Chartist Ancestors Summary

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CHARTIST ANCESTORS pioneers of democracy 


A day event to commemorate the Anniversary of the Newport Chartist Rising of 4 November 1839  

Saturday November 3rd 2007, St. Mary’s Institute, Newport


Summary by Les James, 12 November 2007

The Chartist Ancestors - Pioneers of Democracy event was organised in response to the great interest generated earlier this year by the  ‘Meet the Descendants’ event, held at Newport Museum and Art Gallery on April 30th. Chartist Ancestors provided opportunities for:

  • people with Chartist ancestors to share their family stories with the public,

  • the story of Chartism and the people of the Chartist era to be understood and appreciated by a wider audience

  • and for recognition of the struggle and sacrifice made by past generations for the democratic rights enjoyed today.



11.10 The Chartist Story | Pat Drewett, Kim Colebrook
11.40 Newport in 1839 | Colin Gibson, Les James


Francis Holland (Chair, Accent Newport Trust) welcomed a very large audience. Throughout the day, there were over a hundred participants. 

The morning session opened with two illustrated lectures:

  • Kim Colebrook (HERIAN) and Pat Drewett (Secretary, Accent Newport Trust) presented the Chartist Story

  • Colin Gibson (Gwent Record Office) and Les James (University of Wales, Newport) descibed the townscape of Newport in the Chartist era.


Chartist Walk

12.00 - 12.45 CHARTIST WALK | From the Westgate Hotel to the Newport Chartist Mural 


Before lunch time, a Chartist walk was led by Les James: 


Starting at the old Westgate Hotel, site of the Newport Chartist Rising, with its landmark Newport Chartist Memorial, an allegorical sculptural group commemorating the spirit of Chartism (sculptor, Chris Kelly 1989; commissioned by Newport Borough Council to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Newport Chartist Rising). 


A public gathering such as ours, would have been outlawed as an act of sedition in the day of the Chartists. Les James narrated the events of the morning of the 4th November 1839, when the Chartists marched down Stow Hill to protest at the Westgate Hotel where it was understood that seized Chartists were imprisoned. The exact details of the event are confused, but gun shot was fired and a full military engagement ensued. The 45th Regiment, who were secretly billeted inside the Hotel with Mayor Thomas Phillips, opened fire on the  large crowd of Chartist protesters.  Over twenty were killed.

We then proceeded to the Newport Chartist Mural, a narrative representation of the  Chartist Insurrection at Newport, 4 November 1839 by artist Kenneth Budd (1978), a monumental 120 foot long mosaic mural located in the the pedestrian tunnel adjacent to John Frost Square. 


The Newport Chartist Mural has been in the news in recent months as it - and the Capitol car park - are scheduled for removal to make way for a new shopping complex. This stimulated a lively discussion about Newport’s celebration of Chartism, the city’s commitment to its Chartist history, and the dilemmas presented by the proposed removal of this prominent and popular piece of public art. Many questions hung in the air about a replacement public art project:

  • How is it possible to replicate such a large work?

  • Where will it go?

  • Should not art be designed to specifically fit a public space?

  • Why not use materials not available in the 1970s?

  • Can Newport afford to miss the opportunity to commission new works of public art that further develop the meaning of Chartism?

  • Budd’s mural ends with the deaths at the Westgate; should not this be the start of the narrative in the new mural?

  • Why not make use of the historical research published since 1978 and name and honour individual Chartists?




 13.30 KEYNOTE SPEAKER | Paul Flynn, MP (Newport West) 


The afternoon session was opened by Paul Flynn MP (Newport West), who spoke passionately of the relevance of the Chartists today and our duty to continue their work. 

Addressing today's agenda for democratic reform, he highlighted the need to tackle the anachronism of an unrepresentative second chamber in Parliament and the lobbying influence exercised by powerful interest groups. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the struggle and sacrifice that past generations made to gain our democratic rights.




A Democracy Day Petition to Parliament 

was launched by Bill O’Keefe

great-great-great grandson of John Partridge, the Newport printer, 

who published John Frost’s speeches and pamphlets.


Following in the footsteps of his Chartist ancestor he read out:

To the House of Commons

The Petition of concerned citizens, 

followers of the Chartist pioneers of democracy,


Declares that 

there is a popular demand for an Autumn bank holiday;

that there is a need to celebrate, protect and extend the democratic rights won by past generations; 

and that November 4th is an appropriate date to commemorate those who sowed the seeds of democracy 

in Wales and England.


