On this day in 1797 The Massacre of Tranent took place, when workers from the East Lothain town confronted the Cinque Port Light Dragoons to protest the conscription of men into the British Militia.
In 1793 Great Britain had entered the War of the First Coalition against France. Britain feared a French invasion, particularly in Ireland and Scotland, the latter having only been a part of the Union since 1707 and the Jacobite Risings still within living memory. The fear was not without justification, for the French had managed to land a small expeditionary force in Wales in February 1797, though it had quickly been dealt with by the local yeomanry.
In 1797 therefore the Militia Act was passed in Scotland, which empowered the Lord Lieutenants of Scotland to raise and command militia regiments in each of the "Counties, Stewartries, Cities, and Places" under their jurisdiction. The aim was to raise around 6,000 to 8,000 militiamen throughout Scotland who could be used to defend the country but could also be deployed elsewhere if needed. Furthermore, the militiamen represented a fertile pool for recruitment into the regular army, for while militia regiments were constitutionally separate from the army, from the 1790s militiamen were encouraged to volunteer, and did so in large numbers.
The act was initially deeply unpopular as it was believed the militia ballot would be used to enable the Crown to remove men from Scotland.
On August 28th a proclamation was drawn up by local people of Tranent to object to the conscription of Scots into the British Militia, to be used either for controlling their own people or for deployment elsewhere. The proclamation comprised four clauses:
The following day, the proclamation was handed to Major Wight, the commanding officer of the recruitment squad; it was initially ignored. Later, when a contingent from the local colliery communities, led by 'Jackie' (Joan) Crookston confronted the troops, their response was swift and bloody. Several of the protesters, including Crookston, were shot dead out of hand.
The protesters fled from the centre of the small town into the countryside, pursued by the Cinque Port Light Dragoons, who are reported to have cut down people indiscriminately, caring little whether they were involved in the protest or not. Casualty estimates range from around a dozen to twenty or more men, women and children dead, with more injured. After the slaughter the troopers are alleged to have carried out rapes and pillage in the small town.
The Light Dragoons' overall commanding officer was then Colonel Viscount Hawkesbury, (later 2nd Earl of Liverpool, and future British Prime Minister) who was not present. It was reported that "His lordship was blamed for remaining at Haddington, as his presence might have prevented the outrages of the soldiery."
These scenes were created 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 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.
The Rebecca Riots are perhaps one of the more unusual British protest movements of the 19th century. Taking place in west and mid Wales between 1839 and 1843 they were undertaken by local farmers and agricultural workers in response to deteriorating economic conditions in the countryside. Nothing unusual there, however what marks these riots out is that they were usually undertaken by men dressed as women. Rebecca was their mythical leader and the name came from the Bible:
“And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, by thou the mother of thousands of millions and let thy seed possess the gate of those that hate them” (Genesis 24 Verse 60).
The rioters targeted toll-gates which were seen as the property of the gentry ('those that hate them') and were therefore tangible representations of high taxes and tolls. Consequently, the gates became a symbol of many different discontents about the land and the church. The rioters became known as Merched Beca (Welsh for "Rebecca's Daughters") or merely the Rebeccas.
In the late 1830s and early 1840sm the agricultural communities of West and Mid Wales were in dire poverty. Most farmers did not own their own land but paid rent to wealthy landlords (known as gentry) for the use of their farms. Rents were quite high - and out of proportion to what farmers could earn from their produce. The prices they received for cattle and sheep were falling. The common lands which were once available for the use of all the people in a village were now enclosed - that is they had become the property of the landlords and were leased out to farmers. Labourers (who worked for the farmers) had used the common to graze animals or for gathering firewood, suffered as a result.
The farmers also had to pay burdensome tithes to the church, to support the local vicar. But most people who went to religious services regularly went to chapels rather than the church. They still had to pay, even if they went elsewhere.
To compound matters, in 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed. The Act meant that if people did not have enough money to support themselves, they would be forced into one of the new workhouses where conditions were meant to be worse than the worst paid labourer outside. Families were split up; husbands separated from wives and sisters from brothers. The financing of the new system fell upon the local rate payer. In the past, farmers had often given food and goods to the poor but now they were expected to pay for building the hated workhouses. Therefore, the new system was not only seen as cruel, but expensive too.
The farmers and agricultural workers were therefore hit with a combination of a drastically reduced incomes, static rents and other business costs and an increase in local rates. Seeing themselves as victims of 'tyranny and oppression', the farmers and their workers took the law into their own hands to rid themselves of these unjust taxes. The first institutions to be attacked were the hated toll-gates.
In the early 19th century many toll-gates on the roads in Wales were operated by turnpike trusts, which were supposed to maintain and improve the roads, funding this from tolls. However, many trusts charged extortionate tolls and diverted the money raised to other uses. Even where this was not done, the toll-gate laws imposed an additional financial burden on poor farming communities.
The 'oppression', felt by the farmers, began in the late 1830s, when a group of toll-renters took over the region's trusts. This group was led by Thomas Bullin, who was hated by those who paid his tolls. The main reason for his dislike was the exacting method of the toll collection and the big toll increases of side-bars. The side-bars were simple toll gates, away from the main trunk roads, placed strategically on by-roads to catch any traffic that had tried to bypass the main toll booths via side lanes. These side-bars increased the cost dramatically of farmers' carting lime to their fields that was needed as fertilizer or to counteract acidity in soil: e.g. it was said that it cost an amount to buy a load of lime in Cardiff docks, and then ten times as much in road tolls to cart it to a farm in the hills inland.
