetheless, there is other evidence that some Scottish children were named after Chartist leaders in the early 1840s.12For example, children bearing O’Connor’s name were presented to him at Glasgow when he visited the city in 1841, following his release from prison. See Northern Star, 16 October 1841, p. 4.

Incidence and Timing

As shown in the first chart below, Feargus O’Connor was easily the most popular Chartist leader honoured in this manner. Note that due to the cautious interpretation of recognisably ‘Chartist’ names I’ve followed when collating the database (see the ‘Criteria for Inclusion’ section above), the actual number of children named for both O’Connor and Frost in 1840–42 was likely significantly higher than these figures suggest. We should also not forget that John Frost was viewed by the state (and many non-Chartists) as a convicted traitor, emphasising the contestatory and provocative nature of the Chartist christenings. These issues will be discussed further in Section II below but first a few more general themes deserve comment.

Chart showing number of children named after Chartist leaders in 1840-42.
Comparison of registered names referring to Radical-Chartist leaders, 1840–42 (multiple instances per registration common).
Chart showing increase in children named after Chartist leaders in the early 1840s
Number of ‘Chartist’ birth registrations per quarter, 1840-42.

As the second chart above demonstrates, there was a very large jump in children named for radical political leaders from the second half of 1840. This conjuncture is interesting as in early July 1840 O’Connor called upon Chartists to name children after him in direct response to the legal repression undertaken by the Whig government: ‘let every man sing my Charter song’, he wrote from prison in an open letter published in the Northern Star, ‘and call every child, whether boy or girl, that shall be born to you this year, Feargus, that we may keep a record of Whig villainy’.13Northern Star, 11 July 1840, p. 7. Clearly, many followed this exhortation.

Some children were given multiple politically-inspired names—including some extravagant examples such as Feargus O’Connor Frost O’Brien McDouall Hunt TAYLER and Fanny Amelia Lucy Ann Rebecca Frost O’Connor McDouall Leach Holberry Duffy Oastler Hill BODEN (no less than seven Chartists were honoured in her name, in addition to the ‘Tory Radical’ Richard Oastler!). Young Feargus Tayler (also Taylor) was given a prominent place on horseback in the celebratory mass procession held at Manchester in 1841 following O’Connor’s release from York Castle gaol (according to the Manchester Guardian, he ‘cried bitterly’ during proceedings).14Northern Star, 2 October 1841, p. 6; Manchester Guardian reprinted in Examiner, 2 October 1841. Feargus Tayler was born to Martha and George Tayler, a shoemaker, on 20 March 1840. Northern Star, 29 August 1840, p. 1. As O’Connor’s 1840 plea and Fanny Boden’s example intimate, another fascinating aspect of the political christenings was the large number of girls given male political fore and surnames as a middle name. In fact, girls make up over 30% of the database. All this evidence tends to emphasise the extent of O’Connor’s influence in the early 1840s; it also suggests that naming your child after a political hero was understood by Chartists as an important political act not to be undone by the vagaries of nature.

Part II: A Norwich Case Study

Having established some general characteristics, we can also look at the political christening phenomenon at a micro-historical level by briefly examining a group of Chartists, likely impoverished, resident at New Catton in the parish of Sprowston, a little to the north of Norwich’s traditional city boundaries. As the epigram at the head of the paper intimates, in 1841 the Steward family were caught up in a public conflict with their Anglican curate at Sprowston over their choice of naming an infant girl after Feargus O’Connor. Census data from the same year reveals that the extended Steward family lived among a community of handloom weavers (a trade which, at the national level, was depressed and particularly associated with Chartist allegiance).15Thompson, The Chartists, pp. 106–12 and elsewhere. The census also reveals that that some of the Stewards’ neighbours had christened their children in a similar manner. In order to do this subject justice, Chartist attitudes to (and conflicts with) the established Church first need to be outlined.

