John Frost – Chartist Candidate for Stroud meeting at Rodborough Common 29 March 1839

It is really great news that the events of the May 1839 Chartist Meeting at Selsley is going to feature in a film.
Having previously read the accounts of the suppression of the Chartist meeting on Selsley Common in May 1839,with its exaggerated and alarmist concerns about the threat a peaceful public meeting would have to public order I have never been able to understand why so called democrats felt so threatened by a peaceful bank holiday gathering.
The explanation perhaps lies in the outcome of a Chartist demonstration held a few weeks earlier on Good Friday (being an Early Easter on 29 March) at  Rodborough Common. At this meeting the Chartist Leader John Frost (later to be jailed and transported for the violent events in Newport) was adopted as Chartist parliamentary candidate to stand against Lord John Russell ‘finality Jack’ who as Liberal Home Secretary was one of the leading campaigners against the extension of the franchise.The actual election of Chartists as MPs were rare but a recognised political technique was to nominate a candidate at the hustings, hoping to win the ‘show of hands’ and if they could not afford the costs of the poll withdrawing before the poll took place.
The most extensive reports of this meeting are from John Frost himself who provides an account of the meeting in his report to the Chartist Convention in London and also in a letter to Leeds Chartists (both of which are reported in the Northern Star – a paper owned by a fellow Chartist Leader). These speak of an extremely large demonstration – with an attendance of 10,000 from various parts of Gloucestershire at which strong support was shown for the Charter.
John Frost had been appointed as Magistrate for Newport in Wales in 1835 but in March 1839 in response to Frost’s Chartist activities the Home Secretary , in what many probably regarded as spiteful political act decided to remove him from the bench.
The problem, of course, is independent verification as non of the then local newspapers provide an account of the meeting and of course Stroud itself had no newspapers at the time. This may have been a deliberate policy of censorship or  perhaps a result of an editorial policy of not giving the oxygen of publicity to these extremists threatening democracy. A problem for me is that Frost’s account doesn’t include such details as the local who chaired the meeting or the name of the Stroud pub he met the local leadership, prior to the meeting. Perhaps his decription of the brass bands and the flags and banners marching from Stroud to the common is excessive and over dramatic in suggesting they were the finest he had seen, but on the otherhand he was writing about the residents he wanted to represent. On  the other-hand his description of looking towards the Severn means that he had stood on Rodborough Hill and had experienced the breathtaking scenery of the Stroud Valleys, For me that is the
Even if you discount Frost’s accounts there are plenty of other reports in the papers throughout the Country stating that Frost had announced his intention to stand against Lord John Russell – but again interestingly not in the Gloucestershire papers. But it was on reading Lord John Russell’s letter to the Electors of Stroud in May 1839 (which of course starts ‘Gentlemen’) that Frost was seen as a threat as Russell as after listing previous attempts to campaign against him states “Besides these formidable bodies, a gentleman of some talents for mischief has lately undertaken the task of persuading you that his unfitness to remain in the Commission of the Peace is a proof of his fitness to become your representative”.
The only local independent verification is perhaps the Gloucester Journal of 6 April 1839 in an article referring to Frost’s letter to the Convention and pouring skeptical cold water on it states:
We have received from a correspondent an admirable account of the Rodborough gathering, which places the thing in the most ridiculous light imaginable and we regret considerably from the pressure of assize intelligence the humorous communication to which we allude cannot find space in our columns this day.
Even if you discount Frost’s accounts there are plenty of other reports in the papers throughout the Country stating that Frost had announced his intention to stand against Lord John Russell.  But it was on reading Lord John Russell’s letter to the Electors of Stroud in May 1839 (which of course starts ‘Gentlemen’) that Frost was seen as a threat as Russell as after listing previous attempts to campaign against him states “Besides these formidable bodies, a gentleman of some talents for mischief has lately undertaken the task of persuading you that his unfitness to remain in the Commission of the Peace is a proof of his fitness to become your representative.
The sad thing, of course, is that Frost was never given the opportunity to stand against Russell In the 1841 General Election, as he was languishing as a convict in Australia following his involvement in the Newport Rising in November 1839 and of course the Right Honourable Gentleman for Stroud sought the favours of the electors in the City of London. One wonders to what extent the cause of that was the strength of local feeling in Stroud for the Chartist principles and the influence that had on the electors and their voting habits,
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s