The first riots took place in May 1839 when a new toll-gate at Efailwen in Carmarthenshire was destroyed. The Whitland Turnpike Trust rebuilt the gate, only for it to be destroyed again in June. A second new tollgate was attacked at Llanboidy while the new workhouse in Narbeth in Pembrokeshire was also attacked. Landlords were sent threatening letters to intimidate them into lowering rents and Anglican clergymen from the established Church of England were targets on several occasions. Trouble died down when it was agreed by the authorities that the gates would not be rebuilt.
It would however not be until 1842-43, when economic conditions were even worse that the movement would not become popular. In 1842 the Whitland Trust built a new gate at The Mermaid Tavern, on the lime road at St Clears in Carmarthenshire. This was destroyed in November, as were the tollgates at Pwll-trap and Trevaughan. The gates were rebuilt, but all gates in St Clears were destroyed by December 12th. The government refused to send soldiers and so the magistrates called in the marines from Pembroke Dock and the Castlemartin Yeomanry Cavalry. The rioting continued.
In May 1843, the tollgates at Carmarthen were destroyed and in June a crowd of 2,000 tried to burn down the workhouse there. Troops were called in as the movement became more violent. On July 6th the Bolgoed tollgate near Pontarddulais was attacked and destroyed by a group of some 200 rioters and in August riots took place in Llanelli.
The riots resulted in at least two deaths, the first on September 7th 1843, in which a young woman and gate keeper named Sarah Williams was shot and another in October when the tollhouse keeper of Hendy Gate near Swansea was killed.
From August 1843 things had begun to change with the farmers generally moving away from riots and instead holding open protest meetings. This was partly in response to an increasing presence of troops in the area but also because a group of petty criminals had started opportunistically masquerading as Merched Becca to commit crime. This group, led by known trouble-maker John Jones (Shoni Sguborfawr) and his associate David Davies (Dai'r Cantwr), were eventually convicted and transported to Australia, but before this they were enough to turn more respectable people away from Rebecca.
By late 1843, the riots had stopped completely. Although Merched Becca had failed to produce an immediate effect on the lives of the farmers they had sought to serve, the very nature of a leaderless uprising of the downtrodden peasantry in an attempt to obtain justice from an unfair system, was an important socio-political event within Wales. In the aftermath of the riots, some rent reductions were achieved, the toll rates were improved (although destroyed toll-houses were rebuilt) and the protests prompted several reforms, including a Royal Commission into the question of toll roads, which led to the Turnpikes, South Wales Act 1844. This Act consolidated the trusts, simplified the rates and reduced the hated toll on lime movement by half. he ending of the Corn Laws in 1846, and attempts in 1847 to make the Poor Law less cruel, also helped.
More importantly, the riots inspired later Welsh protests. These included opposition to the privatisation of salmon reserves on the River Wye in the 1860s and 70s, which became known as 'the second Rebecca Riots', and the formation in the 1970s of the radical arts collective known as the BECA group.
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.
In May and June 1831 the workers of Merthyr Tydfyl, Wales, rose up against the British Government in what would become known as the Merthyr Rising. It is believed that the red flag of revolution was flown as a symbol of workers' revolt for the first time during this event.
In 1829 the iron industry entered a depression that would last three years and as a result Merthyr Tydfil’s Ironmasters took action by making many workers redundant and cutting the wages of those in work. This was set against a background of rising prices and combined this forced many people into unsustainable debt. Consequently, creditors turned to the Court of Requests, which had been set up in 1809, to allow the bailiffs to seize the property of debtors.
In 1830 the Radicals of Merthyr, as part of the National movement for political reform, organised themselves into a Political Union and in November of that year held demonstrations to protest against the Truck System and the Corn Laws. By the end of 1830 the campaign had broadened to embrace the Reform of Parliament.
In March 1831 William Crawshay announced cuts in the wages of his workers and redundancies at Cyfarthfa Ironworks, which would take effect in May. It was this, combined with similar situations in other ironworks, the hatred of the activities of the Court of Requests, and some stirring up by political agitators which lit the spark of rebellion. On May 30th 1831 at the Waun Common above Dowlais a mass meeting of over 2,000 workers was held and tensions were high.
On May 31st bailiffs from the Court of Requests attempted to seize goods from the home of Lewis Lewis (Lewsyn yr Heliwr) at Penderyn, near Merthyr. However, neighbours rallied behind Lewis and the bailiffs were prevented from entering his home. The Magistrate, John Bruce, was called and he arranged a compromise between Lewis and the bailiffs which allowed the latter to remove a trunk belonging to Lewis. The next day workers from Merthyr marched to the Ironworks of Richard Fothergill at Aberdare where they demanded bread & cheese and created a disturbance. At the same time, at Hirwaun, a crowd led by Lewis Lewis marched to the home of a shopkeeper who was now in possession of his trunk, took the trunk back by force, and prepared to march to Merthyr.
On the march to Merthyr the crowd went from house to house, seizing any goods which the Court of Requests had taken, and returning them to their original owners. By this time the crowd had been swollen by the addition of men from the Cyfarthfa & Hirwaun Ironworks. They marched to the area behind the Castle Inn where many of the tradespeople of the town lived and in particular the home of Thomas Lewis, a hated moneylender and forced him to sign a promise to return goods to a woman whose goods he had seized for debt. Bruce arrived at the scene and recognising what was the start of a revolt withdrew. He then quickly enrolled about 70 Special Constables, mainly from the tradespeople, to help keep the peace. He also advised the Military Authorities at Brecon that he might need troops.
