The Fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot;
For I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Traditional Nursery Rhyme
On this day in 1605, Guy Fawkes was discovered in a cellar under the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was there carrying out part of what is now known as the Gunpowder Plot, a failed attempt to assassinate King James I of England and VI of Scotland. The thwarting of the Plot is commemorated every year on Bonfire Night.
The plotters, who were led by Robert Catesby, were Catholics, who having suffered years of persecution under Elizabeth I had hoped James, who became king in 1603, would be better deposed to them. While initial signs were good, following an earlier failed plot and the need to satisfy the Puritans in his Parliament, in February 1604 the king publicly announced his 'utter detestation' of Catholicism. Consequently, Catholic hopes were not met and the Gunpowder plotters began to draw their plans.
The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England's Parliament on 5 November 1605, at which James and many other important figures would be present. It would be a prelude to a popular revolt in the Midlands during which James's nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, would be installed at the Catholic head of state.
The plotters leased a small house in the heart of Westminster, installing Fawkes as caretaker under the alias of John Johnson. In March 1605 the group took out another lease on a ground-floor cellar close by the house. The cellar lay directly beneath the House of Lords and over the following months, 36 barrels of gunpowder were moved in, enough to completely destroy the chamber above, if ignited. Fawkes, who had 10 years of military experience fighting in the Spanish military, was given charge of the explosives.
The plot was however revealed when an anonymous letter was sent on the 26th October to William Parker, Baron Monteagle, warning him to avoid the house on the 5th November. He took it to Cecil, Earl of Salisbury who was already aware of certain stirrings, but did not yet know the exact nature of the plot, or who exactly was involved. He therefore elected to wait to see how events would unfold. Searches of the House was ordered on the 5th; the first found a suspiciously large amount of firewood in one of the cellars. The second, at around midnight, found Fawkes and his gunpowder.
Fawkes was arrested immediately, although he gave only his alias. Another plotter, Thomas Percy, had already been linked with the cellar and house, and a warrant for his arrest was also issued. Fawkes was interrogated, however little had been learned by the following day and so James I gave permission to use torture, gradually 'proceeding to the worst'. It took several days to illicit any useful information, however on the 8th November, most of the other plotters were caught, while Catesby, Percy and two others were killed fighting in an attempt to evade capture. The last remaining plotter, Robert Wintour, was captured in the New Year.
At their trial on 27th January 1606, eight of the surviving plotters, including Fawkes, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, which was carried out on the 30th and 31st.
The immediate impact on ordinary Catholics would be immense and last several centuries. New laws were passed preventing them from practising law, serving as officers in the military, or standing or voting in local or Parliamentary elections. At the same time, it didn't help the cause of the English Puritans (who James associated with the Scottish Presbyterians) and the banning of religious petitions that had taken effect at the Hampton Court Conference the previous year in 1604. Instead, in the short term it reinforced James' view that as monarch he would rule the church through the bishops, while in the longer term it led to the persecution of English Puritans which contributed to the Mayflower voyage.
The longer-term impact on the Catholics was that they became the scapegoat for many tragic events, including the Great Fire of London of 1666. While penal laws started to be dismantled from around 1766 , it would not be until the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 that the most substantial restrictions would be lifted, including the right to vote. It was not until 2011 that the law barring a British monarch from marrying a Catholic was lifted, while the monarch cannot be a Catholic to this day
The conversion of James II of England and VII of Scotland to Catholicism in around 1668 and the prospect of a Catholic monarchy in England led directly to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when William of Orange was invited to take the thrones. This in turn led to the Jacobite Risings, which took place between 1689 and 1746 and were Britain’s last civil wars. The Jacobite Risings were the subject of our big build of 2017, designed to coincide with Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. You can see more on our portfolio page!
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
October is Black History Month in the UK. We’ve been exploring the history of slavery in Britain, from the country’s first steps into the Atlantic slave trade, through its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, to its abolition in the 19th. In this, our final blog, we look at abolition.
