Chartism grew out of the discontent at the failure of the 1832 Parliamentary Reform Act. It was still only people of property who had the right to elect Members of Parliament. In May 1838 the London Working Men's Association published the "People's Charter".
The Charter
  1. A VOTE
    For every man of twenty one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime.
  2. THE BALLOT
    To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
  3. NO PROPERTY QUALIFICATION
    For members of Parliament—thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
  4. PAYMENT OF MEMBERS,
    Thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.
  5. EQUAL CONSTITUENCIES,
    Securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors,--instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of larger ones.
  6. ANNUAL PARLIAMENTS,
    Thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.
Throughout 1838, support for the Charter spread rapidly throughout the industrial areas of South Wales. Chartist lodges were springing up everywhere, largely due to the missionary zeal of Henry Vincent, one of the most charismatic speakers of his day, and William Edwards, known as the Newport Baker. It seems likely that the earliest lodge in the Blaenau Gwent area was formed towards the end of 1838 at the Star Inn at Dukestown. Zephaniah Williams lived nearby and his friend and fellow radical, John Morgan, was the innkeeper.

Under their leaders - John Frost of Newport, Zephaniah Williams from Argoed and William Jones of Pontypool, the Valley Chartists decided to march on Newport in a show of force.
Setting out from the Coach and Horses inn at Blackwood on a cold November morning 1839. The Sirhowy Valley contingent made their way down the valley joining up with other supporters on the way.
By the time they got to the 'Welsh Oak' pub at Pontyminster, their number had swelled to over 5000.

Most men were armed, some had muskets but the majority wielded pikes, which had been forged and hidden at secret locations such as the Chartists cave on Llangattock moor, which is a hidden cave north of Trefil.

Chartists' Cave

(SO 12771 15230 (N51 49 46.9 W3 15 56.7 These markings were produced by a garmin C60 ))
When you get to this place look for a large rock on the hill then look for some telegraph pylons in the distance, now walk towards this but be care full as the cave will be under the way that you will be walking with in a very short distance.
More images here

The Chartist's Cave is located in a prominent knoll to the east of Garn Fawr round cairn on the open, exposed moorland of Trefil Las.

The original name of the cave seems to have been Tylles Fawr (the Great Hole). In 1809, the cave came to the attention of Theophilus Jones, the author of the History of Brecknockshire:The cave’s main claim to fame rests on strong local tradition that it was pressed into service as an arms factory and secret meeting place in the period leading up to the Chartist Insurrection of 1839.

The tradition was first recorded by Evan Powell in 1884: “In the Tir voel Glas [Trefil Las] is a natural cavern, the entrance into which is much larger and higher than that into Eglwys faen in Llangattock: it presents a kind of arched room or vault, forty or fifty feet in circumference, and at the further end where the rock dips is a passage, leading perhaps to other appartments; it is generally known by the corrupted Welsh name of Stabl Fawr, or the great stable, because the little hilly horses, cattle and sheep are frequently known to run into it for shelter from the storm.”


The Image of this is confusing so i took a look at the chartist cave and found that this has replaced the original plaque (Date 6 August 2005)

However, during an excavation in the cave in 1970, human and animal bones, a clay pipe, coal, and a flat perforated stone were recovered. It is possible the latter was of considerable antiquity. Information on the human bones presented at an inquest (by Dr Bernard Knight), suggested them be relatively recent (50-100 years old). They were thought to have belonged to at least three individuals. One thigh-bone had been mutilated, leaving open the possibility that the victims in the burial group may have been secreted in this place after one or more local disturbance

1839 will be a memorable date, as the year in which the Chartists rose and made a march to Newport. Preparations were made a long while previously; caves in Llangynider mountains were utilised as smitheries for the purpose of forging “pikes” and other weapons.

It must be said that Oliver Jones, the much-respected historian of Sirhowy and Tredegar, was dubious about the truth of this particular tradition:

July 1839, the Chartists of Sirhowy and Tredegar began using the cave on Mynydd Llangynidr. Why they went there and what they did there has never been satisfactorily explained. It has been suggested that the place was used as a smithy for the making of pikes and other weapons but this is hardly true; why go to such an out-of-the-way spot to make pikes when they could be secretly made in dozens in the Iron Works - as they were.

