Chartism in Sheffield research guide

Chartism was a working class movement for political reform in Britain between 1838 and 1848.

Samuel Holberry (1814 - 1842) was a prominent Chartist activist. In 1832 he joined the army, leaving in 1835 and moving to Sheffield, where he began working as a distiller.

Together with other activists campaigning to extend the political rights given by the Reform Act 1832, he engaged in a number of peaceful protests.

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Sheffield Working Men's Association

The Sheffield Working Men's Association was established in December 1837, adopting the People's Charter which stated that: 'The working classes produced the rich man's wealth, while being oppressed by unjust and unequal laws'. 

The Association's meetings and demonstrations were well attended and peaceful, but in July 1839 local magistrates banned the gatherings.  On 12 August 1839, thousands of workers ignored the ban, gathering in Paradise Square. 

Troops were called in to break up the meeting, and a riot began. Around 70 demonstrators and several speakers were arrested following running battles with troops and the police. Membership grew after the riot and meetings and marches were held on a daily basis with regular disturbances in the town centre.

Sheffield Chartists

After a rebellion in Newport, Monmouthshire (the ‘Newport Rising’) was put down in 1839, a more radical faction of the group, known as the Chartists led by Samuel Holberry, planned an armed uprising in Sheffield. 

The Sheffield Chartists planned to take control of the Old Town Hall and other town centre locations while at the same time riots were to take place in Dewsbury and Nottingham. 

However, the conspirators were betrayed; Holberry and his colleagues were arrested and peace was restored in Sheffield.

Samuel Holberry was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment with hard labour and died in prison at York Castle on 21 June 1842 aged 27. He is buried in the General Cemetery, Sheffield.

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