According to British historian Martin Meredith, "In the decade between 1791 and 1800, British ships made about 1,340 voyages across the Atlantic, landing nearly 400,000 slaves. Between 1801 and 1807, they took a further 266,000. The slave trade remained one of Britain's most profitable businesses." However, resistance and risings bought the horrors of the trade to the public conscience and by the end of the 18th century, public opinion in Britain began to turn against it.
The first group to publicly announce its opposition to slavery was the Society of Friends (a Christian group also known as the Quakers) in 1761. They decided none of their members, many of whom were wealthy merchants and industrialists, could be involved in the slave trade. Yet support for abolition would only be gained gradually, yet it was gained.
Even terrible events such as the Zong Massacre of 1781, when more than 130 enslaved Africans were killed by the crew of the British slave ship Zong for insurance purposes, had little impact initially, demonstrating the difficulty faced by the early abolitionists. Campaigners boycotted sugar, wrote letters and presented petitions. Tours and talks were undertaken, for example the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson went on a speaking tour, showing people chains and irons and a model of a slave ship The Brooke. The tours and powerful image of the cramped conditions of The Brooke helped to change public opinion allowing the abolitionists to write letters to parliament with thousands of signatures.
Former slaves also played a significant role in bringing the horrors of slavery to the public eye. They included Africans such as Olaudah Equiano, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, Ukawsaw Gronniosaw and Ignatius Sancho. They formed their own group 'The Sons of Africa', to campaign for abolition which has been called Britain's first black political organisation. Euquiano campaigned hard against prevailing financial interests and ingrained prejudices to bring the horrors of The Zong to the fore and in 1789 shared his experience of the horrors of slavery by touring the country and giving talks. Sancho wrote many influential letters, including one to Laurence Sterne encouraging the famous writer to use his pen to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade. Sterne's widely publicised response became an integral part of 18th-century abolitionist literature.
In 1787, the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was set up. Independent MP William Wilberforce represented the Committee in Parliament and nine of the original twelve members were Quakers. Wilberforce had he come into contact with Clarkson and a group of anti-slave-trade activists, including Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Charles Middleton in the same year and they had persuaded him to take on the cause of abolition. Wilberforce was an Evangelical Christian himself, a group that had been gradually moving towards seeing slavery a sin and demanding it's abolition. And so, Wilberforce was pushed to the fore of the English abolition movement.
1787 also saw the establishment of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Linked to the Sons of Africa, the mission of the Society was to inform the public of the inhuman and immoral treatment of enslaved Africans committed in the name of slavery, to campaign in favour of a new law to abolish the slave trade and enforce this on the high seas, and to establish areas in West Africa where Africans could live free of the risk of capture and sale into slavery. It pursued these proposals vigorously by writing and publishing anti-slavery books, abolitionist prints, posters and pamphlets, and organizing lecture tours in the towns and cities of England.
The Slave Trade Act 1788, also known as Dolben's Act due to the support of Tory MP Sir William Dolben, was passed the following year becoming the first piece of legislation to regulate the slave trade, placing limitations on the number of people that British slave ships could transport, related to tonnage. Its renewal in 1794 included an amendment that limited the scope of insurance policies concerning slaves, rendering illegal such generalised phrases that promised to insure against "all other Perils, Losses, and Misfortunes." (The Zong owners' representatives had highlighted such a phrase in seeking their claim at the King's Bench hearing.). The Slave Trade Act of 1799 was passed to make these provisions permanent.
It would not however be until 1807 that Britain’s parliament passed the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. While this act abolished the trading in enslaved peoples, it did not end enslaved labour. This continued across British colonies for almost another thirty years. The ending of slavery was not achieved until the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 was passed and came into force in 1834. This expanded the jurisdiction of the Slave Trade Act 1807 and made the purchase or ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire, with the exception of "the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company", Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and Saint Helena. In these territories the Company had been independently regulating, and in part prohibiting the slave trade since 1774; with regulations prohibiting enslavement, the sale without a written deed, and the transport of slaves into Company territory prohibited over the period.
