Newport First Stop - 100 Years of News Stories

The Aftermath and the Way Ahead 1840 - 1850

By Derrick Cyril Vaughan

On Wednesday 1st January 1840 the trial of John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones opened at Monmouth before Lord Chief Justice Tindal. It was followed with intense interest by the nation, The Attorney General and the Solicitor General appeared as counsel for the Crown and Sir Frederick Pollock and Mr. Kelly appeared for the prisoners. The trial was long and detailed and many witnesses were called. On 16th January it was over, Frost, Williams and Jones were all found guilty of High Treason and sentenced to death. It is of interest that for the last time in Great Britain men were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered and that the trial was the first to be taken down in shorthand. An appeal was immediately lodged on behalf of the condemned men and was finally allowed on technical grounds, being commuted to transportation to the colonies for life.

Back in Newport Thomas Phillips, now the ex-mayor, was much acclaimed as the hero of the Westgate. If the mob had been successful, democracy immature as it then was, would have ceased to exist. The French Revolution only fifty years earlier would have paled into insignificance compared to mob rule led by the vicious Chartist leaders waiting in London. The resultant bloodletting would have turned the Thames red. On that fateful November day Thomas Phillips, little did he know it, for a few minutes held the destiny of Great Britain in his hands until, under his leadership, the flame of rebellion was snuffed out before it had a chance to ignite the whole country. A grateful and much relieved Government thrust honours upon him. He was summoned to Windsor Castle where he spent a week and received a Knighthood from Queen Victoria. The City of London, much surprised by his gentlemanly appearance, bestowed on him the Freedom of the City and on his return to Newport the inhabitants presented him with £800 and his portrait. Thanks to the courage of Thomas Phillips and a handful of soldiers, Chartism was a spent force.

The events of 1839 and 1840 did much to place Newport firmly on the map of Great Britain. At last the town had a status as a bastion against extremists and Radicalism, and as such was recognised by the Government. A new found pride was evinced by the Town Council and the ordinary inhabitants, which manifested itself in the urge to improve the amenities of daily life, sadly lacking in the past. Newport had proved itself loyal to Queen and Government and its reward was the influx of new industries and a large increase in trade and population.

In the 1840's the health of Newport was the main concern of the authorities. Many of the well-to-do feared the filth they witnessed daily in the streets and brought pressure to bear for a general cleansing. There had been a number of cholera outbreaks and typhus epidemics in recent years which had carried off many of the population, the deaths being not only confined to the poorer areas of the town. It was recognised that the state of the main sewers, few in number, which discharged into the Usk, were badly constructed and in a deplorable condition; the water supply from the pumps at Stow Hill, Baneswell, Corn Street, Mill Street and the Salutation did not give sufficient for the needs of the population and in any case were tainted, due to the seepage from the overcrowded graveyards of St. Woolos, Llanarth Street and Hill Street. Many of the inhabitants used the filthy water from the canal for their daily needs.

Due to the influx of the Irish, fleeing from the various potato famines in their own country, accommodation in the town was scarce. Enterprising landlords built tenements or converted old buildings and packed them with these immigrants whom they exploited mercilessly. One such building known as the Rookery, adjacent to the Six Bells Inn at the top of Stow Hill, housed 86 persons and was owned and built by Councillor Townsend. It had two privies, the effluent being discharged into an open ditch which also carried drainage from the nearby Fever Hospital. This open ditch ran down to the town and joined another in Commercial Street. The inhabitants of this building, many of them children, lived in the most appalling conditions and the stench was unimaginable.

The general Public Health Act was passed in 1847 and empowered the Town Council to deal with the cleansing of the town, but before any action could be taken the county was hit by a massive outbreak of cholera. Newport was particularly badly affected by the epidemic and many of the inhabitants died of this dreaded disease, which was caused by the unsanitary conditions prevailing. By the end of 1848 the authorities realised that urgent action was needed and the Council empowered the Borough surveyor and Superintendent of the Police to deal with the sanitation problem and with the obvious hazards to health. This work was immediately started with the removal of 700 tons of filth and refuse from the streets and open ditches. At the same time notices were posted giving advice to the public on general methods of hygiene, such as lime-washing the inside and outside of their houses, the boiling of water and the care of their refuse.

