Most Chartist ‘lodges’ met in public houses, electing officers and collecting regular subscriptions. Two of the Chartist leaders were landlords. Zephaniah Williams ran the Royal Oak in Blaina and William Jones ran the Bristol House beer shop in Pontypool, although some leading Chartists, including Henry Vincent, were total abstainers.
As pubs became important Chartist meeting places many landlords found their premises were the front line in the battle with the authorities. In April 1839 the Mayor of Newport, Thomas Phillips, nicknamed ‘Mr Gag’, banned meetings in the town’s pubs. This drove the Chartists into secret gatherings in industrial outbuildings in Pillgwenlly and in the beer houses of slum land along Newport’s river bank - Friar’s Field (where many Newport Chartists would seek refuge following the attack on the Westgate).
Magistrates also tried to control the growth of Chartism by banning landlords from serving Chartists. In Monmouth the licensee of the Masons Arms in Monnow Street was summoned to appear before the Mayor to explain why he allowed men who called themselves ‘Chartists’ to drink in his pub. He was told to refuse to serve them in future, or face a penalty.
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