Protecting profit remained a crucial factor in allowing the end of slavery in the colonies. When the practice of enslavement was abolished the enslavers who owned the plantations were given £20 million worth of compensation. The enslaved people were not given compensation. Instead a system of apprenticeship was established tying the formerly enslaved people to the plantations on which they had lived. They were still expected to work ten-hour working days and punishments, such as flogging, were still allowed.
It is believed that after 1833 clandestine slave-trading continued within the British Empire. For example in 1854 Nathaniel Isaacs, owner of the island of Matakong off the coast of Sierra Leone was accused of slave-trading by the governor of Sierra Leone, Sir Arthur Kennedy. Papers relating to the charges were lost when the Forerunner was wrecked off Madeira in October 1854. In the absence of the papers, the English courts refused to proceed with the prosecution. In Australia, blackbirding and the holding of indigenous workers' pay "in trust" continued, in some instances into the 1970s. Unfortunately, modern slavery, both in the form of human trafficking and people imprisoned for forced or compulsory labour, continues to this day.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Dan Harris as part of a series of models for Black History Month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
October is Black History Month in the UK. We’ll be exploring the history of slavery in Britain, from the country’s first steps into the Atlantic slave trade, through its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, to its abolition in the 19th. In this, our fifth blog we look at resistance.
Becoming a slave was a horrendous fate for captured Africans. It was a cruel and harsh experience with slaves regarded as the property of their white owners and granted no rights. Up to a third of Africans captured as slaves died on the Middle Passage. Another third died on the plantations within a few months of arriving, because of new tropical diseases. Others died from sheer hard work.
It is little wonder therefore that some slaves took drastic measures to escape their plight, including suicide, murder, desertion and revolt. For white slave owners, the threat of revolt was a very real problem. Resistance by slaves was costly as it affected production. It was also potentially very dangerous - on the plantations slaves greatly outnumbered their white masters.
Resistance on the Middle Passage was generally very hard to achieve as the slaver ships were designed to prevent it. Options were very limited. Occasionally captives were able to commit suicide, for example by throwing themselves overboard, but larger scale action was rarely successful
Some slaves on the plantations fought for their freedom by using passive resistance (working slowly) or running away. The problem of runaways became so serious that most West Indian islands passed laws to deal with this and other forms of resistance. The punishment was usually a severe whipping, but could also include the loss of a limb and death.
However, some slaves resisted by planning rebellions. In doing so they risked reprisals of torture and death. Tacky’s Revolt, which erupted in Jamaica in July 1760 was the largest British slave rising in the 18th century.
Taking advantage of Britain’s involvement in the Seven Years’ War, the revolt was led by Fante king called Takyi (the Fante people are from what is now Ghana). He and his lieutenants planned to take over Jamaica from the British, and to create a separate black country. On April 7th 1760, Takiy and his followers began the revolt by easily taking over the Frontier and Trinity plantations and killing their masters. They stole arms and munitions from a nearby fort and were soon joined by the slaves of other plantations. They were however defeated by a local militia and Takiy himself shot and decapitated.
The militia were however unable to quash the unrest and other rebellions broke out across Jamaica, but in particular in the west of the island. Rebels numbering about 1,200 regrouped in the unsettled mountainous forests in western Jamaica. They attacked eight slave plantations in Westmoreland Parish and two in Hanover Parish, killing a number of whites. On May 29th a militia tried to storm the rebels' barricaded encampment but was soundly defeated and repelled. On June 2nd, however, bolstered by reinforcements, the colonial forces successfully stormed the barricade and drove the slave rebels out following a two-hour battle, killing and capturing scores of rebels.
The rebel slaves continued fighting for the rest of the year in western Jamaica, forcing the governor, Sir Henry Moore, 1st Baronet, to continue imposing martial law in Westmoreland and surrounding areas. By late 1761, Governor Moore declared that the main western revolt was over. However, some remaining rebels then scattered in small bands, and operating from the forested interior of the Cockpit Country, they conducted a campaign of guerrilla warfare for the rest of the decade, staging raids on plantations within their reach.
