Joel Wootten, whose essay on Chartism in Gateshead won this year’s Sid Chaplin Prize was presented with the trophy by Grahame Chaplin, Sid’s grandson at this year’s NELH Annual General Meeting.
Joel has summarised his essay for us:
There are a number of important works on Chartism in the North East. However, these studies have focused almost exclusively on Newcastle and as a result, the significance of the movement in Gateshead is downplayed. Those works that do mention Gateshead only refer to it in passing as a useful anecdote of ‘physical force’ Chartism. My dissertation seeks to redress this significant gap in North-East labour studies.
By drawing on an array of primary material, I uncovered a strong and sophisticated movement in Gateshead. Far from being ancillary to Newcastle’s movement, we find a body of fiercely independent Chartists who are active from the movement’s inception.
Despite previous assumptions that Gateshead Chartism was inherently weak, what we find on closer inspection is that the strength of the town’s movement matched and occasionally surpassed that of its neighbours. This is evident when we look at Gateshead’s activity during the movement’s ‘doldrum years’.
Finally, my dissertation was not confined to the Chartist period. By looking beyond the active years of the movement, we uncover the enduring legacy of Gateshead Chartism. We find many of Gateshead’s Chartists heavily involved in later radical movements such as Joseph Cowen’s Northern Reform Union. The prominent role played by the towns Chartists in these movements illustrates that support for the principles of Chartism endured long after formal organisation faded away.
This is the first study that has taken Gateshead Chartism seriously. In doing so, it has not only provided a more complete picture of Tyneside Chartism but has also afforded Gateshead’s Chartists their rightful place within the history of the movement.
And this is the speech that Grahame Chaplin made as he presented the trophy:
Thank you for asking me to be here tonight, to present this prize, in the name of my Late Grandfather, Sid Chaplin.
I remember well my Granny, Rene Chaplin, telling me of the pleasure she found in joining your meetings and making these presentations in years past. Indeed I remember the joy she found in recounting her own history for inclusion in one of your Journals. In more recent years my Uncle, Michael Chaplin has represented the Chaplin Family, and as I suppose as is apposite, in history, things have moved on a generation, at least for tonight.
Common in all of Sid’s writing was a passion for people and place, he often wrote of fellowship in struggle, and the places he had passion for were found equally North and South of this Black River, The Tyne, immediately below us, of which, incidentally, there is a superlative essay in the anthology: A Tree with Rosy Apples.
Joel’s winning essay, though academic in structure and language speaks of a passion for place, and seeks to recognise at best a forgotten or perhaps an airbrushed or unheard voice, of people from that place – for that reason alone it is worthy of prize in Sid’s name.
I have read Joel’s dissertation, and I found it illuminating and interesting in equal measure, and although to the best of my memory and knowledge Sid never explicitly wrote of the Chartist movement he did fervently believe in the rights of the worker to play a part in democracy, whether as an individual or in the camaraderie of a trades Union, as so told in his work “The Thin Seam” – which formed the backstory for Plater and Glasgow’s successful play “Close the Coalhouse Door”.
So again I draw an analogy to Joel’s essay and Sid’s work in that they both sought to chronicle the march to a fairer society, of groups of people who endured anguish, hurt and distress at their lack of right to have a say in the world in which they lived.
On that note I invite Joel to accept this trophy, and congratulate him on his efforts.