Before the Otley Run: A Chartist Pub Crawl of Leeds

Ever since the year 1810 the Yorkshire and Lancashire people have been peacefully struggling for Universal Suffrage. […] You have no idea of the intensity of radical opinions here – you have an index from the numerous public house signs – full length portraits of [Henry] Hunt – holding in his hand scrawls containing the words Universal Suffrage, Annual Parliament, and the ballot. Paine and Cobbett also figure occasionally.[1]
-Henry Vincent in a letter to his brother, 1838.

Pub politics is by no means a recent phenomena. While over the last year Leeds has seen various demos ending in pubs, their band rooms frequent haunts for student societies, the act of politicising the public house has a long and rich history. Previous scholars, including Brian Harrison in his seminal Drink and the Victorians, explored how the public house was indeed the heart of the community long before the nineteenth century and a source of safe water and drink in urban areas, while AnneMarie McAllister is currently producing some very interesting and relevant work on the peaks and troughs of temperance movements in Britain. That said, when I came to research representations of the pub in the literature of the Chartist movement, I was grasping for (ahem) straws.

Katrina Navickas’ recent book (and accompanying web project) explores the tradition and contestation of Radical politics in the public house: noting that the public house was both the centre of local communities and often the only public space available for large meetings, as “public’ buildings in the inclusive sense of the term had hardly existed in northern English towns before the 1840s,” with many civil, commercial, and residential buildings and areas effectively ‘privatised’ by the ruling elite.[2] Indeed, she notes that Bradford magistrates would deliberate over trials in the pub until the Bradford courthouse was completed in 1834. [2]

Much in the same way that the pub is the home of casual chatter and student activism today, at the turn of the eighteenth century, “radical meetings in pubs drew from the same culture of self-help and autodidact activities that were common in such venues,” including circulating libraries for books and local newspapers.[3]  Further to this, the pub occupies a liminal space between public and private; open to all, but its physically small size meant that meetings could be prioritised to only interested parties, away from eavesdroppers. While pubs were, and continue to be, very much community-defined, and not all pubs would be open to all, within working class communities during the early Victorian period it provided a space to express anti-establishment views without fear of persecution.

NPG D20838; Henry Hunt by Unknown artist
Engraving of Henry Hunt c.1830  (c) National Portrait Gallery

Today I will discuss the practicality of the pub with regards to the Chartist movement, and in particular what this meant within Leeds. Chartist leader and teetotaller Henry Vincent, in his letter above, notes that the north of England is unashamedly progressive in its politics, having campaigned for equal suffrage since the early 19th century, but also that the public house was central to this campaign. Emblematic figures of suffrage such as Chartist leader Henry Hunt (above), as well as progressive philosophers Thomas Paine and radical MP William Cobbett, literally take on the status of icons to represent the ‘house[s] of the public’ within Yorkshire.[4] These icons furthermore emphasise the power of literacy, noting the scrolls inscribed with the demands of the Charter, giving some indication of the intellectual activities taking place within the pub. During the early part of the Chartist movement, the pub was seen as a most practical place, and the ‘numerous’ pubs Vincent speaks of are no accident. In 1830 a peculiar piece of legislation entitled the Beer Act passed, which “allowed anyone to sell beer (but not wines or spirits) on the mere payment of an excise fee of two guineas,” in an attempt to curb the infamous ‘gin problem’ characterising poor industrial areas at the time.[5] While the Beer Act was unsuccessful in solving the gin problem, it did almost double the number of pubs opening before 1838. Warmer and drier than many Yorkshire residents’ cramped and damp residences, the pub was also a more statistically viable meeting place: with just under 200 heads per pub by 1838.

Figure 1

Estimate population of Britain (rounded) [6] Estimate no. of pubs and beer-shops (rounded)[7] Estimate ratio of heads per pub in Britain.
1830 16,150,000 45,000 358
1838 17,800,000 90,500 196

While teetotallers couldn’t argue with the prevalence of pubs, price did prove to be a contentious issue. Many meeting rooms were hired free of charge for Chartist meetings, with the levy of a ‘wet rent,’ at the cost of a drink per person, fronted by the individual attendees.[8] At only a few pence for a mug of ale, this was considerably cheaper than hiring a civic hall but did lead to some debates about the proper use of disposable income, especially as wages fell and food prices rose during the 1840s. That said, it was a small price to pay for the physical and emotional warmth that this public space offered to its inhabitants at the time.

