Edward Royle lectures on Radicalism in the West Riding, 1790-1890

Huddersfield Local History Society and the University of Huddersfield resumed their annual series of Luddite Memorial Lectures in April 2021 with a lecture by Professor Edward Royle on a century of Radicalism in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

In a talk originally intended to be delivered a year earlier, Professor Royle argued that while many parts of the country can claim radical traditions, the West Riding has contributed significantly to the growth of a great radical culture built on a “conscious tradition of dissent” that stretches from Luddism to the Independent Labour Party and beyond.

The lecture began with tributes to the late Professor Malcolm Chase, whose research, writing and teaching made him both the pre-eminent historian of Chartism and an acknowledged expert in the rural radicalism and trade unionism of the 19th century. Professor Chase served the Society for the Study of Labour History in a number of capacities, including latterly as vice-president, before his untimely death in February 2020, and was a central and regular feature of the Society’s annual Chartism Days.

Professor Royle, emeritus professor at the University of York and the author of multiple books on secularism and non-conformism, looked broadly at some of the varieties of radicalism to be found in the West Riding during the century following the French Revolution. This included mention of some of the familiar themes of the Luddite years in Huddersfield but also concentrated on the later years, tracing continuities from the 1830s and 1840s through the mid-century years to the 1880s and 1890s. The lecture looked at some of the social and religious radicalisms that emerged during the century, ranging from the mainstream to the exotic, and introduced some of the more colourful characters who challenged the orthodoxies of Victorian Britain.

He argued: “Overall, the West Riding can be said to have played a significant part in the growth of many forms of radicalism during the period from the late 18th century, when the French revolution made its impact on British politics, through to the eve of the first world war, when the Labour Party was making a serious attempt to supplant the Liberal Party as the main parliamentary conduit for radical activity.”

Other recent talks on the Huddersfield Local History Society website of interest to labour historians include:

  • Peterloo: the aftermath in West Yorkshire, by Alan Brooke
  • Norcroft pit disaster, 1821, by David Hinchliffe
  • The town that bought itself, by Edward Royle

Find out more about the Huddersfield Local History Society and the Annual Luddite Memorial Lecture.

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