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11th NEWPORT CONVENTION Returns to St. Woolos Cathedral


Les James reports:


On Saturday 4 November 2017, the Annual Chartist Convention is meeting a second time at the Newport Cathedral. The pews were still in place when the 2015 Convention met there, but now removed, the Cathedral is progressing with its capacity to host a diverse range of civic, community and educational events. We look forward to a comfortable and relaxing day. Last year’s hosts are not being forgotten, it is intended to hold the 2018 Convention at the John Frost School. It is vital that the young people of Newport are given opportunities to explore the Chartist story. Students can attend the Convention FREE, but must book via eventbrite. John Frost School will be participating with several Newport primary schools in the Schools Chartist March down Stow Hill at 1.30 pm Wednesday 25th October - earlier than usual because half-term coincides with Chartist week this year. Turn out if you can to give them support.

This year our Saturday event – the Convention - falls on 4th November, the date of the battle at the Westgate inn. And for the first time, the Convention and Churchyard Ceremony take place at the Cathedral on the same day. The Doors open at 12 noon which allows time for people from further afield to join us
for lunch, before the Convention proceedings begin at 1.30pm. The lectures over, soon after 5pm, people can assemble outside the Cathedral in the old parish churchyard for the twilight Ceremony at 6.00 pm. This takes place at the memorial stone erected 1988 in honour of the twenty or more Chartists, who died for their, and our, ‘Rights’ at Newport. People have been doing this for over thirty years, reviving what local people did in the early 1840s. At that time, they knew where ten Chartists lay in three unmarked graves on the north side of St. Woolos Church.

By 6.30 pm, the commemoration is over and for a number of years many people have been joining the SILENT MARCH down Stow Hill. At Westgate Square, there follows twenty minutes of cacophony – drums, cans, whistles etcetera – twenty minutes was the length of the Westgate Inn battle.


There follows an evening of music with The Chartists band playing at the nearby Stow Hill pub, the Pen and Wig. (ticketed event, doors open 7.30 pm)


Book tickets for the Convention and/or Music Night  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk


What’s on at the CONVENTION?

At every Convention, the battle at the Westgate Inn is uppermost in our minds. Establishing the historical ‘facts’ that led to the battle is important - what happened and why, imagining the people of 1839, their aspirations and intentions, and pondering the consequences, as well as our own contemporary meanings. We recognise the Chartists as pioneers of our democracy. The cry for ‘cyfiawnder!’ – ‘Justice’ - electrified the populace of south Wales in 1839.

Our first Convention in 2007 was held at the ‘Stute’ on Stow Hill, next door to the Westgate hotel building, the battle site in 1839. Amongst the numerous descendants of Chartists present was Rita Catton and her sister, Val, who spoke that day about their ancestor John Lovell, who was one of five local Chartists sentenced to death along with Frost, Williams and Jones. Their sentences were immediately commuted and they faced five years hard labour at Millbank gaol in London. Due to the suffering they endured, they were called the ‘Chartist Scarecrows’ by the Northern Star newspaper and at this year’s Convention Ray Stroud will reveal recently discovered Home Office papers that for the first time enable us to know what happened to these working men after the trials at Monmouth – a gardener, a milkman, a ship’s carpenter from Newport and two miners from Tredegar.. Unfortunately Rita and Val cannot be with us this year – They send their best wishes for a successful day. Sadly Robert Catton, Rita’s husband, a strong supporter of the Convention, died three years ago on the 4th November. They will understandably be spending time with their family elsewhere. We hope they will visit Newport later in the year.


In our deliberations concerning the 1839 Rising, the Convention has always taken account of precedents and aftermaths and we are always looking for new directions. It is fitting that as the Convention now enters its second decade that this year’s agenda breaks into new geographical ground – we will be following a historical trajectory that starts with the Bristol ‘Riots’ of 1831 and climaxes with the Rebecca’ ‘Riots’ of 1839 and 1842-44.


The Keynote Speaker, Rhian E. Jones, author of Petticoat Heroes: Rethinking the Rebecca Riots (UWP 2015) sees “Rebeccaism” as an attempt to uphold and defend a traditional social and economic system that was under threat from an encroaching “market economy” driven by industrial capitalism. Rhian Jones argues that Rebecca was more than a toll gate smashing activity, she describes a movement that “encompassed opposition to the New Poor Law and its workhouses; resistance to the enclosure and privatization of local land and rivers; conflicts with landlords, bailiffs and local gentry; and dissatisfaction with a remote and neglectful political establishment.“ They were not wanton rioters, they were engaged in a struggle for what the historian E. P. Thompson described as a “moral economy”. She believes Rebeccaism should be compared to other earlier and contemporary protests in Wales and beyond – including Chartism, along with Luddism, the Swing Riots, and, elsewhere in Wales, the Scotch Cattle”.


Precision strikes by the riotous mob of 1831 (W. J. Muller: Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery)


Her analysis dovetails with the contribution of Roger Ball (Bristol Radical History Group) who convincingly argues that the so called ‘riots’ that occurred in Bristol over the weekend 29-31 Oct 1831 was not mindless vandalism as depicted in contemporary media and subsequently recapitulated by historians. Roger Ball views these disturbances, not as the acts of a drunken, debauched mob with no rhyme or reason, but as precisions strikes, carefully choreographed and aimed at selected targets. There is considerable written evidence describing the ‘horrific’ events from the point of view of the local media and ruling classes but apart from the dubious legitimacy of court case records (where four supposed ‘rioters’ were hanged and 88 transported or imprisoned), there are no accounts from the rioters.


