Dramatisation of the trial of the Chartists at Shire Hall, Monmouth
On 3–4 November 1839 John Frost, together with William Jones and Zephaniah Williams, led a Chartist march on the Westgate Inn in Newport. The rationale for the set piece confrontation remains opaque, although it may have its origins in Frost's ambivalence towards the more violent attitudes of some of the Chartists, and the personal animus he bore towards some of the Newport establishment who were ensconced in the hotel along with 60 armed soldiers. The Chartist movement in south east Wales was chaotic in this period, after the arrest of Henry Vincent, a leading agitator, who was imprisoned nearby in Monmouth gaol and the feelings of the workers were running extremely high, too high for Frost to reason with and control. One of his contemporaries, William Price described Frost's stance at the time of the Newport Rising as being akin to "putting a sword in my hand and a rope around my neck."
The march, which had been gathering momentum over the course of the whole weekend as Frost and his associates led the protestors down from the valley towns above Newport, numbered some 3,000 when it entered the town. According to the plan, three columns from three directions were to march upon Newport and take the town before dawn. The contingent starting from Blackwood was commanded by Frost, the detachment coming from Nantyglo by Williams and the main body of Pontypool by Jones. The three columns were to meet at Risca, but this did not come to pass; owing to a storm raging in the night, all of them arrived late, and the worst trouble was that the delay gave the Newport authorities ample time to get wind of what was afoot and make ready to confront the coming armed Chartists. Special constables were sworn in hastily, the known Chartists of Newport were arrested and shut up in the Westgate Hotel where the mayor held 30 soldiers in reserve. The Chartist troops led by Frost, proceeding to the hotel at 9:30 am and demanding the surrender of the Chartist prisoners, advanced to the door. When the soldiers posted in the hotel started firing, ten to fifteen Chartists died instantly, about 50 were wounded. The bloody event was over in 20 minutes. The Chartists miners were in a very bad strategic position, and the firing took them by surprise. When they withdrew, they met the contingent of Williams and outside the town, the column of Jones. The times estimated that the strength of the Chartists army at 8,000 and Gammage at 20,000.
Overall the battle of the Westgate lasted only about 25 minutes, but at its close some 22 people lay dead or dying and upwards of 50 had been injured. An eyewitness report spoke of one man, wounded with gunshot, lying on the ground, pleading for help until he died an hour later.
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