On June 2nd an attempt was made to persuade the crowd to disperse and when this failed the Riot Act read in English and Welsh. This was ignored by the crowed who drove the magistrate away and attacked the home of Thomas Lewis. That evening they assembled at the home of Joseph Coffin, President of the Court of Requests, seizing the books of the Court, which they burned in the street along with his furniture. On hearing of the attack Bruce called for troops to be deployed and so soldiers of the Royal Glamorgan Light Infantry were dispatched from Cardiff and a detachment of the 93rd (Sutherland) Highlanders were sent from Brecon. Meanwhile the crowd had marched to the various ironworks in the town and persuaded the workers to join them.
By the time the Highlanders had reached the Castle Inn where they were met by the High Sheriff of Glamorgan, the Merthyr Magistrates and Ironmasters and the Special Constables, a crowd of some 10,000 had gathered. The Riot Act was once more read and once more it was ignored. The crowd pressed towards the Inn with the soldiers drawn up outside. The workers demanded the suppression of the Court of Requests, higher wages, the reduction in the cost of items they used in their work and parliamentary reform; these were refused outright. They were told that if they did not disperse that the soldiers would be used. The result was to anger the crowd, which surged forward throwing stones and clubs at the soldiers. In the fight the soldiers outside the Inn were bludgeoned and stabbed, eventually provoking the soldiers stationed within to open fire, killing three of the rioters with their first shots. The fighting continued for a further 15 minutes before the crowd withdrew. Altogether 16 soldiers were wounded, 6 of them severely, and up to 24 of the rioters had been killed. The authorities withdrew to Penydarren House while rioters sent word to the Monmouthshire ironworks in an attempt to obtain further support.
By June 4th more troops including the Eastern Glamorgan Corps of Yeomanry Cavalry and the Royal Glamorgan Militia arrived in Merthyr. A troop of the Swansea Yeomanry Cavalry were ambushed on their arrival at Hirwaun, having apparently been greeted in a friendly manner. They were however quickly surrounded, their weapons seized and forced into a retreat back to Swansea, where they re-armed and joined the Fairwood Troop for the march back to Merthyr. A similar ambush was laid at Cefn Coed y Cymmer to stop ammunition being delivered from Brecon, forcing the Cardiff Troop of Glamorgan Yeomanry Cavalry into retreat. A troop of 100 Central Glamorgan Yeomanry was sent to assist but were unable to break through the mob. By now the rioters commandeered arms and explosives, set up road-blocks, formed guerrilla detachments, and had banners capped with a symbolic loaf and dyed in blood. Those who had military experience had taken the lead in drilling the armed para-military formation, and created an effective central command and communication system.
On Sunday June 5th delegations were sent to the Monmouthshire Iron Towns to raise further support for the riots and on June 6th a crowd of around 12,000 or more marched along the heads of the valleys from Monmouthshire to meet the Merthyr Rioters at the Waun Common. The authorities decided that rather than wait for this mob to attack them they would take the initiative, and 110 Highlanders, 53 Royal Glamorgan Light Infantry Militia and 300 Glamorgan Yeomanry Cavalry were despatched to stop the marchers at Cefn Coed. Faced by the levelled muskets of the army the crowd dispersed without bloodshed. The Rising was effectively over.
Panic spread through Merthyr and arms were hidden, the leaders fled and workers returned to their jobs. On the evening of June 6th the authorities raided houses and arrested 18 of the rebel leaders. Eventually Lewis Lewis was found hiding in a wood near Hirwaun and a large force of soldiers escorted him in irons to Cardiff Prison to await trial.
The trials began on 13 July 1831 at Cardiff Assizes. 28 men and women were tried. Most of those found guilty were eventually sentenced to transportation. Lewis Lewis and Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) were charged with attempting to murder a soldier, Donald Black of the 93rd Highland Regiment, outside the Castle Inn on June 3rd, by stabbing him with a bayonet attached to a gun. The main evidence against the two Lewis' was from Black himself, James Abbott, a hairdresser and Special Constable and James Drew, also a hairdresser and Special Constable. On the evidence it was adjudged that Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) was guilty but that Lewis Lewis was not (though he was already under sentence of death for the attack on Thomas Lewis' house). Dic Penderyn was sentenced to death.
Joseph Tregelles Price, A quaker Ironmaster from Neath, took up the case of Dic Penderyn and Lewis Lewis and presented a petition to have them transported. Evidence was produced that Abbott had threatened Penderyn prior to June 3rd and people said that Penderyn was not there when Black was attacked and that they knew who had carried out the attack but it was not Dic Penderyn. Strangely Lord Melbourn, the Home Secretary, reprieved Lewis Lewis, who was certainly one of those most responsible for the riots, and transported him to Australia, but would not reprieve Penderyn, who seems to have been much less involved. Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) was taken from his cell at Cardiff Prison on August 13th 1831 to the gallows at St.Mary Street, Cardiff and there he was executed protesting his innocence. He was 23. His body was transported across the Vale of Glamorgan to be buried at Margam.
In 1874 the Western Mail reported that a man named Ieuan Parker had confessed to a Minister on his death bed in Pennsylvania, USA that he was the man who attacked Donald Black. James Abbott, who had testified at Penderyn's trial, later said that he had lied under oath, claiming that he had been instructed to do so by Lord Melbourne.
In 2000 a legal case was started by Lewis's descendants to seek a pardon and in June 2015, Ann Clwyd MP presented a petition for a pardon in the House of Commons. However Mike Penning, Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, responded that pardons were only granted where evidence has come to light which demonstrates conclusively that the convicted individual was innocent and that the relevant appeal mechanisms have been exhausted. In July 2016, Stephen Kinnock MP presented a 600-signature petition to the Ministry of Justice, calling for a pardon. The Ministry of Justice replied that 10,000 signatures were required to trigger a parliamentary debate, and referred to the answer given by the ministry in 2015. Kinnock said that the fight for a pardon would continue.
