John Frost, Chartist Leader

The tale of one of the leaders of the unsuccessful Chartist Rising at Newport in 1839.

Items in this story:

Chartist beliefs

Like Owain Glyndwr, John Frost was a well-to-do individual whose local grievances became part of a much wider struggle.

A successful Newport tailor, he fell out with the local establishment following a dispute with a solicitor over the contents of his uncle’s will. A libel action led to his imprisonment. Radicalised by the experience, Frost became involved with the burgeoning Chartist movement on his release.

The Chartists campaigned for basic democratic rights taken for granted today but overlooked in the Great Reform Act of 1832. Only property owners were allowed to stand for parliament- and that excluded most ordinary people.

Following a split in the movement, Frost threw in his lot with the Physical Force Chartists, who advocated violent action to achieve reform. This outraged the Home Secretary Lord John Russell and in March 1839 Frost was sacked as a magistrate.

Around Britain, and especially in South Wales, discontent was smouldering. While Frost made several speeches discouraging violence, the arrest of Henry Vincent, a prominent Chartist raised the temperature further.

Frost marched on Newport at the head of three thousand men, mostly miners from the Gwent Valleys. They converged on the Westgate Hotel in Newport where the Chartist prisoners were supposed to be held.

Apparently tipped-off about the marcher’s intentions, the authorities had stationed troops inside the building. They opened fire, killing 20 people and wounding scores more.

Suppression of the movement

If the suppression of the Newport Rising was designed to prevent a wider insurrection it succeeded. The Chartist movement rapidly lost steam as Frost and his fellow surviving ringleaders were put on trial.

Although sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, he escaped the death penalty. Fearing that it would exacerbate a tense situation, the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne ordered Frost to be transported to Australia instead.

Frost eventually returned to Britain. By the time of his death at the age of 91 almost all of the reforms for which the Chartists had campaigned had been enshrined in law.

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to leave a comment