Community film brings Chartist voices to life

On 2nd December at Gwent Archives, the public will get an opportunity to view a new film celebrating the voices of ordinary men and women. The film focuses on the people who made history as part of the Chartist uprising in the Gwent valleys and Newport at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign.

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The film was created as part of Cynefin’s Trails to Trials project. It uses local actors and community members to read some of the words given as testimony by over 250 people in the days following fatal events at the Westgate Hotel during the uprising in Newport on 4th November 1839. The project aims to transcribe over 3,000 pages of this testimony which is held at Newport Reference Library and Gwent Archives, and make it available online.

Project Officer Sarah Daly said: “Although Chartism was gathering strength across Britain, it was here, in south Wales that events came to a head. The people who marched on Newport wanted the right to vote. Most people, especially in industrial areas like the valleys of south Wales, had no way to make their voices heard or to fight for improvements to often appalling living and working conditions.”

Exactly 176 years ago, in November 1839, the authorities were calling people into the Westgate Hotel – the scene of the violence – to record their testimonials. Some of those interviewed either could or would only speak in Welsh, but all the testimony was recorded in English. Others were illiterate, signing their evidence with a cross. Most would not admit to supporting Chartism while the ringleaders stood accused of committing high treason. Despite this, these documents give us a real sense of events unfolding in the days and weeks leading up to the uprising.

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Film maker Kevin Philips, of Green Valley Films says: “It was great to involve local people in the making of this film. We should be really proud that our communities here in Wales played such an important role in shaping democracy across Britain. 22 men died outside the Westgate Hotel so that we could have the right to vote. That’s something we should never forget.”

The 15 minute film was created by Community Enterprise Made in Tredegar and Green Valley Films, both based in Tredegar, Blaenau Gwent. It will be released on the Archives Wales You Tube channel and can be found by searching for Unlocking the Chartist Trials.

Anyone who would like to find out more about the project or register interest as a volunteer to help transcribe the testimonials can contact Sarah Daly at Gwent Archives on sarah.daly@gwentarchives.gov.uk or 01495 353363.

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