Newport historian turns detective in search for clues to origins of important Chartist print

LEADING local Chartist historian Pat Drewett has turned detective in his bid to solve an artistic mystery.

Former teacher Pat, from Allt-Yr-Yn, Newport, is using forensic skills honed over many years to uncover the origins of an unique Chartist era print. Pat believes his investigation into the artwork and the artist who created it, can shed valuable new light on the cataclysmic right to vote movement.

The researcher chanced upon the artwork in a dusty collection of pictures in a Newport charity shop when first attracted by the frame. He has now launched his hunt to find the artist.

Pat, who most recently worked with fellow Chartist supporter musician Kelvin Reddicliffe to devise the Chartist musical Chartist RockX, also created a ‘chart’ of addresses of Chartist supporters living in Newport at the time of the uprising.

Pat said: “A local artist David Hughes drew this historically precise sketch of Newport as it was in the days of the Chartists. He used his skill with a pen to draw the story of the busy riverbank where the Monmouthshire Canal and its tram roads from the Eastern Valley met the River Usk and the tram road from the Sirhowy Valley.

“And it was no accident that Hughes chose the Chartist era for his sketch using his artistic flair to recreate the history of those times. By placing  Stow Hill in such a prominent place in his sketch, Hughes is drawing our attention to the unique Chartist heritage of Newport on Usk. Indeed he may be suggesting that because of its legacy, Newport should be given the title “Newport: Home of the Vote”

“Hughes’ sketch depicts the River Usk as the life-blood of Newport during the Industrial Revolution. It provided a wealth of jobs on the wharves and spin-off employment such as chandlery, ships’ carpentry and sail making. The river was so important that many maps refer to the town as Newport on Usk.

Describing the picture Pat said: “In the foreground Hughes shows the canal and its barges, the river bridge, and Newport Castle. Centre right, Hughes highlights Stow Hill, leading directly downwards from St Woolos church to the Westgate Inn at its foot. “Stow Hill is of course the route taken by thousands of Chartists in 1839 as they fought for their civil rights, trying to redress the poverty forced on them by low wages and the high price of bread.”

Describing the conditions at the time and the growing support for the Chartist movement, Pat said: “Bribery and corruption were everywhere and the Workhouse was an ever-present threat.  Families felt exploited and powerless. They hoped for a change to their living and working conditions; schools for their children; a green and safe environment.

“Many workers joined the Chartists, campaigning for civil rights, The People’s Charter, the right to vote, and new laws for the common good. Word of The Charter was passed from meeting to meeting, from street to street, from mouth to mouth, and this soon got the name “The Roar of Gwent”.

“The Industrial Revolution had begun, bringing great wealth and power to ironmasters and landowners, yet widespread poverty to their workers. Smoke and flames belched out from vast ironworks in Nantyglo and Blaenavon blotting out the once-green South Wales valleys. Men and children from the age of six, toiled deep underground mining coal in huge quantities to stoke the furnaces of the ironmasters and to sell to the rest of the world.

“Each of the river wharves was owned by a different company and many industrialists like Thomas Prothero, Thomas Powell, Thomas Philips, who owned the coalmines and canals, also owned the wharves which brought them even more wealth. Sir Charles Morgan of Tredegar House also amassed a fortune on account of his “Golden Mile” turnpike at Bassaleg (not shown) where a toll had to be paid according to the weight of goods carried along the turnpike.

“In those days Newport had no purpose-built “docks”, so Hughes in his drawing focuses on the riverside wharves where coal and iron goods were unloaded from canal barges and tram road wagons onto sailing ships for export to the world.

“The population of Newport was growing rapidly and Hughes manages to capture the overcrowded, back to back houses where disease was rife. Some workers even slept in shacks on the riverside wharves.

“Chartist songs and poems calling for liberty, equality and social justice captured the mood of the working poor. By 1839, thousands of ordinary working families in South Wales had already become Chartists by signing the million-signature Charter which was taken in procession across London to Parliament where it was promptly ignored.  This angered the Chartists even more and the “Roar of Gwent” grew louder.

“Chartist newspapers like the “Western Vindicator” published articles saying that ….. “The Charter means meat, drink and clothing for every man, woman and child who will do a fair day’s work.”

“At massive outdoor rallies, the green Chartist flag flew high above the crowd, showing the Chartists’ love of nature and the environment.  Newport Chartist John Frost spoke truth to power, claiming that ordinary working families were trapped by the slavery of poverty and powerlessness. And 25-year-old Chartist “pop-star” Henry Vincent called for peace, law and order, equal law and equal rights. But Frost’s powerful protagonist, Thomas Prothero, saw to it that these peaceful Chartist meetings were broken up by special constables using truncheons.

Then, in May 1839, Henry Vincent and four other Newport Chartists were arrested for “sedition” and imprisoned in Monmouth Jail. This proved to be a trigger point.  Despite widespread calls for their release, discontent grew and eventually a huge march for change was planned from all parts of the South Wales valleys to demand civil rights. This epic event which is now known as the Newport Rising and which took place on November 4, 1839, ended tragically with a score of Chartist marchers shot dead by troops at the Westgate Inn.”

Pat said:”David Hughes signed and dated this sketch in 1989. A label on the reverse says that he then lived in Forge Close, Caerleon. Further information in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, where another copy of this sketch is held, says that David Hughes then moved to Gloucestershire. But what happened to him then? Did he sketch other drawings of Newport or other Chartist places? And what became of this man who used his rich artistic talent to tell such wonderful tales? I really want to find out.”

Keen as ever to shine a spotlight on the Chartists, Pat said: “It’s important to keep the struggles of the Chartist alive and in the forefront of people’s minds. The Chartists were struggling for freedom, for justice and for the right to vote, everything which is as important today as it was back in the 1840’s.

“I’m hoping that by launching this search for the artist of this important map that the new information helps to keep interest in Chartism and our history alive to shine a light on the struggles of the past and to bring them right up to date  in a meaningful and tangible way.”

Anyone with further information about the artist or artwork is asked to contact Patrick Drewett email: Exciting details of Newport Rising Festival 2022 can be found at  “