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Harold Wilson
at the Westgate Hotel 1972
by Gareth Rogers

 

The original leaflet that accompanied the dinner with special guests, Harold and Mary Wilson, at the Westgate has yellowed a bit in the last 50 years. eMagazine Web Editor David Mayer has worked his design magic on the original and created a copy for display at the Westgate Hotel. ( see the original here) This also allowed me to adjust one inaccuracy from the original – the incorrect image of John Frost in panel 2.

The dinner took place at the Westgate Hotel, Commercial Street Newport on Friday 03 November 1972

 

 

by Gareth Rogers B.Ed.

History Master,

Caerleon Secondary School,

Monmouthshire.

 

In the 1830s the majority of the working population of this country lived at subsistence level. Employment prospects were variable and so many were poorer still. The 1834 Poor Law was supposed to safeguard the unemployed — but was regressive. Attempts by working men to combine to raise the living-standard were repressed by employers and occasionally the government too.

 

 

Many ordinary men believed that life could only become tolerable if a share in government could be obtained. A group of them drew up a People’s Charter in 1838. The men who subscribed to the views of the Charter were known as Chartists.

 

The Charter demanded — the vote for all males over the age of 21; a secret ballot; the abolition of a property qualification for MPs; the payment of MPs; equal constituencies; and annual parliaments. The aims were to allow participation; to protect the elector; to enable men of ability to stand for Parliament; to prevent small constituencies from outweighing larger ones in Parliament; and to prevent bribery and corruption.

 

A National Chartist Convention was organised in the winter of 1838 and delegates were sent out to agitate various parts of the country in support of the Charter; and to set up the nuclei of Working Men’s Associations. One of the most eloquent and talented Chartist speakers was a 25 year old Londoner Henry Vincent. He was described as the “ Demosthenes of the new movement ” and was eventually sent to agitate radical Monmouthshire.

 

Monmouthshire had experienced a massive population increase because of industrial immigration; the presence of a large proportion of Irish had led to racial strife and of a number of fugitives from justice to disaffection to authority. There was a history of violent relations between masters and men; and there were inadequate housing, health and educational facilities.

 

 

Vincent seized the opportunity and united in an uneasy alliance the county’s nonconformists with the adherents of violent behaviour in the coalfields. Vincent’s success as a public speaker, and, as editor of the insurrectionary “ Western’ Vindicator ” was to rouse the people to a revolutionary fervour.

 

The Authorities decided to take the initiative and to deprive the movement of its key figure. By May 10th 1839 Vincent had been arrested. He was eventually sentenced in August and put in Monmouth gaol. For the local Chartists this was an event of capital importance. Their leader John Frost, J.P. had advised them to “ Once more try judges and juries ” and they had failed. The “ Western Vindicator ” of Saturday September 28th contained a letter from John Frost to the workers of South Wales. It confessed his failure to procure any concessions for their hero, Vincent. Two days later the National Convention was dissolved. Therefore, at once the ineffectiveness of peaceful methods had been exposed whilst real leadership had been removed.

 

Vincent had driven the county to such a pitch of excitement with his rabid oratory that a violent _release of the tension was inevitable.

 

Frost was Chairman of the Convention when it dissolved. He returned home to find that the local Chartists had decided upon action. The leaders of the men who wanted an armed rising were Zephaniah Williams and William Jones and an eccentric surgeon William Price.

Frost did not want a rising, but if he took no part he would have felt a traitor to Chartism.

 

He persuaded the others to agree to an armed demonstration.

 

A symbolic target of authority was the Westgate Hotel, Newport where the local magistrates sat and where Chartists were put under guard after arrest.

 

 At about 7 p.m. on Sunday November 3rd three bands of Chartists set off from different towns to march to Newport. Rain and the non-arrival of one contingent meant  that the Chartists did not enter before dawn as planned on Monday the 4th.

       

 

The delay enabled the Mayor to heavily reinforce the guards at the Westgate Hotel. At 8.30 a.m. the Chartists entered the town and stopped outside the hotel. A Chartist shouted “ give up the prisoners ” A special constable shouted back and a scuffle began in which some Chartists seem to have obtained entry to the hall of the hotel. Somebody fired a gun. The troops were ordered to open fire, and, between ten and twenty Chartists — nobody is certain — were killed.

