Josiah Heapy, Burslem 1842

Josiah Heapy, Burslem 1842 


There is a plaque in Burslem that recalls the fateful day in August 1842 when local man Josiah Heapy was killed by troops when he participated in a nationwide strike that linked together demands for democratic reform with better wages. 

Heapy, of Leek, was among hundreds who gathered close to Swanbank Methodist Church, Burslem on 16 August 1842 for a Chartist Movement meeting. Similar events were taking place nationally. To find out more download for free the book, The General Strike of 1842, which is now out of print,  that was written by Mick Jenkins in 1980.

 According to Jenkins the strike “lasted twice the length of the 1926 General Strike, and was the most massive industrial action to take place in Britain – and probably anywhere — in the nineteenth century.” 

It was because the strikers took up the political demands espoused by Chartism that there was confrontation not just with employers but with the state. 

Government troops were instructed to open fire on the crowd at Burslem. Healy was shot dead. Similar scenes took place at the time in Blackburn


Preston and Halifax, were 6 people were killed.

Many demonstrators were injured at Burslem and afterwards the authorities cracked down hard on local Chartists with 146 arrested and 54 transported to Australia. 

The national strike was eventually to be lost due to the strength of the ruling class (*) but those who turned-out were not intimidated. Many marched back with their heads held high and had learnt a great deal that prepared the ground for the establishment of trade unions over the following decades. The action had advanced class aims and this is why the orthodox historian has sought to concentrate on one small aspect of it — the pulling of plugs out of boilers.

Josiah Heapy plaque is unviled in Burslem on WMD 2018

The idea for plaque, which was provided by the City of Stoke on Trent Council, originated from members of the North Staffordshire Trades Union Council and was the result of lobbying by Jason Hill, who said at the unveiling: “This is important because we have to remember many of the freedoms we have today — the right to vote, right to strike, right to organise a trade union — didn’t exist 175 years ago.

“People fought hard to try to win those freedoms and in some cases made the ultimate sacrifice, like Josiah Heapy.”

The BBC report from the unveiling event on Workers Memorial Day contained a quote from Chrissie Gibson, a distant relative of Josiah Heapy.

“I have been interested in Chartism and in social history so to see his name here, with everybody respecting what he did, it’s so great to be part of it,” she said.

  • Recognising the need to be seen to make some concessions the ruling class did introduce some new laws that for the first time ever sought to restrict the power of capital. The 1844 Factory Act restricted working hours and the 1847 Factory Act further restricted the employer’s ability to utilise his capital as he saw fit BUT there was no concession on universal suffrage. 

For more on Mick Jenkins book see:-

Many thanks to engineer Andy Platt, a Unite member of the Stoke on Trent local branch 6110, for sending in the information on the plaque.  

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