Talk: Who Was William Cuffay?/London Chartism

Author/publication: S I Martin / Katrina Navickas / Kennington Chartist Project
Date: May 5th 2018
Our Archive Ref: KCP0013/AUD/2018


The second in a series of talks given in St Mark’s Church, Kennington for the Kennington Chartist Project in 2018. Double bill:

Steve Martin’s talk discusses the life of Chartist William Cuffay and Black involvement in nineteenth century British radical history, including:

  • The life of William’s father, Chatham Cuffay, probably a slave from St Kitts who worked at Chatham Docks.
  • William Cuffay was a tailor with premises off the Cut and in Covent Garden.
  • Cuffay radicalised after 1834 London Tailor’s strike when he loses his job.
  • Background of 1834 Poor Law amendment.
  • Cuffay is seen as a prominent Chartist present on Kennington Common in April 1848,
  • Later deported to Van Diemen’s land (Tasmania) for his role in the 1848 Orange Tree Conspiracy.
  • Other Black activists Claudian Equiano, William “Black” Davidson, son of the Attorney General of Jamaica, Robert Wedderburn, a preacher and radical.
  •  Media use of alienating language and satirical cartoons to mock Cuffay and the Chartist movement.

S. I. Martin lives in South London where he works as a researcher and writer of Black history. Steve Martin is the author of several novels including, Incomparable World, (1997) which tells the story of three black exiles living in 18th-century London and Jupiter Williams (2007) about a young boy at the African Academy in Clapham and a non-fiction title, Britain’s Slave Trade (1999), published to accompany a Channel 4 television series.

Katrina Navickas’s talk explores the London origins of the Chartist movement, including:

  • Formation of the London Working Men’s Association in 1836 with its principles of socialism and an alternative economy.
  • William Lovett, the archetypal committee man, drafted the six point charter the following year.
  • Multiple branches of Chartist associations across the capital, examining the network, their membership often based on trades; their activities including lecturers, political mass meetings, rallies and social events.
  • Drawing on evidence from her British Library
  • Distinctiveness of the London Chartist movement in its character and origins, its more radical, atheist and secular tradition.
  • Meeting places including the pubs close to Kennington and the Common, and those in nearby Walworth and Camberwell.
  • Continuity in venues from the radical London Corresponding Society of the 1790s.

Katrina Navickas lives in Croydon, and researches the history of popular protest and democracy movements, local identities and landscapes. Her latest book is Protest and the Politics of Space and Place, 1789-1848 and she is currently writing a history of contested public spaces in Britain.