Chartism and the Anglican Church

It’s sometimes forgotten that Chartism came to prominence at a time of almost millenarian political fervour in Britain.16See Eileen Yeo, ‘Christianity in Chartist struggle’, Past and Present, 91, 1981, especially section II. For a rather dated but still useful source see also Harold Underwood Faulkner, Chartism and the churches [1916], London, 1970. In general, Chartists viewed the Anglican church in much the same way as parliament: both were seen as undemocratic, corrupt and unresponsive to the needs of the people. While Chartists were also often at loggerheads with the Wesleyan/Nonconformist establishment, some cooperation took place with working-class orientated Primitive Methodists.17Yeo, ‘Christianity and Chartist struggle’, pp. 116–18. During the 1840s, a number of independent Chartist churches were formed in order to bypass traditional religious institutions altogether.18Yeo, ‘Christianity in Chartist struggle’, pp. 138–39. Previously, working-class radicals had resorted to direct action protests by invading Anglican church services en masse, occupying private pews and demanding that priests preach from preferred biblical texts (see the image below).19See Yeo, ‘Christianity and Chartist struggle’, section III.

Embed from Getty Images

Although heckling was recorded at Norwich and irreverent behaviour elsewhere (the wearing of working apparel/hats, smoking, sleeping etc), the 1839 church protests generally were peaceable; however, at Sheffield (which was verging upon insurrection) repeated invasions over a period of a month or so led to bans, rioting and many arrests.20Yeo, ‘Christianity and Chartist struggle’, pp. 129–30. Conservative clerics such as Francis Close of Cheltenham also fought back from the pulpit, denouncing the protests of the poor in the strongest terms.21For Close see Owen Ashton, ‘Clerical control and radical responses in Cheltenham Spa, 1838–48’, Midland History, 8, 1983, pp. 121–47. As this penny pamphlet version of Close’s sermon indicates, he was particularly incensed when Chartist women at Cheltenham organised their own church visit in August 1839.22F. Close, The female Chartists’ visit to the parish church … August 25, 1839, Edinburgh, 1840; Yeo, ‘Christianity and Chartist struggle’, p. 135. The political christenings that blossomed about a year later were another potential cause of dispute between establishment clergy and working-class radicals, and in 1841 a young woman named Charlotte Steward found herself at odds with Henry Banfather, curate at St Mary and St Margaret Church, Sprowston (its location is marked in green on the map below), over the name chosen for her daughter Hannah—one of the 20 or so children from the Norwich area included in the national database/map. The political christening phenomenon often was given brief notice in O’Connor’s Northern Star and in this case we are fortunate that an argument that took place over the baptismal font was recorded for posterity.

Hannah Steward’s Christening at Sprowston, 1841
St Mary and St Margaret's Church, Sprowston, 2009.
St Mary and St Margaret’s Church, Sprowston. Photo © Adrian S Pye (cc-by-sa/2.0).

Henry Banfather appears to have attended Pembroke Hall at Cambridge and was appointed to the curacy at Sprowston in 1818; in 1823 he was made Headmaster at Norwich Grammar School, a position he held until 1849.23Bury and Norwich Post, 2 December 1818; 25 December 1823; 5 September 1849. Given his position at the heart of the local religious establishment, it is unlikely Banfather had much sympathy for Chartism (and certainly not irreligious, libertine-like demagogues such as Feargus O’Connor). On the contrary, he appeared astonished at the Stewards’ choice of name:

The Rev. Gentleman said—Is Feargus O’Connor so endeared to you, that you must have this child named after him? [Charlotte Steward replied] Yes, Sir, and not only to me, but to thousands. And does the father like Feargus O’Connor? Certainly he does. And is Feargus O’Connor superior to the Bible? I do not know what you mean. I say, is Feargus O’Connor superior to the Bible? I do not know what the name of Feargus O’Connor has to do with the Bible. Then I shall not name your child. That you can do as you please about; but if you do not, there are others that will. I suppose, Sir, we may name our children as we like? I do not know that you may; I think if you refer to the Bible you would not have this child named Feargus O’Connor. With these words he took up his book, and said with a sneer, ‘Hannah Feargus O’Connor,’ &c.24Northern Star, 1 May 1841, p. 6. Punctuation follows original.

Of course, Chartists commonly appealed to the Bible to sanction their claims about political and social justice: ‘The Bible is my Chartist manual’, declared the Leeds radical T.B. Smith.25English Chartist Circular, Vol. 1, 1841–42, p. 117. It’s not clear whether the Stewards attended Banfather’s services regularly but Charlotte was then aged about 20; when she married John Steward at the same church in April 1837 neither bride or groom appear to have been been able to sign their names.26Freereg Marriage Register transcription, St Mary and St Margaret, Sprowston, marriage of Charlotte Nobbs and John Steward, 2 April 1837, register number 160. Charlotte’s apparent illiteracy makes her public defiance all the more interesting as it took place in the midst of a cycle-of-life ceremony performed by a highly educated authority figure.