It took months and even years for order to be restored. Over 60 white people had lost their lives, as well as a similar number of free people of colour, in addition to 400 or so black slaves. Two ringleaders of the western rebels were burned alive, and two others who were hung in iron cages at the Kingston Parade, until they starved to death. As a consequence of the rebellion, the colonial Assembly passed a number of draconian laws to regulate the slaves. In addition, they banned the West African religious practices of obeah.
A slave revolt in 1791 in Saint Domingue was however much more successful. Here slaves led by Toussaint Louverture managed to overthrow their French oppressors and in 1804 founded the First Empire of Haiti.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Dan Harris as part of a series of models for Black History Month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
October is Black History Month in the UK. We’ll be exploring the history of slavery in Britain, from the country’s first steps into the Atlantic slave trade, through its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, to its abolition in the 19th. In this, our fourth blog we look at life on the plantations
Having undergone the horror of the ‘Middle Passage’ and perhaps having been interned in a ‘seasoning camps’ the life of the Africans sold into slavery continued to be harsh. Sometimes plantation owners bought them very cheaply with the intention of working them to death. In the Caribbean, most were put to work on sugar plantations. The major secondary crop was coffee, though coffee plantations tended to be smaller than sugar estates and, because of their highland locations, were more isolated.
On plantations gangs of slaves, consisting of men, women, children and the elderly worked from dawn until dusk under the orders of a white overseer. Work would begin at dawn, the slaves only stopped for rest and food at breakfast and lunchtime, after which they worked until nightfall.
Work was allocated according to factors such as sex, healthiness and strength, with the majority of men worked as craftsmen or worked in the semi-industrial mills. Meanwhile, women were mainly limited to working in the fields or as domestics. On many plantations women, who made up the majority of the field workers, were forced to work throughout pregnancy and their babies were raised in nurseries whilst they worked all daylight hours in the fields. In Jamaica for example, the majority of women between the ages of 19 and 54 were working in the fields. Girls worked on estates from the early age of four. Occupations for girls between the ages of 12 and 19 varied from field work and stock work, to domestic duties. Mature women often worked as midwives, nurses or housekeepers.
After returning to their living quarters, they would often still have chores to do before going to bed. During harvest time, slaves worked in shifts of up to 18 hours a day. Housing on the plantations was poor; slaves lived in small cottages with thatched roofs. The cottages often had earthen floors and were furnished with only a bed, table and bench.
White masters had complete control over the lives of their slaves and treated them like mere property. As slaves had no rights, plantation owners were free to act as dictators. Slaves who disobeyed or resisted even in small ways were violently punished - in Antigua it was not a crime to kill a slave until 1723.
The punishments handed out to slaves varied in severity. Captured runaways could be hanged or maimed. Slaves were often flogged with a whip for any wrongdoing – the number of lashes that they received depended upon the seriousness of their ‘crime’.
Despite these horrendous conditions, enslaved Africans tried hard to find ways to keep their humanity and dignity. They created families and communities that enabled them to share stories, music and religions within a culture of resistance to their dehumanisation. In our next blog we will look at some of the ways the resisted and the consequences of such actions.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models for Black History Month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
October is Black History Month in the UK. We’ll be exploring the history of slavery in Britain, from the country’s first steps into the Atlantic slave trade, through its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, to its abolition in the 19th. In this, our third blog we look at the selling of slaves once they reached the Americas.
Having crossed the Atlantic via the ‘Middle Passage’ in atrocious and inhumane conditions, the ‘cargo’ of captives would be sold at auction as slaves. Different factors affected the price they would fetch, the most important being how healthy they appeared to be. Other factors included the island they’d landed on, how many other slave ships were in that particular port at the same time and the method in which the slaves were sold.
