Site of Newport Chartist protest

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Site of Chartist protest, Commercial Street

On 4 November 1839, some 5,000 Chartists gathered in the street in front of the Westgate Hotel and demanded the release of fellow campaigners who had been arrested. Unknown to them, the mayor of Newport had installed 30 soldiers in the hotel. Suddenly the window shutters flew open and the soldiers fired into the crowd. At least 22 Chartist supporters were killed. The authorities quickly removed the bodies and buried 10 of them secretly, in unmarked graves, outside St Woolos Cathedral.

The Chartists were supporters of the People’s Charter of 1838. This national campaign called for: votes for all men; salaries for MPs; secret ballots; all Parliamentary constituencies to be of equal size; abolition of the rule that all MPs must own a certain amount of property; and annual election of MPs. All of these were achieved in less than a century, except annual elections, but in 1839 the political establishment – still unnerved by the French Revolution – regarded Chartists with suspicion.

In summer 1839, 33 Chartists were jailed or exiled after a five-day riot in Llanidloes, Powys.

The Newport protest’s leaders were put on trial. One of the jurors was the landlord of the King's Head in Abergavenny. Former Newport mayor John Frost was sentenced to death, while John Lovell was sentenced to transportation after he pleaded guilty. However, more than three million people across Britain signed a petition for clemency, and the leaders were all exiled to Australia. Frost was pardoned in 1856 and returned to Britain. He died in 1877 at Stapleton, Bristol.

The Westgate Hotel was named after the medieval entrance to Newport which stood at this site until an hotel was built here in the 18th century. The current building dates from the 1880s. The hotel closed c.2002 but the ground floor is used by retailers including Starbucks.

Postcode: NP20 1JN     View Location Map

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