ONE EVENING IN BLAINA

'Fake News' 1839 Style?

 

 

An Eyewitness’ account of a Chartist meeting April 1839

 

On the Platform;

HENRY VINCENT, the Demosthenes of English democracy

and

WILLIAM EDWARDS, the Chartist Rambler  [1]

 

Meeting held 7pm Tuesday April 23rd on the hillside behind the Royal Oak public house, run by Zephaniah and Joan Williams.

 

We publish a letter sent anonymously to the editor of the Merthyr Guardian in April 1839 that he never published but handed to the authorities instead.

 

It was probably sent to the Home Office and filed in the Treasury Solicitors’ office, whose officers were preparing indictments against Chartist leaders. Seventeen days later, Vincent and Edwards were dispatched to Monmouth Gaol by the Newport magistrates on May 10, charged with sedition and holding illegal public meetings. The original document is kept at the National Archives (TS11 / 502).

 

This meeting was part of Vincent’s campaign tour of Monmouthshire, which was organised by William Edwards to promote the People’s Charter and collect signatures for the National Petition

 

Earlier that day, they had met the ironmaster, Crawshay Bailey on the road between Blaina and Brynmawr and had an exchange of opinions with him: Vincent suggested that he should attend the evening event. However, from the report of the meeting in the Monmouthshire Merlin on April 27th, and from Vincent’s own account in his ‘Life and Rambles’ published in the Western Vindicator, it appears that ‘young Bailey’ attended instead.

 

David Jones (The Last Rising, 1985, p35) mistakenly says that this was Crawshay Bailey’s son, but he did not marry until 1850 and only had one son, Crawshay II, born illegitimately in 1841. ‘Young Bailey’ was Crawshay’s nephew Richard, born in 1816, the son of Joseph Bailey, and a manager at the Bailey's Nantyglo Ironworks. It seems Richard is the writer of the letter, although the reference to him knowing Vincent for 12 years is odd in view of his age. No doubt Crawshay had a hand in its writing. He may have written the letter himself based on Richard’s description.  It seems plausible to conclude that Richard embellished his own account with extra details from Crawshay. It was most certainly a product of the Bailey household; Richard Bailey described his experience at the Blaina meeting when he addressed an anti-Chartist demonstration at Coldbrookvale (reported Monmouthshire Merlin, May 4th 1839).

 

In his ‘Life and Rambles’ Vincent unsurprisingly gave a very different account of the evening, claiming that the meeting took place on ‘a beautiful hill’, and that 5-6000 people attended. He described the arrival of ‘young Bailey, with about a dozen clerks and managers’ and the heckling that ensued. Edwards ‘gave a capital speech’ - he was ‘interrupted occasionally but pummelled them famously’. Vincent said that ‘the people drove (Bailey) and the clerks off the ground and would have killed them had I not begged of the people not to hurt them’.

 

                                                                        Notes: David Osmond

 

 

 

To the Editor of the Merthyr Guardian

[Spelling and Text as in original]

 

Sir

 

On Tuesday evening last a Chartist meeting was held near the Blaina Ironworks, to agitate and perplex the minds of the working class in the neighbourhood, and to exhibit the feeble oratorical powers of Messrs Vincent and Edwards, two vagabondising, levelling, infidel, radical demagogues, the one from London and the other from Newport, in Monmouthshire, and whose audience at the commencement of the proceedings consisted of some half-dozen of the ‘unwashed’, whom Mr Vincent facetiously termed the ‘murky-faced ones’, four or five women, and from 18 to 20 children of both sexes, except an old sow that was wallowing in the drainings of 8 or 10 Cloacinae, [2]  almost under the noses of the speakers, and two or three jackasses that were, till disturbed by the pioneers of the meeting, quietly and comfortably, after their daily work was done, browsing upon the scanty herbage at the foot of the rubbish heap upon which the meeting was held.

 

The business opened with a speech - if a tissue of assertions as empty as shadows and as false as the father of lies is supposed to be, can be termed a speech - from Edwards, the sum and substance of which was simply to the effect of turning the world upside down via et armies [3]   - namely, to do away, by force of Chartist pikemen, all law, religion, order, customs, rights and properties that may happen to stand in the way of the necessary and desirable proceedings of us, the working classes, who only want to have great wages and unlimited rights in exchange for whatever quantity of labor we may see fit and proper to perform, and no more. (Here the speaker turned his nether end to the audience - which had, by sun-set, increased to 40 or 50 persons - and appeared to labour under the want of a supply of heavy wet [4]  , but it was, however, no-go, for the rent had not yet been forthcoming, hence he was constrained to scrape the dust from his tongue with his fingers, and proceed with his botheration, as an emeralder [5]  at my right hand significantly observed).