The Petitioners therefore request that 

the House of Commons should establish 

a Democracy Day bank holiday 

in England and Wales 

on the Monday nearest to 4th November.


And the Petitioners remain; etc 




13.45 OUR CHARTIST ANCESTORS | Descendants reveal their family stories

  • William Ferriday | One of the Chartists killed at the Westgate Hotel
  • John Lovell of Newport | Wounded at the Westgate Hotel, charged with High Treason      
  • John Frost | Mayor of Newport and Chartist Leader | Transported to Tasmania for High Treason
  • James Horner | Shoemaker, publican and Chartist organiser in Newport     
  • Wright Beatty | Newport coal trimmer | 3 years hard labour for firing at the military      
  • John Partridge | Chartist printer in Newport | Six months hard labour     
  • Thomas Phillips | Mayor of Newport in 1839 | Knighted for his action as Mayor in defending Newport against the Chartist Insurrection
  • Thomas Walker | Special Constable

Chartist Ancestors Session (Chair: Les James)

An emotional highlight of the day was the testimony provided by Chartist descendants, giving the term "living history" a whole new dimension. 

The Chartist Ancestors project has brought forward descendants from those on both sides of the social/political divide that existed in early Victorian Wales and erupted into class warfare in the November rising of 1839. 168 years later, we are all democrats and can see the Chartist era with historical perspective and hindsight. None of us can know how we would have acted or thought, if we had lived in the Chartist era. Their stories deserve to be told in a historical context, with understanding of the predicaments faced and the aspirations held, all rooted in different economic and cultural circumstances from our own.

To further develop the Chartist Ancestors project, Les James and Colin Gibson plan to compile Chartist Ancestor Stories and are looking for sponsorship of this publication.

Rhys Jenkins, assisted by Barbara Jenkins, talked about the family of his great-great grandfather William Ferriday (Farraday/ Feredy), a Blackwood collier, who was amongst those who died at the Westgate inn in November 1839, when the military fired at the protesting crowd. A week later his widow, Mary Ferriday, carrying her newly born baby daughter Jane, came to Newport looking for his body. She was shown his coat and it is believed that he is one of the ten Chartists buried in an unmarked grave on the Thursday night 7th November at St. Woolos churchyard. She had already lost her eldest son, William in 1836. She fended for her five other children with the magistrates and Poor Law authorities, but sadly lost her youngest daughter, buried in Bedwellty Church at fifthteen months of age. Searching the census records of the nineteenth century revealed a story of human endurance and survival. Mary was a remarkable woman. She found a labouring job for her remaining son, Thomas, aged 9, took in lodgers to make ends meet, remarried to a man some sixteen years her junior and finding herself widowed for a second time, kept a grocery business. Rhys Jenkins is interested in hearing from anybody who has traced the family of William’s brother Thomas Ferriday, who was actively engaged in gathering arms for the Blaina Chartists in 1839 and who avoided capture with an identity change and location move. The descendants of Thomas Feriday are understood to be still living in South Wales.


Rita Catton and her sister Valerie Gordon gave a resumé of the life of John Lovell, their great-great-great uncle, who was born in Northamptonshire in 1798 and married Rebecca Bryan of Christchurch in 1832. Where they lived has not yet been established, but he was employed in the locality as a gentleman’s gardener and rented land, which he worked as a market garden. Brought up as an Anglican, he regularly attended Church and appears to have established a connection with the Church of St. Pauls, when it opened in 1836. He was certainly well known to its Vicar. As the Chartists approached the Westgate Inn, Lovell was seen carrying a rifle and was heard vociferously urging bystanders, including workmen building St. Mary’s church, to join the demonstration. Seriously wounded by gun shot in the thigh, he was taken into custody at the Stow Hill workhouse, where he spent 33 days recovering from his injury. He was charged with High Treason and sentenced to death, but through plea bargaining this was commuted to life imprisonment. Released from Mill Bank prison in London in December 1844, he returned to the neighbourhood of Newport, to his wife Rebecca and to gardening. In 1847, he is recorded as a subscriber to the Chartist Land Company and died in 1852.

