Jenny the Chartist’s story

My name is Jenny.  I’m 16 years old. Let me tell you my story. I live in Newport in 1839 in a very cold and draughty house near the River Usk in Emlyn Street.   I like it here except the house has no running water and my dad sends me with two buckets to fetch water from Baneswell.  There’s no toilet in our house either and first thing every morning it’s my job to throw the sewage from the toilet bucket out into the street gutter.  When I was 8 years old my mother died of cholera, so I was forced to take my first job to earn a little money to help my family make ends meet.  My dad gave me a water bottle to stop me from being thirsty as I had to load sacks of coal from canal barges on the river bank onto ships in the River Usk.  I was paid very low wages because I was a child and I’ve never had an increase to this day; but if I complained about this to my manager, Thomas Prothero, who works for Sir Charles Morgan, I would be sacked, so I say nothing.

Thomas Prothero, agent of Lord Tredegar

Life for children is dangerous – my sister was killed in an accident at work when she was 12 and some of my friends have been badly burned by molten iron from the iron works furnace.  My family are so poor that we are nearly always hungry and deep down I am angry that there is no future for me.  Poverty is everywhere.

Sir Charles Morgan lives in a splendid mansion called Tredegar House.  He owns lots of houses and lets Thomas Prothero and his children live in a grand house near St. Woolos called “The Friars”.  This is a very large, warm house with a huge fireplace in the entrance hallway and fireplaces in all the rooms – I can only  image how warm it is in there.  And they have a bathroom too with RUNNING WATER and a proper china toilet.  They have servants to look after their every need.

Friars House, home of Thomas Prothero

Sir Charles Morgan and Mr. Prothero are very powerful men in this area because nearly everyone works for them or their companies. At election time, Mr. Prothero makes sure that only people friendly to Sir Charles Morgan are elected to look after his interests in Parliament. It was about two years ago when I was 14 that I began to realise that Mr. Prothero was being unfair on all the workers and their children.  Mr. Prothero and Sir Charles Morgan were becoming very rich on the backs of their workers.

One day when I was at work on the riverbank, word went round that John Frost was going to hold a Chartist meeting at Pentonville Fields.  He was going to speak about the things that ordinary people felt passionate about – they hated having their pay kept so very low forcing many families to send their own children out to work from a very young age; they hated the new Workhouses; they hated having to pay tolls to Sir Charles Morgan’s to use his turnpike roads.

These things are unjust and need changing, say the Chartists, who want to put an end to rigged elections and get Chartists elected to Parliament by giving everyone the right to vote.  So I decided to go along to the meeting at Pentonville Fields which is where I saw John Frost for the first time, speaking to crowds of people in the sunshine, asking them to sign a petition called The People’s Charter.  That’s why they call John Frost a Chartist – because he asks people to sign the “Charter”, a petition to be sent to Parliament in London asking for six things which would give ordinary people a voice to speak out against injustice and change things by having the right to vote at elections.  John Frost stood upon a platfom and spoke to the crowd very seriously at the Pentonville Fields Chartist meeting  and everyone clapped him because what he said made sense.  I remember feeling happy because it was a bit like a festival fairground and everyone was singing and shouting and waving flags and dancing to the music of the bands. Next up onto the speakers platform was Henry Vincent, a 25 year-old Chartist from London, who spoke brilliantly and with passion, and he even sang a few songs which made the crowd roar for more.  Most of the crowd, like me, were won over by the passion of the Chartist speakers and we signed the People’s Charter which was taken off to many other Chartist meetings around the country during the spring of 1839 and finally it got to Parliament in London, signed by 1,300,000 people, asking for the right to vote.

What did Thomas Prothero do when he heard about the Chartist meeting in Pentonville Fields?  He quickly ordered that special constables were to be sent to break up the meeting so that we couldn’t speak out against the injustices we were facing. And the specials came with sticks to force people to leave the Fields.  Henry Vincent stood up and appealed for peace, but the specials didn’t listen. I was hit over the head with a constable’s stick and I stumbled off home with my face was covered in blood.  Later I met up with John Frost and some other Chartists in the Carpenter Arms in High Street and we decided on a plan.  John Frost contacted the other Chartist groups in the South Wales Valleys and they agreed that all Chartists would march to Newport on 4th November, to get the mayor to free the Chartists prisoners that had been arrested.

Early on Monday 4th November, I woke up early, took my water bottle that my dad had given me, and went to meet up with a huge number of Chartists (about 5 or 6 thousand) from all parts of the South Wales valleys who had marched through the stormy November night to arrive in Newport armed mostly with their courage alone, though some had home made pikes, a few had guns.   We met at Cwrt-y-bella on Cardiff Road where John Frost Zephaniah Willams and Jack the Fifer marshalled the Chartists into marching lines.  Although we were very tired, John Frost led us uphill to St. Woolos where we stood in front of the church, facing a number of Special Constables who blocked our way to the Workhouse. It was there that I met George from Pontypool who told me I had a pretty smile and then he gave me a sip of water from his bottle.  I remember John Frost speaking to us, trying to calm our fears, before turning to lead us all down Stow Hill to the Westgate Hotel.  I remember us all shouting, singing and laughing “Give us up our prisoners! Give us up our prisoners!” as we got close to the Westgate.  I remember Jack the Fifer and Zephaniah Williams trying to keep us marching in groups of 10.  I remember feeling very proud of the Chartists’ passion in speaking out for justice, truth and the right to vote.

