Radicals sang of wealthy locusts

12 January 2011

by Paul Wilkinson

A hymn-book so rare that even the British Library has no copy has been discovered in a box in a Yorkshire public library.

The tiny 165-year-old pamphlet, of 16 hymns was produced by the Chartist move­ment, which campaigned for social justice in the early 19th century. The National Chartist Hymn Book was identified by Dr Mike Sanders (left), an English lecturer at the University of Man­chester, after he heard about it in a col­lection of papers at Todmorden Public Library, in West Yorkshire.

“I was first told about it by Linda Croft, a local historian working for the Workers’ Educational Association,” he said. “I asked for the pamphlet at the library, and they gave me three boxes of uncatalogued material. I was about to give up hope until I got to the second-to-last item in the last box, and found the pamphlet with a cigar box glued on to it for a cover. It was very fragile.”

He also had three clues which helped him to confirm its origins. All were brief mentions in 1845 editions of the Chartist newspaper North­ern Star. One, from January, asked readers to send ideas for a Chartist hymn book to an address in Manchester. A second, in February, stated that West Riding Chartists approved the idea of a new hymn book. Nine months later, an item said that the hymn book was now avail­able.

Chartist historians know of two earlier attempts to produce a hymn book for the whole movement — Cooper’s Shakespearean Chartist Hymn Book, and Hobson’s Hymns for Worship.

Some of the hymns in this collection protested against child labour and slavery. One pro­claimed: “Men of wealth and men of power Like locusts all thy gifts devour.”

Forthcoming Events

9 October
The Parish: Has it Had its Day?

Join us for a Moral Maze-style debate at St Mellitus College, London. Tickets £10 (£5 for students/ordinands). Read more and book tickets

The Church Times Podcast

The Church Times Podcast, hosted by Tim Wyatt and Ed Thornton, features a mixture of interviews and news analysis. Listen online

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read seven articles each month for free.