Picture of Robert Gammage

Robert Gammage

places mentioned

On tramp in 1840, from London to the south coast

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As already related, I met with a cordial reception from my friends in London. I found a little work, but not much. I stayed six weeks at my aunt's, my mother's Sister. My aunt, like my mother, was one of the most generous of women. She had rather a sharp temper, but angry words were no sooner spoken than the atmosphere around her cleared, and it would be seen that she regretted her hastiness. She never said so, but she showed it by her extra kindness, which was better than all the words in any vocabulary.

Two of my cousins and my next brother had only arrived about a month previous from Northampton. There were two female cousins in the house— one the daughter of my aunt, a tall, handsome girl of 16, who even at that age had attained her full stature, looked almost womanly, and talked with really good sense—more so than thousands of women whom I have met with in the course of my life. My other cousin, Susan Manning, from Northampton, was a clever but unpretentious girl. Both were fond of poetry, which they always read with much pleasure. The latter even took delight in 'Paradise Lost'. Both of them sometimes put pen to paper, and I have seen many worse compositions than theirs even in respectable journals.

My forte was politics, and I discussed by the hour all the points of the Charter, especially against my female cousins, who, although not Tories, were very mild Whigs, and wondered at my rashness in having adopted such extreme principles.

I met with very few public men in London. Henry Hetherington was the first, at whose shop I called on the morning after my arrival to purchase one of the Radical papers of the day, and with whom I held a little conversation on the sad events that had transpired in connection with our movement. There was a public meeting in a room at Clerkenwell, and amongst several speakers who were there, the leading one was Mr. McConnell, a very fluent, commanding orator, who had been accustomed to lecture on various subjects in several rooms in London, and who had over his hearers a considerable influence. The meeting was called to promote the recall and pardon of Frost, Williams, and Jones. The speaking was good, and the meeting was unanimous. I attended another meeting for the same object, in a large hall in Southampton Buildings, which was well filled. It was presided over by Thomas Wakley, the popular member for Finsbury, and the colleague of the equally popular Thomas Slingsby Duncombe. Wakley's tall, commanding figure, pleasant face, and graceful address, were well calculated to impress an audience. The learned Dr. Bowring, who afterwards gained an unenviable notoriety by ordering the bombardment of Canton, was another of the speakers, and so was James Watson, the Radical bookseller, whose honest tones were well calculated to carry conviction to the minds of his hearers. The meeting passed off very successfully; but I need hardly say that its object was not gained until many years after.

Among my cousins there was William Clark, whom I had but a short time before converted to Chartism, during a visit that he paid to Northampton. He after that kept the Charter Coffee House in Edgeware [sic] Road, and presided at the meeting held to welcome the Northern Star , when it was removed from Leeds to London.

Another cousin who somewhat leant to my side was George Faulkner, who, however, based his politics on the writings in the Weekly Despatch , a paper which, though high in price, enjoyed a circulation at one time amounting to 56,000 copies weekly. This journal often indulged in strong language, especially on royalty and Church matters; but it made a dead set against the Chartist movement. It was much patronised by the publicans, and derived a large share of its support from that source. It went for household suffrage in boroughs; it had an aversion to the Charter; and for universal suffrage it had little short of abhorrence, and ridiculed it in every way. All its articles displayed great talent, as did the letters of its paid contributors. However much I differed from it, it had an attraction for me, and I read it whenever it came in my way. My cousin Faulkner, many years after that, became a Chartist and a member of O'Connor's Land Society, which, as almost everybody knows, turned out a lamentable failure.

I went from London to the little town of Seven Oaks, twenty-four miles, and walked part of the part with a man I didn't like. I never did likes sneering man, and he had too much of that for me. I might misjudge him, but I was not sorry when we came to the town and said to each other 'Good night'. From Seven Oaks I journeyed to Maidstone, where I knew a friend from Northampton, and after dinner went on to Tonbridge, where I stayed for the night. The next day I made my way to the modest little town of Lewes, and here I met with one of the most curious of all the men I have encountered. He called himself Jerry Haggerty. The name implies that he was a son of the Emerald Isle, and he was one to the backbone. But Jerry could quote Shakspeare [sic] , and quote him well. He could also quote Byron, who, he thought, was a great poet. He was a great poet,' said Jerry, 'and he died a good Catholic, and that was as much as could be expected of a man of deistical opinions.' I at that time knew but little of Byron, but I could not help thinking that, if Jerry's version of the matter were correct, it was not only as much as, but rather more than, could be expected of him; but in the absence of any reliable knowledge of Byron, I thought it no more than discreet to be silent. But we shall see a little more of Jerry as we go on.