 

A peculiar feature of the evening’s entertainment, Mr Editor, was this: on the right and left hand of the speaker, pro tem, [6]  there stood, elevated on chairs, two perfectly insignificantly looking figures with their faces and features nearly obscured by something very much resembling cobblers wax, [7]  whose province was, it appeared, to shout out the following monosyllables, at the termination of the respective speakers’ periods, according as a preconceived signal was given. Viz Aye, Aye! No, No! Well, Well! There, There! Oh, Oh! Dear, Dear! Now, Now! - in fact, Mr Editor, had not the whites of their eyes been occasionally displayed, sometimes in synclinal, and at other times in anticlinal curves - and which the peculiar tint of the cheek enabled me to distinctly perceive, and it had at times an awful look truly - I really should have taken these worthy supporters of the speaker to have been automaton figures, which Vincent, in his love for deception had brought down from Bolt-court, [8]  London, on purpose to amuse or to frighten out of their propriety the poor women and children, of this, our most miserable and distressed county - where the workmen can earn only from 30 to 40s per week - and where they have the liberty to spend it how they like, and when they like, and where they may, if they choose so to do, save in a few years a sufficient capital to place them beyond the reach of all the nimble-fingered and lynx-eyed tax, and tythe, and rate collectors in the Kingdom. Now to proceed.

 

Mr Edwards (for I admire politeness) near the conclusion of his “labours” - hinted something about the folly of people imagining for one moment that the Chartists would continue - when they took the reins of power into their own dirty - I beg pardon, I mean “mighty hands” - and which they hoped and trusted soon to do - if they could, to pay the national creditor one single farthing of either principal or interest. (There, there! sounded out of the automatons - not a muscle of whose varnished and murky countenance - thank ye, Mr V. for the term - being disturbed, either in this instance , nor in any other in the course of the evening). I say Edwards did but hint at such a happy and expeditious way of getting out of debt, for he was rather too near home to hazard much upon so delicate a subject, and had too recently put in practice a part of the principle he hoped soon to see generally adopted, for the benefit (and it would save a wonderful sight of law expenses) of all those amiable and virtuous personages (as Robespierre used to term the revolutionists in the “Days of Blood”) who care not the value of a straw at whose expense they can “cut a caper” on the Chartists’ new and fantastical stage of life. I say fantastical, Mr Editor, because I will not luxuriate in harsh terms.

 

