12 Sep 2011

Part 4: Looking for justice

Thomas Swinfield had left his wife and young family at Earl Shilton by 1839 and had taken up residence with Maria Cooper at Calverton in Nottinghamshire, some 40 miles away. His daughter, Elizabeth Swinfield Cooper, was born there on 28th May that year, albeit illegitimately. Interestingly, this locality was less than 10 miles from where his wife, Sarah Hewitt, had originated and where they had married in 1829.

Sarah had been left behind in the parish in Leicestershire, where she had gone immediately after her wedding and where all her 8 children had been born. As my great-grandfather, William, was born as late as January 1841, his paternity was seriously in doubt! Was he really the son of Thomas Brown, the lodger, who lived with Sarah from 1841 to 1861? Why had Sarah recorded herself as a spinster at the 1851 census?

At that very time, there was a great deal of unrest throughout the country. The very depressed economic conditions lead to much social and industrial action by those employed in occupations which did not provide sufficient remuneration to feed and clothe their families. This was encouraged and fuelled by the Chartist Movement from 1838 to 1850. Members demanded that six points, outlined by the People’s Charter, be addressed by the Government. These demands for reform centred on universal franchise for adult males, a secret ballot and Members of Parliament who were more representative of the common labourer.

Buildings used for framework knitting in Calverton
The Midlands was an especially militant centre of demonstration as the framework knitters were particularly poorly paid and lived in dreadful conditions, with long hours of work for little remuneration. Thomas or George (as he often called himself) Swinfield became actively involved in the movement. The Northern Star & Leeds General Advertiser, the Chartist newspaper published from 1837 to 1852, reported its activities. This can be searched online for names of those involved.  

George was nominated for its General Council in December 1842, being sub-secretary of the Calverton branch and was present at a meeting at Arnold in Nottinghamshire in March 1844. Thomas paid 3d into the Winding-up Fund in July 1850.

Most importantly, the Chartists attempted to increase the size of the electorate by giving land to their members thus satisfying the voting qualification. The small parcels of land were allocated by ballot. Unfortunately, Thomas Swinfield was one of the runners-up in the “Three Acres” category published on 12th December 1846. This must have added to his disillusionment with his lot in England.   

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