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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Singing the praises of 19th century poetry

We have enhanced public awareness of 19th century working-class politics and brought Chartist poetry to the general public.

Our work has inspired new artistic performances and film documentaries, and driven efforts to conserve and present this previously underappreciated cultural heritage.

Creative collaborations with choirs, musicians and actors bring raise public appreciations for the poetry and politics of the 19th century Chartist movement.

Prior to our research the general public had little awareness or understanding about the Chartist movement or place of poetry in political discourse. Our efforts have changed perceptions, encouraged public debate and inspired new artistic performances in the North West.

Condition of the working class poster
There were 32 locations for the screenings of 'The Condition of the Working Class'.

New musical performance:

  • Collaboration with Canon Garth Hewitt and a group of folk musicians on original arrangements taken from the National Chartist Hymnbook, producing a CD which launched at Greenbelt 2013 (a Christian arts, faith and justice festival) attended by 600 people;
  • Setting of newly discovered Chartist hymns to music from the era, since performed by the Yorkshire Chartist Choir (Corista) to many audiences;
  • Musical accompaniment from Corista at several public talks and lectures by Dr Sanders attended by members of the public;
  • Collaboration with Corista to find suitable songs and provide historical context for a booklet to accompany the choir’s performance to 250 people at the Celebrate Democracy – Halifax Chartist Festival.

Dr Sanders has also provided expert commentary and advice for the 2012 film ‘The Conditions of the Working Class’ which was screened in 32 different locations and made available for purchase on DVD.

Work on the National Chartist Hymnbook has also stimulated efforts nationwide to preserve Chartist cultural heritage and present this key period of political history to a wider audience.

Key benefits:

  • Production of a digitised version of the hymnbook, now publicly accessible online;
  • Increased visitor number to Todmorden library where the hymnbook is preserved and displayed;
  • Dr Sanders sits on the management committee of Wild Rose Heritage and Arts, a local history project in Hebden Bridge to document how people change – and are changed – by their living conditions and work.

Our research

We unearthed a substantial body of working-class literature that had previously been neglected by both literary and historical scholars. The discovery of the National Chartist Hymnbook also provided a unique insight into the relationship between poetry and politics during this period.

The research led to the publication of The Poetry of Chartism, a monograph based on the analysis of around 1,000 poems published in the leading Chartist newspaper, the Northern Star, between 1838 and 1852.

Key findings:

  • Poetry was an integral part of the Chartist movement
  • Chartist poetry transforms our understanding of the wider literary landscape of the early Victorian period
  • New understanding of the relationship between aesthetics and politics
  • Existence of a distinctive Chartist theology and the influence of religious belief within Chartism

Lead academic