Many organised societies took advantage of these practical advantages too, whether explicitly political or not. Friendly societies provided benefits to their subscription paying members as a working class solution to middle class life insurance policies, including sick pay for members, and funeral expenses and pensions for the dependents of deceased members. Meetings of these organisations would be reported in newspapers like the Northern Star, emphasising the closeness and fraternity of the group in their invitation notices. In June 1838 the Leeds United Order of Oddfellows report the opening of a new lodge at the Woodman Inn, Leylands, which “promises fair to be a strong and powerful society,” and “beg distinctly to state that the order recognises no difference between Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Gentile. […] They take good men of all denominations, and so far as they can judge refuse bad ones.”[11] For the LUOO, the pub represents a secular centre for cultivating friendships without prejudice, where men can be united by their shared oath and find further welcome in aligning themselves with the pro-suffrage standpoint of the newspaper in which their reports appear to the world.

The use of the public house as a meeting space declined during the 1840s for a myriad of reasons, a link between the idea of ‘responsible economy’ of saving one’s precious wages for food, in addition to the necessity of performing respectability to the middle class legislators by shaking off the reputation of being dirty and drunk. This pattern holds true for Leeds, and we can see the expansion of the Chartists  into commercial spaces including the ‘Chartist Room’ in the newly built Kirkgate Market. Katrina Navickas’ Protest Histories project contains a well-curated database of all radical meeting spaces in Leeds at this time, and I have taken her data and adapted it to show central Leeds during the period 1830-1850.


For a historical night out in Leeds, look no further! Spaces such as the Angel Inn remain functioning pubs, and remarkably much of Leeds City Centre has retained its original Victorian architecture. ‘Ginnels’ in the town centre including Angel Inn Yard and the narrow street of Central Road have merely been improved rather than redeveloped, and provide a great sense of spacial awareness and city planning experienced by the Chartists. The lasting legacy of pubs such as Whitelock’s and the Angel is cause for further historical speculation: how did these pubs remain, and in what ways did they retain their radical allegiances since the Chartists? Their steadfastness is especially interesting considering the drop off in usage of pubs over the 1840s, coinciding with the formation of one of the longest-running Temperance organisations, the Band of Hope, founded in 1847.[12]

Figure 2

Data adapted from above, obtained from Navickas (2015).

Whatever political issue ails you, take a leaf from the Chartists – get out and talk about it.


For more information about suggested routes, accessibility, or more detail about specific Chartist meetings, get in touch.

This post is a reworked version of part of my completed MA Dissertation (2016) and variations have been presented at conferences at Edinburgh University (2015) and Chartism Day (2016).
[1] Henry Vincent, “Dear Brother….” (Manchester, 26th August 1838), VIN, Labour History Archive.
[2] Katrina Navickas, Protest And The Politics Of Space And Place 1789-1848.(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016).
[3] Ibid. p. 35.
[4] If you are interested in getting an idea of these pub signs, busts of these figures exist in the Leeds University Special Collections.
[5] John Greenaway, Drink and British Politics Since 1830: A Study In Policy Making (Palgrave: Macmillan, 1994) p. 19.
[6]Adapted from B. R. Mitchell, British Historical Statistics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) p. 11.
[7] Adapted from James Neale, ‘British Drinking From 19th Century To The Present’ (2009).
[8] Lillian Lewis-Shiman, Crusade Against Drink in Victorian England (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988) p.32.
[9]Greenaway (1994) p. 8.(2009).
[10] Northern Star, “[Leeds] Leeds United Order of Odd Fellows”, 9th June 1838, p. 4. British Library 19th Century Newspapers Online. Web. [Accessed 14th March 2016]
[11] “Protest And The Politics Of Space And Place | Northern England, 1789-1848. A Book & More By Katrina Navickas”,, 2015 <>
In her database, Navickas also cites the source of each meeting point she has obtained – many of these are contemporary newspapers such as the Northern Star and Leeds Mercury.
[12] Margaret Barrow, “Band Of Hope”, Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003), p. 86.

