William Lovett was born in Penzance in 1800. His father had been the captain of a small fishing vessel who was drowned before William was born. He started work at thirteen as an apprentice rope maker but eventually abandoned this in favour of carpentry. He continued this trade after he moved to London at the age of twenty-one.
Before long, Lovett was attending evening classes at the Mechanics’ Institute in London, where he made contacts who introduced him to the socialist ideas of Robert Owen. He eventually abandoned the strict Methodist beliefs of his mother and became politically motivated, joining Owen’s Grand National Consolidated Trades Union.
In 1836, Lovett together with Henry Hetherington, John Cleave and James Watson formed the London Working Men’s Association. The following year, at a convention of supporters of Parliamentary reform, Lovett was chosen as the leader of the group known as the Chartists. The name was derived from the charter of demands they submitted to Parliament.
Lovett spent 12 months in Warwick Gaol following a speech he made in 1839. A few years later, he retired from active politics to devote his life to education of the working class, forming the National Association for Promoting the Political and Social Improvement of the People. He continued to run a bookshop, write school textbooks and teach evening classes until he died, in extreme poverty, in 1877.