The Stewards and Their Neighbours

This final section is very much provisional as I’ve only had the opportunity to look at online genealogical transcriptions rather than full birth, death and marriage registration records. Nonetheless, cross referencing the former with 1841 census data reveals some interesting results. Hannah’s Steward’s baptismal record shows that her father John was a weaver.27Freereg Baptism Register transcription, St Mary and St Margaret, Sprowston, Hannah Feargus O’Connor Steward, 4 April 1841, register number 4. Silk and cotton weaving had a considerable history in Norwich and independent handloom weavers (whose livelihoods and whole way of life increasingly was being challenged by factory production) contributed to the city’s radical and religious dissent traditions.28See generally J.K. Edwards, ‘Chartism in Norwich’, Bulletin of Economic Research, Vol. 19, 2, 1967, pp. 85–100. The June 1841 census indicates that John (aged 25), Charlotte (aged 20) and baby Hannah lived at Pearse’s buildings in New Catton (the buildings extant in 1841 don’t seem evident on later nineteenth-century maps that I’ve been able to consult to date but the general location seems to have become known as Pearse’s [or Pearce’s] Fields, now subject to suburban development and denoted by the black marker in the map below [a modern street, Pearcefield, retains the name]).29Census records, England, Pearse’s Buildings, Parish of Sprowston, Norfolk, 6 June 1841, Home Office Piece Number 107/783/17, Enumeration Schedule 13, pp. 16–19.

On census day in 1841 94 people lived in 21 dwellings/rooms at Pearse’s buildings and about two thirds of the males over 15 years were weavers.301841 Census records, Pearse’s Buildings, pp. 16–19. Identified weavers included John Steward’s parents Moses (aged 60) and Mary (45) as well as John’s younger brother James (aged 20).311841 Census records, Pearse’s Buildings, pp. 16–19. James Steward and his wife Elizabeth (aged 25) then had a new-born child named George: he too was baptised by Henry Banfather and he too appears to have been named for Feargus O’Connor (see below for more on this point).32Freereg Baptism Register transcription, St Mary and St Margaret, Sprowston, George Feargus Steward, 20 June 1841, register entry 11. Similarly, a neighbouring weaver named Thomas Cubitt (aged 35) and his wife Sarah (40) named their newborn daughter Elizabeth O’Connor.331841 Census records, Pearse’s Buildings, pp. 16–19. At present I’m relying on Elizabeth’s birth registration index entry for evidence of her middle name which means I’m not absolutely certain of her parents’ identity (which needs to be confirmed by consulting her full birth registration). Elizabeth Cubitt does not appear to have been baptised in the Church of England but yet another couple living in Pearse’s buildings, weaver Thomas Hardy and his wife Hester (both aged 25), had in 1839 named their boy after the Lancashire nonconformist preacher, anti-poor law and factory reform activist Joseph Rayner Stephens.341841 Census records, Pearse’s Buildings, pp. 16–19. Like Feargus O’Connor, Stephens was a particularly effective public speaker who became associated with militant physical-force Chartism in the late 1830s. Unlike O’Connor, Stephens was essentially a Tory who opposed democratic parliamentary reform and who, in late 1839, denounced the movement (somewhat ironically, during his trial for Chartist-related protest, for which he was sentenced to imprisonment for 18 months).35For Stephens see Michael S. Edwards, Purge this realm: a life of Joseph Rayner Stephens, London, 1994.