This model was 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 the 30th May 1381 revolt broke out in Essex following the arrival government official John Bampton to investigate non-payment of the poll tax. The revolt, which would be known as The Peasants' Revolt, Wat Tyler's Rebellion or the Great Rising spread across large parts of the kingdom of England. A contingent of rebels even managed to enter London and gain, albeit temporarily, concessions from the young king, Richard II, who was just 14 at the time. Ultimately however, the revolt would end in failure and by the end of November of the same year, most of the rebel leaders had been tracked down and executed.
The revolt had various causes, including the socio-economic and political tensions generated by the Black Death in the 1340s, the high taxes resulting from the conflict with France during the Hundred Years' War, and instability within the local leadership of London. In particular, people were unhappy with the operation of serfdom and the use of the local manorial courts to exact traditional fines and levies.
The final trigger for the revolt was the arrival of John Bampton in Essex on May 30th 1381 to investigate non-payment of the poll tax. Brampton was a Member of Parliament, a Justice of the Peace and well-connected with royal circles. He based himself in Brentwood and summoned representatives from the neighbouring villages of Corringham, Fobbing and Stanford-le-Hope to explain and make good the shortfalls on June 1st. The villagers however turned up armed and organised, carrying with them old bows and sticks and when two sergeants under Brampton attempted to arrest a representative for non-payment, violence broke out. Brampton escaped to London, but three of his clerks and several of the Brentwood townsfolk who had agreed to act as jurors were killed. By the next day the revolt had spread across the region and by June 4th groups of rebels, now thousands strong, marched north and south, to London and Suffolk to escalate the revolt.
In Kent, violence also flared up following the arrest and imprisonment of a Robert Belling, who was claimed to be an escaped serf. On June 6th, rebels stormed the gaol at Maidstone and then advanced on Rochester Castle, where Belling was held. Faced by the angry crowds, the constable in charge of Rochester Castle surrendered it without a fight and Belling was freed.
From this point, the Kentish peasants appear to have been led by Wat Tyler, whom the Anonimalle Chronicle suggests was elected their leader at a large gathering at Maidstone on June 7th. Little is known about Tyler prior to the Revolt, though it is suggested that he may have served in France as an archer and was a charismatic and capable leader.
Tyler and the Kentish men advanced to Canterbury, entering the walled city and castle without resistance on June 10th. The rebels deposed the absent Archbishop of Canterbury, Sudbury, and made the cathedral monks swear loyalty to their cause. They attacked properties in the city with links to the hated royal council, and searched the city for suspected enemies, dragging the suspects out of their houses and executing them. The city gaol was opened and the prisoners freed. Tyler then persuaded a few thousand of the rebels to leave Canterbury and advance with him on London the next morning.
The Kentish advance on London appears to have been coordinated with the movement of the rebels in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Their forces were armed with weapons including sticks, battle axes, old swords and bows. Along their way, they encountered Lady Joan, the King's mother, who was travelling back to the capital to avoid being caught up in the revolt; she was mocked but otherwise left unharmed.
Word of the revolt reached the King at Windsor Castle on the night of June 10th and by the next day he had taken up residence in the powerful fortress of the Tower of London. The king was in a difficult position, having perhaps only a few hundred soldiers at his disposal. Most of his troops and experienced commanders were abroad and the nearest major military force was in the north of England, guarding against a potential Scottish invasion. A delegation, headed by Thomas Brinton, the Bishop of Rochester, was therefore sent out from London to negotiate with the rebels and persuade them to return home.
At Blackheath, the Lollard preacher John Ball gave a famous sermon to the assembled Kentishmen. Ball was a well-known priest and radical preacher from Kent, who was by now closely associated with Tyler. Ball rhetorically asked the crowds "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then a gentleman?" and promoted the rebel slogan "With King Richard and the true commons of England".
The phrases emphasised the rebel opposition to the continuation of serfdom and to the hierarchies of the Church and State that separated the subject from the King, while stressing that they were loyal to the monarchy and, unlike the King's advisers, were "true" to Richard. The rebels rejected proposals from the Bishop of Rochester that they should return home, and instead prepared to march on.
Since the Blackheath negotiations had failed, the decision was taken that the King himself should meet the rebels, at Greenwich, on the south side of the Thames. Guarded by four barges of soldiers, Richard sailed from the Tower on the morning of June 13th, where he was met on the other side by the rebel crowds. The negotiations failed, as Richard was unwilling to come ashore and the rebels refused to enter discussions until he did. Richard returned across the river to the Tower.
The rebels entered London via London Bridge on June 13th, the bridge’s gates having been opened from the inside. Another contingent arrived at Algate and where let in by those already inside. The Kentish rebels had assembled a wide-ranging list of people whom they wanted the King to hand over for execution. It included national figures, such as John of Gaunt, Archbishop Sudbury and Hales. The city’s prisons were attacked and emptied and the houses of Flemish immigrants targeted. Smithfield and Clerkenwell Priory, the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller, were also destroyed while the Knights’ legal offices on Fleet Street were emptied of their contents, books and paperwork, which were burnt. Next to be attacked along Fleet Street was the Savoy Palace, a huge, luxurious building belonging to John of Gaunt, which was ripped apart and burnt to the ground. In the evening, rebel forces turned their attention to the Tower of London, from where the young King watched his city burn.
The next day the houses of officials continued to be burnt and Flemings hunted. According to one source, in one city ward, the bodies of 40 executed Flemings were piled up in the street. According to historian Rodney Hilton argues that these attacks may have been coordinated by the weavers' guilds of London, who were commercial competitors of the Flemish weavers.
