Researcher uncovers origins of rare hymn book

The national Chartist Hymn Book(Photos:Calderdale Libraries)

A University of Manchester professor has spent the last two years researching what he believes to be the only surviving copy of a Chartist hymn book.

Dr Mike Sanders discovered the National Chartist Hymn Book in Todmorden public library two years ago and set about investigating its origins.

He says the now obscure South Lancashire Delegate Meeting almost certainly compiled the tiny 165-year-old pamphlet.

His research uncovered appeals in the Chartist newspaper, Northern Star, for contributions to a new hymn book.

In January 1845, readers are invited to send their ideas to an address in Manchester, while a second item in February states that the production of a new hymn book has been approved by West Riding Chartists.

Helping confirm the origin of the find, another item was published in September saying the book, containing 16 hymns, was now available.

According to Dr Sanders, the hymn books were designed in an attempt to produce a standard hymn book for the movement, as a Chartist forerunner of 'Hymns Ancient and Modern'.

Dr Sanders has published an article on his findings in the Victorian Studies journal.

He notes that the tone of the Chartist hymn book is different from mainstream Christianity of the time.

"The Chartists were Christians, but radical Christians who fought for justice in this life not the next," he said.

"Hard times, they argued, were caused by man's selfishness rather than the Lord's judgment; quite a different message to that put out by mainstream Christianity.

"There was also an absence of warlike imagery prevalent in so much Victorian Christianity: the sentiments of Onward Christian Soldiers and Fight the Good Fight were just not there."

The strong social justice themes are reflected in hymns protesting against child labour and slavery. Rather than the crucifixion or Christ's glory, the focus of the hymns is a cry for liberty.

One hymn says:

The laws you must obey
Though made by cruel men
And all unrighteous taxes pay
Or fill the felon's den!

Another says:
Men of England, ye are slaves
Hark! the stormy tempest raves
'Tis the nation's voice I hear
Shouting, 'Liberty is near!'

"This fragile pamphlet is an amazing find and opens up a whole new understanding of Chartism - which as a movement in many ways shaped the Britain we know today," said Dr Sanders.

"As far as we know, this is the only copy that has survived.

"What is so fascinating is that hymn-singing was not the best known feature of Chartism so this attempt to produce an equivalent to Hymns Ancient and Modern is significant."

The hymn book is available to view online here