The slave traders used many methods in an attempt to make their slaves look healthier. For example, their skin was rubbed with oil to make them appear healthy. Flogging scars on the backs of slaves were who had resisted were filled with tar to hide the signs of an ‘undisciplined’ slave. Older slaves often had their heads shaved to hide signs of grey hairs and make them appear younger.
The two main methods of selling the slaves were by Auction or Scramble. At an auction an auctioneer sold the slaves individually or in lots (as a group), with the slaves being sold to the highest bidder. At a Scramble the slaves were kept together in an enclosure and buyers paid the captain a fixed sum beforehand. Once all the buyers had paid, the enclosure gate was thrown open and the buyers rushed in together and grabbed the slaves they wanted. This was often a terrifying experience for the slaves.
Slaves left that were not sold in this way were called ‘refuse’. They were sold cheaply to anyone who would take them, often leading to their quick death.
Slaves who resisted or fought back were sent to ‘seasoning camps’. Some historians suggest that the death rate in the 'seasoning camps' was up to 50% with malaria and dysentery being the leading causes of death. Around 5 million Africans died in Seasoning Camps, reducing the number of survivors to about 10 million.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models for Black History Month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
October is Black History Month in the UK. We’ll be exploring the history of slavery in Britain, from the country’s first steps into the Atlantic slave trade, through its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, to its abolition in the 19th. In this, our second blog we look at the journey made by the slaves and the slaving vessels, known as the “Middle Passage”.
The 'Triangular Trade' was the sailing route taken by British slave traders and got its name for being a journey of three stages. The first was from Britain to West Africa, the ships carrying goods such as guns, cloth and beet, which would be used in the exchange of captives.
Having acquired slaves, the ships would embark on the second leg of their journey – “Middle Passage”. It was on this leg that the Africans were packed together below deck and taken to the Americas to become slaves. The duration of the voyage varied widely, from one to six months depending on weather conditions. The journey became more efficient over the centuries; while an average transatlantic journey of the early 16th century lasted several months, by the 19th century the crossing often required fewer than six weeks.
Conditions were atrociously cramped, with a typical slave ships containing several hundred slaves with about 30 crew members. The male captives were normally chained together in pairs to save space; right leg to the next man's left leg — while the women and children may have had somewhat more room. The chains or hand and leg cuffs were known as bilboes, which were among the many tools of the slave trade, and which were always in short supply. Bilboes were mainly used on men, and they consisted of two iron shackles locked on a post and were usually fastened around the ankles of two men.
At best, captives were fed beans, corn, yams, rice, and palm oil. They were fed one meal a day with water, if at all. Sometimes captives were allowed to move around during the day, but many ships kept the shackles on throughout the arduous journey.
Slaves below the decks lived for months in conditions of squalor and indescribable horror. Disease spread and ill health was one of the biggest killers. Mortality rates were high, and death made these conditions below the decks even worse. Even though the corpses were thrown overboard, many crew members avoided going into the hold. The slaves who had already been ill ridden were not always found immediately. Many of the living slaves could have been shackled to someone that was dead for hours and sometimes days.
An estimated 15% of the Africans died at sea, with mortality rates considerably higher in Africa itself in the process of capturing and transporting indigenous people to the ships. The total number of African deaths directly attributable to the Middle Passage voyage is estimated at up to two million; a broader look at African deaths directly attributable to the institution of slavery from 1500 to 1900 suggests up to four million African deaths.
The treatment of the captives was horrific because the captured African men and women were considered less than human; they were "cargo", or "goods", and treated as such. Women with children were not as desirable for they took up too much space and toddlers were not wanted because of everyday maintenance.
Pregnant women on the ships who delivered their babies aboard risked the chance of their children being killed in order for the mothers to be sold. The worst punishments were for rebelling; in one instance a captain punished a failed rebellion by killing one involved slave immediately, and forcing two other slaves to eat his heart and liver.
