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The battle of Hullabaloo; The Littleport riots of 1816

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posted on May, 22 2016 @ 08:01 AM
“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. Cutlack.

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)

posted on May, 22 2016 @ 08:02 AM
The mob in Ely were extracting sums of money, as before, and getting contributions of bread or cheese or beer from different shopkeepers. The most serious episode began when they approached the house of Rickwood the miller. His wife said the miller was not at home, and asked them what they wanted. They said they must have fifty pounds, or the house and mill would come down immediately. Since that sum was not in the house, she had to go and draw it from her banker, Mr. Edwards (local agent of the Cambridge bankers Mortlock and Son). He came to meet her and was inclined to resist the demand, until someone struck him on the head. Then he retreated to his own house and placed his back against the door, telling his family to remain within. “The mob drew around me and I received a second blow, and conceiving my life to be in danger I submitted and desired that three of them would come in and receive the money for the rest… I am of the opinion, however, that John Dennis prevented the mob from doing me any injury and made great exertions to restrain them. One very turbulent person in particular was persuaded by him from the commission of mischief”.

Three delegates were needed for the distribution of the money, because there were now three constituent groups in the mob. Some of the inhabitants of the nearby village of Downham (more recently known as Little Downham) had decided to join in the fun. Meanwhile, Sarah Hobbs waved her hand and cried to the rest “Come along, come along, we will go to Cooper’s; he is a bigger rogue than Rickwood”. She was the only woman charged in the later trials, though far from being the only woman involved in the disturbances. William Cooper kept a shop dealing in flour and groceries. When the crowd arrived at his house, they began demanding money, breaking the windows and threatening to bring down the front of the house with a pick axe. Mr. Law and Mr. Metcalfe had caught up with the mob again and did their best to protect the house. Mr. Metcalfe acted as an intermediary, standing guard at the broken window, receiving the notes from inside, and passing them on to the rioters. Cooper handed over five pounds. A couple of Ely men then complained that the Littleport people had taken those notes “and the Ely people had a right to have as much”. When he passed out another five notes, the mob gave three cheers and went away.

Major Purvis at Bury, commanding a portion of the First Royal Dragoon Guards, could only spare a “corporal’s guard” of sixteen men. When this party arrived at the bridge on the southern outskirts of the town, after two o’clock in the afternoon, they were briefed by some of the anxious inhabitants. The officer in charge laughingly made the remark quoted at the beginning and gave the command “With ball cartridge, load!” Then the troop cantered in single file up Back Hill and the Gallery towards the Lamb Hotel. (“Obviously The Gallery wasn’t a one-way street in those days”, as our history teacher observed) From this point, the detachment was paraded through the principal streets. In St. Mary’s St, a well-known half-witted man leapt on the back of one of the horses at the rear, seized the sword out of the rider’s scabbard, jumped off again and started capering about with it. He was about to be cut down by one of the other soldiers when Mr. Spooner wrenched the sword away from him and returned it. This is the only incident mentioned in connection with their passage through the streets of Ely; the rioters themselves (and their waggon) had already retreated back to Littleport. Since the waggon is not mentioned in reports of the events in Ely, my guess is that it was found inconvenient for town use and left at the Oakery after the encounter with Mr. Metcalfe.

The cavalry stayed in Ely overnight and moved on Littleport the next day. They were reinforced by some of the Royston Troop of Volunteer Cavalry and by the staff of the local Militia. The civilian leadership placed themselves at the head of the column- Sir Henry Bate Dudley, Mr. Dench the lawyer, Mr. Spooner and Mr. Bacon. In this order the column approached Littleport and then charged into the Main Street “at a hand gallop”. They met no obstacles, though the small stout cob of Mr. Dench was in danger of being ridden down by the high-spirited and powerful young horse ridden by Mr. Spooner behind him. The rioters of the previous day had shut themselves inside the “George and Dragon”, barricading the doors with benches. The magistrate (Sir Henry) called upon them, and when they refused to come out, the Militia staff went forward and fired in through the windows. Some of the inmates burst out, armed with bludgeons and with iron bars from the fireplace, but they were soon rounded up. There were a few injuries on both sides, but only one death. As the captured men were guarded in a group on the highway, surrounded by the cavalry, one of them made an unsuccessful attempt to seize a trooper’s carbine, and then tried to escape. The trooper shot him dead. “The bullet entered the back of his head and passed out through his eye, and after passing the bar of a gate, penetrated an inch and a half into a brick wall”.