Again, no smith could live with the smoke of a forge in that unthinkable place which is now known as the Chartist Cave but was originally called ‘Tylles Fawr’ (Great Hole). Inside at the end of a tunnel it opens out into a chamber-like cavern in the centre of which is a large stone rather like a table. This seems to suggest that the place was used for other purposes in days gone by. The entrance has now crumbled badly, making access both difficult and dangerous.”

NCA-card

En route they learned that fellow Chartists had been arrested and imprisoned inside the Westgate Hotel.
Enraged by this news they descended Stow Hill to storm the Westgate hotel in Newport.

So runs the eye-witness description of Thomas Watkins, a special constable on duty inside the Westgate Hotel, of the aftermath of the Chartist attack on the morning of November 4th, 1839. Outside, where twenty-five minutes earlier 5,000 armed men had thronged the streets, abandoned weapons littered the deserted square. Under the portico of the Mayor's house nearby a dying man was pleading for help - he received none, and spent another hour and a half in agony before he was finally dead. "Y Cyfodiad" - the Chartist Uprising - was over.

Zephaniah Williams, John Frost of Newport and William Jones of Pontypool were the acknowledged leaders of the Monmouthshire Chartists. Zephaniah Williams was the moving force behind the spread of Chartism in Blaenau Gwent, and it was he who lead the Blaenau Gwent Chartists through the torrential rain on their ill-fated march to Newport on that cold and windy night of November 3rd, 1839.

Born in Argoed in 1795, Zephaniah ("Zeph" to his friends) spent his boyhood in Blackwood and benefited from a fairly good education in both Welsh and English. Having studied geology in his youth he became a mining engineer, opening several levels in the Machen area where he lived with his wife's parents. In 1828 he moved to Sirhowy Hill where he took up the position of mineral agent to the Harfords, the local Ironmasters. Whilst in this job, he also lived near the Royal Oak in Dukestown, and at 10 Police Row, where he was to stay until 1839 when he moved to Nantyglo to become the innkeeper of the Royal Oak Inn at Coalbrookvale.

As one of Harford's principal officials, Zephaniah would have been fairly affluent. He seems to have owned two houses in Iron Street and two in Cwm Rhos as well as his own house and his father's farm in Argoed. Even so, he was soon a committed Chartist, attending lodges at the Star Inn, the Miner's Arms, Church Street and the Red Lion in Colliers Row (Tredegar).

Described by Henry Vincent as "one of the most intelligent men it has been my good fortune to meet", Zephaniah Williams was a convinced rationalist i.e. an agnostic. This led to him being unjustly accused of all manner of crimes against religion - spitting at the mention of Christ's name and keeping a picture of the crucifixion hanging upside down in his house. One of his bitterest enemies was a local minister Rev. Benjamin Williams and Zephaniah answered his slanders in an open letter: "I would advise all men to take nothing upon trust. . . . to examine closely: and to be directed by that which reason most approves".

Later, when he lived at Nantyglo, he was of the opinion that "there existed a historic person, Christ, so good, so pure and disinterested that had he lived at Nantyglo his house would have been pulled down over his head long ago."

As Zephaniah's commitment to the Chartist cause deepened, the pressure on him from his employers - the Harfords - increased, and so early in 1839 he moved to Nantyglo. Many Sirhowy men followed him and Robin Lewis (Rob Siani) went with him as his handyman.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1839 the level of Chartist activity in the area intensified. Meetings were held at both the Royal Oak and the King Crispin (which stood in Boundary Street) in Brynmawr, which was owned by David Lewis, another radical. On April 20th, on his way along the tramroad from the King Crispin to the Royal Oak, Henry Vincent met up with Crawshay Bailey - the most powerful of the local ironmasters. Their conversation was less than friendly, with Bailey expressing his regret that the Chartist activist had not been thrown into the works pond!

Increasingly worried by the rise in Chartist numbers, the local ironmasters and clergy organised an anti-Chartist meeting at Coalbrookvale for April 29th. Crawshay Bailey was in the chair and George Brewer (owner of the Coalbrookvale Ironworks) and John Brown (Cwmcelyn and Blaina Ironworks) also attended. Bailey made an impassioned speech attacking the Chartists, finishing defiantly: "I owe all that I have to my own industry and I would risk my life rather than lose my property".