As a way to counteract disease and suicide attempts, the crew would force the slaves onto the deck of the ship for exercise, usually resulting in beatings because the slaves would be unwilling to dance for them or interact. These beatings would often be severe and could result in the slave dying or becoming more susceptible to diseases.
Slaves resisted in many ways. The two most common types of resistance were refusal to eat and suicide. Suicide was a frequent occurrence, often by refusal of food or medicine or jumping overboard, as well as by a variety of other opportunistic means. Sometimes mutinies broke out, though the ships were designed and operated to prevent this. Resistance among the slaves usually ended in failure and participants in the rebellion were punished severely. About one out of ten ships experienced some sort of rebellion.
Estimates are that about 12 million to 12.8 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic over a span of 400 years.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models for Black History Month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
On this day in 1875 the Chimney Sweepers Act gained Royal Assent, which required sweeps to be licensed and made it the duty of the police to enforce all previous legislation.
In the 18th and 19th centuries it was common for children to be employed by chimney sweeps as apprentices. These were usually boys from the local workhouses or children that were purchased from their parents and trained to climb the chimneys. Boys as young as four years old climbed up the hot flues that could be as narrow as 9 inches square. The work was dangerous, with children getting stuck in flues and suffocating. The poor conditions began to cause concern, with pamphlets describing the nature of the work bringing it to the public conscience. The fate of one such boy is described below:
"After passing through the chimney and descending to the second angle of the fireplace the boy finds it completely filled with soot, which he has dislodged from the sides of the upright part. He endeavours to get through, and succeeds in doing so, after much struggling as far as his shoulders; but finding that the soot is compressed hard all around him, by his exertions, that he can recede no farther; he then endeavours to move forward, but his attempts in this respect are quite abortive; for the covering of the horizontal part of the Flue being stone, the sharp angle of which bears hard on his shoulders, and the back part of his head prevents him from moving in the least either one way or the other. His face, already covered with a climbing cap, and being pressed hard in the soot beneath him, stops his breath. In this dreadful condition he strives violently to extricate himself, but his strength fails him; he cries and groans, and in a few minutes he is suffocated. An alarm is then given, a brick-layer is sent for, an aperture is perforated in the Flue, and the boy is extracted, but found lifeless.”
Suffocation was not the only hazard that young chimney sweeps suffered, with general neglect being rife and . stunted growth and deformity of the spine, legs and arms being common
Therefore, late in the 18th century, efforts were made to improve the conditions of the young chimney sweeps. The first major piece of legislation was the Chimney Sweepers Act 1788, which stated that no boy should be a bound apprentice before he was eight years old. His parents’ consent must be obtained, the master sweep must promise to provide suitable clothing and living conditions, as well as an opportunity to attend church on Sundays. The clause inserted into the Bill requiring the Master Sweep to be licensed was voted down in the House of Lords, and without proper policing, the Act had little effect.
In 1834 therefore, the Chimney Sweepers Act 1834 was passed to yet again try to stop child labour as it was evident that many boys as young as six were still being used as chimney sweeps and their conditions had changed little. The act stated that an apprentice must express himself in front of a magistrate that he was willing and desirous, that masters must not take on boys under the age of fourteen, that an apprentice could not be lent to another master, that the master could only have six apprentices, that boys under the age of fourteen who were already apprenticed, must wear brass cap badges on a leather cap and that apprentices were not allowed to climb flues to put out fires.
In 1840 the Chimney Sweepers and Chimneys Regulation 1840 were passed, making it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to sweep chimneys. These where however largely ignored. The Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act 1864, c37. tightened controls significantly, by authorising fines and imprisonment for master sweeps who were ignoring the law, giving the police the power of arrest on suspicion and authorising Board of Trade inspections of new and remodelled chimneys.
In 1863 the publication of 'The Water-Babies', a novel by Charles Kingsley, did much to raise public awareness about the gross mistreatment of children in this kind of employment through its central character, Tom, a child chimney sweep. Parliament responded the following year with a new Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act 1864. This attempted to tighten controls significantly, by authorising fines and imprisonment for master sweeps who were ignoring the law, giving the police the power of arrest on suspicion and authorising Board of Trade inspections of new and remodelled chimneys. This was ineffective despite its humane purpose.
