In its early stages, the Chartist movement consisted entirely of local groups with no central co-ordination. Following the failure of the first Charter petition and a series of arrests up and down the country, many of these groups had become disorganised.
A conference called for Monday 20 July 1840 at the Griffin Tavern, Great Ancoats-street, Manchester aimed to put Chartism on more solid organisational ground. After several days, delegates voted to merge all local bodies into a single National Charter Association of Great Britain.
Robert Gammage in his near-contemporary History of the Chartist Movement, 1837-1854 writes:
“The basis of the Association was of course the People’s Charter; and it was agreed that none but peaceful and constitutional means should be employed for gaining that object. All persons might be admitted as members on declaring that they agreed with the principles of the Association, and taking out a card of membership, to be renewed quarterly, for which they should be charged two pence.”
There were to be local branches, and an annually elected general council and an executive. The general secretary was to be paid £2 a week, and members of the executive were to receive 30 shillings a week while they were sitting.
One half of the money collected by local branches was to be at the disposal of the executive, and plans were formulated to stand Chartist candidates at the next general election.
The great historian of Chartism Dorothy Thompson, in her book The Early Chartists (Macmillan 1971), points out that the National Charter Association “appears to have been successful in establishing a legal framework for the first nationally organised party of the working class to exist in the world”.
The National Charter Association was to be the main vehicle for Chartism until it was finally formally wound up in 1860.
The following names are those of the delegates to that first Manchester conference (source: History of the Chartist Movement, 1837-1854, by R.G.Gammage ).
John Arran and Joseph Hatfield, West Riding of Yorkshire.
James Leach and James Taylor, South Lancashire.
J.Deegan, Staleybridge and Liverpool.
David John, Merthyr Tydvil and Monmouth.
George Halton, Preston.
Samuel Lees, Stockport.
Richard Littler, Salford.
Mr Andrew, Glossop.
Mr Lowe, Bolton.
Samuel Royse, Hyde.
William Morgan, Bristol, Bath and Cheltenham.
James Cooke, Leigh.
George Black, Nottingham.
James Williams, Sunderland.
Thomas Rayner Smart, Leicester and Northampton.
James Taylor, Loughborough.
Richard Spurr, London.
Richard Hartley, Colne.