King Richard left the castle that morning and made his way to negotiate with the rebels at Mile End in east London, taking only a very small bodyguard with him.The King left Sudbury and Hales behind in the Tower, either for their own safety or because Richard had decided it would be safer to distance himself from his unpopular ministers.
It is uncertain who spoke for the rebels at Mile End, and Wat Tyler may not have been present on this occasion, but they appear to have put forward their various demands to the King, including the surrender of the hated officials on their lists for execution; the abolition of serfdom and unfree tenure; and a general amnesty for the rebels. Richard issued charters announcing the abolition of serfdom, which immediately began to be disseminated around the country. He declined to hand over any of his officials, apparently instead promising that he would personally implement any justice that was required.
While Richard was at Mile End, the Tower was taken by the rebels. Taking advantage of the gates, which were open to receive Richard, around 400 rebels entered the fortress, possibly under the leadership of a lady named Johanna Ferrour. They encountered no resistance, possibly because the guards were terrified by them. Once inside, the rebels began to hunt down their key targets, and found Archbishop Sudbury and Robert Hales in the chapel of the White Tower. Along with William Appleton, John of Gaunt's physician, and John Legge, a royal sergeant, they were taken out to Tower Hill and beheaded. Their heads were paraded around the city, before being affixed to London Bridge. The rebels found John of Gaunt's son, the future Henry IV, and were about to execute him as well, when John Ferrour, one of the royal guards, successfully interceded on his behalf. The rebels also discovered Lady Joan and Joan Holland, Richard's sister, in the castle but let them go unharmed after making fun of them. The castle was thoroughly looted of armour and royal paraphernalia.
Richard did not return to the Tower but instead travelled to the Great Wardrobe, one of his royal houses in Blackfriars, part of south-west London. There he appointed the military commander Richard FitzAlan, the Earl of Arundel, to replace Sudbury as Chancellor, and began to make plans to regain an advantage over the rebels the following day.
On June 15th, Richard left the city to meet Tyler and the remaining rebels, who were unsatisfied with the charters granted the previous day, at Smithfield, just outside the city walls. The King and his party, at least 200 strong and including men-at-arms, positioned themselves outside St Bartholomew's Priory to the east of Smithfield, and the thousands of rebels massed along the western end.
Richard probably called Tyler forwards from the crowd to meet him, and Tyler greeted the King with what the royal party considered excessive familiarity, terming Richard his "brother" and promising him his friendship. Richard queried why Tyler and the rebels had not yet left London following the signing of the charters the previous day, but this brought an angry rebuke from Tyler, who requested that a further charter be drawn up. The rebel leader apparently demanded refreshment and, once this had been provided, attempted to leave.
An argument then broke out between Tyler and some of the royal servants. When the Mayor of London, William Walworth, stepped forward to intervene, Tyler made some motion towards the King, and the royal soldiers leapt in. Either Walworth or Richard ordered Tyler to be arrested, Tyler attempted to attack the Mayor, and Walworth responded by stabbing Tyler. Ralph Standish, a royal squire, then repeatedly stabbed Tyler with his sword, mortally injuring him.
The situation was now precarious and violence appeared likely as the rebels prepared to unleash a volley of arrows. Richard rode forward towards the crowd and persuaded them to follow him away from Smithfield, to Clerkenwell Fields, defusing the situation. Walworth meanwhile began to regain control of the situation, backed by reinforcements from the city. Tyler's head was cut off and displayed on a pole and, with their leader dead and the royal government now backed by the London militia, the rebel movement began to collapse. Richard promptly knighted Walworth and his leading supporters for their services.
The royal suppression of the revolt began shortly after, with Sir Robert Knolles, Sir Nicholas Brembre and Sir Robert Launde being appointed to restore control in the capital. A summons was put out for soldiers, probably around 4,000 men were mustered in London, and expeditions to the other troubled parts of the country soon followed. The revolt in East Anglia was independently suppressed by Henry Despenser, the Bishop of Norwich, who defeated a rebel army at the Battle of North Walsham on the 25th or 26th of June.
The rebel leaders were quickly rounded up. John Ball was caught in Coventry, tried in St Albans, and executed on July 15th. A wide range of laws were invoked in the process of the suppression, from general treason to charges of book burning or demolishing houses, a process complicated by the relatively narrow definition of treason at the time. The use of informants and denunciations became common, causing fear to spread across the country; by November at least 1,500 people had been executed or killed in battle.
Despite the violence of the suppression, the government and local lords were relatively cautious in restoring order after the revolt, and continued to worry about fresh revolts for several decades. Indeed, low-level unrest continued for several more years.
There were no further attempts by Parliament to impose a poll tax or to reform England's fiscal system. The Commons instead concluded at the end of 1381 that the military effort on the Continent should be "carefully but substantially reduced". Unable to raise fresh taxes, the government had to curtail its foreign policy and military expeditions and began to examine the options for peace. The institution of serfdom declined after 1381, but primarily for economic rather than political reasons. Rural wages continued to increase, and lords increasingly sold their serfs' freedom in exchange for cash, or converted traditional forms of tenure to new leasehold arrangements. During the 15th century the institution vanished in England completely.
Another effect was that due to the Lollard element within the revolt, the Lollards lost the support and protection of their noble and royal sympathisers. By the mid-1400s, the word Lollard had essentially become synonymous with 'heretic.'
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Dan Harris; follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
On Saturday April 1st 1820 members of the Radical Committee for organising a Provisional Government posted a proclamation demanding the reform in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. So began the Radical Rising, also known as the Radical War or Scottish Insurrection of 1820. It would see some 60,000 workers go on strike across central Scotland, but would eventually end in failure and the execution or deportation of its leaders.