Post-Grad-Grad Employability: Learning from Experience (part two)

Earlier in the week I wrote a post about an Employability Event I ran last week, targeted at supporting arts postgrads navigate the job hunt following graduation. The excellent Careers Centre at the University of Leeds sent a representative to talk to us about deciding on your dream job, drafting your application, and competing in interviews and applications. While it’s all very good to hear from a careers advisor, I was also able to recruit not one, but two real life postgrad grads to talk all about their experiences of their current graduate jobs, and how they got to them.

Image: Gilmore Girls ©CW

Isobel Davies graduated with her MA in Gender and Culture in 2014, and following a progression from Sales to PR with Betty’s Tea Rooms is now Arts Faculty Engagement & Development Coordinator at Leeds University Union.

Isobel’s role in LUU is to work with School Reps from the Faculty of Arts (like me!) to ensure they and their constituents have the necessary support from the student union to get the most from their university experience, based in LUU’s Academic Advice & Representation team. She’ll split her time between answering queries from School Rep, negotiating resources for student feedback events, and co-coordinating training sessions for school reps on chairing talks, public speaking, delivering workshops and events organisation so they can do the best in their role.

After completing her BA in Fine Art, Isobel worked as a sales assistant and then supervisor at Betty’s Tea Rooms, and was fortunate to land herself a PR internship with the company while completing her MA. The management experience she gained through working at Betty’s developed her timekeeping, communication, and project management skills, while the critical discourse she examined as part of her MA research means she as a thorough understanding in equality and diversity, which allows her to identify potential problems and best support her School Reps.


Callum Holt completed his MA in Critical and Cultural Theory (English Studies) in 2015 and is now Artistic Programmes Assistant at Yorkshire Dance, in addition to his freelance dance and choreography work.

Callum chose to do his MA for sheer love of English and obtained a scholarship to do so, allowing him to use his free time to get involved with the Musical Theatre society at University. Callum has trained as a dancer for over ten years and during his MA was offered the chance to choreograph and produce a friend’s musical, for which they chose to found a production company and eventually took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015. After graduating, Callum was able to secure his job with Yorkshire Dance, for which he consults and advises young performers on how to integrate cultural theory and research for their performances to effectively deliver their chosen message, making use of the critical and artistic analysis skills gained during his degree.

Having focused his MA dissertation on Queer Theory, he is able to advise performers on critical discourses and frameworks on gender and sexuality to use while researching and developing their work. His research background has also proved to be extremely helpful in improving his own creative work as a freelance dancer and choreographer.


Image: Gilmore Girls ©CW


Isobel: “Doing my MA was the best thing I’ve ever done. You learn a lot about what you’re capable of – it’s really hard!”

Both Callum and Isobel were extremely proud of what they’d achieved with their postgraduate studies. Callum heavily relies on his research experience and ability to focus to advise and consult freelance dancers in his work, and he notes that when applying for his job it gave him an edge over the other applicants and opened up a new area of dialogue between himself and his future employer. Isobel agreed that she uses the skills gained during her MA all the time in her work, but acknowledged that it was also incredibly fulfilling on a personal level due to the continuous nature of research. Juggling full-time work with her full time MA meant she really had to user her time well and, and both noted the sheer intensity of an MA being unlike anything else in terms of reading and intellectual demand. However, neither would have changed it for the world, and now that they’re in their 9-5 jobs feel extremely appreciative of having leisure time again.

Callum: “In musical theatre, extra-curricular experience was essential but the MA was the icing on the cake.”

We talked a little about going the extra mile with regards to co-curricular activities and voluntary experiences. In an industry like Callum’s, the fact that he had already produced a show and taken it to the Edinburgh Fringe was a hugely important step in landing his job, demonstrating his drive and enthusiasm. The same goes for industries like charity and heritage – having the experience of the industry and being able to tailor your skills to the specific demands of the sector is hugely important, and it’s easy to gain experience on a volunteer basis. Isobel likewise noted that little extras can be hugely important, that her experience in events organisation gained during her BA Fine Art Graduate Show set her aside from other applicants, and gave her the experience of running and event and the nuances of organisation it requires. Additionally, having the experience of being both an organiser and consumer of a performance or event allows you to effectively relate to your client base.

Callum: “You never know where your next opportunity will come from. Put yourself out there.”