Some of the Chartists tried get into the back of the Westgate Hotel from Stow Hill but I went to the front of the Hotel with most of the others. As we rounded the corner, the mood changed.  We didn’t know that we were heading for a trap.  Hidden inside the Hotel was Sergeant Daly and 32 soldiers of the 45th Regiment with the Mayor of Newport, Thomas Phillips who gave the order to throw open the shutters of the windows overlooking Commercial Street and the soldiers trained their guns on us.  There was pushing and shoving.  Another shout went up from the Chartists: “Give us up our prisoners”  “Give us up our prisoners”  “Give us up our prisoners”. There was confusion. Some people thought that the Chartists were shouting to the soldiers “You are our prisoners!” “You are our prisoners!” Then I remember hearing the sound of what seemed like a gunshot.  Who fired it?  Was it fired? I cannot say for sure.  Then the Mayor, Thomas Phillips, and friend of Thomas Prothero, ordered the soldiers to open fire on the crowd.

I remember that the result was immediate bloodshed, chaos and panic.  The Chartists did manage to enter the building for a few minutes, but were forced to retreat in disarray. Volley after volley was fired by the soldiers lasting for about 20 minutes.  I heard the screams and cries of the crowd.  I was running and shouting and screaming like everyone else and  there was complete panic. It was utter bedlam.  I hid just around the corner in a shop in Skinner Street and from a gap between two stones I could just about see what was happening.

Most of the Chartists had by now fled the scene. Items of clothing, bags and pikes littered the ground in front of the Westgate Hotel. And of course there were the dead bodies. Lots of them.  I felt very sad and frightened. It had gone very quiet except for the moaning and groaning of a wounded Chartist lying on the steps of the Westgate. I remember wondering if I should go out and help him. His cries got so bad that eventually I decided to creep forward to give him a sip of water. I wiped the blood from his lips and ever so carefully poured sips of water from my bottle to quench his thrist.  He smiled weakly.  Then I realised that I had met him before at the top of Stow Hill.  He had told me his name was George, from Pontypool, – I think he said he was 16 or 17 years old – and he was training to be a carpenter.  I just cuddled his head and made him comfortable until he finally breathed no more.  Then I noticed that he had a piece of paper pinned to the collar of his coat.  It was difficult to read but this is what I think it said:

“Dear Parents,

I hope this will find you as well, as I am myself at present, I shall this night be engaged in a struggle for freedom and should it please God to spare my life, I shall see you soon.But if not, grieve not for me, I shall fall in a noble cause. My tools are at Mr Cecil’s, and likewise my clothes.  Yours truly, George Shell”

I cried because George had given up his life here in Newport in a noble cause – the Chartist struggle for free speech, and civil rights. Later I found out that George and nine of the other Chartists shot dead at the Westgate were buried secretly at night by the soldiers in St Woolos churchyard.  I have decided that I am going to lay some white flowers on his grave every year in the spring to remember him.  I also found out that John Frost, Zephaniah Williams, William Jones and other Chartist leaders were arrested and sent for trial at Monmouth prison.  They were found guilty of High Treason against Queen Victoria and were transported to a prison colony in Australia.

Despite all of this, I am still a Chartist at heart. I remember John Frost, Henry Vincent, Jack the Fifer  and all the other Chartists I met, but most of all I remember George Shell.  I remember how kind and thoughtful he was giving me a sip of water at St Woolos and I remember how he struggled to sip the water I gave him as he lay in my arms at the Westgate.  And I will always remember how passionate he was speaking out for justice, truth and the right to vote.  He had sacrificed his life in a truly noble cause.

One day when I was at work on the riverbank, word went round that John Frost was going to hold a Chartist meeting at Pentonville Fields.  He was going to speak about the things that ordinary people felt passionate about – they hated having their pay kept so very low forcing many families to send their own children out to work from a very young age; they hated the new Workhouses; they hated having to pay tolls to Sir Charles Morgan’s to use his turnpike roads.

And that the Chartists wanted to give everyone the right to vote so these things could be changed.  So I decided to go along to the meeting at Pentonville Fields which is where I saw John Frost for the first time, speaking to crowds of people in the sunshine, asking them to sign a petition to Parliament called The People’s Charter.  John Frost stood upon a platfom and spoke to the crowd very seriously at the Pentonville Fields Chartist meeting  and everyone clapped him because what he said made sense.  I remember feeling happy because it was a bit like a festival fairground and everyone was singing and shouting and waving flags and dancing to the music of the bands. Next up onto the speakers platform was Henry Vincent, a 25 year-old Chartist from London, who spoke brilliantly and with passion, and he even sang a few songs which made the crowd roar for more.  Most of the crowd, like me, were won over by the passion of the Chartist speakers and we signed the People’s Charter which was taken off to many other Chartist meetings around the country during the spring of 1839 and finally it got to Parliament in London, signed by 1,300,000 people, asking for the right to vote.

