Final plans for the mass protest were made at the Coach and Horses in Blackwood where, on Friday 1st November men from thirty Chartists lodges met. Three massed groups of Chartists were to march to Newport, one from the Western Valleys lead by John Frost, one from the Eastern Valley led by William Jones, and one from Ebbw Vale and the Sirhowy Valley led by Zephaniah Williams. Williams said they were going to Newport to show they were determined to get the Charter made the law of the land. He reassured Chartists no one would be hurt and that the soldiers garrisoned at the Workhouse would not touch them. They were to carry weapons in self-defence and march in units of ten men.
And it was at the Coach and Horses on Sunday 3rd November that John Frost was seen wearing a great coat and a red cravat around his neck, pacing up and down as if waiting a signal. Throughout the night Chartists gathered at meeting points, until thousands were on the road, marching towards Newport in torrential rain. The weather was foul, seriously hampering their progress, and there was no sign of William Jones and his contingent at the planned meeting point outside Newport. Many people were out and about under cover of darkness; some Chartists were captured and taken to the Westgate.
Early on Monday morning the bedraggled and exhausted miners and iron workers from the Monmouthshire Valleys met up with Newport Chartists, who guided them into town, to avoid the soldiers stationed at the Workhouse.
Eagerly acting as John Frost’s lieutenant on the march, Jack the Fifer (John Rees of Tredegar) headed the column of four thousand Chartists as they marched down Stow Hill. An army deserter called Williams and Dai the Tinker (another man called David Jones) were at the front, as well as John Frost and other Newport Chartists - Wright Beatty, Charles Waters and John Lovell. Zephaniah Williams was at the back, urging stragglers on, ensuring nobody targeted the Workhouse or magistrates’ houses in the town.
Armed with their picks, pikes and guns and marching in orderly ranks, the men turned the corner at the bottom of Stow Hill and lined up outside the Westgate Hotel, shouting ‘Give us up the Prisoners’, (although the Prosecution maintained they said ‘Give yourselves up as our prisoners’).
...At about nine o’clock the cheering of many voices was heard in the distance, from the direction of Stowhill, producing the utmost alarm, as evidenced by the countenances of those inhabitants who appeared at their windows. In a few minutes after, the front ranks of a numerous body of men approached, armed with weapons of every description – guns, pistols, blunderbusses, swords, bayonets, daggers, pikes.......bill-hooks, reaping-hooks, hatchets, cleavers, axes, pitchforks, blades of knives, scythes and saws fixed in staves, pieces of iron.... in fact every kind of weapon that could be at all made available’, the Editor of the Merlin reported.
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