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John Frost

John Frost
John Frost (25 May 1784, Newport, Monmouthshire 27 July 1877, Stapleton, Bristol) was a prominent leader of the British Chartist movement in the Newport Rising.

John Frost's father, also John, who kept the Royal Oak Inn in Newport, and his mother Sarah died early in his childhood and he was brought up by his grandparents. He was apprenticed as a bootmaker to his grandfather and left home at the age of sixteen to become a draper's apprentice and tailor, first in Cardiff, then Bristol and later London. He returned to Newport in 1806 to start his own business, which became prosperous. He married Mary Geach, a widow, in 1812 and, over the course of eleven years, they had eight children.

In 1821, Frost became embroiled in a dispute with a Newport solicitor, Thomas Prothero, who was also Town Clerk, over his late uncle's will. In a letter Frost accused Prothero of being responsible for the former's exclusion from the will. Prothero sued for libel and Frost was ordered to pay 1,000. Frost then accused Prothero of malpractice. Again, Prothero sued for libel and again won. In February 1823, Frost was imprisoned for six months and told in no uncertain terms that further accusations against Prothero would lead to a longer sentence.

After his release Frost turned his anger against Prothero's friends and business partners, notably Sir Charles Morgan Baron Tredegar of Tredegar Park, a major Newport landowner. In a pamphlet of 1830, he accused Morgan of mistreating his tenants and advocated electoral reform as a means of bringing Morgan and others like him to account.

Establishing himself as a prominent Chartist, in 1835 he was elected as a town councillor in Newport and appointed as a magistrate. He also became an Improvement Commissioner and Poor Law Guardian. The following year, he rose to be Mayor of Newport. His aggressive behaviour and election as a delegate to the Chartist Convention in 1838 was not stomached for long and he was forced to stand down as mayor the year after. The Home Secretary also removed his title of magistrate.

In 1839, Frost led a Chartist march on the Westgate Hotel in Newport. The rationale for the set piece confrontation remains opaque, although it may have its origins in Frost's ambivalence towards the more violent attitudes of some of the Chartist, and the personal animus he bore towards some of the Newport establishment who were ensconced in the hotel along with sixty armed soldiers. The Chartist movement in south east Wales was chaotic in this period, after the arrest of Henry Vincent a leading agitator, who was imprisoned nearby in Monmouth gaol and the feelings of the workers were running extremely high, too high for Frost to reason with and control. One of his contemporaries, William Price described Frost's stance as being akin to "putting a sword in my hand and a rope around my neck."

He was arrested and charged with high treason. Found guilty, along with William Jones and Zephaniah Williams, Frost was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, but a huge public outcry led to these sentences being commuted to transportation for life.

On reaching Van Diemans Land in Tasmania, Frost was immediately sentenced to two years hard labour for making a disparaging remark about Lord John Russell, the Colonial Secretary there. Frost was indentured to a local storekeeper, spent three years working as a clerk, before becoming a school teacher for eight years when granted his ticket of leave.

In 1854, he was granted a pardon on the condition that he never returned to Britain. Rather than stay in Australia Frost immediately left for America and toured the United States lecturing on the unfairness of the British electoral system until 1856, when this condition was lifted and he was given an unconditional pardon. Frost straightaway sailed for Bristol and he retired to Stapleton. He continued to publish articles advocating reform until his death, aged 93, in 1877.

John Frost Square, in the centre of Newport, is named in his honour.

John Frost is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity, Horfield, Bristol. A head stone was recently erected on the site.


     

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