Now came Mr Vincent’s turn to do the agreeable, and he commenced with a happy compliment to the dear pretty dirty faces of the ladies he had the honor to see around him; for dirt, as he very justly observed, was something like Beauty - seldom more than skin-deep, but my dear country-women, said the “simivating cretur”, we intend to dive deeper than the skin, (‘well, well’ proceeded from the automatons, but neither in chord nor unison) we hope to thrust our hands… “not into our pockets we hope”, exclaimed a person in front of the speaker - a spy a spy! cried one of the Chartists - a tory, said another; a whig cried a third; - down with the whigs and the tories, - down with little Jack Russel, - down with all our tyrants and employers, - down with the Queen, the Lords, the Commons and every body else who may wish to prevent our being self-governed - and consequently free from all laws and religion too, and doing what our delegates think right and proper to be done. Whew! chaos is surely poured out upon Blaina Gwent thought I. Tranquility being somewhat restored and the drooping spirit of the speaker being refreshed with a right down good quid of shag, and a promise of real heavy as soon as a sufficient amount of rent could be collected  to pay for the same forthwith; the amiable Mr Vincent, who I will do him the justice to say, had vastly improved himself in both appearance and manner within the last 12 years; for he is, Mr Editor, a sort of old acquaintance of mine; but from his present elevated condition, and great prospects in the political world as he imagines, he will now scarcely condescend to favor poor me with a nod or a wink, as he used formerly to do, when I had the honor of being blackguarded in the “Trader” newspaper, by Mr F. Place, the radical tailor, of Charing Cross, which said tailor also imagined himself to be somebody, and the undertaker at last discovered that Francis was right: but let that pass, for I find that Vincent is Vincent still, a vagabonding (search your dictionary Mr E.) radical, infidel, levelling, spouter of froth and nonsense, and who has made the practical discovery that talk is much more profitable, and far more convenient to follow than Work; however, to proceed, Mr V. having the thread of his discourse broken by the interruption just named, left us all in the dark as to where he intended to insinuate his hand; but the original idea stuck so fast in his imagination that he, inadvertently no doubt, directed the attention of his hearers, who had now (it being nearly dark) increased in number to some 2 or 300 persons, to the swell-mob of London, whom he described as exceedingly well dressed personages, and vastly polite to boot, who very often relieved country-bumpkins of their watches and pocket-books, and that in the most genteel manner imaginable. This subject, for it was a ticklish subject to handle, Mr Editor, by a person who, after the fashion of a certain honorable agitator, who was journeying about the country a “rent gathering”, or, in other words, gulling the honest, industrious, and peaceably-inclined workmen of this our prosperous county out of money to support a set of itinerant spouters of froth and falsehood, to an extent actually greater than any working man pays in direct taxes to either Church or State; this subject, however, was found by Mr V. too “flat, stale and unprofitable” for continuing; he therefore turned the attention of his hearers to the old subject of Levelling, namely the monstrous injustice of Capitalists, in either lands, machinery, houses, or money, claiming the right of legally and honorably, and it may be beneficially, making use of their respective lands, machines, houses, or money: this, said the virtuous Chartist, was so palpable and gross a piece of injustice and folly, he felt assured he had only to name the circumstance, in order to rouse up every drop of blood in the whole animal creation (there, there! sounded the automatons), and make it boil over and over upon their oppressors, until they were all, every one of them, absolutely scalded to death. For Gods sake Dick, says the speaker in a subdued tone to one of his props, fetch me a cup of swipes, [9] and tell the landlord we’ll pay him as soon as we can. This and a few moments of respite, enabled Vincent to return again to the scratch; and thus were we edified: Now, my friends, there is the queen (O what an inveterate leveller thou art, Vincent), she receives one half your wages, and does nothing for it: then there is the House of Lords, but which ought in fact to be termed a den of thieves, the members of which receive another half of your hard earnings, and give you nothing in exchange: and then comes the Commons, who are, and were, and ever will be a set of heartless thieves and robbers, world without end, they take another half of the wages of your sweat and toil… By my faith, said a Pallander [10] under my larboard bow, but that’s rare good irish, - No, no! grunted out the supporters; Silence, vociferated some 20 or 30 voices, and in a few minutes the hubbub subsided into a merry chorus of juvenile voices, at the bottom of the rubbish heap, whose laughter had been provoked by observing an unfortunate Chartist believer, between whose legs the old sow above alluded to had penetrated, but not having free egress, she carried away her load, and safely lodged it in the middle of a pool of half mud - half water, and there left the poor radical to his own resources.

 

