Vic Keegan’s Lost London 178: Cartwright, ‘Father of Reform’

Vic Keegan’s Lost London 178: Cartwright, ‘Father of Reform’

The statue in the photo does not commemorate Edmund Cartwright, inventor of the power loom. Edmund is remembered by the Cartwright Memorial Hall, a civic art gallery in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Nor does it commemorate his brother George, the explorer of Newfoundland and Labrador. George is remembered over there by the Cartwright settlement at the entrance to Sandwich Bay.

No, this statue, and Cartwright Gardens in Bloomsbury where it resides, commemorate a third remarkable Cartwright brother – John Cartwright (1740 – 1824), who is rightly known as “The Father of Reform” for his pioneering political initiatives.

John Cartwright was a naval officer and army major – not a normal background for radicals – and one of the very first people to call for universal suffrage (though in those days “universal” only meant men). He also campaigned for votes by ballot and for equal representation from constituencies to replace the absurd situation whereby Manchester had no MPs while “rotten boroughs” such as Old Sarum had several despite having few, if any, inhabitants.

As the monument on his gravestone in Finchley (reproduced in the gardens) reminds us, he was also the first English writer who openly supported the independence of the United States of America. He refused to fight in the war of independence against the rebels, whom he felt had right in their side.

In 1819, Cartwright was invited to speak at a reformist meeting in Manchester along with Henry “Orator”  Hunt, but the elderly Cartwright could not attend what became known as the Peterloo Massacre. Later that year he was arrested for urging parliamentary reform at a meeting in Birmingham, indicted for conspiracy and fined £100.

Cartwright sent a copy of his book The English Constitution to Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Father and third President of the United States, who replied in 1824, saying he was very keen to meet him. “Your age of eighty-four, and mine of eighty-one years, ensure us of a speedy meeting. We may then commune at leisure, and more fully, on the good and evil, which in the course of our long lives, we have both witnessed; and in the meantime, I pray you to accept assurances of my high veneration and esteem for your person and character.” Sadly, Cartwright died shortly after receiving Jefferson’s letter.

John Cartwright now has a handsome memorial in Cartwright Gardens, and it should be seen in the context of what his two remarkable brothers also achieved. For three siblings to be memorialised in such contrasting ways is deserving of a separate memorial in its own right.

IMPORTANT NEWS. Vic Keegan has gathered many of his Lost London pieces into a very handsome hardback book called…Vic Keegan’s Lost London. You are urged to purchase it immediately. provides in-depth coverage of the UK capital’s politics, development and culture. It depends greatly on donations from readers. Give £5 a month or £50 a year and you will receive the On London Extra Thursday email, which rounds up London news, views and information from a wide range of sources, plus special offers and free access to events. Click here to donate directly or contact for bank account details.

Categories: Culture, Lost London

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