The Chartist Movement in Britain in the 1830s and 40s was on the surface a working class agitation for political reform. Three widely-signed petitions were presented to parliament in 1839, 1842 and 1848 calling for universal male suffrage, the ballot, the payment of members of parliament, the removal of the property qualification necessary for their election, equal electoral districts and annual parliaments.

It was also a movement that for a brief period brought together most working class organisations, in reaction to disappointment with the limited political changes brought by the Reform Act of 1832, and to economic depression. The movement lost impetus in the mid-1840s and in 1845 one of its principal leaders, the Irishman Feargus O’Connor (1794-1855), launched the National Land Company, which aimed to collect subscriptions from members, and use the proceeds to buy estates where three-bedroom bungalows of O’Connor’s own design were built, on holdings of up to 0.8 – 1.2 ha., together with imposing school buildings. The plots were intended to enable urban workers to return to living on the land, and were distributed by ballot. The scheme proved astonishingly popular, suggesting that the wish to return to a (possibly idealised) rural way of life was widespread amongst the urbanised working class. The first estate, at Heronsgate, near London, was settled in 1846, and others followed near Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire, and at Lowbands and Snigs End, both in Gloucestershire.

The fifth and last, in the parish of Dodford with Grafton in Worcestershire, was purchased in 1848 and settled in the following year. The Land Company was wound up in 1851, when the cottages were sold to private owners. One of them, ‘Rosedene’, has been restored and is now managed by the National Trust, which organises booked guided visits. As at some of the other Chartist settlements, the soil at Dodford was unsuitable for raising food for families, but in the late nineteenth century many of the occupants turned to growing strawberries, plums and pears for sale in Birmingham. The stable at Rosedene was built at this period to accommodate a horse or pony used for taking fruit to market, and the surrounding orchard is still filled with fruit trees.

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