The answer came two days later when a huge rally gathered on the Star Field, Dukestown (now the Twyn Star Housing Estate) with almost 5,000 people in attendance. Bands played and banners fluttered, the chief speakers arrived in a four-wheeled chaise decorated with flags. Tension increased when Capel Hanbury Leigh, Crawshay Bailey and Thomas Powell all agreed to refuse employment at their works to known Chartists, and furthermore the Royal Oak at Coalbrookvale was declared out of bounds to all of Bailey's employees.

Then, on May 9th, Vincent, Edwards and others were arrested and taken to Newport. A riot broke out, and the men were subsequently imprisoned at Monmouth Gaol. On Whit Monday, May 20th, 30,000 people attended a huge rally at Blackwood and a petition was set up for Vincent's release. Another rally at Coalbrookvale on July 1st attracted a crowd of 10,000 and by July 12th, when a petition was presented to Parliament, over a million signatures had been gathered. The petition was rejected.

Chartists had always fallen into two camps - the "moral force" men (of whom Zephaniah Williams was one) and the "physical force" men - those prepared to take up arms to gain the Charter. With the failure of the petition the physical force faction gained the upper hand. On August 12th, the largest gathering of the whole of the 19th Century took place when the Chartists met at the Star Field, Dukestown, when over 40,000 attended.

By now, Chartists were beginning to arm themselves - pikes were being made at the smithy at the Victoria Works, Ebbw Vale, and at the Chartist Cave on Mynydd Llangynidr above Trefil (after the Rising, the authorities discovered a small hearth with bellows, iron and coal).

In Tredegar, John Rees (Jack the Fifer), David Jones (Dai the Tinker) and Isaac Tippings (the Tailor from Nantyglo) were very active around the lodges. The "Chartist Lights", lanterns and torches moving across the mountains, were seen and hardly a night went by without fiery speeches and illegal gatherings.

Typical wanted poster at this time

On August 26th, the Chartist Convention was reconvened and, on September 14th, the date was decided upon for a co-ordinated Uprising. Major Beniowski (a Polish emigré) was sent to Wales to co-ordinate preparations and although he may have been a type of mercenary we know little of him and his precise role is unclear.

September and October saw Blaenau Gwent as a hive of frantic activity. On October 3rd, some 500 people attended a meeting at the Royal Oak, Coalbrookvale, where John Frost urged restraint until the rest of Britain was ready to rise. At a secret meeting later that night, Frost asked Zephaniah Williams, William Jones and David Lewis (of the King Crispin) "Will you rise at my bidding, for it must be done?” Attempts were made to induce soldiers at Brecon and Newport to desert. Plans were made (and changed) but finally it was decided to march on Newport on the night of Sunday, November 3rd. Meanwhile, the production of arms intensified and more and more people joined the Chartist lodges. Evan Edwards, the Tredegar clockmaker and James Godwin, the mason from Brynmawr, were busy making bullets, while puddlers and colliers at Blaina ordered their muskets.

The plan was for the Chartist forces from all over Monmouthshire to meet at Risca before marching on Newport. On Saturday, November 2nd, at a meeting at the Royal Oak, Coalbrookvale, Zephaniah Williams and Thomas Guttery (of Blaina) made speeches and told the men gathered there to meet, armed, on the following evening. According to Benjamin James, a local collier, a few people entered backroom where Thomas Ferriday and others were seen handling guns. A similar gathering was in full swing at the King Crispin in Brynmawr, with Ishmael Evans in the chair, where David Lewis and his men were taking oaths of secrecy on a large Bible.

On the morning of Sunday, November 3rd, about 200 people gathered at the Royal Oak and were told to meet in the evening and to bring their weapons and food. Zephaniah Williams said to them that if the soldiers fired they were "to do their best". At 6 p.m., they set off for Mynydd Carn y Cefn where Zephaniah stood under an umbrella on a large mound by the roadside. A horn was sounded and guns tested.

By 8 o'clock, almost 4,000 men had gathered waiting for the men from Dukestown, Brynmawr, and Beaufort. Among the Nantyglo contingent was Abraham Thomas, one of William Davies's "platoon" of ten men. Despite his wife's desperate pleas, he had left home at about 7 o'clock. Wrapping her youngest child in a shawl, she ran after him through the torrential rain to the Royal Oak where Zephaniah's wife told her that he had already gone to the mountain. Less than fifteen hours later Abraham Thomas lay dead outside the Westgate Hotel.

