The Notebooks of Robert Pounder
Robert Pounder (1811-1857) was a self-educated Leeds artisan whose two notebooks record not only family information, but also the effect on his life of many of the great events of his time. In the 1830s he took part in the great marches to York and Bradford in support of Richard Oastler’s Ten Hour campaign, as we know from a letter in Oastler’s Fleet Papers. The notebooks record that about the same time he acted as secretary of the handle setters’ trade union, and he was subsequently a sympathetic observer of the Plug Riots. He demonstrated his Chartist loyalties by collecting the Northern Star’s engraved portraits of some of the leaders of the movement. In the early 1840s he renewed his support of Oastler, when ‘the Factory King’ was imprisoned for debt, helping to collect money for his hero’s release and riding to Brighouse station in the cold and dark to greet him on his return to Yorkshire. Like Oastler, Pounder abhorred the New Poor Law of 1834, loathing and fearing the workhouses (or ‘bastilles’) which were to be erected for the indigent; he himself was dependent on poor relief in the winter of 1842-43, when both he and his wife were ill; his wife died the following summer. At this period of sorrow and hardship he had support from his Methodist faith and from the church members. In his widowhood he wrote a great deal of verse, mainly relating closely to his circumstances, expressing his despair at human wickedness and his consciousness of sin and of the fragility of life, but also his joy in the beauties of nature and his love of his family.
All this is captured in two somewhat haphazardly written notebooks, which were recently donated to the Society by one of Pounder’s descendants, and which are here transcribed by Ann Alexander for the benefit of researchers and the general reader. What gives these writings such historical relevance is that they are the authentic voice of a working-class radical.
Ann Alexander has long had an interest in local history, and for many years has been an active member of the Thoresby Society; she has been one of the joint editors since 2001. When the Thoresby Library received the Pounder notebooks she found the temptation to transcribe them irresistible.
ISBN 978 0 900741 75 3