William Lovett, Chartist

William Lovett, Chartist

William Lovett (1800-1877) was a British radical and the leader of the Chartism movement. A founder member of the London Working Men's Association, he drafted the six points of the"People's Charter" in 1838, which was at the heart of a campaign for parliamentary reform of the inequalities still remaining after the Reform Act of 1832 removed rotten boroughs.

William Lovett was born in Church Lane, Newlyn, near Penzance, Cornwall on 8th May, 1800. His father had been the captain of a small fishing vessel who was drowned before William was born. William's mother, Keziah Green, made a living selling fish in Penzance. She was a strict Methodist, sent him to the local school and at the age of thirteen he became an apprentice rope-maker. William found that ropes were being replaced by chains and decided to leave ropemaking when he found it difficult to get work. He persuaded a local man to train him as an apprentice carpenter.

He moved to London when he was twenty-one, and got a job as a carpenter in a cabinet making company. He applied to join the Cabinet Makers' Society but he was rejected as his Penzance training was not recognised by that trade union. It took him till 1826 to be accepted as a member of Cabinet Makers Society.

On 3 June 1826 he married a lady's-maid; they opened a confectioner's shop but that failed. Lovett became involved in co-operative societies and in 1830 he was appointed secretary of the British Association for Promoting Co-operative Knowledge. The organisation failed however after three or four years.

In 1831 William Lovett's name was drawn for service in the London Militia. As a punishment for refusing to be conscripted, Lovett's furniture was seized. Lovett established the Anti-Militia Association with the slogan "No Vote, No Musket". The campaign was a success and militia drawings were discontinued. Lovett's victory made him a national political figure.

In 1836, Lovett with Henry Hetherington, John Cleave and James Watson formed the London Working Men’s Association. And in 1837 at a gathering of supporters of Parliamentary reform, Lovett was chosen as the leader of the group known as the Chartists. The name was derived from the charter of demands they submitted to Parliament. Lovett drafted the ‘People's Charter,’ and originally included universal female suffrage. The ‘charter’ was first published 8 May 1838.

In 1839 Lovett was arrested after making a Chartist speech in Birmingham. The prosecution contended that his description of the Metropolitan police as a "blood thirsty and unconstitutional force" was seditious libel. Lovett was found guilty and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment in Warwick Gaol.

His spell in Warwick Gaol severely damaged his health and he had to return to Cornwall to recuperate. On his return to London he open a bookseller's shop in Tottenham Court Road. Lovett was still seen as the leader of the Chartist movement but he came under attack from the more radical wing of the movement. Upset by these criticisms, in 1842, he decided to retire from politics and devoted the rest of his life to the development of working class education.

A few years later, he retired from active politics to devote his life to education of the working class, forming the National Association for Promoting the Political and Social Improvement of the People.

In 1852 he wrote ‘Social and Political Morality,’ published in 1853.

He became a teacher of anatomy in St. Thomas Charterhouse schools and in Richardson's Grammar School, Gray's Inn Road. And he went on to write a number of school-books on elementary science.

His last years were dogged by ill health and poverty. He died at 137 Euston Road, London, on 8 August 1877 and was buried at Highgate.

William Lovett, Life and Struggles

Chartism, a new organisation of the people

William Lovett, lives of the left


Return to Cornwall Famous People