Public library find is only surviving copy of rebel hymn book
23 Dec 2010
A tiny 165-year-old pamphlet, stored in a box at a Yorkshire public library, has been identified by a University of Manchester academic as the only surviving copy of a Chartist hymn book.
Dr Mike Sanders, who came across the 'National Chartist Hymn Book' in Todmorden public library, has confirmed it contains 16 hymns sung by the Victorian radicals who campaigned for democracy and workers' rights.
According to Dr Sanders, who is an English lecturer, the hymn books were designed in an attempt to produce a standard hymn book for the movement as a Chartist forerunner of 'Hymns Ancient and Modern'.
While Chartist historians know of two earlier attempts to produce a hymn book for the whole movement - Cooper's 'Shakespearean Chartist Hymn Book' and Hobson's 'Hymns for Worship', before now, there have been no references to the Todmorden collection.
Heavily influenced by dissenting Christians, the hymns are about social justice, ‘striking down evil doers’ and blessing Chartist enterprises, rather than the conventional themes of crucifixion, heaven and family.
Some of the hymns protested against the exploitation of child labour and slavery. Another of the hymns proclaimed: Men of wealth and men of power/ “Like locusts all thy gifts devour.
“This fragile pamphlet is an amazing find and opens up a whole new understanding of Chartism - which as a movement in many ways shaped the Britain we know today”, said the lecturer based at the University’s School of Arts, Histories and cultures.
“It’s pretty rare – even the British Library doesn't have a copy.
“What is so fascinating is that hymn-singing was not the best known feature of Chartism so this attempt to produce an equivalent to Hymns Ancient and Modern is significant.”
Dr Sanders was first told about the pamphlet by Linda Croft, a local historian working for the Workers Educational Association.
He said: “After speaking to Linda, I asked for the pamphlet at the library and they gave me three boxes of uncatalogued material.
“I was about to give up hope until I got to the second to last item in the last box and found a pamphlet with a cigar box glued on to it for a cover – it was very fragile.”
Three 1845 items in the Chartist newspaper Northern Star - tracked down by Dr Sanders - helped him confirm the origins of the find.
One, from January 1845, asked for readers to send ideas for a Chartist hymn book to an address in Manchester. A second item in February stated that West Riding Chartists approved the idea of producing a new hymn book.
Nine months later, another item said the hymn book was now available.
Notes for editors
The Poetry of Chartism, by Dr Mike Sanders is published by Cambridge University Press.
Examples of poems and writings are available.
The Chartists fought for the "People's Charter" of 1938 which comprised six demands, five of which were adopted. Although the Chartist movement petered out towards the end of the 1840s, its aims were taken on by others. The Charter demanded:
* Equal electoral districts.
* Abolition of the property qualifications for MPs
* Universal manhood suffrage
* Vote by secret ballot
* The payment of MPs
* Annual parliaments, which was not adopted
Dr Sanders is available for comment.
Images are available.
The pamphlet can be viewed on-line at http://www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/search/controlservlet?PageId=Detail&DocId=102253&PageNo=1
For media enquiries contact:
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790