Both Callum and Isobel talked about the importance of social media in job hunting and getting to know industry professionals, especially in the creative industries. Social media, both Twitter and Facebook, are fantastic for seeking out industry pros and keeping up with news, headhunting events, and job vacancies – but be sure to curate your image. Callum advised creative types to consider creating a professional profile that can double as a portfolio, while Isobel reminded caution before posting to maintain a positive image, and to tighten your privacy settings on personal profiles. At the same time, don’t be afraid to use social media to interact with potential employers and attend performances and events – being a friendly face often pays off. Finally, if you’re offered an interesting opportunity, don’t be afraid to say yes – it’s all great experience.


Image: Gilmore Girls ©CW

For more quotes, check out the Storify round-up here.



Post-grad-grad Employability: What Next? (part 1)

As a keen bean doing duty as PGT School Rep for my cohort of MA English Studies students, I recently held an employability event. I’ve been to various careers talks targeted at English Literature and Language students throughout my academic career and come away with the following messages:

  1. Getting a job within the publishing, art, library, or heritage sectors is really hard.
  2. Getting a job in academia is really hard.
  3. Be a Teacher.

There’s a perception that arts degrees are useless, and with continual cuts to funding for libraries, galleries and museums, and performing arts programmes, graduates increasingly find themselves in a world that seems to confirm it. This feeling of dread is emphasised when you are told “you’ll never get a job” by a drunk uncle at somebody else’s wedding.

Obviously there are huge obstacles to Arts graduate employment. That said, there is still hope.

Image: Mad Men, ©AMC TV

Steve Bone from the Careers Service kicked off the afternoon with his ‘Decide, Plan, Compete’ workshop, a guide on choosing and securing your dream grad job from start to finish.

Decide: what do you value in a career?

“Ask yourself why did you choose to do your particular degree? What have you learned from it? What did you enjoy about it?”

The first step to applying for graduate jobs is deciding what to apply for – English, especially, is a great degree to have because it is so versatile – but it can be difficult if you don’t know where to start. Thinking about what you most enjoy (or don’t enjoy) about your degree is a brilliant starting point: you might find that working with books or making a positive difference is really important to you, or that you love the research aspect of your course. You may well hate public speaking and want something quiet, or alternately find that you vastly prefer the group environment of seminars to sitting alone in the library.

If you’re really stuck, or you enjoy taking quizzes, the Prospects Career Planner is a helpful tool for matching your preferences and skills to potential job roles. Remember that over half of graduate jobs are not subject specific, so don’t feel held back.

Plan: how do you find it?

“Approximately 60% of jobs are advertised on social media or through personal connections before they go live.”

Get out there and look for the job you want. Many graduate employers will attend university job fairs and put on events to attract fresh talent, so attend whatever you can. Do your research to find out the industry names and subscribe to mailing lists, and follow them on social media to get the first look at careers events and job vacancies. This works in conjunction with Googling, job centre vacancies etc. If you are already working in a company, most new vacancies are advertised internally first, so keep your eyes peeled for any opportunities to move departments or be promoted.

Browse some vacancies and identify the key words used and the skills required of applicants – you can then tailor your CV and LinkedIn to match.

Compete: how do you stand out?

“The drive and vigour of a postgraduate degree can be a real selling point to employers, showing dedication and ambition.”

Sadly, “I’ve got two degrees” is not enough. However, using your excellent writing skills to make a cracking CV is a good start. For finding your first job, Steve advises drafting a skills-based CV to highlight your achievements and capabilities from your educational and co-curricular experiences that can be transferred into a professional environment.

An employer will read your CV for about 30 seconds before making a snap judgement – so make it easy for them. It should:
1. Be well structured – it should be in reverse chronological order, use headings to separate sections, and make your contact details clearly visible.
2. Include references – obviously ask them first and give a heads up, but including referees’ details demonstrates confidence in yourself and your abilities.
3. Cite real-life examples of your achievements – overcoming obstacles, being trusted with leadership, events you’ve organised. Bonus points if you can include a hyperlink to digital evidence (e.g. conference website, volunteer blog)!

You can find more CV tips on the Leeds University Careers Website.

Finally, Steve said to use your social media presence to further your good impression – Google yourself and remove any ~undesirable~ results away by upping your privacy settings or deleting content. Most employers will Google you during your application, so be sure they’ll find something good. Twitter is a great way to engage with industry contacts, and blogging is especially useful for those entering creative industries to create an online portfolio and advertise your work.

That’s all from the Careers Service workshops – stay tuned for part two of this series later in the week!


Image: Mad Men, ©AMC TV