In 1875 a twelve year-old boy named George Brewster died in a chimney at Fulbourn Hospital, causing a scandal. As a response Lord Shaftesbury seized on the incident to press his anti-climbing boys campaign. He wrote a series of letters to The Times and in 1875 pushed another Bill through Parliament. The Chimney Sweepers Act was passed in 1875 requiring Master Sweeps to be authorised by the police to carry on their businesses in the district, this providing the legal means to enforce all previous legislation. George Brewster was the last child to die in a chimney. As a result George Brewster was the last child to die in a chimney.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
On this day in 1715 The Riot Act, or to give it its full and more entertaining title, “An Act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters", came into force.
The Act was introduced during a time of civil disturbance in Great Britain, such as the Sacheverell riots of 1710, the Coronation riots of 1714 and the 1715 riots in England. The preamble makes reference to "many rebellious riots and tumults [that] have been [taking place of late] in diverse parts of this kingdom", adding that those involved "presum[e] so to do, for that the punishments provided by the laws now in being are not adequate to such heinous offences".
The act created a mechanism for certain local officials to make a proclamation ordering the dispersal of any group of more than twelve people who were "unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together".
If the group failed to disperse within one hour, then anyone remaining gathered was guilty of a felony without benefit of clergy, punishable by death.
The proclamation could be made in an incorporated town or city by the mayor, bailiff or "other head officer", or a justice of the peace. Elsewhere it could be made by a justice of the peace or the sheriff, undersheriff or parish constable. It had to be read out to the gathering concerned, and had to follow precise wording detailed in the act; several convictions were overturned because parts of the proclamation had been omitted, in particular "God save the King".
The wording that had to be read out to the assembled gathering was as follows:
“Our sovereign lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.”
If a group of people failed to disperse within one hour of the proclamation, the act provided that the authorities could use force to disperse them. Anyone assisting with the dispersal was specifically indemnified against any legal consequences in the event of any of the crowd being injured or killed.
Because of the broad authority that the act granted, it was used both for the maintenance of civil order and for political means.
At times, it was unclear to both rioters and authorities as to whether the reading of the Riot Act had occurred. One example of this is evident in the St. George's Fields Massacre of 1768. At the trials following the incident, there was confusion among witnesses as to when the Riot Act had actually been read. The Riot Act also caused confusion during the Gordon Riots of 1780, when the authorities felt uncertain of their power to take action to stop the riots without a reading of the Riot Act. After the riots, Lord Mansfield observed that the Riot Act did not take away the pre-existing power of the authorities to use force to stop a violent riot; it only created the additional offense of failing to disperse after a reading of the Riot Act.
The Riot Act was read prior to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, Cinderloo Uprising of 1821, as well as before the Bristol Riots at Queen's Square in 1831 and twice during the Merthyr Rising of the same year.
The Riot Act eventually drifted into disuse. The last time it was definitely read in England was in Birkenhead, Cheshire, on August 3rd 1919, during the second police strike, when large numbers of police officers from Birkenhead, Liverpool and Bootle joined the strike. Troops were called in to deal with the rioting and looting that had begun, and a magistrate read out the Riot Act.
The Act was repealed in England in Wales by the Criminal Law Act 1967. However, it would continue to be law in Scotland until July 18th 1973 when the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1973 came into force. The last known use of the Act in Scotland was in 1971 when it was read by the deputy town clerk James Gildea in Airdrie.
As a consequence of the Act, the expression "to read the Riot Act" has entered into common language as a phrase meaning "to reprimand severely", with the added sense of a stern warning. The phrase remains in common use in the English language.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
On this day in 1750 the Iron Act, or to give it its full title The Importation, etc. Act 1750, came into force. The legislative was introduced by the British Parliament in an attempt to restrict manufacturing activities Britain’s colonies, particularly in North America, and encourage manufacture to take place in Great Britain.