When Vincent was restored the meek and mild missionary of rapine and robbery thus proceeded: - Now my worthy friends, We mean to do without such trumpery institutions as Queen, Lords and Commons, and without Church, or State, or Law, knavery and roguery, for we will as soon as we find it convenient, order and provide that every one of us shall be his or her own special guide and governor, to do that which alone seemeth right in his or her most precious eyes, and also be enabled to smoke his or her pipe - and drink his or her Cwrw - (the word had a good effect, Mr Editor, upon several semi-cambrian faces present) - under his or her very own crooked crab-tree, and no finality lord - or any other little fellow should ever be able to make them ashamed: Well done! bawled out some of the “mongrels” - (for there were very few real welchmen present) let’s have plenty of Cwrw, and we will go the whole hog with you, and the devil to boot: hurrah for the fun - as soon as the noise subsided - and sundry massal?? - as well as fundamental trumpets had blown the signal for a fresh eruption of fire and brimstone - and other inflammable matters, a gentleman in the crowd enquired of Mr V. if he would prefer a Republic to a Monarchy? Oh, oh! replied the orator, I will just tell you, Sir, and I will do it in the way of a parable; - Silence there, bawled out one of the supposed automatons, make room there for Mr Vince’s sparraliles: ha, ha! thought I, now have I found you out, Mr Crispin from Waunluggan [11] : I can now easily account for the olumbration [12]  of your own soft suety complexion, my ball of wax: Mr V. then began a long, rambling tale about one Mrs Deborah Skinflint, who, as he made it clearly appeal, was, after all, a good kind of body enough; but because she would not give all she had to beggars and vagabonds, the orator made it out, as clear as mud, that she was a cruel-hearted tyrant and oppressor, and therefore ought to be put on the treadmill, and that all her property, as well as all the property of all of her kidney, ought of course to be taken possession of by us, the Chartists, for the benefit of the working-classes: there, my sable-countenanced friends, have I not proved to demonstration that a Republic must of course be a much better state of things than a Monarchy? and therefore let every working man with a good pair of arms, and able hands at the ends of them, make use of the same in aid of the Charter, and we shall soon have possession of every inch of land in the empire, and of all the magnificent works, buildings and machinery that surround us, from the Land’s End to John o’Groat’s Cave, nay, we shall also have all the wealth contained in the bowels of the earth and in the depths of the sea, and on the wings of the wind; likewise all the goods in every merchants’ and shopkeepers’ stores, and all the furniture out of every man’s house and castle, and all the money of all the great and little banks of the whole empire, and all, all these things, my dear murkies shall be ours, and we will pay your double wages, and only expect you to work for us in the spare hours you may have after spending your well-earned, and richly-deserved compensation for putting us, your leaders (deluders someone bawled out) into peaceable and quiet possession of the good thing I have just mentioned, which things are absolutely worse than useless in the hands of any other set of men than those we will forthwith recommend to your especial notice and patronage: now, therefore, is the time, my lads, for you to strike the effective blow, and turn the tables upon your employers; all you have to do is, just to sign the petition for the Charter; secondly to pay your “rent” slap up weekly; and thirdly, when the signal is hoisted on the tops of your beautiful hills, flock in crowds to our Standard, and we will lead you to victory through oceans of fire and water and dust and smoke and blood and thunder; therefore I say, put some money in the box, and write as many names as ever you can think of in the petition, and we will carry the word before us: and mind you meet me on the first of next May, on the hills above Tredegar Ironworks, and we will beat down all before us, we will, I say, because we have the power so to do, and the army will be on our side (what an infamous lie, exclaimed a voice in the crowd). Therefore we will turn off the Queen, the Parliament, the Law, the Church, in fact, every thing and every body that dares to oppose us, for we are for universal liberty, as far as our interests may extend, but no farther; come, therefore, and sign, and I will bring up with me on the 1st of May, thousands of “murky faces” from Blackwood, and we shall have our own way in spite of hell and hellebore!

 

In this strain, Mr Editor, did the two worthies above-named continue to enlighten and amuse the crowd until night compelled them to desist from their outdoor labours, after which there was a loud call for the rent, and the gulls were dextrously conveyed through a back-door of an adjoining Kidlewink, [13]  there to have the said rent extracted, and there also to sign as many names to the Petition as may come within the immediate memory of the few who were able to commit so barefaced a forgery.

 

Hoping you will lend a hand to expose the wickedness, and Folly, of these pests of society above-mentioned, and to open the eyes of the working-classes of this neighbourhood, to the delusions thrown in their way, by the enemies of all order, social, moral, religious and political.

 

I beg to sub myself Sir

 

Your very obedient servant

 

Shenkin ap Howell ap Edwards ap Jones

 

Nantyglo

 

April 24 1839

 

Transcription:  David Osmond

 

Footnotes-

[1] See http://sixpointscardiff.com  David Osmond, The Chartist Rambler: William Edwards of Newport 1796-1849, (Six Points publisher, 2021)

[2] Cloacina: Roman goddess of sewers.

[3] Latin: highways and weapons

[4] Archaic: a drink of beer and porter mixed.

[5] An Irishman

[6] For the time being.

[7] A resin used for waxing thread.

[8] Bolt Court off Fleet Street, London, housed printers’ shops, and Dr Johnson’s Tavern in Bolt Court was a meeting place used by the 1839 Chartist National Convention.

[9] Beer or small beer, watery and of poor quality.

[10] A flat-bottomed boat used for horse transport.

[11] Waun Helygen (old name for Brynmawr)

[12] Darkening or clouding

[13] Cornish dialect word for a beer shop or ale house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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