Portrait of Joseph Rayner Stephens c. late 1830s
Joseph Rayner Stephens (centre). Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Arrested Chartist leaders were expected to act in a heroic manner at their trials and Stephens’ disavowal of the movement led to him being denounced by the O’Connorite rank and file as an arch traitor.36Yeo, ‘Christianity in Chartist struggle’, pp. 114–16; Thomas Cooper, The Life of Thomas Cooper, London, 1872, pp. 156–58. Given this turn of events, it’s possible that Thomas and Hester Hardy came to regret their choice of name for their son. More tragically, Hannah Steward died a young child in the winter of 1844–45.37Freereg Burial Register transcription, St Mary and St Margaret, Sprowston, Hannah Fergus O’Connor Steward, 9 February 1845, register entry 420. Nonetheless, at the time of the 1841 census four of the ten infant children living at Pearce’s buildings at New Sprowston were named for Chartist leaders. Such a prevalence of political christenings in this micro-historical context is quite surprising—but it’s also obviously a tiny sample. It should be noted that Hannah Steward and Elizabeth Cubitt are included in the mapped database but George Steward and Rayner Hardy are not. This is because Rayner Hardy was born prior to 1840 while, as explained earlier, children named Feargus without another forename signifying Chartist allegiance have been excluded from the database to help ensure its accuracy.

Nevertheless, other evidence points to George’s father’s James’ strong Chartist beliefs—and the consequent likelihood that George was named for Feargus O’Connor. James’ great-grandson Bertram Steward (1897–1993), a journalist, farmer and World War I veteran, stated in his autobiography that James kept a portrait of O’Connor prominently situated in the upstairs room where he worked his handloom.38Bertram Steward, One journey: the story of a Suffolk farmer, 1981. The portrait possibly was the one reproduced at the head of this essay, which was distributed to Chartists throughout Britain as a supplement to the Northern Star newspaper soon after it began publication in late 1837 (another portrait made while O’Connor was imprisoned at York Castle was sold with the paper in 1841).39Northern Star, 6 March 1841, p. 5. Unlike the stereotypical English primary producer, Bertram Steward was a committed pacifist, nuclear disarmament (CND) campaigner and socialist, echoing parallels with his radical/Chartist ancestors a century or so earlier.40Steward, The story of a Suffolk farmer.

Dorothy Thompson’s research indicates that over 6,500 people signed the 1839 Chartist National Petition at Norwich and in 1842 about 300 residents were members of National Charter Association (established in 1840).41Thompson, The Chartists, p. 361. These figures are based on summary numerical returns published in the Northern Star which did not generally record members’ names. However, it’s likely that some of the men and women living at Pearse’s buildings participated in the controversial Chartist protest that took place at the consecration of nearby Christ Church, New Catton, in November 1841 (see the map above). Echoing the church invasions of 1839, this typically militant and noisy demonstration degenerated into a minor riot after a group of about 300 Chartists (replete with a band) were prevented by police from entering Christ Church in a massed body during the service; in the aftermath a number were fined while their leader, Thomas Hewett, in early 1842 was sentenced to imprisonment for two months.42Norfolk Chronicle, 20 November 1841, p. 3.

Despite all that has been written upon Chartism, it’s likely that many committed rank and file adherents will never be identified as such. Parish marriage records indicate that Charlotte, John, James and Elizabeth Steward were all illiterate in the late 1830s and comparatively few working people from this era left much written evidence of their political beliefs. However, the mapped database of children named for radical leaders does provide some new and unconventional evidence of the geography of Chartist allegiance in the early 1840s. The symbolic act of naming children after radical heroes—including men convicted of treason such as John Frost—clearly was not something done lightly. In essence, Chartists wanted all men to have the vote (from which they believed economic and social reform addressing endemic poverty would follow). Being excluded from the formal political nation, symbolic acts such as the naming of children after gaoled or transported leaders gave working-class radicals a heightened sense of political agency. As one anonymous Chartist commented in August 1840: ‘If our governors were wise, they would learn something from these small things’.43Northern Star, 29 August 1840, p. 5.

Finally, I should re-emphasise that this investigation (particularly Section II) is very much preliminary: transcribed sources need to be checked and the local area study presently is limited to a few families who lived at close quarters at Norwich. Similarly, my account of the national context only touches upon the situation apparent in the early 1840s. The latter point is actually quite important as there is intriguing evidence that the political christening phenomenon may well have been inter-generational as far as the Steward family is concerned: for example, a boy of that surname registered in Norwich in 1864 was forenamed Fergus while another boy registered in 1882 was named Feargus O’Connor. Whether these children were descendants of Moses and Mary Steward—and whether they were named for O’Connor or an older relative christened after O’Connor—remain to be teased out.

© 2018–2021, Andrew Messner. All rights reserved.