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.”

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