One of the more obnoxious parts of Newport was known as Friars' Fields, situated at the end of Llanarth Street and extending for some distance along the river. It contained many small derelict houses, connected by narrow alleyways filled with heaps of unscavenged refuse, and was the habitat of criminals, prostitutes, destitutes, gin swillers and other unsavoury characters of the underworld. Alive with rats and other vermin the whole area was a thorn in the flesh of the authorities, even the police dared not enter its precincts. Anyone who was foolish enough, did so at his peril, and was often stripped and robbed and in some cases never seen again.

In 1849 the Council decided once and for all to have an entire assessment of the sanitation situation in Newport, taking into consideration the state of the sewers, roads, water supply and scavenging methods.

Mr. George Clarke, a well known surveyor and engineer, was appointed to the task and given a year to report his findings. He commenced immediately on this great work and at last the authorities felt that everything which could he done was in hand to make the town a fit place to live in for the foreseeable future.

While Mr. Clarke was busy preparing his report, another great undertaking was commenced. Railways were being constructed linking most of the cities of England and it had been decided to extend the line, already in operation in the Gloucester area, to South Wales. Up to this time stage coaches had connected the big towns with regular services, over roads highly unsuitable for any form of wheeled transport. Therefore the coming of the railway to Newport, Cardiff and Swansea was eagerly anticipated by all sections of the population. Work in the Newport area in preparation for the first train was started immediately. It was necessary to build a bridge over the Usk, a tunnel under Stow Hill, a station in the town and embankments and minor bridges to take the permanent way.

By April 1848 the works upon the line had advanced considerably, much to the authorities' satisfaction, the tunnel 742 yards in length, was almost completed. The massive bridge across the Usk which was being constructed entirely of wood, while having the centre arch put in position, was suddenly ignited by a bolt which had been heated to a remarkable degree, and the whole structure was destroyed in a matter of hours. The arrival of the South Wales Railway was delayed for a year until another bridge, also of wood, was constructed. (Picture)

On the 26th of May at 11 a.m. at Newport Barracks, Mathias Kelly of the 14th Regiment of Foot shot his paramour, Agnes Hill with his musket in a fit of jealousy.

At his trial in August of that year Patrick Holly in his evidence stated as follows: "I was in the barrack square when I saw Agnes Hill and Pte. Doherty in company; the prisoner, who was in a passage near, appeared to be watching them. The prisoner then went to his room and appeared again in two or three minutes carrying a firelock. I was standing within about thirty inches of Agnes Hill. The prisoner took up the firelock and cocked it; he raised it to his right, walked seven or eight paces and then shot the woman. She stood about two or three seconds and then fell. Corporal Stes afterwards took the firelock from him".

Kelly was found guilty after only five minutes retirement by the jury and was sentenced to death. Evidence was given by Lieut. Col. Barlow, his commanding officer, of the good character of the prisoner and many others spoke of Kelly in terms of praise and there was hope that the prerogative of the Crown may be exercised and his life spared. However, this was not to be and Kelly suffered the supreme penalty.

The 18th of December 1848 dawned with the promise of a fine day. There was an atmosphere of excitement in and around Newport on this Monday for Rosamond ( Rosamund ) the eldest daughter of Sir Charles Morgan was due to be married to Mr. W. H. M. Style. For weeks past preparations had been in train for the celebration of this great event.

At an early hour a continuous stream of persons and numbers of vehicles from every quarter were arriving at Tredegar House, while at Bassaleg a large number of respectably dressed persons from Newport and the surrounding area were gathering at the church. At half past ten the bridal cortege left Tredegar House, above which flags floated in the breeze, followed by a large number on foot, and wound its way through the park under triumphal arches constructed between the trees up to the ancient church of Bassaleg, the procession being loudly cheered as it moved along.

At about eleven o'clock the bridal party arrived at the church. The bride who was on the arm of her father Sir Charles Morgan was attired in a rich dress of Honiton lace over white satin with a wreath of orange blossoms encircling her brow, over which gracefully fell a superb lace veil. She was followed by ten bridesmaids dressed in white tarlatan over pink satin, white silk scarfs lined with pink silk, white lace bonnets with pale blush roses and rich foliage of delicate formation. Their bouquets were roses and orange blossoms. After the bridesmaids came the chief guests amongst whom could be seen Lady Rodney; Dr. Marsham, Warden of Merton College, Oxford, and Lady Anstruther Marsham; Wilbraham Milman Esq.; Capt. Rodney Munday; Miss Lascelles; General and Mrs. Milman and John Clarke Esq. and Mrs. Clarke of Newport.

