- Written by Dani Thomas & Sophie Bott
- BBC Wales Live
Typically, you would expect to find a forensic expert working with new evidence at a crime scene.
But Andre Horne had his eye on something a little older: a 184-year-old bullet hole.
The firearms expert has been tasked with investigating these holes in the stone pillars of Newport’s historic Westgate Hotel.
“This is a welcome change,” Andre said.
“It was very interesting to learn about these stories and try to find out what might have happened here.”
Typically, at a crime scene, Andre analyzes bullet holes, exit patterns, and determined bullet trajectories to try to understand where the shooter would have been standing.
But the Westgate Hotel’s pillars have been moved since 1839, which complicates matters.
The building was the site of a battle between Welsh Chartists and Queen Victoria’s soldiers, and was demolished in 1884, but rebuilt two years later.
The pillar that was at the entrance of the old hotel is now housed inside the building.
Westgate is currently closed to the public, so people cannot go and see the bullet holes for themselves.
There has been speculation for decades as to whether the pillar actually bears the scars of a nearly 200-year-old musket ball.
Some skeptics even circulate a rumor that the hole is the result of a hole being drilled into the post at some point to attach a post or gate.
One person trying to put an end to these rumors is Oliver Blackmore, collections manager at the Newport Museum.
Mr Oliver, who joined the Newport Museum in 2010, said: “I never saw any bullet holes and accepted as fact what I had heard was that they were simply made to install handrails.” Told.
“But when we visited the pillar, it actually looked like a bullet hole to us, so questions started to arise.”
The Newport Museum team then enlisted Andre’s forensic expertise to examine the hole.
Professor Oliver said: “When Andre returned to the lab, there was very limited evidence that there was bullet residue, but this was probably due to thousands of fingers having been forced into the hole over time. Deaf,” he said.
“But historical evidence is pretty conclusive, and physical and forensic evidence is just a bonus.
“I think we can confidently say that the hole in the wastegate post is actually a bullet hole.”
David Daniel is Project Director for Our Chartist Heritage, the charity supporting the Newport Rising Festival.
This day commemorates the fateful day in 1839 when more than 20 protesters were killed fighting for the democratic rights of the working class.
And at this year’s festival, the torch-lighting procession attracted a record number of participants, with hundreds marching into Westgate Square to mark the occasion.
David helped reopen the long-abandoned Westgate Hotel in 2019.
Initially revived to host smaller events, ambitious plans were born to regenerate the hotel into a community space.
David said the Westgate Hotel and its bullet holes are of historical significance to Newport.
“Seeing the bullet holes and the real impact of the uprising and the struggle for democratic rights is what makes this building truly special and the role we played in it.
“I think the idea that these were not bullet holes came about because the buildings had been vacant for a long time and people couldn’t see them up close.
“The only explanation that makes sense is that they are bullet holes.
“So it was very powerful to be able to open these doors and show people.”
David added that the hotel’s recent closure is a huge loss to the city.
“I think the Westgate Hotel is an important venue in a city of Newport that is facing challenges,” he said.
“It’s right at the heart of history and there’s nothing like it.
“That locked door is a huge missed opportunity, both for Newport and for Wales as a whole, in terms of how we remember our heritage.”