Image of Major John Cartwright's memorial in St Mary's Church in Finchley

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The limestone obelisk and carvings on Major John Cartwright's tomb has been restored thanks to funding from Historic England © Historic England/Chris Redgrave

"Father of Reform" Memorial in Finchley Churchyard Saved

Memorial to Major John Cartwright in a Finchley churchyard has been restored thanks to funding from Historic England and donations from the local community.

A limestone obelisk that was built in 1835 in memory of Major John Cartwright – a key figure in the history of English radicalism - has been saved after it fell into a state of disrepair.

Major John Cartwright (1740-1824) was a political reformer and radical spokesman of national importance.

Known as the ‘Father of Reform’, he championed universal suffrage - the right to vote of all adult male citizens, regardless of property ownership, wealth, income, race, or ethnicity - and the introduction of secret ballots.

Image of Major John Cartwright's memorial in St Mary's Church in Finchley
The limestone obelisk and carvings on Major John Cartwright's tomb has been restored thanks to funding from Historic England © Historic England/Chris Redgrave

Memorial at risk

The Grade II listed obelisk sits in the grounds of St Mary’s Church in Finchley. Historic England gave a £79,000 grant towards its repair, with top up funds from the local community through a crowd-funding campaign and other grants.

The memorial will be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register later this year, twenty-two years after it was first deemed ‘at risk’.

A service will be held at St Mary’s Church in Finchley on Wednesday 17th July at 11.40am to celebrate the restoration. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

Drawing of Major John Cartwright, known as the "Father of Reform" for his radical political ideas.
Major John Cartwright was known as the "Father of Reform" for his radical political ideas. Cartwright (1740-1824) was a political reformer and radical spokesman. © Public Domain

Father of Reform

Cartwright’s ideas contributed to a century of social and political change. It was not only his thinking that was important, the way he conducted himself made him a model of good political debate.

He was noted for his generosity to all people and his lack of self-interest.

John Cartwright joined the Royal Navy around 1758. In ill health, he retired from the Navy shortly before the revolt (1775) of the North American colonies.

He was one of England’s earliest supporters of the colonists and their cause, and at the outbreak of the ensuing American War of Independence, refused an appointment as first lieutenant. He nobly refused to draw his sword against the rising liberties of an oppressed and struggling people.

His qualities of character were even praised by Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States of America.

Image showing detail of the carving on Major John Cartwright's memorial in the churchyard of St Mary's in Finchley
Detail of the carving on Major John Cartwright's memorial in the churchyard of St Mary's in Finchley. Cartwright was a political reformer and radical spokesman. Known as the ‘Father of Reform’, he championed universal suffrage - the right to vote of all adult male citizens, regardless of property ownership, wealth, income, race, or ethnicity. © Historic England/Chris Redgrave

Upon reading Cartwright’s book, The English Constitution, which outlined his ideas including government by the people and legal equality which he considered could only be achieved by universal male suffrage, the secret ballot and equal electoral districts, Jefferson wrote to him in 1824 to salute his last work and express his eagerness 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.”

A move to Hampstead did not restore his poor health and Major Cartwright died soon after receiving Jefferson’s letter.

He was buried at St Mary-at-Finchley on 30th September 1824, a week after his death on 23rd September, just before his eighty-fourth birthday.

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