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ePortfolio of Dave Steele

Dr Dave Steele Thesis: The Reputational Power of English Reform Crowds 1816 – 1848


Great Chartist Gathering, Kennington Common, April 10 1848, Daguerrotype by William Kilburn (Digitally coloured)

My research indicates that, from evidence that exists for confined areas such as Peterloo in 1819 and Kennington in 1848, reform crowds were significantly smaller than previously thought yet are still perceived to have been massive by some historians.

But, despite crowds being numerically small, reform campaigners were clearly successful in projecting an outward appearance of power. Consequently the state was regularly provoked into a disproportionate show of force and punitive legislation.

Impressions of crowds were often distorted through the lens of or newspapers and satirical prints. Gatherings were generally perceived to be massive by all protagonists. Why? I postulate that it suited the agenda of state and reformers alike to acknowledge crowds as massive as it was generally believed that magnitude signified power. Conceding smaller attendance could have been seen as weakening the potency of the reformers’ case for widening the franchise and, equally, undermining the state’s argument for punitive legislation and stern martial suppression.

Secondary research topics:

  1. When/how/why did the phenomenon of the pressure group/ demonstration start?
    It could be argued that the Mass platform was a technique borrowed from the election hustings to give the disenfranchised a voice in the political process.
  2. The dialectics of power
    The unlikely emergence of working-class leaders such as Bamford, and Cuffay as well as some total eccentrics such as Reynolds often threw a ‘wild-card’ into the narrative.
    The ensuing dialogue between this freshly empowered parvenu leadership and the eloquent and articulate middle class ‘old-guard’ fluctuated between good-natured co-operation and absolute schism.
  1. Power struggles
    Power struggles were arising between the state and reformers, between voices of restraint vs escalation within the movement; within the government / magistracy/ military and police. There was also an ongoing debate within the machinery of state surrounding about the relative use of soft versus hard power.
  2. Proxy Power
    The delegation of power via other (local/regional) agencies of control such as magistrates, the military and (later) the newly formed police forces allowed the state to place a semblance of distance between their policies and their outcomes, effectively disassociating them from accountability. This ‘outsourcing’ of suppression could be seen as the projection of proxy power.
Conference Papers

2021 July 2023 Organise! Organise! Organise! Collective Action, Associational Culture and the Politics of Organisation in the British Isles, c.1790-1914, University of Durham. 
The Body of the Crowd - Belly, Bladder, Audibility and Endurance.

22 June 2023 Panel member on Bristol workshop: ‘Intergroup dynamics within the 1831 reform riots: towards a new social psycho-history’.

8 June 2023 Sociability in Politics, Food and Travel in the Early Modern Era, University of Warwick.
The Body of the Crowd - Belly, Bladder, Audibility and Endurance.

17 May 2023 Warwick History Postgraduate Conference.
The Reputational Power of the Crowd.

20 Apr. 2023 Politics Before Democracy - Britain and its world, c.1750-1914, UEA.
The Reputational Power of the Crowd.

6 Nov. 2021 Newport Chartist Convention.
The Great Chartist Meeting of April 1848 Triumph or Failure? opens in a new window

18 July 2020 Tolpuddle Radical History School.
The Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common 

18 June 2020 A Warwick PG Podcast.
Power and Protest in the Long Nineteenth Century.

21 May 2020 Graduate Centre for Europe 14th Annual Conference, Birmingham
Voices of Change: Presents, Pasts and Futures of Activism and Protest in Europe
From Belly to Planet

2 Aug. 2019 International Conference on Romanticism, Manchester.
Projecting Power: Examining the Mismatch between the Perception and Reality of the Mass Platform.

19 July 2019 Tolpuddle Radical History School.
Crowds and Power.

10 Nov. 2018 The Politics of Sedition Conference, Warwick.
Unpacking the Emotions of the Crowd: Using graphic imagery to scrutinize the agency of the individual in the long 19th century crowd.

1 June 2018 Warwick History Postgraduate Conference.
Salt-Pork and Daguerreotypes: Unpacking archival evidence of the 1848 subjugation of Chartists.

17 June 2017 Chartism Day, Rickmansworth
Biscuits, Spirits and Salt-Pork: Military Provisioning for the Kennington Chartist Meeting, 1848.

9 June 2017 Radicalism and Popular Protest in Britain, 1790-1820, Derby.
Incitement vs Restraint in Early Nineteenth-Century Protest Crowds.


Robert Poole, Peterloo: the English Uprising (OUP, 2019)

Fabrice Bensimon, ‘Londres, 10 Avril 1848 – Les Chartistes Dans L’oeil Du Daguerréotypiste, Parlement[s], Revue d'histoire politique, 33 (2021), pp. 85-6.


June 2018 - Finalist Warwick SkillsForge 3 Minute Thesis - <Play Audio>vol.jpg

May 19 2018 - Public lecture for Kennington Chartist Project at St Marks Church, Kennington <Play Audio> vol.jpg
 Salt-Pork & Daguerreotypes – Unpacking archival evidence of the 1848 subjugation of Chartists.

March 2019 Article in: The Conversation 'People's Vote march: when it comes to crowds, history shows it's not all about size' Link opens in a new windowPeople's Vote march: when it comes to crowds, history shows it's not all about size'Link opens in a new window  

March 2019 Asked to provide Expert Comment on People’s Vote March for Warwick Newsroom:
twitter expert


June 2018 - Faculty Winner of SkillsForge Research Poster CompetitionLink opens in a new window


May 2018 - Awarded additional Royal Historical Society Funding to run conference: Politics of Sedition

February 2018 - Awarded joint Humanities Research Centre Doctoral Fellowship to run conference: Politics of Sedition


PhD History, University of Warwick, 2016-2023

MA History, University of Warwick, 2010-2012

BA History, University of Warwick, 2004-2009

Unpublished work:

PhD Thesis
The Reputational Power of English Reform Crowds 1816 – 1848
Download:Dave Steele Thesis

MA Dissertation - Public History:
A foot in both camps
- Defining the role of the professional historian in the media age.
Download: opens in a new window

MA Quantitative Research Essay:
An examination of the crowd size at the Peterloo Massacre


MA Hanoverian Politics Essay:
To what extent does continuity rather than change
define popular protest 1810-1840?
Download: opens in a new window


Dave Steele

Dr Dave Steele dr_davesteele at icloud dot com

Honorary Research Fellow - Dept of History, University of Warwick
Associate Fellow - Royal Historical Society (RHS)
@dr_davesteele. +44 7706 674405

Published chapters in these books:

Resist Cover Kennington 1848 - Another Look

Order from Amazon Link opens in a new window Download a copy

Supervisor: Dr Sarah Richardson

History Extra Article on my research into the Peterloo Crowd SizeLink opens in a new window