Picture of Henry Vincent

Henry Vincent

places mentioned

Mar. 16 to 23: Wye valley, Newport and Devizes

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We were unable to get up a meeting in Monmouth this day. The town is very Torified, being under the influence of the Duke of Beaufort. The Tories played us a clever trick. We engaged a bellman to cry a meeting for the Bell Inn, at 7 o'clock, but when we went to the place of meeting we found he had not cried it, having been bribed by the Tories. At the Bell we met about fifty of them who pretended to receive us friendly, and congratulated us on our prospects of a good meeting. We were not to be caught; so we told them they had been mistaken the night, for our meeting was to be held on Monday evening; in fact we had not yet convened it. They expressed their fear that we should not be able to remain until Monday — but we assured them time was of no consequence to us, and that perhaps we might stay a month. They looked surprised, and one after another vanished from our sight. We agreed to call the meeting for Monday night.

SUNDAY, March 17. — Passed the day in Monmouth. The weather cold and stormy. Walked out a short way in the country and retired to bed early.

MONDAY, March 18. — Issued bills convening a meeting of the people in the large room of the Bell. The room is spacious and well-built, capable of holding near 1000 persons. On going to the place of meeting we found the Tories had mustered to the number of at least 100 — the room was soon filled. [Burns and Vincent spoke] I challenged the Tories to a public or private discussion, but they dared not meet me. They skulked into the corners of the room, and by degrees slunk out. Three cheers were given for Vincent and Burns, three for the Convention, and the meeting dispersed. On retiring to our inn we were waited upon by several intelligent people, who undertook to form the nucleus of an association, and to obtain signatures for the National Petition.

TUESDAY, March 19. — Took coach for Newport. The scenery between Monmouth and Newport is very delightful. The coach runs about four miles by the side of the river Wye. The scenery within three miles of the town of Chepstow is the finest in the three kingdoms. Ascending a hill, by the side of the Wind Cliff the traveller has a view of the Wye winding its way between rocks covered at their summits with luxuriant foliage. In the distance may be seen the river Severn at seven points, which by a pleasing illusion, appears to overhang the Wye several hundred feet. Birds were singing — trees budding, and all vegetation putting on its virgin dress. Delightful spot! and yet to think that nearly the whole of this portion of the county of Monmouth belongs to one tyrant, the Duke of Beaufort . We passed the ruins of Tintern Abbey. What cunning dogs the priests have ever been! Let but the ruin of an Abbey be seen, and there we witness the most beautiful portion of a country. So it is with Tintern! I could not help thinking of the time when the priests paid more attention to the poor than they now do. They lived well themselves, but they gave more to the poor than the avaricious body of atheistical parsons connected with our Established Church. Passed the ruins of Chepstow Castle — old Cromwell seems to have played the devil with the aristocratic strongholds in these parts. Passed through the town of Chepstow, and arrived in Newport at 1 o'clock. A meeting had been convened for Newport at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Another meeting was convened for Pontypool, a large town ten miles distant from Newport. I accordingly arranged with Burns, and he agreed to go on to Pontypool, leaving me to attend the Newport meeting. Mr. Payne, publisher of the Vindicator , an excellent Radical, and who suffered two year's imprisonment under the persecution of the base Whigs, for vending unstamped papers, accompanied friend Burns. The Newport meeting was held out-of-doors, in the afternoon. Several hundred people attended, among whom were a great number of ladies. On ascending the hustings we were loudly cheered. [Meeting chaired by Dickenson; Vincent spoke for 'nearly two hours'] In the evening at seven o'clock from 3000 to 4000 persons assembled upon the same spot. [Meeting chaired by Edward Thomas; Vincent spoke 'at great length'] ... and the meeting separated. The people followed us through the streets to our home, loudly cheering us all the way. On the same evening Burns addressed a good meeting of the people of Pontypool.

