On 21 May 1838 an estimated 150,000 people assembled on Glasgow Green for a mass demonstration. There they witnessed the launch of the People’s Charter, a list of demands for political reform. The changes they called for included voting by secret ballot, equal-sized constituencies and, most importantly, that all men should have the vote.
The Chartists, as they came to be known, were the first national mass working-class movement. In the decade that followed, they collected six million signatures for their Petitions to Parliament: all were rejected, but their campaign had a significant and lasting impact.
Visiting Fellow in History at Newcastle University and Chair of the Society for the Study of Labour History
Professor of Modern British History at the University of East Anglia and President of the Royal Historical Society
Reader in Modern British History at Queen Mary, University of London.
The image above shows a Chartist mass meeting on Kennington Common in London in April 1848.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the pioneering Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601) whose charts offered an unprecedented level of accuracy.
In 1572 Brahe's observations of a new star challenged the idea, inherited from Aristotle, that the heavens were unchanging. He went on to create his own observatory complex on the Danish island of Hven, and there, working before the invention of the telescope, he developed innovative instruments and gathered a team of assistants, taking a highly systematic approach to observation. A second, smaller source of renown was his metal prosthetic nose, which he needed after a serious injury sustained in a duel.
The image above shows Brahe aged 40, from the Atlas Major by Johann Blaeu.
Emeritus Professor in Early Modern History at the Open University
Associate Professor of History at Swansea University
Affiliate Scholar in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge.
The Great Stink
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the stench from the River Thames in the hot summer of 1858 and how it appalled and terrified Londoners living and working beside it, including those in the new Houses of Parliament which were still under construction. There had been an outbreak of cholera a few years before in which tens of thousands had died, and a popular theory held that foul smells were linked to diseases. The source of the problem was that London's sewage, once carted off to fertilise fields had recently, thanks to the modern flushing systems, started to flow into the river and, thanks to the ebb and flow of the tides, was staying there and warming in the summer sun. The engineer Joseph Bazalgette was given the task to build huge new sewers to intercept the waste, a vast network, so changing the look of London and helping ensure there were no further cholera outbreaks from contaminated water.
The image above is from Punch, July 10th 1858 and it has this caption: The 'Silent Highway'-Man. "Your Money or your Life!"
Emeritus Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London
Author of ‘The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis’
Lecturer at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London
The Irish Rebellion of 1798
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the momentum behind rebellion in Ireland in 1798, the people behind the rebellion and the impact over the next few years and after. Amid wider unrest, the United Irishmen set the rebellion on its way, inspired by the French and American revolutionaries and their pursuit of liberty. When it broke out in May the United Irishmen had an estimated two hundred thousand members, Catholic and Protestant, and the prospect of a French invasion fleet to back them. Crucially for the prospects of success, some of those members were British spies who exposed the plans and the military were largely ready - though not in Wexford where the scale of rebellion was much greater. The fighting was initially fierce and brutal and marked with sectarianism but had largely been suppressed by the time the French arrived in August to declare a short-lived republic. The consequences of the rebellion were to be far reaching, not least in the passing of Acts of Union in 1800.
The image above is of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763 - 1798), prominent member of the United Irishmen
Foster Professor of Irish History at Hertford College, University of Oxford
Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of York
Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in History at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick
Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the speeches that became a byword for fierce attacks on political opponents. It was in the 4th century BC, in Athens, that Demosthenes delivered these speeches against the tyrant Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, when Philip appeared a growing threat to Athens and its allies and Demosthenes feared his fellow citizens were set on appeasement. In what became known as The Philippics, Demosthenes tried to persuade Athenians to act against Macedon before it was too late; eventually he succeeded in stirring them, even if the Macedonians later prevailed. For these speeches prompting resistance, Demosthenes became famous as one of the Athenian democracy’s greatest freedom fighters. Later, in Rome, Cicero's attacks on Mark Antony were styled on Demosthenes and these too became known as Philippics.
The image above is painted on the dome of the library of the National Assembly, Paris and is by Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863). It depicts Demosthenes haranguing the waves of the sea as a way of strengthening his voice for his speeches.
A. G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge
Reader in Latin Literature and Roman History at the University of Roehampton
Reader in Greek and Classical Studies at the University of St Andrews
Producer: Simon Tillotson