I am a historian of modern Britain with a particular interest in working-class politics during the long nineteenth century. My specialism is in the history of the Chartist movement, and in particular how the movement’s political and intellectual culture interacted with everyday working-class life, ranging from the family to sexuality, physical health and moral improvement. The research for the Hallsworth Fellowship I held at the University of Manchester traced the origins of working-class engagement with Parliamentary elections, from the English ‘Jacobins’ of the 1790s through Chartism to the Socialist revival in the 1880s. A particular emphasis on this has been how these radicals navigated the expensive and excessively corrupt world of British elections in the long C19th, and how these activists developed the methods and discourse of ‘purity of election’ as not only a means of electioneering cheaply but also as an effort to bring about a wider political and social change by combatting the demoralising effects of electoral corruption. For my Research Fellowship at Oxford Brookes I will be initiating a new project looking at the lives of Black people in Britain between the 1830s and 1860s, in conjunction with the changing attitudes towards race and slavery within the Chartist movement.
My first monograph, Popular Virtue: Continuity and Change in the Moral Politics of Radicalism, 1820-1870 was published by Manchester University Press in 2017. This was a major study of working-class intellectual and political culture during the ‘long’ Chartist era. The book charts how in the 1820s and 1830s, under the influence of the religious heterodoxy produced at the end of the radical Enlightenment, British radicals developed a political culture centred on sexual liberty, bawdy festivity, and to a degree gender equality. While this culture marked the first years of the Chartist movement the period of insurrection and repression between 1839 and 1842 led to a profound shift towards a more austere and ascetic moral politics, centred on individual improvement within the patriarchal family. Crucial to this was a growing interest in pseudo-sciences such as phrenology and mesmerism, and the book outlines how in the 1840s and 1850s Chartists were central to driving the consumption of heterodox medicine as a means of bringing about widespread social change through the entwined physical and moral improvement of the people. It closes by outlining how the social-democratic leadership of the post-1848 Chartist movement turned from this counter-culture back to a political culture of heterodoxy and festivity. These two competing political cultures consequently were profoundly influence on the post-Chartist labour and popular Liberal movements. A review that describes the book as ‘important, rewarding, and wide-ranging’ is available here.
Alongside this I have published in the Historical Journal an article examining how the private letters and newspaper writings of the Chartist leader Henry Vincent reveal much about the sexually libertarian and bawdy political culture of the 1830s. In 2013-14 I won the Journal of Victorian Culture’s Postgraduate Essay Prize for the first focussed study of the arrival in London from America of Thomas D. Rice’s Jim Crow minstrel act in 1836, which I demonstrate was promptly integrated into British political satire and utilised as a way of harassing and demeaning Britain’s black population. In 2016 I published in History Workshop Journal a detailed study of how the Dorchester Labourers, better known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, developed their trade union from the organising in the aftermath of the Swing Riots of 1830-31. This article documented the neglected story of how after their return from transportation to Van Diemen’s land these farmworkers reformed their trade union on a substantially larger basis, and then converted them into Chartist associations over the winter of 1838-39. A blogpost by me discussing the importance on this overlooked aspect of the Labourers has been published by History Workshop Online. An article on how the development of a radical working-class slate in the 1838 General Election was integral to the formation of the Chartist movement, and how the movement earnestly believed it could form a small but influential working-class Parliamentary party largely by both standing its own candidates and forcing Liberal MPs into more radical positions, will soon be published in the Labour History Review.
I am currently researching the influence of American labour and anti-slavery politics on working-class radicals in Britain from the 1830s to the eve of the American Civil War.
Research grants and awards
BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant, 'Slavery, Race, and Working-Class Radicalism in Britain, 1832-1868'. September 2020-December 2021.