WEDNESDAY, March 20. — Convened a meeting for the ladies of Newport in the Bush Inn. The meeting was well attended by the wives and daughters of the respectable middle and working classes. Miss Dickenson, the daughter of our excellent Radical friend Dickenson, was called to the chair. [Thomas and Vincent spoke] At the conclusion of the ladies meeting, in consequence of the night being wet, a large meeting of the men took place in the same room, and was addressed at great length by Burns, Payne of Bristol, and myself. When the meeting was over the people would make me sing "The Democrat" — they joining in the chorus with great spirit. I never witnessed more enthusiasm. The people swear they will have the Charter.

THURSDAY, March 21. — Took the steam packet for Bristol. Had a trip of not more than three hours. At night attended a large meeting on Rodway Hill, Kingswood, near Bristol. The meeting was very enthusiastic, and was addressed by Burns and myself. Another meeting will be held there on Easter Monday. I cannot attend, as I must be in Devizes. Several Bristol friends will attend. Long live the Kingswood boys.

FRIDAY, March 22. — Rose at four o'clock. Walked over from Kingswood to Bristol. Took coach with friend Burns for Bath. Had a swim in one of the Baths. Engaged with our zealous radical friend Roberts to drive us over to Devizes. Left Bath at two o'clock in his open carriage. Mr. Phelps of Bath, accompanying us. We had much walking. Within two miles of Devizes we were met by a procession of several hundred labourers and other friends, with music, flags, &., who greeted us with loud cheering. Having formed into orderly procession we entered Devizes, and after taking refreshment proceeded to the hustings in the Market-place. There were from 5 to 6000 persons assembled. Mr. Carrier was called to the chair. He was just opening the meeting when about three hundred drunken Tories, armed with sticks, staves, knives, pistols, and other offensive weapons, made their appearance on the right of the meeting. This mob, headed by Tugwell, the under-sheriff of the county, was composed of "gentlemen", landlords, farmers, lawyers' clerks, bankers' clerks, half-a-dozen butchers, with their serfs and dependents. A loud cry was raised of the "Church for ever" — 'Down with the b— —y Radicals and Whigs" — "Corn Laws for ever" — "Church and State for ever" — "Down with Vincent" — "Hurrah for the Queen, and no reform". Whereupon I shouted "Long live the People!" and was responded to by loud cheering from four-fifths of the people. It was now nearly dark, and the whole of our friends were unprepared for any attack, and the Tories, by means of their weapons, gradually worked their way into the body of the meeting; and from the difficulty of distinguishing friend from foe, threw the whole body into confusion. Carrier spoke for about five minutes, and was heard with tolerable distinctness. He then introduced Roberts. The moment Roberts rose, a scene of indescribable confusion took place, the meeting being in a state of insupportable riot. Roberts endeavoured in vain to be heard — what with the loudcheering of friends, and the horrible imprecations of our wealthy foes, his voice was completely drowned. Burns then endeavoured to speak, but could not be heard. A young dandy, dreadfully drunk, at the head of about 50 well-armed Tories, in the centre of the crowd, shouted "Down with Vincent!" — "Burdett for ever". Burns proposed — "three cheers for Vincent", which were given very enthusiastically. It was now nearly dark — flints, stones, mud, and sticks, were flying in all directions. I then mounted the husting, and addressed the meetings amidst cheers from one party and yells from another. I was literally smothered with mud and stones, and I took off my cap to give them a fair opportunity of hitting me. I again sent forth the cry of "Long live the People", which was loudly responded to. Tugwell, the under-sheriff of the county, blew a horn, and a tremendous rush was made upon the wagon. It being dark our friends could not successfully defend themselves. The wagon, which was a very heavy one, with broad iron-bound wheels, gave a sudden hinge, and we found that several of the "gentlemen" had very nearly successfully got off one of the wheels. Our friends immediately rallied and drove the Tories from us. Had the heavy waggon been upset life must have been sacrificed. Our friends now began to arm themselves, and we saw that a dreadful riot would take place unless the meeting was adjourned. I told our friends TO SUFFER ANY INSULT, AND TO KEEP THE PEACE AT ALL HAZARDS. I told Carrier he had better adjourn the meeting until daylight. All had left the waggon but myself, Roberts, and Carrier. On descending we were in the midst of the enemy. One fellow advanced upon me, but I just put my hand into my breast, and told him sternly that I would shoot him dead, when he and his friends fled back, and left the path open. Some of our good labouring friends surrounded us, and we fought our way through. They then turned, secured the waggon, and drove the Tories back. We again impressed upon our friends the necessity of keeping the peace, as we heard several threaten to burn the houses of the Tories, and lay the town in ashes. We then retired to the Curriers' Arms , and addressed a large room full of our friends. The Tories, exasperated with rage, broke into their barrels of beer, and made the whole of their retainers drunk.