At Rassau, David Howell, William David, John Jones, William Williams and 50 others were gathering their men, some by force. At 8 p.m. they stopped outside Carmel Chapel and required the congregation to follow them to Newport. At 11 p.m., they broke into the Beaufort Arms, at Beaufort Rise, demanding ale and killing the landlord's dog (the landlord was an anti-Chartist and had already fled).

In Tredegar and Sirhowy, the Red Lion at Colliers Row and the Colliers Arms in Park Row had been turned into pike factories. Jack Rees (the Fifer) accompanied by William Evans, Thomas Morgan and John Morgan led the Tredegar men down the Sirhowy valley to meet Frost at Blackwood. At Twyn y Star, hundreds had gathered led by Rees Meredith (one of those killed) and Dai the Tinker (David Jones) - in his velvet jacket and spotted neckerchief. At about 8 p.m. they met the men of Benjamin Richards' Star Inn lodge at Sirhowy Bridge before moving off to meet Zephaniah Williams and his men at Mynydd Carn y Cefn. Passing through Ebbw Vale they met up with 2,000 at the Pen y Cae ironworks, and about 20 of them pushed their way into the Lamb Inn demanding more beer. Later, another gang arrived dragging the landlord of the Wyvern Inn, Sirhowy along with them. At about 9 p.m., all the contingents met near the Harfords' residence and then moved off down the valley towards Newport. After much delay (caused mainly by the appalling weather and by calling off at pubs on the way!) the Heads of the Valleys contingent met up with Frost's forces at the Welsh Oak, Risca at about 6.30 a.m.

At about 7.00 a.m. the great mass of people moved off to Pye Corner and then through Tredegar Park to the Cwrt y Bella weighing machine.

Here the Chartist forces halted and were put into better order, six abreast with a gun at the end of each line. The Tredegar man, John Rees (Jack the Fifer), was prominent in organising the ranks. The authorities in Newport had chosen the Westgate Hotel as their head-quarters and, having succeeded in taking some Chartist stragglers prisoner during the night, they housed them under the guard of about 60 special constables and thirty soldiers of the 45th Regiment of Foot under the command of Lt. Gray.

Abandoning the original plan of attacking the workhouse at the top of Stow Hill, John Frost now decided to head directly to the Westgate to try and free the prisoners.

Filing down Stow Hill, the Chartists arrived at the Westgate at about 9.30 a.m. The crowd called for the release of the prisoners and soon a scuffle started on the porch of the Hotel. Whether accidentally or not is unclear, but a musket was discharged. The Chartists rushed in through the front door of the hotel. As they started firing and hammering at the shutters of the hotel windows, the fight went on in the main hall. Mayor Phillips had hoped to avoid a clash but the situation was now beyond his control. The order was given for the soldiers to load their guns and the bottom shutters of the hotel's front windows were removed. At this point the mayor and a Sergeant Daily were injured. The soldiers now filed past the windows firing into the crowd and inflicting heavy casualties. The Chartists outside fled for cover.

In the passage, those still inside continued fighting and trying to free the prisoners. Opening the door and ordering the constables to step aside, the soldiers filled the passage with musket fire.

The battle of the Westgate had lasted about 25 minutes, 22 people lay dead or dying and upwards of 50 had been injured. William Jones, a miner in Sirhowy, managed to get home to Trallong in Breconshire despite being shot through the back. Morgan Jones of Tredegar was taken to the workhouse where his leg was amputated and John Morgan of the same town was treated for a wound to his thigh. David Morgan, again of Tredegar, died in Friars Fields while among the ten bodies under guard at the Westgate Hotel was that of Abraham Thomas of Nantyglo. On the night of November 7th, the bodies from the Westgate were taken and buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery of St Woolos' Cathedral, Newport.

In all, ten men from Blaenau Gwent are known to have been among the dead, but others may have died and remained unidentified. Those we know of are: William Evans, Rees Meredith and David Morgan from Tredegar and Sirhowy; David Davies and his son from Brynmawr; John Jonathan, Abraham Thomas, Isaac Thomas and John the Roller of Nantyglo and Blaina and William Williams of Cwmtillery.

