PROTHERO v FROST
THE FEUD THAT DOMINATED NEWPORT POLITICS FOR A GENERATION
Thomas Prothero is not venerated in Newport but John Frost is. Their emnity towards one another dominated politics here for a generation. Prothero used his influence to wield more power in the short term but Frost's influence upon Newport and ultimately the rights and freedoms of his fellow citizens was ultimately much greater.
Prothero was the illegitimate son of the recorder of Usk. Early in life he became an attorney at Newport and was admitted a burgess 9 Oct. 1807; three days later he was appointed town clerk of the closed corporation of Newport. He became agent to Sir Charles Morgan of Tredegar , the owner of most of the land on which the town of Newport was built, as well as of two other local landlords. This gave him considerable opportunities of adding to his private practice by conveyance of land and by inserting clauses to his private benefit at a time when the upland districts at the head of the Monmouthshire valleys were developing their coal and iron resources, whose natural outlet was Newport. He became very wealthy. His methods were criticised at the time.
Prothero was agent for the Charles Williams Charity. He was accused of using this position by supplying materials for alterations and repairs to charity properties (as a timber and slate merchant) and having practically unlimited power over tenants of charity properties.
The Chartist John Frost ,previously a town councillor, magistrate and mayor, published many letters slating Prothero's methods and his corrupt methods. He said "Prothero had come to Newport without a shirt on his back, and was worth £20 000 within two years … the inevitable result of setting a beggar on horseback." As this conflict progressed, Prothero became an opponent of further reforms, and an opponent of Chartism. In the end he was an alarmist. His view that some Chartists were intent on destroying the local gentry was based on evidence of what some extremists were urging.
The roots of the conflict were in a family quarrel, and the consequences of the will of William Foster. Frost was left with a debt to pay, in his view unfairly. Legal action for libel against Prothero led to Frost spending time in jail from 1822. The trial could hardly be described as fair - seven of the nine jury members were tenants of properties owned by the Charles Williams Charity of which Prothero was the treasurer! It is said that at some time during these proceedings Frost was kept in custody at the Charles Williams School in Caerleon.
Subsequently both Sir Charles Morgan and Prothero were attacked in pamphlets by Frost. As part of his campaign, Frost also petitioned Parliament at the time of the 1826 Newport Improvement Bill;it passed against Frost's attacks, with the Morgan and Beaufort influence behind it.
The feud flared up again after Frost became mayor of Newport in 1837. He accused Prothero of appropriating harbour dues, and again attacked Sir Charles Morgan. His stepson William Foster Geach was dragged into the conflict, accused by Prothero and Thomas Phillips of professional misconduct. Prothero gave evidence at the 1839 Monmouth treason trial against Frost and the other Chartist leaders following their capture in Newport following the rising. Frost was found guilty of levying war against the Queen.
In Frost's absence Prothero continued to wield significant influence, organising coal owners into the Newport Coal Company, a cartel that fixed and regulated the price of coal. He live magnificent stately buildings at the Friars and then Malpas Court.
Frost was imprisoned in Australia initially but eventually was allowed back to British territory after a period of exile in the United States. He was pardoned in 1856. Ironically, Frost outlasted Prothero, living to the age of ninety two.