I next went to Brighton, eight miles. That was a town I had read much of in the Chartist papers, for, like some other fashionable places, it had figured largely in the movement. I need not say that my first gaze upon the open sea highly delighted me, and I could not resist the temptation to take a walk several times backwards and forwards on the famous and beautiful chain pier. I went in the evening to spend an hour or two at the house of Mr. Reeve, licensed victualler, where I met a large roomful of devoted Chartists. Democratic songs and speeches were the order of the evening, and I felt much more delighted than among my Tory friends at Newport Pagnell.

I had a half sister living, as I thought, at Balcombe, 20 miles from Brighton. I resolved on going to see her. I took a little food in my pocket. But when I got to my destination, I found the bird had flown, for she had removed with her husband, a contractor on the railway then being formed, to a distance of thirteen miles. There was nothing to be done but to walk back the distance I had come.

I went to Cuckfield, a distance of six miles. There I thought I should get a dinner, but it was not easy to get. I tried three public houses, but in vain. There was plenty of cool insult, but that was all. I could have got abundance of drink; but I knew that without something to eat I should fare badly on my way back to Brighton. On arriving at a fourth house, the landlady came to the door, her face beaming with smiles. I thought in a moment 'here there is a hope of dinner'. On my asking, the landlady replied, 'I have nothing in the house, sir, but bread and cheese. My husband is away to-day, and I did not think it worth while to get a dinner.' 'Well,' said I, If you have nothing else, I will take that; it is better than nothing.' I walked in. 'Stay,' said the landlady, 'it is Sunday, but I will try to get a steak from my butcher.' In a short time the steak was brought, and no delicacy on earth could have been more enjoyable or more enjoyed, flanked as it was by a pint of home-brewed. My good hostess would charge nothing but for the beer. She did something to redeem Cuckfield in my estimation, and I have never forgotten her thoughtful kindness. This brings to my mind an extract I once read from a book by the celebrated American blacksmith, Elihu Burritt. In that book he relates his experience of Cuckfield, and it seemed to me as if I were reading my own personal experience, his treatment being so similar to that which, before my last call, I had received.

When I got about halfway to Brighton, I turned round and looked towards London. I thought of the loving friends I had left, and I am not ashamed to say that a tear started from my eye; but I went on and arrived opposite a church just as the clock was striking nine. It was half-past ten when I passed the same clock in the morning, so that I accomplished the journey, including half an hour for dinner, in ten and a half hours. I need hardly say that I was now footsore. The next day was still more trying, for I had to walk a distance of 33 miles to the old city of Chichester. My friend Haggerty had arrived not long before me, for he had divided the journey from Brighton to Chichester into two. When he saw me walk in, and learnt the distance I had walked in the two days, he looked amazed. 'Aye man,' said he, 'you are indeed a splendid walker.' And I think Jerry was not far wrong.

I went on the following day to Fareham, and then to Southampton. We had to cross the river in a rowing boat. It was rough, but the roughness seemed rather to soothe me. I applied for work, but there was none. Mr. Andrews, afterwards Mayor, who received and entertained Kossuth on his landing in England, told me that a friend of his at Portsmouth wanted a trimmer. Off I went, but to no purpose. I was respectfully treated, but the gentleman told me that I was too young and inexperienced for the kind of work he had in hand, and doubtless he was right. On the following day I walked back to Southampton. The landlady of the club house asked what I paid for my bed. On my telling her, she, said, 'You can't stay here for that. Where are you going to next?' 'To Salisbury.' 'Well, you'd better get on to there tonight.' I quite agreed with her, and wisely; for I think a much longer sight of that hard-featured and hard-hearted woman would have given me a worse nightmare than any I ever had.

For many miles before reaching Salisbury I had the tall spire of the cathedral, 410 feet high, within view. When I first saw it I thought I must be near the city, and that the milestones had deceived me. I had deceived myself, as many greater men have done.

On the following day, I walked to Devizes over the celebrated Salisbury Plain, a dreary walk at the best, from the almost utter absence of trees and hedges; but, fortunately, the weather had put on its best behaviour. The only two persons I encountered in going over the Plain were men who were sitting down in a lonely public house, where I stopped to get a little refreshment. I soon perceived that they were politicians, and that one of them belonged to the 'gentle craft'. They discussed various questions, and with much more intelligence than might have been expected in that lonely spot. Their opinions on all subjects were so near to my own that, having nothing to contradict I remained silent, listening attentively to the conversation.

Here let me break the narrative. I shall continue the account of the journey in another paper.

Robert Gammage, 'Recollections of a Chartist', in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle , Saturday, May 24 1884

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