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. Continue reading “Identifying and Mapping Chartist Children”