Olwen Williams and Pam Matthews, cousins, spoke about their relationship to Thomas Phillips, the Mayor of Newport, who was the hero of the day in 1839, for his stand at the Westgate inn. He never married so there is no direct line of descendants. Olwen explained “My great-great-great grandfather Benjamin James was also his grandfather”. Born at Clydach, his parents belonged to tenant farming families rooted in the borderlands of Breconshire and Monmouthshire. Articled to the Newport attorney Thomas Prothero, he took advantage of the opportunities that came his way and in 1838 was elected mayor of Newport by the enemies of John Frost (mayor in 1836). Seen as the saviour of the nation from revolution, he was knighted by Queen Victoria, who invited him to a private dinner at Buckingham Palace. Honoured and thanked by the local gentry and the iron and coal owners, he was presented with a silverware dinner service valued at 800 guineas. Ever since the plaque inscribed with the names of the subscribers was found in a Colchester scrapyard in the 1980s, there has been conjecture about the fate of this dinner service. Olwen explained the details of Sir Thomas Phillips’ will. The silver was inherited by his sister and therefore probably passed to her son Thomas Phillips Price who settled at Marks Hall near Colchester, dying there in 1932. His third wife lived there until the house was requisitioned for war purposes and she moved into Marigolds House. The Hall was stated to be in a perilous condition and permission was obtained to demolish it in 1950. Mrs Price remained at Marigolds until her death in 1966. It was sometime in the post war period that the silver was sold.

A message was sent by Mike Duggan a descendant of Thomas Walker, landlord of the Parrot Inn and a Newport special constable. Several of his cousins are exploring their family history and will be contributing their findings to Chartist Ancestor Stories. It is to be hoped that others will explore the list of special constables for the county of Monmouthshire to see if there are family links. It is important that the stories of both sides of the conflict are told.

Sylvia Taylor and Patricia Horner both related the stories that they have been telling school children at workshop sessions held in Newport Museum and Art Gallery. They have shown the children some of the documents from the Newport Library and the Gwent Record Office that they searched for evidence about their Chartist ancestors.

Sylvia Taylor’s great-great- uncle, Wright Beatty, fired his gun at the window of the Westgate Inn where the mayor stood alongside the 45th Regiment. The family claimed that Beatty escaped by hiding up a chimney, but he was a wanted man, who was caught a year later and served three years hard labour in Monmouth gaol.

Patricia Horner’s great-great-great grandfather, James Horner, a shoemaker and publican in the town, was arrested and warned off by the magistrates after the Westgate battle, but he continued as a life long Chartist agitator. Chartism thrived as a political movement in Newport throughout the 1840s and his public house in Griffin Street, the Queen Adelaide, was the major centre for the local branch of the National Charter Association.


The surprise visitor of the day was Terry Frost Jones from New Zealand, where he has been living the last thirty years. Terry grew up in Monmouth and at school, he remembers his history teacher presenting him to the class as ‘living history’, a living link with John Frost, the Chartist leader.. His father, grandfather and great grandfather were all given the second name of Frost, as a mark of their family link. Between 1813 and 1826, John Frost’s wife Mary had eight children: John, Elizabeth, Sarah, Catherine, Ellen, Henry Hunt, James (who died at 8 months) and Anne. John Frost had two uncles Edward Frost and William Frost, younger brothers of his father John and they both had families. Terry’s precise connection to John Frost requires further research.

Brains Trust


15.45 BRAINS TRUST | Experts answer questions about how to find out about the people of the Chartist era

  • Peter Brown | University of Wales, Newport
  • Colin Gibson | Gwent Record Office
  • John Humphries | Author of The Man from the Alamo
  • Rachael Anderton | Newport City Museum 
  • Alun Prescott | Newport City Library

'Brain's Trust' (Chair: Pat Drewett)

The Panel was chosen for their expertise regarding where and how to research the Chartists. In a very informative session, they answered a wide range of questions about available sources and the people of the Chartist era

Conclusion - Film

Conclusion – a film produced by Glyn Walters in 1988,  showing the Ceremony at St. Woolos Cathedral with Alexander Cordell unveiling the memorial stone to the Chartist dead




Colin Gibson and Les James are compiling and publishing Chartist Ancestors Stories. Do you have a Chartist family history story to tell? Have you found out about your ancestors in the Chartist era? Perhaps you know somebody else who does? We are interested in both sides of the social/political divide.



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Chartist Ancestors  was hosted by Accent Newport Trust, which is promoting the development of a Chartist Heritage Centre in St. Mary’s Institute. 


The event was supported by HERIAN (Heritage in Action); the University of Wales, Newport; Newport Chamber of Trade; Newport Museum & Art Gallery; Newport City Library; Gwent Record Office; Gwent Local History Council.