Biggest Annual Stow Hill ‘March’ Predicted
This November 4th is going to see the largest number of children taking part since the early 1990s when the event was begun in the wake of the 150th Anniversary (1989). Assembling 1.30 at Clifton Park near the Newport Cathedral, they will follow the final leg of the route taken by several thousand Chartists on this date in 1839. They arrive outside the Westgate hotel building. Here in song, poetry and drama the pupils tell the Chartist story and celebrate the democratic principles of Chartism.
The pupils learn at first hand the events of 4th November 1839 when the Chartists hastened down Stow Hill, shouting, “Give us up the prisoners”. They rushed the doors of the Westgate hotel in an attempt to rescue their fellow Chartists held prisoner inside. They were angry that earlier that summer, Henry Vincent and three leaders of the Newport Chartists had been imprisoned at Monmouth gaol following charges of sedition brought by Newport’s Mayor and magistrates. Soldiers, hiding behind window shutters, revealed themselves and fired at the crowd, killing at least twenty men.
Fewer than one in eight men had the right to vote in 1839. The men marching to Newport wanted immediate implementation of the six point Peoples’ Charter. Six fundamental reforms of Parliament, which they believed would ‘give us our Rights’ and had been rejected by the country’s elite in Parliament.
Cllr Herbie Thomas, Newport’s Mayor, is impressed by the commitment shown by Newport’s schools. “I’m looking forward to joining these young people and very pleased they are learning about the Chartists. There’s no doubt last year’s successful 175th celebrations generated enthusiasm. It’s vital we gather as a City together and remember those in the past who gave their lives for our democratic rights today.”
This Year’s ‘March’ is organised by the City Council as part of its Chartist heritage promotion. For a number of years after 2000, the event failed to take place, but since its return in 2007, it has developed year on year. It’s reassuring to know the event is now part of the civic calendar. This is the result of dedicated work by a keen band of local volunteers led by Pat Drewett, one of the three members on Newport’s Chartist Commission. Actor-teacher, Jamie Jarvis, choreographs every detail of the performance from start to finish. Jamie visits all participating schools, preparing pupils for a day that few will ever forget. It is to be hoped this year’s ‘marchers’ don’t have to face the wet and cold wintry weather that the men of 1839 endured on their long, night time march through the Gwent valleys.
Taking part this year for the first time is Duffryn High School, which changes its name next September to John Frost School, in honour of Newport’s Chartist hero. Jon Wilson, Head teacher of Duffryn High School, believes the choice, made by his pupils, owes greatly to so many participating in previous November 4th celebrations when they were in primary school.