Chaos en­sues in the New­port Ris­ing

Broil­ing ten­sions erupt into vi­o­lence in south Wales

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

Inthe late 1830s, south Wales was not a happy place. Thou­sands lived in grind­ing poverty, while the govern­ment’s re­jec­tion of the Peo­ple’s Char­ter of 1838 – which de­manded the right to vote for work­ing men – had pro­voked in­tense po­lit­i­cal dis­con­tent. In May 1839, the Chartist leader Henry Vin­cent had been ar­rested in Mon­mouth, and his con­vic­tion and im­pris­on­ment later that sum­mer in­flamed lo­cal opin­ion. By early Novem­ber 1839, Welsh rad­i­cals were ready to move – and so be­gan the last armed re­bel­lion in Bri­tish his­tory.

Sun­day 3 Novem­ber was a day of ris­ing ten­sion. Down the val­leys streamed thou­sands of marchers, al­though pour­ing rain meant that the turnout was smaller than the or­gan­is­ers had hoped for. In New­port, the au­thor­i­ties, an­tic­i­pat­ing trou­ble, swore in 500 spe­cial con­sta­bles and sta­tioned dozens of sol­diers at the West­gate Ho­tel, where they were re­ported to be hold­ing Chartist prison­ers. But it was not un­til the small hours of the next morn­ing that the Chartist march, now at least 7,000 strong, ar­rived in the town.

What fol­lowed was bed­lam. Hav­ing di­vided into two vast streams, the crowd re­united in front of the West­gate Ho­tel, where the guests would usu­ally have been eat­ing break­fast. After a great deal of shout­ing and cheer­ing, they promptly laid siege to the ho­tel. Gun­shots echoed back and forth be­tween armed de­mon­stra­tors and the sol­diers within: “Noth­ing,” one ob­server told The Times, “can heighten the hor­ror of the scene at this mo­ment.” The town’s mayor, who at­tempted to read the Riot Act, was badly wounded by Chartist mus­ket-fire, but the sol­diers’ su­pe­rior dis­ci­pline and fire­power won the day. By the time the rad­i­cals fell back, 22 had been killed and dozens were in­jured. The ris­ing’s lead­ers were sen­tenced to death by hang­ing and quar­ter­ing, com­muted to trans­porta­tion to Tas­ma­nia for life. New­port’s mayor, how­ever, ended up with a knight­hood.

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