The targets chosen were the massive New Gaol, the Bishop’s Palace, the Mansion House and the elegant realm of the wealthy Queen’s Square (the origin of the riot). The working class districts south of the river were untouched as were the poorer neighbourhoods, local to the fires. The final toll of devastation included three more prisons (with all the prisoners liberated) and the Custom House, with the Cathedral coming within a whisker of destruction. All the signs indicate astute organisation – the ‘mob’ traversed the city, picking targets and dispatching them with precision.


Roger Ball’s article “1831 and all that” can be found at http://www.brh.org.uk/site/articles/1831-and-all-that/


Les James’ article “The Bristol Riots 1831 and the ‘Picketing of the Bristol Packet’ at Newport” can be found in Chartism e-Mag no.12



On Monday 31st October, people from the town of Newport gathered at the Newport bridge and at the adjacent quayside on the east bank of the Usk. Here they attempted to block military sequestration of the Bristol steam packet as it arrived on the high tide. This picket action was faced down by Lt. Colonel Love, who forced his way through a rebellious crowd to the ship, threatening to unleash his troops upon the protesters. But none of this appeared in the newspapers. However Love’s letter of the 7th November reporting to Lord Melbourne, the Home Secretary described “very bad feeling among the lower class at Newport. The mob endeavoured to set the Steam Boat adrift, but failed.” [(HO 52/16) cited by Gwyn Alf William, Merthyr Rising, 1973, p218, ftn 31(p223)]


In my Iecture, “1830s Newport and south Wales”, I will attempt to show that the events of 1839 in south Wales and the west country had their origins in the turmoil surrounding the Merthyr Rising of early June and the Bristol Disturbances of late October, 1831. In that year an extensive popular movement reverberated around the sea channel between Merthyr, the Monmouthshire coalfield, Newport and Bristol. There were also ripples detected in Bath, the Forest of Dean and amongst the colliers of Kingswood, and it is clear that very definite connections were being forged further north, certainly with Birmingham, the home of the Political Unions, newly established in this period.


Gwyn Alf Williams (pp218-219) explored the connection between events at Merthyr and Bristol during the Autumn of 1831. Researching Home Office documents, he showed that in the aftermath of the June Rising, the people of Merthyr became enmeshed in a rapidly developing ‘lock out’ imposed by their employers and were excited by the news from Bristol, with the authorities ‘in momentary expectation of a riot’. Anthony Hill, ironmaster at the Plymouth works, located south of Merthyr town, was convinced that a meeting was planned for 7 November, when the men of Monmouthshire would unite with the men of Merthyr and simultaneously, solidarity meetings would occur in other places, to the west (Carmarthen) and to the east in Monmouthshire and beyond. It was known that ‘delegates’ had been sent to raise support in other places.


Hill feared the Rising was in revival and had demanded the return of Love and his troops from Bristol. This time, the insurgents were clearly not content to stay in Merthyr but planned to take control across the coalfield and keep the military out, contained at Cardiff and Abergavenny. The return of Love to Merthyr in the evening of Monday 7th November scotched all such plans. For the rest of the of the 1830s, coalfield radicals yearned for a return to such a scenario and dreamed of making a militant ‘break out’ from the coal field. Merthyr in late 1831 germinated insurrectionary aspirations that entered popular parlance across the coalfield, and during 1839 were formulated into secretly discussed plans that were actioned in October 1839, botched at Newport on the 4th November 1839 and described by Zephaniah Williams in his so called ‘Confession’ Letter, written aboard the ‘Mandarin’ on 25 May 1840.



PROGRAMME 2017 4 November


Doors open at 12 Noon

Lunchtime activities: Sandwiches and Refreshments (included in the admission price)

Stalls - Local History, Books etc

'Death or Liberty' - Find out about the transnational 'Conviction Politics' Project


12.30 Jeremy Knight (retired CADW Inspector of Ancient Monuments and descendant of a Newport Chartist)

will conduct a short tour of the Cathedral


13.30 CONVENTION OPENS  Chair: Paul Flynn MP


'The PRELUDE: Before the 1839 Rising'


13.45 'The Bristol Riots of 1831, and the Newport link’ Roger Ball (Bristol Radical History Group)


14.30   '1830s Newport and south Wales' - Les James


15.15 INTERMISSION for tea/ coffee


'CYFIAWNDER - Post 1839 Endurance' (Chair: Dr. Elin Jones)


15.30 ‘The Rebecca Riots’ – Rhian E. Jones (author Petticoat Heroes: Rethinking the Rebecca Riots (UWP 2015)


16.30 ‘The Chartist Scarecrows' - Ray Stroud relates the story of five Chartist leaders sent to Millbank penitentiary


17.15 Concluding remarks,


18.00 Annual commemoration ceremony at the Chartist memorial stone in St Woolos Churchyard (FREE - ALL WELCOME)


19.30 THE CHARTIST MUSIC NIGHT at the Pen & Wig, Stow Hill, Newport featuring “The Chartists” band

Booking essential for Convention and/or Music Night: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/our-chartist-heritage-8309315885