PLACES AND SPACES OF CHARTISM IN BIRMINGHAM
John Collins was one of the most well-known of the working class leaders of the Chartist Movement. Chartism was a reform movement calling for the rights and suffrage of the working class based on the principals set out in the People's Charter. After joining the movement, Collins became a leading spokesman for the Birmingham Political Union, pastor for the Christian Chartist Church, and later Town Councillor for Birmingham, England. He was largely responsible for bringing together the Scottish reformers and English radicals which helped kick-start the Chartist Movement.
The footsteps Collins took during the Chartist Movement plot many important places and spaces in the history of Chartism in Birmingham.
Some of the greatest reform meetings convened by the Birmingham Political Union were held on Newhall Hill (not to be confused with the subsequently named Newhall Street). In 1832 a reported 200,000 gathered on Newhall Hill in support of the Great Reform Bill that extended the vote to the middle class.
Some six years later the people of Birmingham answered the call of the Union leaders to join them once more on Newhall Hill to consider the economic distress of the town and the extension of the suffrage to the working class. On that occasion it was estimated 100,000 gathered on Newhall Hill.
The Bull Ring (formerly Corn Cheaping)
According to Hutton, Birmingham's first historian, the Bull Ring derived its name from the practice of bull baiting granted by the Lord of the Manor. The Bull Ring slopes down from New Street and occupies the space in front of St Martin's Church overlooked by the bronze statue (unveiled in 1809) of Lord Nelson. It was here in July 1839 that the famed Bull Ring Riots broke out. The first riot began when a crowd of townspeople were attacked by London Police brought in by local authorities to enforce a ban on public meetings. John Collins, along with William Lovett, were subsequently arrested, and a second riot occurred on the night they were released on bail from Warwick Gaol.
Curzon Street Station
Possibly named for Lord Curzon, it was the terminus of the first railway line that linked Birmingham and London. Designed by Philip Hardwick in the early 1830s the entrance is reminiscent of Euston Arch in London. Also known as the Birmingham Station before New Street Station was built, the massive entrance is all that remains of the Curzon Street Station since the surrounding buildings and platforms have all gone.
In May 1839, the Chartist delegates attending their first National Convention in London became fearful of the authorities there. So they decided to move the Convention en masse to Birmingham.
Upon the delegates' arrival at Curzon Street Station they were welcomed to Birmingham by John Collins and a great concourse of the townspeople.
Birmingham Town Hall
This huge building was opened in 1834. It was used for public events and meetings, and also by local government until the Council House opened in 1879. At the beginning of the Chartist era thousands assembled and marched passed its spectacular facade on their way to the Great Midland Demonstration in August 1838.
As a leading member of the Birmingham Political Union and later Town Councillor, John Collins spoke at many Union and Council meetings held in the Town Hall which is located at the top end of New Street, on the corner of Paradise Street. For more information on the Town Hall on this website click here.
Dees Royal Hotel & Posting House
Dees Royal Hotel (named for it's proprietor Frederick Dee) was located in the centre of Birmingham on Temple Row, opposite St Philip's. Although it had a reputation as a genteel, upper class establishment "being free from the noise and bustle of stage coaches," it was also the site of political and radical gatherings. One such meeting occurred August 1840 in its Assembly Room when a meeting, headed by John Collins, addressed the disruptive actions of the more violent Chartists in the town.
Possibly from Goose-stead [Hutton], or more likely derived from Gorsty [Lang] for gorseland, Gosta Green was a medieval green on the edge of Birmingham used for public gatherings.
On 27 July 1840, a large procession set off from the Gosta Green to meet Birmingham hero John Collins following his release from Warwick Gaol. When the procession returned to Gosta Green, his voice rang out to the massive crowd surrounding his carriage assuring them he was more than ever convinced of the justice of their cause.
On the southwest edge of the town, Holloway Head was likely named after a holloway, which was a deep ancient trackway worn several feet below the sides of a bank due to the passage of people, wagons and rain through the ages.
On August 6 1839, the Great Midland Demonstration was held in the fields at Holloway Head at which a reported 200,000 attended. There were many prominent speakers including John Collins. The demonstration launched the Chartist Movement.
The People's Hall of Science
The People's Hall on the corner of Loveday and Princip Streets in Birmingham was probably inspired by the principles in "Chartism - A New Organisation of the People" written by William Lovett and Birmingham Chartist, John Collins, whilst they were imprisoned in Warwick Gaol. The 1839 Prospectus for The People’s Hall proposed a library, lecture room, and school room to improve the "understanding, morals, and health" of the people. It cost £2,400 to build, being financed through donations and £1 shares.
During a speech at the laying of the foundation stone in 1841 Collins said “this was no sectarian society” and would serve everyone. By 1843 a local paper was reporting on various events at the Hall.
The People's Hall had Chartist involvement from the beginning: Chartists were on its management committee; a dinner for 800 was held at the site in honour of John Collins’ release from gaol; and in 1848 a Chartist rally was held on the nearby grounds. At a Tea Party at the Hall (chaired by Collins) in 1846, a toast was proposed that the organization may ever be preserved to carry on its good work, but in spite of its good intentions the building was sold to a business interest about three years later.
The New Borough of Birmingham
Birmingham, in the extreme north of Warwickshire, was granted Parliamentary representation by the Reform Act of 1832. The new Birmingham constituency was created with two Members of Parliament representing it. Thomas Attwood and Joshua Scholefield, both leaders of the Birmingham Political Union and recorded as Liberals, were elected Birmingham's first MPs.
Prior to this Birmingham was represented by Members of Parliament for Warwickshire who, for the most part [Parliaments of England II, Henry Stooks Smith], were knights and baronets, such as Sir J Eardley Wilmot MP for North Warwickshire 1832-41.
In October 1839 Joshua Scholefield, Member of Parliament for Birmingham, wrote Lord Normanby, Home Secretary, on behalf of the "numerous friends of John Collins ." Scholefield's letter enclosed a petition requesting Collins be transferred from the criminal side to the debtors side of Warwick Gaol for better treatment, and was signed by important pillars of the community including eight Borough Magistrates and a "considerable number" of Town Councillors.
Scotland and the North
For places, beyond Birmingham, where Collins campaigned during the Chartist Movement please click on Chartist Leader.