In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain had entered a period of economic depression. Industrialisation had squeezed the earnings of skilled weavers, who between 1800 and 1808 had seen their incomes halved. On top of this, the punitive effects of the Corn Law artificially inflated the price of bread affecting the lives of all workers. Parliamentary reform had failed to keep pace with demographic change and so the desire for reform, or even revolution, was in the air.
In August of the previous year, the Peterloo Massacre saw a crowd of 60-80,000 protesters attacked by members of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, resulting in the deaths of 18 with hundreds more injured. The event resulted in demonstrations across Britain. In Scotland, a memorial rally in Paisley on September 11th led to a week of rioting and cavalry were used to control around 5,000 ‘Radicals’. Protest meetings were also held in Stirling, Airdrie, Renfrewshire, Ayrshire and Fife, mainly in weaving areas. Shortly after saw the formation of a 28-man Radical Committee for organising a Provisional Government, which was elected by delegates of local "unions". The Committee decided to arrange military training for its supporters, giving some responsibility for the training programme to a Condorrat weaver with army experience, named John Baird.
The French Revolution was still fresh in the mind of the government who feared that similar events might unfold in Britain. As a consequence the Government sought to suppress calls for reform through spies and agent provocateurs. In Scotland, these agents infiltrated the Radical Committee and so when they met in a Tavern in Glasgow March 21st 1820 they were raided and arrested. It was reported a few days later that those arrested had confessed to a plot to split Scotland from England and restore the Scottish Parliament.
At a meeting on March 22nd the weaver John King addressed a crowd of around 20, which included another weaver called John Craig, the tin-smith Duncan Turner, and "an Englishman" called Lees. There King told them that a rising was imminent and all present should hold themselves in enthusiastic readiness for the call to arms. The next day Turner revealed plans to establish a Provisional Government and sent a draft proclamation to print. Lees, King and Turner went round encouraging supporters to make pikes for the battles and on April 1st the pamphlets were distributed throughout Glasgow.
The Proclamation, which was signed "By order of the Committee of Organisation for forming a Provisional Government. Glasgow April 1st. 1820." Stated:
"Friends and Countrymen! Rouse from that torpid state in which we have sunk for so many years, we are at length compelled from the extremity of our sufferings, and the contempt heaped upon our petitions for redress, to assert our rights at the hazard of our lives." by "taking up arms for the redress of our common grievances". "Equality of rights (not of property)... Liberty or Death is our motto, and we have sworn to return home in triumph - or return no more.... we earnestly request all to desist from their labour from and after this day, the first of April [until] in possession of those rights..." It called for a rising "To show the world that we are not that lawless, sanguinary rabble which our oppressors would persuade the higher circles we are but a brave and generous people determined to be free."
On Monday April 3rd a strike took force across a wide area of Scotland including Stirlingshire, Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, with an estimated total of around 60,000 stopping work.
Reports were made of men carrying out military drill in Glasgow while foundries and forges had been raided, and iron files and dyer's poles taken to make pikes. In Kilbarchan soldiers found men making pikes, in Stewarton around 60 strikers was dispersed, in Balfron around 200 men had assembled for some sort of action. Pikes, gunpowder and weapons called "wasps" (a sort of javelin) and "clegs" (a barbed shuttlecock to throw at horses) were offered for sale.
In Glasgow John Craig led around 30 men to make for the Carron Company ironworks in Falkirk, telling them that weapons would be there for the taking, but the group were scattered when intercepted by a police patrol. Craig was caught, brought before a magistrate and fined, but the magistrate paid his fine for him.
Rumours spread that England was in arms for the cause of reform and that an army was mustering at Campsie commanded by Marshal MacDonald, a Marshal of France and son of a Jacobite refugee family, to join forces with 50,000 French soldiers at Cathkin Braes under Kinloch, the fugitive "Radical laird" from Dundee.
Government troops were ready in Glasgow, including the Rifle Brigade, the 83rd Regiment of Foot, the 7th and 10th Hussars and Samuel Hunter's Glasgow Sharpshooters. In the evening 300 radicals briefly skirmished with a party "of cavalry", but no one came to harm.
The Battle of Bonnymuir
The next day, Tuesday April 4th, Duncan Turner assembled around 60 men to march to Carron, while he carried out organising work elsewhere. Half the group dropped out, however the remaining twenty five, persuaded that they would pick up support along the way, set out under the leadership of Andrew Hardie. They arrived in Condorrat, which was on the way to Carron, at 5am on April 5th. Waiting for them was John Baird who had expected a small army, not this bedraggled and soaking wet group. He was persuaded to continue the March to Carron by John King, who would himself go ahead and gather supporters. King would go to find supporters at Camelon while Baird and Hardie were to leave the road and wait at Bonnymuir.
The authorities at Kilsyth and Stirling Castle had however been alerted and Sixteen Hussars and sixteen Yeomanry troopers had been ordered on 4 April to leave Perth and go to protect Carron. They left the road at Bonnybridge early on April 5th and made straight for the slopes of Bonnymuir. As the newspapers subsequently reported:
"On observing this force the radicals cheered and advanced to a wall over which they commenced firing at the military. Some shots were then fired by the soldiers in return, and after some time the cavalry got through an opening in the wall and attacked the party who resisted till overpowered by the troops who succeeded in taking nineteen of them prisoners, who are lodged in Stirling Castle. Four of the radicals were wounded".
The Glasgow Herald mocked the small number of radicals encountered, but worried that "the conspiracy appears to be more extensive than almost anyone imagined... radical principles are too widely spread and too deeply rooted to vanish without some explosion and the sooner it takes place the better."
