Wednesday, 18 April 2012

18th April 1812: First Manchester food riot

On Saturday 18th April, the first of 3 days of food rioting commenced in Manchester.

The disturbances began just after the commencement of the potato market at Shudehill. Large numbers of people began to congregate, becoming increasingly restless: one witness recorded in the Chester Courant (via the Manchester Mercury) estimated the numbers of people collected were as high as 12,000.

The rioting began in earnest between 1.00 and 2.00 p.m. At the market around New Cross and Shudehill, the whole of the meat put out for sale was seized by the crowd and carried away, along with some of the stocks of potatoes, many of which were pelted at the dealers to drive them from the market. Many women were involved in the autoreduction of the price of goods that had not been stolen, chiefly potatoes, which they demanded be sold at 8 shillings per load (252 lbs), rather than the asking price of 14 to 15 shillings.

The rioters had the run of town for at least an hour, and by 3.00 p.m. both Cavalry and Infantry soldiers stationed in Manchester had begun to patrol the streets and disperse the crowds. Corn warehouses were under military guard, and all of the shops were shut up.

The military having regained control of the market, they actually facilitated the auto-reduction of prices, with the Leeds Mercury reporting that dealers were encouraged to sell their potato stocks "at the reduced price of nine, ten, and eleven shillings per load." Prentice (1851, p.52) says that many received the price they wanted of 8 shillings per load, but were only sold small quantities.

By evening, several women had been arrested and at least one person had been killed by the Scots Greys, a notorious regiment that would go on to kill many across the region in the next couple of days.

The weekly regular market day in Manchester was only 2 days away.

This has been compiled from the following sources: Chester Courant of 21st April 1812; Leeds Mercury of 25th April 1812; the Manchester Mercury of 21st April 1812 and Prentice (1851) as cited.

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