The prisoners were tried by a Special Commission, comprising three Justices- Justice Abbott, Justice Burrough, and Justice Christian, Chief Justice of the Isle of Ely (as he had been for the past sixteen years). They arrived in Ely, escorted by about fifty of the principal inhabitants, at about ten o’clock on Monday the 17th of June. They went first to the Court House in the Market Place, so that their commission could be read and the court formally opened. Then they went to the Bishop’s Palace to breakfast with the Bishop, and from there to a special service in the Cathedral. Sir Henry Bate Dudley, as one of the prebends of the Cathedral, preached on the text “The law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient”. The anthems which were sung included three from the Messiah- “Why do the Nations”, “Let us break their bonds asunder”, and concluding with the Hallelujah Chorus. They returned to the court in the afternoon to swear in the Grand Jury and get them to work in “returning” the bills of indictment. The trials themselves began the following morning.

posted on May, 22 2016 @ 08:03 AM
The Crown had organised the trials by making each of the serious episodes a separate case, with its own set of charges applied to a particular batch of defendants. For example, the very first case was the invasion of the Waddelow household. Twelve defendants were charged with “burglarious entry” and theft of divers articles, including a hat and five shirts belonging to Mr. Martin. The threats against his life were mentioned in Mr. Gurney’s opening words, but were not part of the indictment. Ten different witnesses gave a detailed account of events. But after Martin gave his own testimony, the judges conferred together. They then told the jury that his description of the property exposed a mistake in the framing of the indictment, which would necessarily lead to the acquittal of the prisoners. So the jury should return a verdict of Not Guilty, which was done. As far as I can make out, the mistake was that the indictment treated the house as belonging to Mrs. Waddelow, and the cross-examination of Mr. Martin had just established that the two of them were joint-owners. Someone’s defence counsel was earning his fee- perhaps Mr. Hart, who represented four of the defendants, and had already complained about the general description of the riot in Mr. Gurney’s opening speech. The charge was re-drawn later in the week with a slightly different batch of defendants, three of whom (including George Crow) were found guilty.

Next seven men were charged with “burglarious entry” of the house of Josiah Dewey and the theft of the hundred guineas. Five, including Thomas South, were found guilty, while the two acquitted men had to stay on to face charges in the later cases.

Three men were charged with forcible entry and theft in the house of Robert Speechley, and were found guilty. They included Thomas South, who carried a cleaver , “waved it over the head of my mistress, and said that if they did not receive money they would do as they had done at Dewey’s, and not leave a chair to sit on”.

Five men (though one was not in custody) were charged with felonious entry to the house of Rev. Vachell and stealing the two pounds which he had offered at the door. Two of those present were found guilty. One of them was Isaac Harley, who had been the spokesman in demanding the money, and the first person to assault the Vicar at the door, using his bodily strength to force entry.

At a later stage, there was a separate case about theft of silver spoons from the same house. Joseph Lavender and William Beamiss the younger were charged with stealing them, Christopher Butcher was charged with “receiving” a couple of them, knowing them to be stolen. Once the evidence had been heard, Justice Burrough instructed the jury that no case had been made out against the latter two. It appeared, from the cross-examination of witnesses, that Beamiss had originally attempted to hand the spoons back to the owners, being prevented by the pressure of the crowd. The passage of spoons from Beamiss to Butcher had been witnessed, but if Beamiss could not be convicted of stealing them, then Butcher could not be convicted of “receiving” them as stolen goods. So the jury found Lavender guilty and acquitted the other two.

However, William Beamiss was in trouble again almost immediately, on a charge of highway robbery relating to the stopping of the postchaise. He was the one who had opened the door, taking the money which the occupants were obliged to hand over, and this time he was found guilty.

And again he and his father, William Beamiss the elder, were charged with assaulting Robert Cheesewright and putting him in bodily fear and taking from him a note of the value of one pound. A witness reported hearing William the elder call himself the cashier. They were both found guilty.

Five men were selected for the charge of “stealing from the dwelling-house of Robert Edwards the sum of fifty pounds, the property of the said Robert Edwards”. He said he “gave the money, not only at the express demand of Mrs. Rickwood, but for fear of my own person and property. I was agent to Messrs. Mortlock, to whom I was responsible”. This ambiguity seems to have encouraged the defence to try raising another legal technicality; who was the real owner of the money which was taken? In cross-examination, Mr. Edwards denied telling Mrs. Rickwood that he should look to her for repayment, but he admitted that he had placed the money to her debit. But Mr. Justice Abbott, instructing the jury later, told them that the question of ultimate ownership was not material to the case. The point was that Mr. Edwards was the person in possession of the property at the time. Three of the accused were found guilty, including John Dennis and two others who had been carrying big sticks. On the other hand, Flanders Hopkin, who had been the “Downham” delegate in receiving the money, was one of the two men who were acquitted.

Robert Edwards believed that John Dennis had saved his life, and made a point of stressing this in the hope that it would mitigate the verdict. Unfortunately the judges were more impressed by the implication that Dennis had influence over the others. This impression was reinforced by the Cooper case which followed. Eight men and Sarah Hobbs were charged, including the two men who had demanded more money for Ely, but Mr. Gurney identified Dennis as the ringleader. He struck at the window shutters with the gun which he held in his hand and received part of the money for the Littleport rioters. When the money had been obtained, he held up his gun as a signal, which the mob obeyed. Therefore the court refused to believe his claim that he was part of the mob unwillingly, being dragged there by force. Only one man was acquitted from this batch of defendants.