WhenThomas Prothero heard about the Chartist meeting at Pentonville Fields he ordered special constables to be sent to break up the meeting. And the specials came with sticks to force people to leave the Fields.  Henry Vincent stood up and appealed for peace, but the specials didn’t listen. I was hit over the head with a constable’s stick and I stumbled off home with my face was covered in blood.  Later I met up with John Frost and some other Chartists and we decided on a plan.  John Frost contacted the other Chartist groups in the South Wales Valleys and they agreed that all Chartists would march to Newport on 4th November, to get the mayor to free the Chartists prisoners that had been arrested.

Early on Monday 4th November, I woke up early, took my water bottle that my dad had given me, and went to Cwrt-y-bella on Cardiff Road to meet up with a huge number of very tired Chartists who had marched through the stormy November night from all parts of the South Wales valleys to arrive in Newport armed mostly with their courage alone, though some had home made pikes, a few had guns.  John Frost Zephaniah Willams and Jack the Fifer got the Chartists into marching lines and John Frost led us uphill to St. Woolos where we stood in front of the church, facing a number of Special Constables who blocked our way to the Workhouse. It was there that I met George from Pontypool who told me I had a pretty smile and then he gave me a sip of water from his bottle.  I remember John Frost speaking to us, trying to calm our fears, before leading us all down Stow Hill to the Westgate Hotel.  I remember us all shouting, singing and laughing “Give us up our prisoners! Give us up our prisoners!” as we got close to the Westgate.  I remember Jack the Fifer and Zephaniah Williams trying to keep us marching in groups of 10.  I remember feeling very proud of the Chartists’ passion in speaking out for justice, truth and the right to vote.

As we rounded the corner, the mood changed, as we found out that we we were heading for a trap.  Hidden inside the Hotel was Sergeant Daly and 32 soldiers of the 45th Regiment with the Mayor of Newport, Thomas Phillips who gave the order to throw open the shutters of the windows overlooking Commercial Street and the soldiers trained their guns on us.  There was pushing and shoving.  Another shout went up from the Chartists: “Give us up our prisoners”  “Give us up our prisoners”  Some people thought that the Chartists were shouting to the soldiers “You are our prisoners!” “You are our prisoners!” Then I remember hearing the sound of what seemed like a gunshot.  Who fired it?  Was it fired? I cannot say for sure.  Then the Mayor, Thomas Phillips, and friend of Thomas Prothero, ordered the soldiers to open fire on the crowd.

The Chartists at the Westgate Hotel

I remember the immediate bloodshed, chaos and panic.  The Chartists did manage to enter the building for a few minutes, but were forced to retreat. The soldiers kept on firing for about 20 minutes.  I heard the screams and cries of the crowd.  I was running and shouting and screaming like everyone else and  there was complete panic.

I hid just around the corner in a shop in Skinner Street and from a gap between two stones I could just about see what was happening.  Most of the Chartists had by now fled the scene. Items of clothing, bags and pikes littered the ground in front of the Westgate Hotel. And of course there were the dead bodies. Lots of them.  I felt very sad and frightened.

It had gone very quiet except for the moaning and groaning of a wounded Chartist lying on the steps of the Westgate. I remember wondering if I should go out and help him. His cries got so bad that eventually I decided to creep forward to give him a sip of water. I wiped the blood from his lips and ever so carefully poured sips of water from my bottle to quench his thrist.  He smiled weakly.  Then I realised that I had met him before at the top of Stow Hill.  He had told me his name was George, from Pontypool, – I think he said he was 16 or 17 years old.  I just cuddled his head and made him comfortable until he finally breathed no more.  Then I noticed that he had a piece of paper pinned to the collar of his coat.  It was difficult to read but this is what I think it said:

“Dear Parents,

I hope this will find you as well, as I am myself at present, I shall this night be engaged in a struggle for freedom and should it please God to spare my life, I shall see you soon.But if not, grieve not for me, I shall fall in a noble cause. My tools are at Mr Cecil’s, and likewise my clothes.  Yours truly, George Shell”

 I cried because George had given up his life here in Newport in a noble cause – the Chartist struggle for free speech, and civil rights. Later I found out that George and nine of the other Chartists shot dead at the Westgate were buried secretly at night by the soldiers in St Woolos churchyard.  I have decided that I am going to lay some white flowers on his grave every year in the spring to remember him.  I also found out that John Frost, Zephaniah Williams, William Jones and other Chartist leaders were arrested and sent for trial at Monmouth prison.  They were found guilty of High Treason against Queen Victoria and were transported to a prison colony in Australia.

 Despite all of this, I am still a Chartist at heart. I remember John Frost, Henry Vincent, Jack the Fifer  and all the other Chartists I met, but most of all I remember George Shell.  I remember how kind and thoughtful he was giving me a sip of water at St Woolos and I remember how he struggled to sip the water I gave him as he lay in my arms at the Westgate.  And I will always remember how passionate he was speaking out for justice, truth and the right to vote.  He had sacrificed his life in a truly noble cause.

Jenny

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