“Last year we were in the battle of Waterloo, and now I think we are going to fight the battle of Hullabaloo”.
This is the anniversary of the Littleport riots, one of the first major symptoms of social disturbance in Regency England.
I’ve got a local interest myself (brought up in the area).
Here I summarise the story found in my family’s copy of a locally produced book or booklet; “An account of the trials and execution of the Ely and
Littleport rioters in 1816”, by C. Johnson, Ely 1893.
The time; just after the end of the French wars. The economy was in a poor condition. Agricultural wages were low and food prices were high.
Those labourers in regular work received eight or nine shillings a week.
But the price of a quarter of wheat increased from 52 shillings at the beginning of the year to 76 shillings in May, and would reach 103 shillings by
the end of the year.
A word on weights and measures, for the benefit of the metricised.
20 shillings, in money, make one pound.
14 pounds, in weight, make one stone, or 28 pounds make one quarter.
2 pints, in volume, make one quart.
The place; the Isle of Ely, an agricultural county occupying the bulk of the half-drained Fens.
Ely itself; a market town, but also a cathedral city. The building dominates the landscape for miles around. The town was governed largely by the
authority of the bishop. In fact the three magistrates of the town - Mr. Metcalfe, Mr. Law, and Sir Henry Bate Dudley- were all clergymen.
Another officer mentioned in the story is John Bacon, “an active Bow Street constable”, serving in the town.
The village of Littleport; exactly what the name implies, about six miles north of Ely further down the river Ouse.
It was a common custom in those days for labourers to belong to a benefit club, which was invariably held at one of the public houses in the
village. At Littleport the club was held in the Globe, and on club night each member paid in his shilling and had a quart of beer. On the club night
of Wednesday, the 22nd of May, between 50 and 60 members were present. The principal topic of conversation was the disturbances in the adjoining
villages, and many of those present were expecting a visit from the Southery and Denver men; and as the evening advanced and they did not put in an
appearance someone said “Well as the Denver men have not come, we will have a fray to ourselves”. A man named Cornwall said he would go and get a
horn… He went to Burgess the lighterman and got the horn that he used to blow when taking pleasure parties in his lighters to Downham Market; and on
that being blown about the village, hundreds of people flocked together and the mischief soon began
They went around the village demanding money from householders and damaging their homes. Going to the house of Mr. Sindall, who was 90 years old and
bedridden, they smashed his furniture and threatened his housekeeper with a meat cleaver. A farmer called Josiah Dewey, who was sixty three years of
age, reported “They were riotous and violent and broke into my house. Joseph Easy and Richard Jessop knocked me and my wife down and used bad
language. A bureau was broken open, from which I afterwards missed one hundred guineas”. The Vicar (Rev John Vachell) tried to restrain them, and
attempted to read the Riot Act (being also a magistrate). The mob “would not hear him, but told him to go home and they would wait on him
presently”. A postchaise happened to pass through the village, carrying a couple of gentlemen back from a Turnpike Trust meeting in Downham Market.
This was stopped and surrounded, and the travellers were relieved of their purses.
When the mob arrived at the house of Mrs. Waddelow, their real target seems to have been her grandson, the farmer Henry Martin. He testified later
that he had gone to the door with five pounds in his hand, ready to offer them. When they were a hundred yards away, he got alarmed and escaped out of
the back of the house instead. From other reports, Richard Jessop was wielding an iron crow-bar, which he began using to break down the back door. One
of Martin’s servants went to him and said “Here is five pounds, what do you want to do mischief for?” Jessup replied that “he would not stop
for money, for Martin he would have”. Not being able to break the door, they broke up the shutters of the windows instead. Once they got inside,
they began asking for Mr. Martin. Mark Benton (with a large cudgel in his hand) asked a servant where her master was. When she said he wasn’t there,
Mark replied “If he is not, I am”. George Crow said “Here is his hat, and I know he is here”, and put the hat on his own head. Not finding
him, they ransacked the house, chopped up the staircase and some of the furniture, and extorted money from Mrs. Waddelow and her friend Mrs.
They arrived at the Vicarage at about eleven o’clock. When the Vicar unlocked the door to speak to them, they demanded money. He gave them two
pounds, but they said that was not enough. As they got more demanding, he brought a loaded pistol to the door and threatened to shoot the first man
who attempted to enter. However, he could not carry out this threat because of the pressure of the invading mob. Instead he and his wife and
daughters, in their night-clothes, fled the house and began to walk to Ely. The men swarmed over his house, eating and drinking all they could find,
stealing and carrying whatever they could lay their hands on, and smashing the furniture. “The Vicarage adjoined the churchyard, and the din and
rattle of dish covers, china, etc., thrown against the gravestones in the dead of night, created such a noise as was never forgotten by those who
heard it” .
The Vachell family and other refugees took the news to Ely, and some of the principal inhabitants of the town were hurriedly called together to
consult with the magistrates. They agreed to send for military assistance. Young Thomas Archer, a member of the legal firm “Archer, Evans and
Archer”, volunteered to ride to the regiment stationed at Bury St. Edmunds. (Perhaps the firm still exists. I worked with “Archer and Archer”,
I’ve just remembered, in the probate of my father’s will)
Meanwhile the rioters took four fowling guns (which were about eight feet long and carried nearly a pound of powder) and mounted them fore and aft on
a horse-drawn waggon belonging to Mr. Tansley. Armed also with other guns and pitchforks, they set out for Ely themselves. Approaching the town from
the north, they arrived at the Oakery between five and six o’clock in the morning where they were met by Mr. Metcalfe and other gentlemen on
horseback. He asked them what they wanted and the answer was “We want the price of a stone of flour a day”. Mr. Metcalfe replied “You shall have
it”. He tried to persuade the party to return to Littleport, but they said “We will go and have a randy at Ely”. They did agree to follow him to
the Market Place, where he spoke to them from one of the windows of the White Hart. They gave him three cheers and fired their guns off into the air
(one of the bullets fell among men at work on the other side of the river). He gave them some beer, told them not to get drunk, and urged them to go
home. Some of them took this advice, but others spread themselves around the city and “proceeded to acts of violence, in which they were joined by
some of the unruly elements of the town”.
edit on 22-5-2016 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)