In 1838, a People’s Charter was drawn up which had six demands: universal manhood suffrage, secret ballot voting, abolition of property qualifications for MPs, payment of MPs, equal electoral districts, and annual elections.

The Charter was presented to the House of Commons the following year, having gained over 1.25 million signatures. Its rejection by Parliament provoked unrest amongst the working class.

A second petition with the same aims was presented to Parliament in May, 1842. This time it had been signed by over three million people, but again it was rejected.

Shortly after, on August 15, 1842, 2,000 Chartists marched into Watford, causing alarm amongst the inhabitants of the town.

They had arrived from London in about 80 horse-drawn vans. Local magistrates told them they would not be allowed into Watford unless they removed the banners from their vans so the Chartists, determined to take their banners with them, carried the banners instead and left the vans behind.

They were followed to a field by several agricultural labourers and working class people from the neighbourhood. They addressed the meeting with a speech as to why working men should join the Chartists in order to obtain the People’s Charter as ‘the only means by which they might expect to get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’. The crowd showed their support by cheering the speech and following the Chartists to a nearby pub for food and dancing.

The Chartists returned to London around midnight.

No disorder occurred when they were in Watford, though 200 Hertford police were stationed in the town in case of an emergency.

The third and final petition was presented to Parliament in April, 1848, at a time of violent change. 1848 remains the most widespread revolutionary wave in European history, and became known as the Year of Revolution.

It began with the February Revolution in France. The French Prime Minister resigned following fighting on the streets of Paris between citizens protesting his policies and the Parisian municipal guards. Upon hearing of his resignation a large crowd gathered outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In what most historians regard as an accident, a soldier fired his gun, startling the rest of the soldiers into firing at the crowd. 52 people were killed.

King Louis Philippe subsequently abdicated and fled to the UK.

In Ireland, Young Irelander nationalists, encouraged by the almost bloodless revolution in France, believed that a similar uprising could force the repeal of British rule.

A small band of nationalists met in July and planned to declare an independent Irish republic. A brief battle, which saw the Young Irelanders fail in their attempt to capture a team of government police, effectively ended the revolt. The Irish nationalists were rounded up and arrested.

In Vienna, university students mounted a large street demonstration, demanding a constitution and a constituent assembly elected by universal male suffrage.

The Austrian government drafted a constitution a month later, but the people rejected it, as the majority were denied the right to vote, and they took to the streets to protest once again.

Emperor Ferdinand issued two manifestos to stop the disturbances, which gave concessions to the people.

These events gave heart to the Chartist leaders and made it clear, though not all were successful, that change was imminent. However, authorities viewed the Chartist movement with ever greater concern following the uprisings in Europe.

Following the announcement of the third petition a mass meeting on Kennington Common in South London was organised by the Chartist leaders, the most influential being Feargus O’Connor, editor of a weekly newspaper that promoted the Chartist cause.

O’Connor was known to have connections with several radical groups and authorities feared the meeting would devolve into violence. Military forces were on standby to deal with any unrest.

The government banned the proposed procession with the petition to the House of Commons. A compromise was reached and the petition was eventually conveyed to the House of Commons by cab, with O’Connor and other Chartist leaders walking alongside.

Within two days, the Chartists were informed that the number of genuine signatures was far fewer than the six million they had claimed. There were, in fact, only 1.9 million signatures, and the charter was rejected for the third time.

In the short term, Chartism failed in its aims, but it was a powerful assertion of the rights of working people.

By 1918, five of the Chartist’s six demands had been achieved. The only aim that was not implemented was that of holding parliamentary elections every year.