It was not unusual for enthusiastic Chartists to name their children after the Chartist leaders. John Frost, Henry Vincent and William Lovett were popular names in the 1840s. Some children were even given the name Charter or Charters. If you come across one of these names in your family tree, it’s highly likely you have Chartist ancestors!
Other Chartists did all they could to distance themselves from the events of 1839, trying to erase the episode from family memory. Sylvia Taylor who grew up in Newport in the 1940s remembers her grandmother talking about a Chartist in the family. Soldiers had come looking for him, but he had escaped by hiding up a chimney. Sylvia discovered that he was eventually convicted of conspiracy, sedition and riot, but not until October 1840, when he was captured and tried in Usk. His three years’ hard labour at Monmouth gaol included time on the treadmill. This part of the story the family had chosen to forget. Her ancestor was Wright Beatty, and by pleading guilty he avoided seven years’ transportation. On his release from gaol in 1843 he was probably blacklisted by local employers and had to move away to find work. There is no trace of where or when he died.
Valerie Gordon and her sister Rita Catton discovered that John Jarrett Lovell, one of the 14 Chartists charged with high treason, was their great-great-great uncle. Lovell was seriously wounded at the Westgate and taken into custody at the Stow Hill Workhouse, where he spent 33 days recovering. At his trial he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death, but his punishment was commuted through plea bargaining to imprisonment with hard labour at Mill Bank. Prison did little to change his views, and after his release in 1844 he returned to Newport and his wife, and in 1847 is recorded as a subscriber to the Chartist Land Company. He died in 1852.
Millions of people signed the three petitions presented to Parliament in 1839, 1842 and 1848 - one of them may have been your ancestor. You might even find ancestors who were on the establishment side or fought in the military like Lieutenant Gray!
Text and artwork from Voices for the Vote: Shire Hall and the story of Chartism in south Wales. Reproduced by kind permission of Monmouthshire County Council/Shire Hall, Monmouth. The book costs £4.99 and can be obtained from Shire Hall Monmouth, Newport Museum or Gwent Archives