What was Chartism?

Chartism in Gwent

The 1830s saw Britain in the worst economic recession of the nineteenth century. As living conditions deteriorated working people turned their wrath on a corrupt and privileged Parliament. The People’s Charter, as it became known, was launched by William Lovett on behalf of the London Working Men’s Association in May 1838. So that everyone in Great Britain could have a say in how the country was governed, the Chartists demanded six reforms of Parliament. They organised their campaign around a petition to Parliament, which supporters could sign, demanding the reforms be adopted. Chartists were sent around the country, encouraging men to set up Working Men’s Associations and to sign the petition. (There were separate lists for women to sign, over 1000 from Monmouth signed.)

To begin with, William Lovett’s Charter attracted much interest amongst the middle classes and skilled workmen. As ordinary working people joined in Chartism became a national movement - the first real working class movement in Britain. But Chartists were always divided between those who rejected violent tactics, the ‘Moral Force’ Chartists, and the ‘Physical Force’ Chartists, including John Frost from Newport, who argued ‘Peacefully if we may, forcibly if we must’. 

 The South Wales Context

These pages aim to give some context to the documents in our project. All the text in this part of the website is taken from the Shire Hall publication Voices for the Vote; Shire Hall and the story of Chartism in south Wales.Images are from Shire Hall, Monmouth and from Newport Museum and Art Gallery. The book costs £4.99 and can be obtained from Shire Hall Monmouth, Newport Museum or Gwent Archives. We are extremely grateful for their support in the project.

 The cast for the Chartists

Supporting cast for the Chartists

The cast for the establishment

Chartism takes off in south Wales

Liquid inspiration

Female Patriots

Protest in the pews: pulpits and propoganda

A hero imprisoned

Petition and protest

A language of sedition...and a language of suppression


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

Newport Museum & Art Gallery John Frost

Photograph reproduced with kind permission of Newport Museum and Art Gallery