Picture of Robert Gammage

Robert Gammage

places mentioned

Chelmsford, Oxford and Nottinghamshire

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As I was in London, I resolved to take a trip to my former abode, Chelmsford, especially as I had some engagements in that direction. I rode as far as the railway went, and then had eleven miles to walk. Some of my old friends came several miles to meet me, and when they saw me approach, they flung up their hats in token of welcome, accompanied me to the town, where I met with a good number of my old companions, and we spent a most agreeable evening.

After staying there a short time, I made for Colchester. I esteemed it no small privilege to address a meeting anywhere in the county of Essex, which had but recently returned ten 'good sound Tories' to Parliament, every Liberal being defeated; but I little thought of meeting with so warm a reception as was accorded me. Not that there was boisterous applause, but there was evidently that intense interest in the subject of my lecture, which cheered me more than the loudest applause could possible have done.

And now I was to try my Chartist fortunes in another Essex town, Braintree. I got there on the Sunday evening, after walking from Colchester, and met with a large number of cordial friends at the inn which they had selected for me. It may surprise many that among the company that night was a respected member of the Society of Friends, Mr. Lister Smith, a very intelligent man, and a thorough Chartist. To say that the meetings were good is to say the least. They were in every way satisfactory both in numbers and enthusiasm, and by that time I had lost most of my former diffidence, and spoke without any fear of the result. Mr. Lister Smith held an official situation in the well-known firm of Courtauld, and it is hardly necessary to say that he was a man in whom the firm reposed great confidence. I believe, from what I heard, I gave every satisfaction in that little town.

I may note that, on the last morning I was there I called and saw Mrs. Lister Smith, like her husband, a member of the Society of Friends, a mild, kindly, and intelligent lady, as many ladies of that connection are. She said she was grieved that Feargus O'Connor should have made a statement about Joseph Sturge which she was sure was not true. It was to the effect that, when the Chartists were ready for physical force, he would be with them. I must own that, considering all Mr. Sturge's antecedents, I was as little inclined to believe this as the lady herself, and yet there were many Chartists who did believe, simply because O'Connor had declared it. Such was the amount of faith they reposed in their leader.

I went back to Chelmsford. The friends told me before I left they would get up a public meeting on my return; but I soon found that, however enthusiastic some were (especially my friend Thomas Gilbert), there were others, notably the loudest talkers, who shrank from the responsibility. All sorts of excuses were made but the real one, so I had to depart without any public manifestation of my principles. But that was only one out of many times that a similar disappointment occurred, and yet, at that time, there was but little, if any, cause for fear: the danger was more in the mind than elsewhere, as it often is.

I went back to London. Happy Christmas, when every one is on good terms with everyone else. Why cannot it be so all the year round? I went to Reading, where resided a brother of Thomas Martin Wheeler, for some time secretary to the National Charter Association. I met with him and several other friends, and spent the evening as happily as a man could be expected to do who had no larger meeting to talk to.

Of all the places in which one might not have expected to get an audience at that time, I got one of the best, and that was Oxford. Who, holding my principles, could have expected to get a meeting in that University city? Numerous colleges are distributed about Oxford. Where-ever one went along the principal streets there was a huge college building. Tastes differ, but I thought Oxford one of the grandest places I had visited. While I was in this city I met with a somewhat unusual character—Mr. Faulkner, grocer, who had what I thought very peculiar notions on many things. Above all, he had a sort of passion for a breakfast of oatmeal porridge, and he dilated on this subject for at least a quarter of an hour. He was a total abstainer from all intoxicants, and he was a member of the City Council and well respected. Some years after that, he was found drowned. He was a warm and enthusiastic Chartist. It was Henry Vincent , when I met with him in Banbury, that first advised me to call on him. I had a good meeting in Oxford, both in numbers and intelligence, and what is always gratifying, as I found many times before, they were good listeners to all that was said.

Being at Banbury, I called to see R K. Philp, who had been on the Chartist Executive, and dined with him. He was then at loggerheads with the Chartists, and was, for so mild a man, bitter in his expressions; but his amiable wife soothed him down by the kindness of her tone and language, and I went shortly afterwards on to Shutford.