The wedding ceremony over, the happy couple passed down the aisle between rows of young girls throwing rose petals and strewing flowers before them. On reaching the porch the vast crowds around the church, estimated between five and six thousand, greeted them with welcoming cheers and the enthusiasm was increased on seeing Sir Charles bearing in his arms the youngest of the line present, a little fellow in a red tunic, the very picture of health and happiness who seemed to enjoy the scene around him.

Then the bells rang out while the cannon, situated at the Gaer and on all other points of elevation, boomed their welcome as the wedding party made the return journey to Tredegar House through the cheering populace along the way.

At the old baronial residence the dejeuner was furnished in princely style. On the centre table stood a massive wedding cake, decorated in a most elaborate manner, measuring three feet across and was placed on a pedestal supported by stag's heads, the symbol of the House of Tredegar. The band of the 14th Regiment played a selection from the music of Verdi, Donizetti, Rossini and Bellini throughout the repast. Covers were laid for ninety guests amongst whom were the Lord Lieutenant of the County and his lady; Colonel and Mrs Tynte of Cefn Mably; Sir Charles Salusbury and his daughter; Mr and Mrs. Jones Herbert of Llanarth Court; Mr. and Mrs. Homfray of Bedwellty House; Mr. Charles Lewis of St. Pierre.

Colonel Tynte proposed the health of Sir Charles and Lady Morgan and called for three times three and one cheer more, after the old custom of the House of Tredegar. Sir Charles returned thanks. Mr. Style then thanked Sir Charles and Lady Morgan for their kind and hospitable attention which he had experienced during the past six months he had been in their house and he hoped by his future conduct to show he was not ungrateful for their kindness or unworthy of their affection.

At five in the evening the newly-weds entered their carriage and proceeded to Ruperra Castle where they proposed to spend the first weeks of their marriage. On reaching the estate they were met by a large band of men each bearing a flaming torch and with these as guides the cavalcade marched gaily to the castle gates. Here Mr. and Mrs. Style left the carriage and entered the house.

William Evans, the Mayor of Newport, had some weeks prior to the wedding convened a public meeting to draw up a suitable address to Sir Charles and Lady Morgan on the occasion of the marriage of their daughter. Couched in somewhat unctuous terms it was delivered to Tredegar House on Tuesday the nineteenth of December by the Mayor, Thomas Hawkins Esq. J.P., Edward Dowling Esq. and Mr. E.J. Phillips. They were courteously received by Sir Charles and Lady Morgan. The worthy baronet remarked that "he should be happy at all times to cultivate the best understanding between his family and the inhabitants of Newport."

It should be borne in mind this was almost certainly the first meeting by representatives of the council with Sir Charles since he had inherited the title from his father two years previously. As he was now the most important and powerful landowner in the vicinity of Newport, he was still something of an unknown quantity. The delegation was probably much relieved to find Sir Charles a most charming man, who at a later date as Lord Tredegar, was a great benefactor to Newport.

The official reply to the address was received by the Mayor two days later, it read as follows:

Gentlemen, - I beg very sincerely to thank you for your kind feelings which have prompted this mark of esteem and respect towards my family and myself, on the occasion of my daughter's marriage; as well as for many similar instances, on previous occasions, evinced not only to myself, but also to my lamented father, I assure you that whenever opportunities may offer in which I can make a return, I shall most cheerfully and anxiously do so, by promoting the welfare and happiness of the inhabitants of Newport, in the prosperity of which place I have so deep a personal interest.

Yours faithfully and obliged,


Tredegar Park, December 19th, 1848

It should be noted that the last sentence of Sir Charles's letter reflects exactly, without meaning to, the statement of John Frost some years before that what prospered Newport doubly prospered the House of Tredegar.

In June 1849 Newport was once more visited by the cholera. The Sanitary Board and medical officers advised the public to take all precautions to overcome this dread scourge by removing all filth from their premises, cleansing the sewers, purifying, ventilating and whitewashing their dwellings.

The rebuilding of the South Wales Railway Bridge over the Usk was well advanced after the disastrous fire which destroyed the first structure. All the new wood now being used had undergone a "chyanizing" process which was calculated to resist fire. The bridge was the last link in the line between Chepstow and the terminus at Swansea, and it was hoped that the first train would run early in the following year.

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