With the defeated Chartists streaming back up the valleys, the search began for the leaders of the "Newport Insurrection". John Frost was arrested that evening in the house of a friend in Newport, David Lewis was found hiding in a chest at the King Crispin on November 5th, and William Jones was arrested after a brief struggle near the Navigation Inn at Crumlin. Zephaniah Williams evaded capture for almost three weeks before being caught on the merchant ship Vintage at Cardiff just before setting sail for Portugal.

The leaders were tried at Monmouth for High Treason, found guilty and condemned to death. On the grounds of a legal technicality brilliantly argued by the defending barrister, Sir Frederick Pollock, the death sentence was commuted and on February 2nd, 1840 Frost, Williams and Jones set sail for Tasmania to begin their new sentence of transportation for life.

John Frost returned to Britain in 1856, but neither William Jones nor Zephaniah Williams were ever to see Wales again. The leader of the Blaenau Gwent Chartists died in Launceston, Tasmania, on May 8th, 1874.

The battle for the Westgate Hotel

The threat of armed uprising hung constantly in the air around the Chartist movement. But on only one occasion did the Charter’s supporters deliberately take up arms in an attempt to force their demands.

This rising, at Newport – then in Monmouthshire and now in the county of Gwent – was undoubtedly ill-conceived and badly executed. It resulted in sentences of death being passed on three of its leaders, it achieved no political end in itself, and if, as some suppose, it was intended to trigger a wider revolt, then it failed in that too - though not without bringing the Bradford and Sheffield Chartists along with others to the very brink.

The immediate objective, however, was to release the well-known Chartist lecturer Henry Vincent and others who had recently been arrested by the authorities - though as it happened, Vincent himself was not even being held in Newport at the time.

The rising was led by John Frost, a radical former mayor of Newport and magistrate – until he was removed by the Lord Chancellor for his political activities. He and his allies planned to march in three columns on Newport under cover of darkness, early in the morning of Monday 4 November 1839. Frost would lead the western column, Zepheniah Williams the central column, and William Jones the eastern column.

Planning went on for weeks, and was kept remarkably well concealed. However, at the last minute, a company of the 45th Regiment was drafted to Newport, and special constables were hastily sworn in and began to arrest known Chartists – so word must have got out. Meanwhile, the Chartists set out on their march to the town.

When they reached their planned assembly point, however, there was no sign of Jones and his column, so some six and a-half hours later than planned, the forces under Frost and Williams entered Newport, not under cover of night, as had been planned, but in broad daylight, exhausted and wet from the heavy rain. The main force of the Chartist group assembled in front of the Westgate Hotel and called for the release of their comrades.

What happened next is not clear, but a gun was fired in the struggle between specials and Chartists, and this was taken as the sign for a full assault on the hotel. Unknown to the rebels, a contingent of soldiers were stationed in the building, they fired on the Chartists, and at least ten died there and then.

The dead
An account of the Newport rising on the website of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council lists the names of ten local men known to have died in the fighting at the Westgate Hotel: William Evans, Rees Meredith and David Morgan from Tredegar and Sirhowy; David Davies and his son from Brynmawr; John Jonathan, Abraham Thomas, Isaac Thomas and John the Roller of Nantyglo and Blaina and William Williams of Cwmtillery.

The main bulk of Chartists, however, ran off, dropping pikes and guns as they went.

Jones, Williams and others were captured and indicted for high treason. Despite the misgivings of the judge, they were convicted and would have been executed. The judge himself intervened on their behalf with the Home Secretary, and in the end the three condemned men had their sentences commuted and were transported to Australia.

In March 1854 they were pardoned conditionally, and in 1855 unconditionally. Both Jones and Williams remained in Australia. Frost returned to a hero’s welcome. He died at Stapleton in Bristol on 28 July 1887, aged 93 years.

