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John Lovell and the People's Charter


The Newport rising

On 4 November 1839, 5,000 men marched into Newport ,in Monmouthshire, and attempted to take control of the town. Led by three well-known Chartist leaders (John Frost, William Jones and Zephaniah Williams), they gathered outside the Westgate Hotel, where the local authorities were temporarily holding a number of potential troublemakers. Troops protecting the hotel then opened fire, killing at least 22 people, and brought the uprising to an abrupt end. Among the injured was a Chartist named John Lovell, who was shot in the thigh and badly wounded.

Map of Westgate Hotel - opens new window
Map of Westgate Hotel
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Newport rising: Eyewitness accounts - opens new window
Newport rising: eyewitness accounts
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The birth of Chartism

Why was there such violence in Newport in 1839? In the late 1830s, Britain's growing working-class population didn't have a strong political voice and weren't allowed to vote. Frustrated by the slow progress in achieving democracy, William Lovett, a member of the London Working Men's Association, wrote the People's Charter, a call for the right to vote. From this idea, the Chartist movement was born.

The Chartists wanted the vote for all men (though not for women) and a fairer electoral system. They also called for annual elections, the payment of MPs, and the introduction of a secret ballot.

 

Chartists
Chartists When Chartist supporters took the People's Charter to Parliament, in July 1839, it was massively rejected, by 235 votes to 46. In the same month, serious unrest - known as the 'Bull Ring riots' - took place in Birmingham city centre, where policemen from London broke up peaceful Chartist meetings. Facing such police harassment and with little success in Westminster, some Chartists looked towards more radical action.

What led to the rising?

Working conditions in many coalfields and ironworks in South Wales were harsh, and there was often conflict between workers and employers. Given these circumstances, it was no surprise that Chartism developed quickly. In the summer of 1838 a Working Men's Association was formed in Newport to publicise the People's Charter. Within six months, the radical leader John Frost estimated that there were between 15,000 and 20,000 Chartists in the county of Monmouthshire.

Chartists
Chartists From the beginning, one man - John Lovell - played a leading role in the Association. Originally from Northamptonshire, Lovell had settled with his wife in Newport where he worked as a gardener and became known as a committed Chartist.
The local authorities knew Lovell as a potential troublemaker. He had been one of a number of leading Chartists held by police during rioting in Newport after the arrest of one of their leaders, Henry Vincent, in May 1839.

Prison inspector's report on Lovell - opens new window

Prison inspector's report on Lovell
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National Land Company register,  - opens new window
National Land Company register, 1847
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The aftermath

Within days of the November rising, 14 of the ringleaders were arrested and in December they were accused of high treason. Frost, Jones and Williams were found guilty and sentenced to death. Because he pleaded guilty, Lovell received a lighter sentence: transportationGlossary - opens new window for life. However, a nationwide campaign saved the Newport Chartists, and the WhigGlossary - opens new window government reduced their sentences. Instead, Frost, Jones and Williams got transportation for life and Lovell received a five-year prison sentence.

Why was the rising important?

Historians have described the events of November 1839 as - among other things - a 'Welsh nationalist revolt', a 'monster demonstration' and, simply, a 'riot'. And there is still disagreement about what the Newport Chartists aimed to achieve. What is clear is that the Newport rising was not a spontaneous popular protest but an organised event, planned in advance.

Chartists
Chartists The Newport rising was a turning point for the Chartist movement. 'Physical force Chartism' was no longer popular, and an uprising of the size seen in Newport never happened again. However, thanks to the vigorous lobbying and campaign in support of the convicted Chartists, which led to their sentences being reduced, the movement gained strength and popularity throughout Britain.

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