John Frost's Grave Stone
John Frost's Grave Stone
On my regular trips to Newport Museum and Art gallery I would always pause at the cabinet that housed the Chartist Collection, which included a photograph of John Frost’s house in Stapleton, near Bristol, where he went to live with his wife and daughter when he was finally allowed to return to Britain in 1856.
Since 1983 I’d been living on Bassaleg Road and had taken an interest in locating those people buried in St Woolos Cemetery who had played a role in the development of the town. It wasn’t just those who had grand memorials to keep their names alive: I was equally interested in the dips in the ground of those unknown souls who played their part as well. This meant long periods thumbing through old newspapers in Newport Reference Library and seeking out their stories.
It occurred to me that I didn’t know where John Frost was buried. Was his body brought back to Newport after his death in 1877 or was it put to rest near Bristol? It soon became apparent that no one had any idea where his body lay.
In 1986 together with a friend, Derek Priest, I made a visit to Stapleton to search out any local burial grounds that may reveal Frost’s resting place, but that came to nothing. Bristol’s Reference Library provided no clues and a visit to Canford Cemetery in Bristol , where they held the records of all those buried in public cemeteries, revealed nothing.
The answer was eventually uncovered in Newport’s Reference Library. In a document published in 1939 to commemorate the centenary of the Chartist Rising were lists with descriptions of all the documentation they held in their collection, and there on the first page was what we were seeking, a copy of Frost’s will dated 12th June 1874. Here we read the following sentence, “I desire that my funeral be a public one and that I be buried by the side of my wife and son in Horfield Churchyard”.
The burial records housed in the Bristol’s reference library confirmed that John Frost was indeed buried in Horfield Churchyard. As it was a small burial ground we were convinced we’d locate it easily, but after two hours of looking at every stone, we drew a blank. A further two hour search revealed nothing.
We had come so close. Calling at the vicarage to say goodbye to Canon Wilson, we found him clutching a tatty notebook. He explained that in 1946 a church warden had recorded all the names from the stones and had even drawn a location plan, but he’d had a look through, and couldn’t find a John Frost. But there was a Henry Hunt Frost. He was the son of John Frost named after the famous orator at Peterloo. On the north eastern side of the church close to the boundary wall, we found a small stone that looked as if it was sinking into the ground. All that was readable was “Sacred to the memory of Henry Hunt…” Feeling around in the grass I found the bits of flaked stone that revealed the word “Frost”.
Newport Council agreed to pay for a new headstone, and stonemasons Les Thomas and Brian Jarvis set to work by firstly removing the old stone which had almost disappeared .Unfortunately it proved too difficult to lift out the whole stone, so we reluctantly agreed to cut it off just below ground level. Wrapped in sack cloth, it was carefully removed to the safety of Les Thomas’ dusty work shop in Baneswell.
We agreed that the new stone should be slate with a granite surround and that it was to be of Welsh stone: a trip to Carmarthen provided the slate, whilst Les was able to root out enough Welsh granite from his yard.The stone would include the Newport coat of arms and the names of all those buried there and a short extract from the text of a letter Frost had sent to Lord Tredegar: “The outward mark of respect paid to men merely because they are rich and powerful… hath no communication with the heart”.
Richard and Alexander Cordell visit the grave.
On Thursday 9th October 1986 around 100 people gathered around the stone which was draped in a Welsh flag, and before unveiling it Neil Kinnock MP, the leader of the Labour Party, addressed the audience, concluding that “Whenever John Frost was faced with the choice between that which was right and that which was safe, he always chose that which was right”.
For a couple of years the old stone remained wrapped in the stonemason’s work shop, but in 1990 I took possession of it. Eventually, not being sure what to do with it, I lent it to Russell Rees in Caerleon who had planned on putting it on show in the Ffwrwm Arts Centre which he ran. But Russell passed away and it wasn’t until October 2020 that I was reminded about it. I found his daughter Rhian working in the Arts Centre that very morning, and later that day together with her daughter they dropped it off at my home in Baneswell.
The story now returns to where it all began, Newport Museum and Art Gallery, and it will be there that the stone finally finds its own resting place.