 

The leaders were eventually arrested after a series of escapades; indicted for high treason; and sentenced to hanging and quartering. The trial judge, Tindal, went to see the Home Secretary and the sentence was commuted to transportation for life. Frost, Williams and Jones were sent to Australia but received an unconditional pardon in 1855.

 

 

 

In the last analysis these brave men proposed advanced ideals. Time has vindicated all their proposals bar the impossible one of annual parliaments.

 

 

WHILST travelling from Newport into the lower part of the Rhymney Valley Mr. Victor Feather General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, was told by his companions that he was entering Chartist country. His interest was aroused, this coupled with his knowledge of the Chartists, inquired if Monmouthshire recognised such an historic movement, if not, then something should be done.

 

The attention of the Monmouthshire Federation of Labour Parties and Trade Councils was drawn to the observation of Vic Feather, who, at a joint meeting resolved to commemorate the Chartists in general but Monmouthshire Chartists in particular.

 

There is general desire that recognition should take the form of an Annual Dinner, and in the course of time the whole story of Monmouthshire Chartists will be unfolded.

 

A descriptive account of our first effort is contained in this brochure, so in later years we shall endeavour to implement in detail the determination of John Frost and his colleagues in their demands for a freedom we now enjoy.

 

 

Minestrone Soup

Roast Stuffed Turkey

Chipolata Sausages

Roast Potatoes

Creamed Potatoes

Brussels Sprouts

Vichy Carrots

Fruit & Sherry Trifle

Coffee

Sherry

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toastmaster — Geoffrey Page, Esq.

 

“ The Queen ” —    The Chairman

                                   (R. G. Morgan Esq., MBE)

“ The immortal memory of the Chartists of 1839, with particular reference to the Gwent Chartists led by John Frost and other leaders.”

 

“ The Guests ” — Royston J. Hughes Esq., MP

 

Response      — The Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson, OBE, FRS, MP Leader of H.M. Official Opposition

 

 

‘Never See the Day’

A pageant in words, devised and written by Mel Thomas, with added scripts by Stephen Morgan, Wendy Watkins, Anne Jones and Denise Mason, To Music by Glyn Jones and Lynne Williams.

 

Production by Mel Thomas and Malcolm Davies. Sound and Lighting by Eddy Martin.

 

Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson, OBE, FRS, MP

and Mrs. Mary Wilson

His Worship the Mayor of Newport

(Councillor F. A. Edwards)

Chairman of Monmouthshire County Council

(Alderman A. Clifford Williams, BEM, JP)

Mr. Roy Hughes, MP (Newport),

and Mrs. Hughes

Rt. Hon. Michael Foot, MP (Ebbw Vale),

and Mrs. Foot

Mr. Leo Abse, MP (Pontypool),

and Mrs. Abse

Mr. Neil Kinnock, MP (Bedwellty),

and Mrs. Kinnock

Mr. Jeffrey Thomas, MP (Abertillery),

and Mrs Thomas

Councillor R. C. Lloyd (Deputy Mayor of Newport)

and Mrs. Lloyd

Alderman D. W. Evans (Deputy Chairman Mon. C.C.)

 

 

Harold Wilson O.B.E., F.R.S., M.P.

 

Harold Wilson was elected to the House of Commons in 1945 and in 1947 became President of the Board of Trade at the early age of thirty-one.

 

He resigned from the Government in 1951 owing to the imposition of charges on the National Health Service and the increased level of Defence expenditure.

 

In 1963, following the tragic death of Hugh Gaitskell, and earlier of our own Aneurin Bevan, the Party elected Harold Wilson as its Leader.

 

Under his inspiring leadership a Labour Government was elected to office in October 1964 after thirteen years of Tory rule, and this victory was further consolidated at the General Election of March 1966.

 

The Press and the media generally have done everything they can to denigrate him but despite their snide attacks he has remained steadfast and maintained the essential unity of the Party.

 

Now the Tory Government stands utterly discredited after barely two years in office. So in welcoming Harold Wilson we trust he will soon be back as Prime Minister, for this function to mark the Chartist uprising gives us all an opportunity to dedicate ourselves anew to spare no effort to achieve the early return of a Labour Government.

 

This Dinner has been arranged by the Monmouthshire Federation of Labour Parties and Trades Councils with the co-operation of the secretaries: Councillors Dan Prosser and Len Hill