Mercantile theory at the time considered that the English colonists in North America were supposed to supply raw products to the mother country and not to compete with industries in England or take jobs away from workers in the British Isles. Provisions of the Act therefore included:
This was a continuation of a long term British policy, beginning with the British Navigation Acts, which were designed to direct most American trade to England (from 1707, Great Britain), and to encourage the manufacture of goods for export to the colonies in Britain.
The Iron Act, if enforced, would have severely limited the emerging iron manufacturing industry in the colonies. However, as with other trade legislation, enforcement was poor because no one had any significant incentive to ensure compliance. Nevertheless, this was one of a number of measures restrictive on the trade of British Colonies in North America that were one of the causes of the American Revolution.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on important events in British and international history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
On this day in 1832 the Representation of the People Act 1832, also known as the 1832 Reform Act, Great Reform Act or First Reform Act, gained Royal assent. The Act was a landmark step towards Britain becoming a more representative democracy, reforming the electoral system by abolishing tiny districts, giving representation to cities, giving the vote to small landowners, tenant farmers, and shopkeepers and to householders who paid a yearly rental of £10 or more and some lodgers.
The Act was designed correct abuses: to "take effectual Measures for correcting divers Abuses that have long prevailed in the Choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament". Before the reform, most members nominally represented boroughs. The number of electors in a borough varied widely, from a dozen or so up to 12,000. Frequently the selection of MPs was effectively controlled by one powerful patron: for example Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk, controlled eleven boroughs. Criteria for qualification for the franchise varied greatly among boroughs, from the requirement to own land, to merely living in a house with a hearth sufficient to boil a pot.
There had been calls for reform long before 1832, but without success. For example the demonstrators at Peterloo in 1819 and the workers participating in the Radical and Merthyr Risings, of 1820 and 1831 respectively, were amongst other things, all calling for the reform of Parliament. The Act that finally succeeded was proposed by the Whigs, led by Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. It met with significant opposition from the Pittite factions in Parliament, who had long governed the country; opposition was especially pronounced in the House of Lords. Nevertheless, the bill was eventually passed, mainly as a result of public pressure. The Act granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, and removed seats from the "rotten boroughs": those with very small electorates and usually dominated by a wealthy patron.
In all, the act:
Another change was the formal exclusion of women from voting in Parliamentary elections, as a voter was defined in the Act as a male person. Before 1832 there were occasional, although rare, instances of women voting.
The Act also increased the electorate from about 400,000 to 650,000, making about one in five adult males eligible to vote.
The Act applied only in England and Wales; the Irish Reform Act 1832 brought similar changes to Ireland. The separate Scottish Reform Act 1832 was revolutionary, enlarging the electorate by a factor of 13 from 5,000 to 65,000.
During the ensuing years, Parliament adopted several more minor reforms. Acts of Parliament passed in 1835 and 1836 increased the number of polling places in each constituency, therefore reduced polling to a single day. Parliament also passed several laws aimed at combating corruption, including the Corrupt Practices Act 1854, though these measures proved largely ineffectual. Neither party strove for further major reform; leading statesmen on both sides regarded the Reform Act as a final settlement.
There was considerable public agitation for further expansion of the electorate, however; the property qualifications meant that the majority of working men still couldn't vote. In particular, the Chartist movement, which demanded universal suffrage for men, equally sized electoral districts, and voting by secret ballot, gained a widespread following. The Chartists staged several risings in an attempt to force reform, the largest of which was the Newport Rising in 1839, which saw some 10,000 Chartists march on the town. But the Tories were united against further reform, and the Liberal Party (successor to the Whigs) did not seek a general revision of the electoral system until 1852. The 1850s saw Lord John Russell introduce a number of reform bills to correct defects the first act had left unaddressed. However, no proposal was successful until 1867, when Parliament adopted the Second Reform Act.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris and James Pegrum as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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