Monmouth and the Chartists

Monmouth and the Chartists

With David Harrison

Meeting of 12th April 2012

In a change to our programme, David gave us the tale of one of the most significant trials in British history, which was held at Monmouth Shire Hall.

Chartism was a national movement arising from the 1838 People’s Charter; the aims included getting the vote for all men over 21 and a secret vote so your boss could not see if you voted as he wanted. It took 80 years to achieve this, so perhaps the movement failed?! There was a lot of civil unrest – most Monmouth people were involved in industry (including children) and they wanted more control of their lives, including not being paid in the company tokens which could only be used at the company shop where everything cost more.

Dic Penderyn in Merthyr Tydfil; Chartist attacks on London police and a huge march to Newport (whose docks were larger than Cardiff at this stage) were part of the movement. 22 were killed in Newport and bullet holes can still be seen in Westgate Hotel’s pillars. As a result, Chartism was deemed a threat and two London judges with a Grand Jury of local gentry were summoned to Monmouth to decide whether to try Chartists for treason. Mr Rolls (grandfather of the famous Charles Rolls of Rolls Royce) had already decided – his notes included doodles of hanged men.

£22 was spent on candles during the January trials. The cause of the uprising was never examined in this Show Trial. Prisoners were held in the 1790s Monmouth Gaol (of which parts still remain) and heard the carpenters erecting gallows on the flat roof above. A mistrial meant no one was hung, disembowelled, quartered and beheaded. Three men were transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). They were smuggled out without a chance to say farewells. Two died there; but John Frost came home a hero after 15 years (the man who had been found crying in the woods after Newport)..

Shire Hall has recently had £5m spent on renovations. Visit the Court Room can and you can see the steps down to the holding cells, weapons, wigs and paperwork of the trial. David had produced a booklet and a Monmouth trail with map which the Group has purchased.

Member’s Section: Ann Butcher entertained us with the New Year Resolutions of a family history researcher – very funny and very true! CS