The end of the Rising
On the afternoon of April 5th, before news of the Bonnymuir fighting got out, Lees sent a message asking the radicals of Strathaven to meet up with the "Radical laird" Kinloch's large force at Cathkin. The next morning a small force of 25 men followed the instructions and left at 7 a.m. to march there. Among them was the experienced elderly Radical James Wilson who is claimed to have had a banner reading "Scotland Free or a Desart" [sic]. At East Kilbride they were warned of an army ambush, and Wilson, suspecting treachery, returned to Strathaven. The others bypassed the ambush and reached Cathkin, but as there was no sign of the promised army they dispersed. Ten of them were identified and caught, and by nightfall on April 7th; they were jailed at Hamilton.
Large numbers of those arrested were imprisoned in various jails across central Scotland. On April 8th The Port Glasgow Volunteers, who had served in Paisley during the strike, returned to Glasgow as an escort for five prisoners to be taken on to Greenock jail. They met minor hostility while marching through the town of Crawfurdsdyke, but as they approached the jail the situation escalated.
While handing over the prisoners stones were thrown at them from higher ground to the south of the jail, forcing them to seek shelter A hostile crowd gathered, and shots fired in the air failed to calm the situation. The Volunteers continued to be assaulted as they returned along Cathcart Street, as stones and bottles were thrown at them from an ever increasing crowd. As they approached Rue End Street they fired sporadically into the crowd, killing and wounding several of them. The mob pursued the Volunteers into Crawfurdsdyke, then returned to break open the jail. A magistrate urged the crowd to desist, but with no forces to resist them, agreed to release the prisoners who then escaped. A large group set off to burn down Port Glasgow, but were halted at that town's boundary by armed townsfolk who had barricaded the Devol's Glen Bridge. Greenock magistrates arrived, and dispersed the crowd.
The rising by this point was now over and by the end of April hundreds of Radicals fled to Canada. 88 men were charged with treason. James Wilson, Andrew Hardie and John Baird were convicted and sentenced to death. Wilson was hanged and beheaded on August 30th, watched by some 20,000 people, first remarking to the executioner "Did you ever see such a crowd, Thomas?". Hardie and Baird were executed on September 8th, also by hanging and beheading, which would be the last beheading in the UK. May hundreds more were transported to penal colonies in New South Wales or Tasmania.
The effect of the crushing of Rising was to effectively discourage serious Radical unrest in Scotland for some time. However, the cause of electoral reform continued, and with the Scottish Reform Act 1832 Glasgow was given its own Member of Parliament for the first time.
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 1840 an unsuccessful Chartist rising took place in Bradford. In the wake of the failed Newport Rising in November of the previous year and the conviction of its leaders for high treason, Chartists in the Yorkshire town took to the streets to continue the fight for reform. The event would however be an unmitigated disaster.
Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain that existed from 1838 to 1857. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country and South Wales. The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic, including a vote for every man twenty-one years of age, a secret ballot and equal constituencies.
Prior to events in Newport, the Yorkshire and Welsh Chartists had been in contact, agreeing in September 1839 that Chartists in South Wales and northern England would rise simultaneously. Arms had been collected, bullets cast and an insurrectionary network established throughout the industrial towns and villages of West Riding in preparation. In October however, a delegate from Bradford visited South Wales and tried to persuade the Welsh leader, John Frost, to postpone the Welsh rising, as the Yorkshire Chartists were ill-prepared. Despite these pleas Frost was not to be dissuaded and so it was promised that Bradford would rise once Newport was captured.
As the Welsh rising neared, the Yorkshire leader Peter Bussey got cold feet and went into hiding leaving the northern Chartists leaderless and the Welsh Chratists isolated. On November 4th the Newport Rising failed and shortly after John Frost was arrested. In December he was convicted of high treason and although he would eventually be deported, he was originally sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered; this would be the last time such a sentence would be handed out.
In Yorkshire, as in other places, there was much anger at the death sentences passed to Frost and the other Newport leaders. In Bradford Robert Peddie came to the fore eager to replace Bussey as leader and take action in response. Peddie hatched a hasty plan with other militants to take the town at night, plunder the shops and banks and then, with the assistance of other West Riding towns, size the local iron works (a major manufacturer of arms) before moving on to raise further insurrections at Dewsbury, Sheffield and the East Midlands. They would then march on the capital.
The Bradford rising was however doomed from the very beginning, having already been infiltrated by a spy. Around 40 armed men gathered on the night of January 26th, but when they marched on the town centre just after midnight, they were met by authorities who were well prepared for them. Chartist contingents from Dewsbury and Halifax never arrived – the messages calling them had been entrusted to the spy, who had naturally never delivered them. The Bradford Chartists were quickly rounded in and set to trial in York. On Wednesday March 18th Peddie, and three others were found guilty of riot and conspiracy. Their sentences were therefore lighter than those at Newport, with Peddie receiving three years hard labour and nine others lesser sentences.
By the spring the government had largely suppressed Chartism through mass arrests and the imprisonment of most national leaders, scores of local activists and hundreds of the rank-and-file. The first and most dramatic phase of Chartism was at an end and efforts moved onto a process of internal renewal and more systematic organisation.
This model was 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 1839, around 10,000 Chartists, led by John Frost, marched on the town of Newport, Monmouthshire, in what would become known as the Newport Rising. It was the last large-scale rebellion to take place in Britain and would result in the deaths of 22 demonstrators, who were shot by troops guarding the Westgate Hotel. The leaders of the rising were convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, though their sentence was later commuted to transportation.
Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain that existed from 1838 to 1857. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country and South Wales. The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic, namely:
The Newport Rising occurred in the wake of the House of Commons' rejection of the first Chartist petition in July 1839 and in August, the conviction and imprisonment of Chartist Henry Vincent in Monmouth Gaol. Because of Vincent’s imprisonment, the authorities were alert to the possibility of a riot. They had not however anticipated the potential scale of the reaction until November 3rd and so, the day before the Chartists would arrive, began to make hasty perpetrations. Frost and his associates had gathered around 10,000 people on their march towards Newport, many of whom were armed with home-made pikes, bludgeons and firearms. 500 Special Constables were sworn in and troops sent were sent for to bolster the 60 men already present in Newport. Crucially, 32 men of the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot were stationed at the Westgate Hotel where Chartist prisoners were held.
The Chartists arrived in Newport on November 4th. The exact rationale for the confrontation is uncertain, although it may have its origins in Frost's ambivalence towards the more violent attitudes of some Chartists, and the animosity he felt towards some of Newport’s establishment. They arrived at the small square in front of the hotel at about 9.30 am and demanded the release of Chartists they believed to be held inside. A brief but violent battle ensued. Shots were fired by both sides, contemporary accounts indicating that the Chartists attacked first. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the superior training, disciple and firepower of the soldiers quickly broke the crowd. The Chartists did manage to enter the building temporarily, but were forced to retreat in disarray. After a fiercely fought battle, lasting approximately half an hour, around 22 Chartists had been killed and upwards of 50 had been wounded.
In the aftermath more than 200 Chartists were arrested and twenty-one were charged with high treason. The main leaders of the Rising, including John Frost, were found guilty and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Though it was later commuted to transportation, they were to be the last people to be sentenced to this punishment in England and Wales. Frost was transported to Tasmania.
In response to the conditions, Chartists in Sheffield, the East End of London and Bradford planned their own risings. Samuel Holberry led an aborted rising in Sheffield on January 12th 1840; police action thwarted a major disturbance in the East End of London on January 14th, and on January 26th a few hundred Bradford Chartists staged a failed rising in the hope of precipitating a domino effect across the country. After this Chartism turned to a process of internal renewal and more systematic organisation, but the transported and imprisoned Newport Chartists were regarded as heroes and martyrs amongst workers.
Frost was given an unconditional pardon in 1856 and immediately returned to Britain. He retired to Stapleton near Bristol and continued to publish articles advocating reform until his death there, aged 93, in 1877.
This model was 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.
We know we’ve already given this away with our many social media posts, not to mention our blog about Peterloo, but we want to make sure you have this firmly in your diary.
The Great Western Brick Show is back on October 5th and 6th at STEAM Museum in Swindon. We'll be there with our epic new model to commemorate the Peterloo Massacre, which had its 200th anniversary this year. Once again it promises to be a great event and we hope to see lots of you there!
Book your tickets at the museum’s website:
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On this day in 1819, 60,000 to 80,000 people gathered on St. Peter's Field in Manchester to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. Constituency boundaries had failed to keep pace with the profound effects of industrialisation, with the burgeoning cities bereft of representation, while so-called rotten boroughs, which returned MP’s form just a handful of voters, held a disproportionate sway over government. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, high unemployment, depressed wages and famine, exacerbated by the punishing effects of the Corn Laws, had resulted in a strong desire among the working classes for change.
Previously planned meetings had been banned by local magistrate, who feared rioting or even a full insurrection; the events of the French Revolution and its aftermath were still fresh in the memory of the ruling classes. The meeting on the 16th of August was therefore held with the declared aim “to consider the propriety of adopting the most LEGAL and EFFECTUAL means of obtaining a reform in the Common House of Parliament“.
Among others, the crowd was there to hear the radical speaker Henry Hunt. However, no sooner had Hunt arrived at the hustings, constables assisted by the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry pushed through the crowd to arrest him; the charge would be sedition. The day had already seen its first casualty when 2-year old William Fildes was knocked from his mother’s arms by a galloping rider as he raced to catch his fellow Yeomanry on their way to the field. Now, having carried out the arrest, the inexperienced and possibly drunk riders of the Yeomanry began destroying the banners and flags of the hustings before turning on those in the crowd. In the ensuing melee, the Yeomanry began striking indiscriminately at the crowd with their sabres and trampling them with their horses. Hemmed into the field by its narrow exists as well as the bayonets of 88th Regiment of Foot, who blocked the main thoroughfares, the crowd was unable to disperse effectively.
The Corn Laws were tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported food and grain enforced in the United Kingdom between 1815 and 1846. They were designed to keep grain prices high to favour domestic producers. While they enhanced the profits and political power associated with land ownership, they also raised food prices and the costs of living for the British public.
As a result 18 people would lose their lives and a further 400-700 injured. The massacre was given the name Peterloo in an ironic comparison to the Battle of Waterloo, which had taken place four years earlier. Historian Robert Poole has called the Massacre one of the defining moments of its age. In its own time, the London and national papers shared the horror felt in the Manchester region, but Peterloo's immediate effect was to cause the government to crack down on reform, not embrace it. It would not be until the Great Reform Act of 1832 that Manchester would be able to elect MPs of its own.
Peterloo 200 years on
Furthermore, in a partnership with the Age of Revolution and The University of Kent, the authors and publishers have created a free twenty-page schools’ version of the graphic novel specially adapted for teachers wishing to explore the events in the classroom. Its aim is to help students to understand the event, and to identify links and symbols that bridge periods and topics. It will provoke insights into the nature of political protest in British history, its representation in art, and its relevance to the world today. Find out more and download the schools' version at:
Our model, which will depict the massacre and the local landmarks that existed in 1819, will go on display at the Great Western Brick Show in Swindon on the 5th and 6th October. Find out more and buy tickets at:
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On LEGO, History and other things by Brick to the Past