At this point, at the end of the week, the more serious charges had been dealt with, and there were still a couple of dozen men waiting to be tried on lesser charges.
But now Mr. Gurney, counsel for the Crown, rose up and took the initiative in drawing proceedings to a close.
“It has been the anxious wish of His Majesty’s Government not to call for judgement in more cases than were necessary, and we have been invested with a discretion to pause when a sufficient number of cases have been brought before the Court. We have been anxiously looking forward to the limits of this power… Enough, we hope, has been done to teach the inhabitants of this Isle the necessity of obedience to the law, and of respect for the peace and property of their neighbours.”
In short, he proposed that the remaining defendants should be allowed to go home, after giving bail and committing themselves to return for trial when summoned. This would be on the explicit understanding that they would NOT be recalled to face these charges if they lived peaceably in the future. The judges concurred and set bail at £50, with additional sureties of £20 from the friends of each prisoner. Mr. Justice Abbott gave the released men one final word of advice; “to avoid all excess of liquor, and not to drink and tipple at public houses”.

posted on May, 22 2016 @ 08:04 AM
Then came the sentencing. On Saturday, the Court met again and “judgement of death” was passed on the twenty-four prisoners who had been found guilty of capital offences.
But this formal sentence would not be applied across the board.
Addressing the prisoners, Mr. Justice Abbott announced the death penalty on five men, who had been prominent in leadership and wielding of weapons.
William Beamiss the elder, “the cashier”, for the Cheesewright affair and otherwise leading his son astray.
George Crow for the invasion of the Waddelow household and for his intentions against the life of Henry Martin. Standing on the scaffold later, Crow tried to deny any such intent, but Dennis interrupted him; “Yes, yes, he would have been murdered had he been found”.
John Dennis, of course. He was a publican in Littleport, and the Court thought this denied him even the excuse of poverty which many of the other rioters would have had.
Isaac Harley, who used brute force against the Vicar.
And Thomas South, who kept waving his cleaver at people.
For these five men, “the sentence is that you and each of you be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, and from thence to some place of execution, where you are to be hanged by the neck until you are dead”.

“The remaining nineteen had their sentences commuted as follows”;
Five men were sentenced to be transported for life (to Australia), and one for a period of fourteen years. The remaining ten were to serve twelve months in Ely prison. (No, those figures don’t add up. The names of three men have been left out somewhere in these lists)
Finally, Joseph Lavender, the spoon-stealer, came forward for sentencing. The judge had already told the jury that his offence was “clergyable, and not capital”. In other words, he could now “pray benefit of clergy”, claiming an immunity from the death penalty based on the privilege which the Becket affair had won for the church, more than six centuries previously. He too was to serve twelve months in prison.

There was more trouble about those prisoners later, when they were removed from Ely and the (mistaken?) story got around that they had been pardoned “on condition of being transported for seven years”. A group of citizens went to Mr. Metcalfe, the senior magistrate, and obtained permission to hold an “indignation meeting” in the Court House. The other two magistrates immediately forbad the meeting, locking the Court House door and pocketing the key. Then they went round to Mr. Metcalfe and accused him of being an instigator of riotous proceedings. As a result of this row, Mr. Metcalfe resigned from the bench of magistrates. The meeting was held elsewhere, and also passed a vote of thanks to Mr. Metcalfe for his “judicious and temperate conduct” during the riots.

Other effects of the crisis persisted.
Many families were missing some of their relatives.
Bullets had made dents in walls and gate-posts.
In the short struggle in Littleport, Thomas South fired out of a window and disabled one of the troopers in the forearm. As a consequence, this man was a pensioner upon the Poor Rate of Littleport for several years. “It was a matter of great regret to him that after going through the battle of Waterloo and many other engagements without a scratch, he should be wounded by one of his own countrymen”.

On the other hand, the Rev. Vachell managed to find some recompense. He took out an action against the Hundred of Ely to recover his losses during the riots (the “hundred” being a subdivision of the English county). He was awarded damages amounting to £708. Which was nice.

posted on May, 22 2016 @ 09:51 AM
Nice bit of history there, thanks Disraeli.

Just goes to prove that when people have nothing, they have nothing to lose, except their life in some cases as demonstrated here.

Not that I would condone such behaviour, but it makes you appreciate the reasons behind the behaviour.

Here in Bristol, in 1831, we had similar riots and four people were hanged as a result.

posted on May, 22 2016 @ 09:55 AM
a reply to: Cobaltic1978
A couple of years after this, there was the "Peterloo massacre" in Manchester.
Evidently "-loo" was to the early nineteenth century what "-gate" was to the journalism of the twentieth.

posted on Jun, 9 2016 @ 12:50 PM
SPAM removed by admin
edit on Jul 15th 2016 by Djarums because: (no reason given)

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