The Tories then retired to the Castle Inn, and other places. Three barrels of beer were given to their retainers, and at eight o'clock the mob of drunkards again sallied forth and surrounded the Curriers' Arms, in a large room of which we were addressing the people. The mob, headed by the leading Tories of the neighbourhood, first smashed in several windows. We found the house surrounded — the back avenues blocked up with armed men — cries of "burn the house" were raised from the outside — and a most determined attack was made upon the door, which we barricaded with large planks. Several females were in the house. Finding matters getting desperate, we placed them in a back bedroom, and resolved to sell our lives at as great a price as possible. We went down stairs, and in a few moments the whole of the under panel of the front door gave way, and some unlucky devil who put his head under, anxious for the honour of being the first to enter, received a well-aimed and heavy blow from a neatly- pointed Radical stick, such as he will not forget for many a day. A loud cry of "Oh lor — lor — oh! lor!" — proclaimed that the blow had made an impression. A desperate attempt was made to force the back door, but we successfully resisted it. This foiled, the "Conservatives" vented their rage by breaking the windows and shutters of the house. Several labourers expressed their determination of setting fire to the houses of the leading Tories of the town and neighbourhood, and of rallying an armed force to beat off the mob; but we insisted that the peace should be preserved at every hazard. I said that, as Radicals, we would keep the peace, for I knew if we had assembled our friends a frightful loss of life and property must have occurred. By nine o'clock the Mayor and magistrates, with the constabulary force, arrived. The Mayor behaved in a highly creditable manner. He expressed his deep regret that such a body of ruffians could be got together — and also his conviction that we had done all in our power to preserve the peace of the town. After the Mayor's arrival, the leading wealthy vagabonds skulked away, leaving their poorer tools to get out of the scrape in the best possible way. The mob soon dispersed. We retired to another inn at half-past ten o'clock. I cannot speak too well of the mayor. His gentlemanly conduct, and firmness, entitle him to the respect of all good men. I tender him my hearty thanks. At the inn where we slept, Burns and Roberts again addressed our friends. For myself, I was so much exhausted that I retired to bed, and fell asleep the moment I entered it. Our friends behaved with great fortitude throughout the whole affair; but I must especially notice the conduct of William Carrier of Trowbridge. He stood firm from first to last. He was the last person who left the wagon. He remained nearly five minutes after I had left it. The Tories appeared determined to injure him if possible, but their malignity was foiled. Mr. Roberts and our Trowbridge friends returned to their homes at one o'clock.

SATURDAY, March 23. — Could not get up before eleven o'clock. Broke my fast, and agreed with our friends to hold a public meeting of the inhabitants of Devizes, and its vicinity, on Easter Monday, at ten o'clock in the forenoon. Left Devizes in the company of Burns and other friends for Chippenham. Passed through the village of Bromham. The village band went round, and in a few minutes collected together about 200 labouring men and women, whom I addressed from the end of the church. They expressed their determination of leaving Bromham at eight o'clock on Easter Monday for Devizes. Took a fly for Chippenham in the company of two excellent Devizes friends. Arrived in Chippenham at six. Found the town all in excitement — hundreds running through the streets and cheering us. A procession was formed, and we marched through the town together up to the place of meeting. From three to four thousand persons were assembled — half of whom were agricultural labourers. Burns read the Petition, and explained the principles with clearness and effect, and was loudly cheered. The people promised to join the working men's associations, and sign the national petition. Returned from the meeting in procession, and retired to bed at eleven o'clock.

When I say Tories, throughout this article, I include those nondescript politicians yclepd Whigs.

Henry Vincent, 'Life and Rambles', in the Western Vindicator , no.6 (30th March 1839), p.4

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