I stayed in Shutford at the house of an old gentleman, who had retired from business on a small but independent fortune, and went with him to the meeting, where he was called to the chair. It may appear strange, but so it is, that the best and largest meetings were often to be got in the smallest places, and the room that night was inconveniently full. A gentleman got up after my lecture and disputed some of my positions. There was a little uproar, for the Chartists, like men of other parties, could not understand that their advocate should be opposed in any way. Not being afraid of discussion, which I at that time rather courted than shunned, I requested a hearing for my opponent, and told the meeting that he had as good a right to be heard as I had. Things were now quiet, and my opponent fell into my hands, just as I expected.I had not lectured in Northampton from the time of my first leaving home; but now I was to meet my former companions in the Chartist movement. There was a good meeting in a room at the end of Lady's Lane. But how much were things changed. This room was taken by the Socialists, and was kept by one of my former warmest friends. He and his wife received me very courteously, but I missed the old warmth of former days. The Socialist lecturer, Mr. Knight, was present at my lecture, and I expected opposition, but he did not utter a single word, and received as many times before, the unanimous thanks of the meeting.

While at Northampton I went over to Brixmouth, the scene of former exploits. I addressed an indoor meeting there, and my friend John McFarlan was chairman. The room was full of choice spirits. The principles of the Charter were entered upon with due deliberation and the chairman declared that nothing could have been better than my exposition: it was one of the best lectures he had heard. There was no fear this time of an arrest. Mr. Watkins had regained his equanimity, finding that his good old church still stood in its accustomed place.

I lectured in Nottingham, and after that had to traverse a distance of fourteen miles over what was called 'the forest' to Mansfield. A forest it no doubt was in the days of Robin Hood and his merry men; but it now consisted of fairly cultivated fields. I had, through the indiscretion of a friend, who had in his good nature walked with me a little way on the road, a companion whom I wished on any road but mine—a man without any power of conversation, who only spoke when spoken to, and not often then. My companion deprived me of all opportunity of study on the road.

I had a very good meeting in Mansfield. The room was filled. The lecture was on the Corn Laws and Free Trade. After my lecture I was questioned by Mr. Linwood, Unitarian minister. There was no settled discussion; but the rev gentleman put a series of questions very briefly, which were similarly answered amid the excitement and delight of the meeting. By invitation I dined with my opponent on the following day, and a very pleasant conversation we had, not only on the subject on which we had discussed, but on many others. I may say that I was delighted with the free spirit of Mr. Linwood. That gentleman afterwards brought out the Nottingham Review , of a more democratic spirit than any other paper then in the town. He became editor of the Eclectic Review , brought out in London, a journal, as I remember, of great talent. I heard that he afterwards went to France, where he died.

After this, I went to a still more democratic place — the little town of Sutton-in-Ashfield. It has not the slightest pretence to architectural beauty, and it was inhabited chiefly by stocking weavers, the music of whose looms was neither calculated to 'Soothe the savage breast' nor 'Give a double relish to delight,' especially when one reflected that for all their hard and almost incessant toil these poor fellows could only earn as much as would enable them to live. And yet even with this disadvantage the spirit of these men was amazing. At their meetings one might have thought but for their poor ragged clothing that there was no poverty amongst them, so light were they in spirit. How many a man of the more privileged classes would have sunk and died under such depressing circumstances, but our Sutton men lived on, always in the hope of a better future. It generally occurred when I visited them that they honoured me with a tea party and soir e. Got up almost at cost price, these parties were always well attended. Of course, as at meetings of the kind, the ladies of all ages, married and single, were in the majority, and they were politicians as much as the men. At one of these parties I sat at the head of the table, next to a little girl, who sang with much sweetness and spirit a song, 'The Chartist Cause for Me.' It was always a treat to listen to George Kendall, who was the leading man of the party, and who spoke in a tone of decision on all questions. The last time I ever saw George was in 1853. How cordially he grasped my hand and exclaimed, 'My lad, I am glad to see thee.' This was worth more than the most finely drawn compliments, because it was sincere.

While I was at Sutton, my attention was drawn to the fact that I was within a short distance of Hucknall Torkard, in the church of which was erected a tablet over the remains of Byron by his loving daughter, afterwards Lady Lovelace. Even yet I knew but little of Byrons's [sic] works; but no one could be long in the county of Nottingham without hearing his praises spoken of, just as no one can be long in Scotland without listening to the praises of Burns. I stood with a sort of awe, little understood by me at the time, in the presence of departed greatness. Departed, did I say? No; Byron can never depart so long as English poetry and English patriotism remain.

Robert Gammage, 'Recollections of a Chartist', in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle , Saturday, September 13 1884

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