Chartism was a working class movement which demanded sweeping changes to the political system of Britain between 1839 and 1848. During this period Britain suffered from a trade depression. Printers at Both the Swaisland and Evans factories reluctantly had to agree to cuts in their wages to keep the firms going. Crayford block printers formed one of the main Kent branches of the Chartist movement with strong links to the movement in London. There were disputes at both the Swaisland and Evan’s factories which led to strikes in 1847 and 1852 and the imprisonment of 14 block printers.

A local attorney named John Paterson, who lived close to the Swaisland factory became a government spy, corresponding with the Duke of Wellington throughout 1848. 1848 was the year during which a large Chartist demonstration at Kennington was close to setting off a revolution. Many of the Crayford men were sympathetic to the Irish Confederates, who held secret meetings in London and were plotting to join with the Chartists to overthrow the Crown. Paterson’s letters were passed to Sir Richard Mayne, the Head of the Metropolitan Police.

Some examples of John Paterson’s correspondence with the Duke of Wellington and Sir Richard Mayne, head of the Metropolitan Police have been reproduced here along with transcriptions created by project volunteers of more of the correspondence between Paterson and the Duke. The letters describe the revolutionary atmosphere that almost led to a revolution in 1848. The original letters are held at The National Archives.

Bexley 19 August 1848

My dear Sir

I have nothing to consequence at present but expect that I shall have in the course of the day.
Whatever I have to communicate will be addressed to your private residence in Spring Gardens, you will therefore have noted that no delay may take place in forwarding the dispatches, wherever you may be – if any be sent to you.
I am afraid that T. Powell’s evidence will bring an odiousness upon the Govt. He is the same person to whom I alluded some time ago in a communication I made to the Duke of Wellington as the person who had such a quantity of spike heads intended to injure the cavalry Horses in his possession. There is no doubt he has been offering for sale cutlasses, guns, pistols and other implements of destruction and instigating the Chartists to all manners of mischief, In short my informer assures me that it as so – That he was one of the leaders of the 29th May. I remain

Yours Truly
J Paterson

Bexley Kent 5 August 1848
20 minutes to one p.m.

My Lord Duke

A letter is in Town from a policeman in Ireland addressed to his brother in London. There is no signature to it – and the writer states he withheld his signature for obvious reasons.

Some parts of the letter have been erased – as if purposely to conceal a part of the contents, evidently done by the party who received the letter – The letter is dated from Clonmel.

The writer assures his Brother that there will be in Ireland a dreadful struggle – That the Rebels mean to fight for it at the point of the Pike and no quarter will be shown on either side – That he never expects again to see his family. It moreover states that O’Brien is in the neighbourhood of Killyvally County Tipperary surrounded by 6000 armed men – That is supported by French Officers and Engineers – That the States are all flocking from all parts into Clonmel. My man has been informed that support will arrive from France and America.

Download the Paterson Letter Transcription

Transcription of Applegath's hand written notes