Prisoners tried January 1840
Name Age Charge  
John Frost 54 Charged with the crime of high treason against our Sovereign Lady the Queen her crown and dignity. Guilty, sentence deferred.
Charles Waters 26 High treason. Guilty, sentence deferred.
John Partridge 44 Divers acts of treason. 6 months imprisonment.
James Aust 25 Divers acts of treason and sedition. 7 years transportation.
Thomas Davies 33 High treason. Guilty, sentence deferred.
John Rees 40 High treason. 7 years transportation.
Richard Benfield 20 High treason. 2 years imprisonment.
William Jones 30 High treason. Guilty, sentence deferred
Amy Meredith 45 Feloniously breaking open the house of John Jones at Trevethin, Stealing a quantity of bread and cheese, and a cask, containing six gallons of beer. Not tried.
James Meredith 11 Feloniously breaking open the house of John Jones at Trevethin, Stealing a quantity of bread and cheese, and a cask, containing six gallons of beer. Not tried.
Thomas Keys 29 Feloniously breaking open the house of John Jones at Trevethin, Stealing a quantity of bread and cheese, and a cask, containing six gallons of beer. Not tried.
Solomon Briton 23 High treason and sedition. 7 years transportation
William Williams 29 Feloniously breaking open the house of John Lloyd at Bedwelty and taking from Ann Walters a quantity of rum and gin and beer. 12 months hard labour.
George George 37 High treason and sedition. Acquitted.
Thomas Davis 28 Charged with having been riotously assembled with other persons unknown at Abercarne, and compelled G.Hitchings to join them for an illegal purpose. 18 months imprisonment.
George Turner 37 Treason and sedition. 7 years transportation.
William Shellard 36 High treason and sedition. 2 years imprisonment.
Edmund Edmunds 34 High treason and sedition. 18 months imprisonment.
Samuel Ethreidge 61 high treason and sedition. 12 months imprisonment
John Lewis Llewellin 49 Sedition. 12 months imprisonment
Jenkin Morgan 40 Treason and sedition. 18 months imprisonment.
Evan Edwards 24 High treason and sedition. 12 months hard labour
Benjamin Richards 41 High treason and sedition. Not tried
Thomas Llewellin 44 Treason and sedition. Not tried
Thomas Morgan 29 Charged with having entered the house of William Adams at Ebber Vale, with other persons armed with guns, spears, &c, and compelled him to join them in an unlawful combination and conspiracy.
Zepheniah Williams 44 for high treason and sedition. Sentence deferred

Moses Horner

  Stealing one shot belt and one dagger, the property of William Thomas of Monythuslovue. Not tried.
William Horner   Stealing one shot belt and one dagger, the property of William Thomas of Monythuslovue. Not tried.
Thomas Davies   Stealing one shot belt and one dagger, the property of William Thomas of Monythuslovue. Not tried.
Thomas Edwards 22 Breaking open and entering the dwelling house of John Walters of Bedwelty and violently and unlawfully assaulting him. No verdict or sentence recorded
William John Llewellin 20 Breaking open and entering the dwelling house of John Walters of Bedwelty and violently and unlawfully assaulting him. No verdict or sentence recorded
Job Harris 25 Breaking open and entering the dwelling house of John Walters of Bedwelty and violently and unlawfully assaulting him. No verdict or sentence recorded
Joseph Coales 24 Breaking open and entering the dwelling house of John Walters of Bedwelty and violently and unlawfully assaulting him. No verdict or sentence recorded
Lewis Roland 37 Sedition. Not tried
John Owen 28 High treason. No verdict or sentence recorded
John Lovell 41 High treason and sedition. No verdict or sentence recorded
John Batten 18 Conspiring against the peace of our sovereign Lady the Queen. No verdict or sentence recorded
Isaac Phillips 18 Stealing a cleaver, the property of Charles Harris of Machen.
Henry Harris Conspiracy and riotConspiracy and riotConspiracy and riot
Isaac Davis
David Williams
Charles Bicknell Conspiracy and riot  
William Halford Conspiracy and riot  
Thomas Ball Conspiracy and riot  
James Moore Conspiracy and riot  
Death of Sir Thomas Phillips and his roll in chartism

Almost hidden among the graves in the churchyard at Llanelen, ( get a image of this ) near Abergavenny, stands a modest, white marble memorial surrounded by cast-iron railings. It commemorates a man whose achievements are widely ignored and whose name is all but forgotten in the village he made his home for over twenty years.

