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The treason trial

On a bleak winter’s day, 31st December 1839, the last mass treason trial to take place in mainland Britain began.  Just after 9am a bugle called and the Lancers and infantry assembled and went to the gaol. When the twelve prisoners arrived at the Shire Hall, handcuffed and chained to each other, they were placed in the holding cells. Ten London policemen ensured that only the magistrates, jury and the members of the press, ‘for whom a convenient box had been fitted up to the right of the Grand Jury Box’ were allowed in.

What became a daily procession from the Judges’ Lodging at St. James’ Mews to the Court, saw the Judges accompanied by policemen, javelin men, Mr Stroud Monmouth’s Trumpeter of Assize, and six other trumpeters, all walking to the Shire Hall.  Train-bearers, gentlemen ushers and the metropolitan police made up the entourage inside the courtroom.  

A horn sounded at 10 o’clock, the judges took their seats and the doors were opened to the public. The courtroom was soon full even though public admission to the trials was by ticket only, for which there had been great competition. Then, ‘Shortly was heard the clanking of chains, and immediately afterwards the prisoners appeared in front of the dock.’ They stood at the bar in silence.  Having been led to believe John Frost was a terrible villain, many people were surprised when they saw him for the first time - a very respectable-looking gentleman.

On the defence team stood two lawyers, one reputedly the most learned and the other the most eloquent of the time.  On the prosecution team stood the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General.  The scene was set for a show trial.





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