Part 1 – Mary Frost
On Wednesday last week it was International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate achievements by women, some famous, some not so famous, others obscure – but not forgotten, by any means.
I have chosen two women to whom I can pay a small tribute. The first of these is Mary Frost.
You’re probably asking – who??
Mary Frost was the wife of John Frost, the leader of the Chartist movement, which in South Wales culminated on a march by around 10,000 men from the Valleys of South Wales, to the Westgate Hotel, 4 November 1839.
The march ended in failure to persuade the government to permit the Charter – a 6-point document demanding a vote for every man over 21 in a secret ballot, no property qualifications and paid MPs. Now, we have all of this and more. As you can see, there’s no mention of women. Yet, women were an important part of the Chartist movement, and none more so than Mary Frost.
She was a middleclass woman who had been born into wealth, married then widowed, before she married John Frost in 1812. He was not of the same social class as Mary. She already had two children from her first marriage and she and John had a further seven. This was a time when women were seen but not heard, according to social mores.
John was a clever man, despite a relatively poor upbringing. He was also political and at one period became the mayor of Newport.
As the Chartist movement grew, Mary supported John wholeheartedly. When he was bankrupted by an ongoing feud with his arch enemy, Thomas Prothero, Mary sold all of her furniture to keep him out of prison. Although she didn’t support votes for women, she joined the Newport female Patriotic Society and attended women’s Charter meetings. She supported John’s chartist friends and kept their business going when he was frequently away to attend Chartist meetings.
In early November 1839, when John left home to lead the Chartist march into Newport, this was their final farewell for many years. After the failure of the uprising John was caught and put on trial, charged with treason. The trial took place in Monmouth, where he had been held. Mary was a frequent visitor. However, John needed money for his defence and, once again, Mary sold every item they owned to provide the money for him.
The trial was what today we would call a show trial. The Jury, all handpicked men, found John and his two main associates guilty within a very short recess. The men were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. A horrible and disgusting means of execution. Following an appeal to Queen Victoria the death sentence was revoked and replaced with transportation. John was quickly removed from the country.
Mary then spent the next seventeen years writing to John in Tasmania and keeping his memory alive in Newport and in the Chartist movement. She moved from Newport to Bristol, where she and her now grown up family became members of the Bristol Chartists.
Throughout the most active period of the Chartist movement many newspaper articles were written about both John and Mary, for and
against. She never responded, but continued to support and supplicate for a pardon for her husband.
A conditional pardon was granted in 1854, followed by further demands for a full pardon. One such petition described Mary as ‘a most amiable, pious woman.’ The unconditional pardon was granted in May 1856 and John was able to return home.
They were only able to have one year together. Mary died in 1857, at the age of seventy five years.
An excellent book on the life of Mary Frost has been written by Sylvia Mason and is available on Amazon.
Although never at the forefront of the Chartist struggle, Mary Frost remained a lifelong supporter of the movement and of her husband, quiet and modest, but with an inner strength that survived years of misfortune and horror. She is worthy of our notice and respect.