Sir Thomas Phillips, a lawyer from Newport in South Wales was born at Ynys y Garth - the row of cottages opposite the Clydach Ironworks - in 1801. As a young man, Thomas entered the legal profession as the articled clerk of Thomas Protheroe of Newport and eventually became his partner and a well-known barrister. He became very active in local politics and, in 1838, was elected Mayor of Newport. It was towards the end of his period in office, in November 1839, that the Chartist Uprising and attack on the Westgate Hotel took place. In the bloody battle that followed, twenty-two people were killed and many more wounded. Thomas Phillips was among them - with a Chartist musket ball in the arm. He later received a knighthood for his part in repelling the Chartist attack. In about 1840 he moved to Llanelen House where he lived until his death in 1867.

However, it is not for his opposition to the Chartists that Thomas Phillips was hailed as a national hero, but for his passionate defence of the Welsh people and language against the obnoxious slanders of the infamous Blue Books.

The "Blue Books" (published in 1847) were the official reports of a government enquiry into the state of education in Wales. With the specific aim of enquiring "into the means afforded to the labouring classes of acquiring a knowledge of the English tongue", the government sent three lawyers named Lingen, Symons, and Johnson to conduct the survey. All three were Anglicans, none of them had any specialist knowledge of education and none could speak Welsh, yet they were being sent to investigate the state of education in a country that was still mainly Nonconformist and overwhelmingly Welsh-speaking (services at Llanelen church were conducted in Welsh until 1877).

In their very thorough report they lamented the scarcity and the deplorable condition of schools. They were also highly critical of the teaching methods and harsh discipline used in those that did exist and deplored the inability of the staff to teach English to monoglot Welsh children. In these conclusions they were far from wide of the mark, but the reasons offered for this sorry state of affairs amounted to a cruel slander. They reported that the Welsh as a nation were dirty, lazy, ignorant, superstitious, deceitful, promiscuous and immoral.

With regard to the young women of Wales, they reported "that so far from wondering that they are universally unchaste, the wonder would be if they were otherwise." They blamed all of these evils on Nonconformity and the Welsh language. They saw Welsh as:

"a vast drawback to Wales, and a manifold barrier to the progress and commercial prosperity of the people. It is not easy to over estimate its evil effects . . . There is no Welsh literature worthy of the name."

The solution to all of Wales' problems was the eradication of Welsh and the encouragement of the English language:

"it would extend the influence and power of the established church . . . consequent upon this would be the general improvement of the people in due deference to their superiors and respect for the law of the land . . ."

Sir Thomas Phillips was appalled by the aspersions cast on the Welsh nation by the "Blue Books", he set about collecting material to refute their horrendous accusations. As he himself said:

"Born in the Principality, speaking its language, and accustomed from my earliest years to associate with its inhabitants, I might claim to speak with the authority of a witness . . ."

The result of his campaign was a masterly book entitled Wales, the Language, Social Condition, Moral Character, and Religious Opinions of the People which he published in 1849 and which is still his chief claim to fame.

In his book, Sir Thomas showed the accusations of the "Blue Books" for the lies that they were:

"imputations upon moral character, especially such as affect the reputation of the women of a whole district, demand a rigid enquiry and a prompt refutation . . . It is the admission of men, who have travelled far and seen much, that in no country have they found women of greater gentleness and interest than the pleasant girls of Wales;"

His defence of the Welsh nation was eloquent and fearless:

"These descriptions (penned by English writers, devoured by English readers, and countenanced by English rulers) are circulated . . . of a people amongst whom Englishmen dwell, with whom they associate and intermarry, and from whom many of the nobles of England are descended: a people distinguished by their courteous bearing, by their hospitality to strangers, and by preserving unimpaired many of the virtues which characterize a primitive life; who in war have fought on the samebattle-field with Englishmen; and in peace have borne an equal share of the burdens of state; who have been characterized in every period of their history by devoted loyalty; and who . . . upheld their country's glory"

Sir Thomas also proposed many practical ways to improve education in Wales. He suggested that the best way of teaching the Welsh to speak English was by education through the medium of the Welsh language itself. He also argued that if children were taught to read English only:

"their minds can rarely be influenced, nor can much knowledge be given them, in the limited period over which their school instruction extends;" Welsh people everywhere, whichever language they speak, owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sir Thomas Phillips for his spirited defence of their national character and reputation.

1st June 1867 saw the death of Sir Thomas Phillips was born in Llanelly and was 66 years of age at the time of his death, In 1877 another of the chartists, John Frost died his place of rest was Horfield, Bristol.


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