Digital scholarship blog

28 July 2015

Update on Political Meetings Mapper - BL Labs Competition Winner 2015

Posted by BL Labs on behalf of Katrina Navickas.
Katrina Navickas, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Hertfordshire, and one of the winners of the 2015 British Library Labs competition, describes the current progress of her project, ‘Political Meetings Mapper’.

Political Meetings Mapper is a project to build a database, website and interactive map of 19th century political meetings, using the Nineteenth Century Newspapers collection and the Maps collection. The meetings will be plotted on a geo-referenced historic map to show the spatial and temporal patterns of the movement.

You may have noticed the copies of a historic poster outside the entrance to the British Library, advertising a Chartist meeting. What was Chartism and why is it still relevant to us today?


Chartism was the first mass movement campaigning for the vote in the United Kingdom. They presented three major petitions to parliament calling for the ‘six points’, which included the vote for all men, ensuring we can vote anonymously without bribery, and annual parliaments, so that the people can remove corrupt governments quickly. The Chartists campaigned for the constitutional freedoms that we now hold (and perhaps take for granted) in Britain, and remind us that these rights were hard-fought for.

We’re focusing on extracting records of meetings advertised in the Northern Star newspaper from 1838 to 1844 for two reasons:

  1. it was the main Chartist newspaper with a national reach;
  2. it had a regular column each week titled ‘forthcoming Chartist meetings’, which is easy to identify.

The British Library Labs team is working on building in the capability to identify and automatically geo-code the places and parse the dates mentioned in the text.

Current progress

We have redone and checked the Optical Character Recognition for the newspaper columns for 1841 to 1843 – we still need volunteers for checking the OCR for the other years in the sample are so let us know if you’re interested in participating.

We have extracted about 4000 meetings and other events so far, and are on track to reach the 5000 mark soon!

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been focusing on Chartists in London. I’ve learned lots about the history of the capital (I’m a historian of the North of England by trade). I was astounded to find well over 50 different sites in London used regularly for Chartist and trade union meetings. I also expected that the venues would concentrate in the East End and docks, where many of the skilled workers who were most attracted to the Chartist movement lived and work. Yet having plotted the locations, I’ve found that the Chartists met all over London, including in the centre and in places near to the British Library.

Another surprise was that, regardless of all the urban change that has happened in the capital over the last two hundred years, many of the original pubs still exist, with the same names.

Follow the Chartists around London on 21 September 2015!

Join us for a mystery tour and reenactment of a Chartist meeting around some of the venues to bring the BL 19th century newspaper reports to life! ‘Follow the Chartists round London’ takes place on Monday 21 September, and is free and open to the public.

Participants will learn about the history of Chartism and the London venues, and participate in a re-enactment of a Chartist meeting in the actual pub where it took place nearly two hundred years ago. If you fancy dressing up in costume and pretending to be your democratic ancestor, do let us know. Volunteers welcome!


Monday 21 September 2015:

1230 - 1300
Foyle Suite, Centre of Conservation, British Library

1300 - 1400

1400 – 1530


Dr Katrina Navickas, University of Hertfordshire, ‘the Political Meetings Mapper and the history of Chartism’

Dr Matthew Sangster, University of Birmingham, ‘Romantic London’

British Library, ‘Digital collections at the British Library’

1530 - 1730
A 3km walking tour of Chartist sites in the Kings Cross/St Pancras/Somerstown/Camden area, with readings of reports from the Northern Star newspaper at each site. Sites may include:

  • Prince of Wales Feathers, 8 Warren Street, W1T 5LD
  • Archery Rooms*, 26 Bath Place
  • Tillman's Coffee House*, 59 Tottenham Court Road
  • Two Chairmen, 31-32 Dean Street, W1D 3SB
  • Three Crowns*, Richmond Street
  • Three Doves**, 24 Berwick Street, W1V 3RF
  • Red Lion Pub, 14 Kingly Street, W1B 5PR

*doesn't exist anymore
**now an art stationery shop 

1730 - 1830
The walking tour will end at a Pub where our group will get a drink. The room will be prepared for a renactment of a Chartist meeting that occurred in the pub, beginning at 1800. The meeting will end with the audience voting on various resolutions and some food.

Participants are welcome to continue their discussions into the evening.

Click here for more information about booking.


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