John JohnsonJOHN JOHNSON was a Salford tailor who carried the gospel of reform into darkest Yorkshire - then helped to organise the abortive Blanketeers March of 1817 and went to prison for his troubles.
It started with a public meeting on St Peter's Fields, Manchester, on October 28th, 1816, called to launch Manchester Constitutional Society - the city's version of a Hampden Club - when a crowd estimated at 50,000 heard Johnson back a call for reduced Government expenditure and action to relieve distress in the manufacturing regions.
On December 16th, a meeting of all North-West Hampden Clubs at Middleton appointed "missionaries" to visit all part of the country "where the nature and the cause of our distress have not been publicly asserted and its remedy insisted upon."
Johnson was sent into Yorkshire the following month and was lecturing in Huddersfield by the 18th, but he was back in Manchester in time to organise the Blanketeers' march. The idea was to carry a petition to the Prince Regent, asking him to intervene to relieve the distress of handloom weavers, to promote reform and to end the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act.
Johnson, along with fellow planners John Bagguley and Samuel Drummond, addressed a meeting on St Peter's Fields on March 3rd, and three days later spoke at a meeting of the Constitutional Society at New Islington Hall, Ancoats.
Spies were present at that meeting, however, and on March 9th, the day before the march was due to start, Johnson and another conspirator, William Ogden (the printer who produced the handbills advertising the march), were arrested.
After the Blanketeers were routed by the military, Johnson was sent to Dorchester Jail, where he was locked up for nearly two years without trial. In his absence the Hampden Clubs, fearful of increasing Government repression, went underground. Some of them masqueraded as benefit societies while, in Oldham, meetings were described as "mowfin aetins" - members ate muffins while they talked about reform.
Battling Johnson was released in January, 1818, and went straight to court to try to gain redress, with predictable results.
Undaunted, he returned to Manchester to continue his fight for reform, teaming up again with Bagguley and Drummond. After a summer of strikes and discontent in Manchester, he was arrested again in September, 1818, prompting Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth to crow: "The combination at Manchester is now nearly dissolved and tranquility is completely restored."
The trio were tried at Chester Assizes on April 15th, 1819, and served two years in jail, despite a 4,550-strong petition demanding a re-trial.
Robert SoutheyPOET Robert Southey was a romantic radical who in his younger days harboured idealistic notions of building a communist society. But the early fire soon cooled and he ended up living on a Government allowance.
Southey was born in Bristol in 1774 and was expelled from Westminster School after writing an article in the school magazine denouncing the practice of flogging.
Southey became a close friend of fellow-poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and at one point, the pair planned to emigrate to America to set up a commune. But the scheme came to nothing and instead they collaborated on writing a play with a radical theme, The Fall of Robespierre.
In 1808, Southey used the pseudonym Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella to write Letters From England, an account of a tour of the country supposedly from a foreigner's perspective, and his comments on Manchester are worth repeating. "In size and population," he says, "it is the second city in the United Kingdom, containing above four-score thousand inhabitants.
"Imagine this multitude crowded together in narrow streets, the houses all built of brick and blackened with smoke; frequent buildings among them as large as convents ... where you hear from within ... the everlasting din of machinery; and where, when the bell rings, it is to call wretches to their work instead of to their prayers."
He describes a visit to a cotton mill that employed many children. The guide "dwelt with delight on the infinite good which resulted from employing them at so early an age," and told him: 'In most parts of England, poor children are a burthen to their parents and to the parish; here the parish, which would else have to support them, is rid of all expense; they get
'There is no idleness among us; they come at five in the morning; we allow them half an hour for breakfast and an hour for dinner; they leave work at six and another set relieves them for the night; the wheels never stand still.'
Southey comments: "I thought that, if Dante had peopled one of his hells with children, here was a scene worthy to have supplied him with new images of torment."
However, Southey soon lost his firebrand image and as early as 1807, he was given an annual allowance by the Government. Four years later, he accepted the position of poet laureate, a decision which led Lord Byron and William Hazlett to claim he had sold his principles.
Joseph BrothertonJOSEPH Brotherton was Salford's inaugural MP following the city's enfranchisement by the 1832 Parliamentary Reform Act, and besides playing a major part in the adoption of the 10-Hour Bill, he was also a prime mover in the founding of Salford's public library, the country's first free municipal library.
Brotherton was born on May 22nd, 1783, to an excise officer who later opened a cotton mill in Copperas Street, Shudehill, Manchester. When his father opened another mill in Oldfield Road, Salford, the youngster went to work there and experienced at first hand the tough life of the cotton operatives. His own life, by comparison, was easier but he was such a good worker that he was promoted foreman by the time he was 17.
He was a partner by 1802 and took over the business when his father died in 1809. By 1819, when he was 36, he had made enough money to retire, allowing him to concentrate first on his religion and later, on politics.
One of his first successes was in investigating and exposing corruption in the administration of Salford charities for the poor. He went on to win that first parliamentary election in 1832 and was-re-elected on five further occasions.
He joined the fight for the improvement of working conditions for child operatives and was one of the supporters of the 10-Hour Bill, which was brought in 1847. Earlier, in 1835, he had helped in the drafting of the Museums Act, which gave local authorities the power to establish museums.
He was a leading member of a parliamentary committee which steered through the Public Libraries Act of 1850, but by then, Salford already had its own library - Brotherton had been a prime mover in its opening in Peel Park in January that year.
He died in January, 1857.
Major John CartwrightKNOWN as the "Father of Reform", John Cartwright (1740-1824) was the elder brother of the Rev Edmund Cartwright, inventor of the powered loom.
He served in the Royal Navy between 1758 and 1770, then joined Nottinghamshire militia as a major before taking up the cause of reform. His advocacy of annual parliaments, the secret ballot and manhood suffrage, first outlined in his pamphlet Take Your Choice! published in 1776, pre-dated Chartism, which made similar demands, by many years.
In 1812, Cartwright formed the first Hampden Club - named after a prominent Parliamentary leader of the English Civil war and designed to bring together middle-class moderates and working-class radicals in the cause of reform. He toured the North West later that year to promote the idea, and again in 1813 - when he was arrested in Huddersfield - and 1815.
Samuel Bamford formed the first Hampden Club in Lancashire at Middleton in 1816, and others followed at Manchester, Oldham, Ashton, Stockport and Rochdale.
Cartwright also took an interest in agrarian reform and the abolition of slavery, and his activities earned him a £100 fine for sedition in 1820. But his enthusiasm for reform did not stop him taking shares in his brother's factory, whose machines did so much to destroy the livelihoods of so many handloom weavers.