Picture of Robert Gammage

Robert Gammage

places mentioned

Travelling in the north in 1842

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I first met with Thomas Cooper in Leicester, at the very time when, in consequence of intense distress, the town was in a constant ferment.

Journeying towards Leeds, I called at Sheffield, and here it was that I first met with George Julian Harney, who was then living in what by a gross misnomer was called Paradise Square. Mr. Harney kept a shop for the sale of Chartist papers and democratic publications of all kinds. I remember that on one of the walls hung a wretched-looking portrait of Marat, the great and much-feared French revolutionist. 'Is this a portrait of Marat?' I asked, pronouncing, as any Englishman not acquainted with French, might do, the t at the end of the name. 'Yes,' he replied. 'I believe you are a great admirer of his?' 'Yes. I am an admirer of all the scoundrels.' Of course Mr. Harney did not believe Marat to be a scoundrel; it was a pleasantry upon those who had designated as such all the most honest and disinterested men of the French Revolution. I had only been in the house a few minutes when in walked a fine, tall, handsome woman, with a serene smile on her face. 'Mr. Gammage, Mrs. Harney.' This good lady hailed from the little town of Mauchline, in Ayrshire, where, as I have understood, Mr. Harney first met with her while on a tour in Scotland. That he fell in love was not surprising; it would have been surprising had he not. I need hardly say that the passion was reciprocated, and that they speedily became locked in the sweetest of bonds. This marriage was a great grief to Mrs. Harney's mother, who, when I saw her, had not recovered from the loss of her affectionate daughter. But love bears down every other feeling to which mortals are subject.

Love rules the court, the camp, the grove,
And men below, and saints above;
For love is heaven, and heaven is love.

I saw Mrs. Harney after this, the last time in London. There was the same sweet smile, but how altered she was in appearance! The bloom had departed, and it was not long after that the gentle woman was numbered with the dead.

I went on from Sheffield to Leeds, where I obtained work for a period of seven weeks. I found plenty to do here in my leisure time. Evening after evening, when my usual work was done, I addressed meetings at Leeds, Armley, Bramley, Hunslet, and other places, for the spirit of Chartism was once more rising. It was while in Leeds that I first heard Thomas Cooper lecture. I admired his style, which was unlike that of any other man I had heard. It was plain, but fluent, forcible and impressive, and justified the opinion of my friend Hallowell, of Northampton, that in point of public speaking he was a master. It was at Leeds, too, that I heard Feargus O'Connor deliver one of his slashing speeches.

On leaving Leeds at the end of seven weeks I walked to Harrogate. I knew no one there, but by letter I obtained an introduction to Mr. Beasley, who, together with his wife, hailed from Sherborne. He worked for Mr. Christopher Wright, and, like myself, was a coach trimmer. While I was in the shop talking to him, Wright dropped in. He inquired who and what I was, and on being answered, offered me work for a few weeks, which I gladly accepted, all the more because of Beasley, who I soon found was, like myself, a Chartist, and many were the talks we had on that subject while I remained. During that time I went over on a Sunday morning to the little town of Knaresborough, once represented by the slashing William Busfield Ferrand, one of the most determined opponents of Cobden and his party in the House of Commons. After a row in a boat on the river, we visited St. Robert's Cave, immortalised by Bulwer [sic] in his novel of 'Eugene Aram.' In this town I found a little vent for my Chartism. A meeting was arranged to be held in a large room, and on my visit the place was crowded. My friend Beasley walked over with me, and was called to the chair. The meeting was enthusiastic.

It was an exciting time, for it was then that the 'Plug Plot' occurred, when in the factory and other districts thousands upon thousands of men were idle. Had I been still at Leeds, I should have been in the midst of the turmoil; but everything was quiet enough at Harrogate—the lodging-house keepers thought too quiet, for many had, owing to the excitement, gone far from the factory districts.

I cannot here help noticing how curiously the wheel of fortune often turns round. My friend Beasley, who must have been well-respected, was proposed as a member of the Town Commission, which body was similar to the corporation of a municipal borough. His employer was also proposed. On their talking the matter over, Beasley offered to retire if he thought his doing so would aid the other's election. Mr. Wright told him very abruptly that he might please himself. He did so, and was returned, while Mr. Wright was rejected. Beasley was dismissed from his employment without any previous notice. He was a teacher in the Church Sunday School, and on talking over the affair to the clergyman, that gentleman strongly advised him to commence business on his own account. Beasley was almost appalled at the thought, for it was no light matter to commence such an important and expensive undertaking. He was told that he had nothing to fear, and he went ahead. Not only that—he succeeded; and, when I last visited Harrogate, twenty years ago, he had one of the most lucrative businesses in Yorkshire, often sending carriages to other towns and exporting them to places abroad. He was the owner of his premises and of some land in the vicinity, while the trade of his former employer had considerable declined. No one, however, who did not know, would have supposed him to be the owner of the establishment, for he went about the shop in an old slouched hat and a rusty black coat, which spoke of poverty rather than wealth, and he always retained his Dorsetshire dialect. He became Chairman of the Commissioners, of which body he had previously been but an ordinary member.

When I left Harrogate, I journeyed north, and at length found myself in 'canny Newcassel.' Here I came in contact with James Sinclair, the Chartist secretary, and several others, and was invited to give some lectures. I remained in the district more than a week. I here met with a friend whom I had known in London. His father was a staunch Catholic, and said to be one of the best Latin scholars in England. His name was Daniel French, the same who had recently held eleven nights' discussion with the celebrated Dr. John Cumming, on the respective merits of Catholicism and Protestantism. I was entertained by this family with true and unostentatious hospitality.

My friends in Newcastle advised me to go on lecturing, and gave me an introduction to the Chartists of Carlisle. I went towards that city on a Monday morning, called on Mr. Ridley, tanner, and after a little pleasant conversation journeyed on to Haltwhistle, a distance of 36 miles, and then took a train to Carlisle. Arrangements had been made for me to give a lecture. I did so, and at the conclusion one of the friends got up and moved that I be requested to stay and give another on the following night. It was unanimously carried, and I lectured accordingly. Before I left, Mr. James Arthur congratulated me on my lectures, and then informed me of what I was previously ignorant, that the leading friends, as soon as they saw me, shook their heads, and said to one another, 'It is a pity we engaged him, for we shall get nothing out of him.' They confessed that they had deceived themselves, as many greater men have often done. I went on my way rejoicing that, so far, my efforts had given satisfaction.

I cannot conclude without remarking that the most intelligent man I met with in Carlisle was Mr. Hanson, a handloom weaver, who, if he did his best, could not earn more than 5s. 6d. per week. It was a pleasure to converse with him. He was the best of all Chartist speakers at that period in Carlisle.

Robert Gammage, 'Recollections of a Chartist', in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle , Saturday, July 5 1884

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