Historic freedom casket returns to Newport

South Wales Argus: TREASURE: Newport museum officer Barbara Bartl with the gold casket TREASURE: Newport museum officer Barbara Bartl with the gold casket

AN HISTORIC gold casket awarded to a Newport-born trade unionist and politician has found a new home in the city.

The George V Gold Freedom Casket was given to James Henry Thomas by friends in 1924, when he was made a freeman of Newport.

It was purchased for £26,000 at auction in May and was successfully acquired by Newport City Council through the Victoria and Albert Purchase Grant Fund and the Art Fund.

The casket, with enamel panels showing St Paul’s National School, Commercial Street, Newport Harbour, St Paul’s Church and the GWR Chepstow Castle steam locomotive, will now go on display at Newport Museum.

Councillor Mike Hamilton, cabinet member for leisure and culture, said: “It is most fitting that this piece of history will now be on display in Newport, the birthplace of the man who received it.

“His life was not without its controversy, but he served his country and was known for his humour, courage and humanity.”

Born in 1874, Mr Thomas left school at 12 and at 15, was working as an engine cleaner on Great Western Railways.

He became an officer of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants and in 1913, helped to organise the National Union of Railwaymen. He was made general secretary in 1917 and presided over the rail strike of 1919.

In 1910, he became Labour MP for Derby, before being elected as an independent member for Derby in 1935. During this time, he was secretary of state for the colonies, until being forced to resign when he was implicated in leaks about the forthcoming budget. He retired to the Sussex coast and died in 1949.

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