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With industrialisation and urbanisation, new economic pressures arose. Depression, high unemployment and other grievances arising from the Poor Law Amendment of 1834 gave rise to a new radical movement that flourished in the decade 1838-1848, heir to the lingering popular dissent previously voiced in Luddism and other movements. No history of Calderdale, especially of its textile industries, can be complete without acknowledgment of the immense popular support for radical workers' movements from the end of the 18th century on until the early 20th century. The district was one of the primary foci of Chartist activity in Britain.

Chartism, the first true working-class movement in Britain, was named after the People's Charter, which set out six political demands: universal suffrage, equal electoral districts, vote by secret ballot, annually elected Parliaments, payment for MPs and abolition of property qualifications for MPs.

With the harsh economic conditions in the country, there was constant debate over the degree of militancy to be employed in pursuit of the aims. Supporters of 'physical force' Chartism were numerous in the Halifax area, especially in the upper valley, and made their feelings known with particular vigour in the Plug Riots of 1842. Hebden Bridge Radical Association declared its belief in "the justice and right of the people to possess arms in their own defence", Midgley supporters were reported to be testing bombs in Well Lane, and in 1840 well-known Chartists John Jowett and Thomas Spencer were arrested for stealing lead from the roof of St Mary's Church, Luddenden, to make bullets. When local representative Ernest Jones spoke at a meeting in London in 1848, he claimed his constituents had urged him not to stop at 'any act of unnecessary humility'. Jones, like other Chartists, had been a clear winner at the popular hustings, but without universal suffrage this support did not reflect in Parliament, which repeatedly refused Chartist petitions.

The strength of Chartism was reflected in popular meetings, such as those held at Peep Green, Hartshead Moor in October 1838, May 1839 and March 1848. Each was organised with food, drink, music and other attractions. The 1839 meeting, attended by around a quarter of a million people, is thought to be the largest ever political gathering in the country. Contingents from Heptonstall, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Luddenden and other valley settlements marched in behind brass bands. Among the speakers were John Fielden, the Todmorden industrialist, and Feargus O'Connor, editor of the Leeds Chartist newspaper The Northern Star. O'Connor was hugely popular in the upper valley; when he came to speak in July 1842, a crowd of 20,000 came to greet him at Luddenden and escort him to Todmorden.

The Waggoners Inn at Skircoat Green, an area with something of a tradition of radical thought, was renamed The Standard of Freedom in tribute to the Chartist meetings there. Another meeting place was Nichol's (later Maude's) Temperance Hotel, Broad Street.

Women were very conspicuous in their support for the Charter, though few are known by name. A Female Chartist Association was inaugurated in Hebden Bridge in 1842, and in the upper valley women arranged fund-raising events as well as their own political meetings. However, women made most impact on contemporary observers by their participation in the Plug Riots. On August 12, 1842, an estimated 20,000 men and women came into Todmorden from Lancashire, mostly from Rochdale and Bacup, and mill-owners shut up shop rather than risk attack. The next day, a similar number marched into Halifax from the upper valley, closing mills as they went, and astonished spectators both by the poverty of their attire - some were even marching in bare feet - and the number of women; one eye-witness remarked "no inconsiderable number of the insurgents were women - and strange as it may seem, the latter were really the more violent..." and were clearly instrumental in urging on the attacks on troops at Salterhebble and Haley Hill.

1842 was the highpoint of Chartist militancy, and the national movement began to decline with the improvement of economic conditions generally. Local supporters, however, had built up a camaraderie which was maintained in gatherings and family camps at Heyhead Green, Stoodley Pike, Foster Clough Delph and Blackstone Edge; the last-named attracted people from industrial towns all around, pulling in perhaps as many as 30,000 in 1846. In 1844, John West, a West Riding Chartist organiser, found the Chartist society in Hebden Bridge "the oldest Association in England", with "Chartism of the right sort, in nowise affected by the ebbs and flows of popular excitement".

However, the green flag of Chartism flew vigorously for a decade until 1848, and locally maintained its influence rather longer. Four Chartists and seventeen Radicals were voted on to the new Halifax Corporation in 1848, and many of its principal activists, like Benjamin Wilson of Salterhebble, maintained their involvement with radical and working-class causes for long afterwards, while debate and progress on the issues themselves spread throughout the population. Among the last great demonstrations of Chartist sympathy were the Halifax funeral of veteran campaigner Ben Rushton in 1853, which was attended by around 10,000 people; and a reception of around 15,000 people on Heyhead Green in Langfield in August 1856 to welcome the Welsh Chartist transportee John Frost. Such events indicate the lingering strength of local radicalism.

The first half of the 19th century, with its determined and almost insurrectionary workers' movements, demonstrated to parliament, peers and people alike the power of organised mass protest, and changed the face of politics in this country. Locally, it was part of a strong popular radical movement, and there was little or no discontinuity in this area between Chartism and the rise of the Independent Labour Movement in the 1890s. Today, all the Chartist demands have been realised, with the exception of annual elections.

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