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What are the Chartist Trial Documents?

Read the FULL REPORT, prepared by Gwent Archives.

These documents all relate to the sensational treason trials that took place in 1840. They followed the Chartist uprising of 3rd to 4th November 1839 in Newport in which over twenty Chartists were killed. Chartism was a national movement that was extremely popular in south Wales in the late 1830s and 1840s. The People’s Charter proposed a fairer political system that gave more people the vote and, they hoped, the chance to improve their working and living conditions. Chartism laid the foundation for the voting system we still enjoy today. By transcribing these documents, you can help make the voices of the men, women and children caught up in these momentous events heard once more.

Newport Reference Library Records:

These volumes contain the preliminary hearings for the Chartists ‘Special Commission’ Trials. Prepared from 5th November 1839, they gather together evidence for the prosecution for the trial that then began on 31st December 1839 at Shire Hall, Monmouth. The records were deposited at Newport Museum in 1915. Some later manuscripts have also been added to this archive at a later date. In around 1939 (to mark the centenary of the uprising) a printed catalogue was prepared which also forms part of this archive. The documents were later bound into the 25 volumes you see here and transferred to Newport Reference library where they remain.

Gwent Archive Records:

These records, all still held at Gwent Archives, relate to the Quarter Session courts that took place in Usk later in 1840. These were led by local magistrates and often included evidence gathered after the special commission trial had ended in January 1840.

The collection of documents  now  referred to as the ‘Chartist Trials’ papers, is made up of the records held at Newport Reference Library.  These records were generated during  the magistrates’ preliminary hearings conducted at the Westgate Hotel, Newport, the scene of the Chartist Rising. WThese hearings, in preparation for the Chartist Trials at Monmouth in January 1840, began on Tuesday 5th November and were held almost continuously until Saturday 30th November 1839.

What makes these papers so interesting is that the evidence gathered from over 200 witnesses was originally intended to bring 100 Chartists to trial. The authorities viewed this as an unmanageable number, hwoever and only 20 people were eventually tried in Monmouth in December 1839 and January 1840. This means that much of this material was not used and didn’t enter the public domain through court records.

These papers were effectively lost after the treason trials and subsequent trials. They were rediscovered, apparently randomly, by Mr Thomas Cartwright, a Monmouthshire colliery proprietor , during ‘some business changes to overhaul the contents of his office’ in 1915. These offices are believed to have been in Mill Parade, Pillgwenlly and had been used as a Barracks for troops stationed in Newport after the Chartist Rising.  In September 1915 the documents were donated to Newport Museum.

 

The documents have been studied by historians  since they reentered the public domain, but digitising and transcribing them makes them available to everyone. They are part of the story of this important British movement that shaped our democracy.