Sunday, 22 May 2016

22nd May 1816: Rioting erupts at Littleport, Cambridgeshire

The most serious of the 'Bread or Blood' disturbances in East Anglia took place in Cambridgeshire between 22nd - 24th May 1816, commencing in the village of Littleport on Wednesday 22nd May. Peacock (1965, pp.95-100) gave a good summary using multiple sources:
The incidents involving the Southerey labourers took place on the 20th and 21st May. Having secured the release of their friends, they returned to their village in high spirits and sent out messengers to nearby villages to spread the news of their victory over the magistrates. Among those told were the labourers of Littleport, a few miles away. They, according to one of the solicitors who drew up a statement of the events of the 22nd, 23rd and 24th May, "lost no time in asserting their Rights (as they audaciously expressed themselves)". The "Norfolk Banditti", he said, had "succeeded too well" at Downham Market
The labourers at Littleport met in The Globe public house on the evening of 22nd May for a Benefit Club meeting, and, without doubt, the recent incidents at Bury, Brandon, and Downham Market, were discussed by the fifty or sixty people present. According to Johnson, they were expecting the men from Southerey. Undoubtedly, the usual amount of drinking went on, and, when it was realised that their neighbours were not joining them, they issued forth from The Globe and made straight for the house of the Rev. John Vachell, the vicar of Littleport, an extremely unpopular magistrate. 
Vachell was at home when the crowd called. He was told that the labourers, wanted work and bread and he was asked to accompany them to a parley with the farmers. Vachell agreed to do this and the crowd met the farmers in the churchyard. Prominent among the latter was Henry Martin who acted as spokesman and who was described as "a principal Farmer in the Parish against whom some of them (the labourers) had imbibed an animosity", and elsewhere as someone who, was obnoxious "because of his conduct in the -affairs of the parish". (He was an overseer of the poor in 1814.) Martin promised the crowd "2s. per day and flour at 2s. 6d. per stone", exactly the same terms, he said, that he had heard the Southerey people had been awarded. By this time windows were being broken nearby and Martin said that "I was then advised to go home—and did so". 
A crowd led by a man blowing a horn had broken away from those negotiating with the farmers and begun rioting and robbing on a scale not seen at Brandon, Bury or Downham Market... 
One of the first objects of attack was a grocer's shop kept by Stephen and Mary Wiles. The windows were broken and Mrs. Wiles said that the crowd demanded that she should hand over £10. She offered £1 and they then settled for a bank token worth 1s. 6d. [sic]. Aaron Chevell (described usually as a labourer, but in one brief as a tailor), then relieved Stephen Wiles of £8 and the crowd set out for the house of John Mobbs, who was knocked down and robbed by John Easey of £3 "and one loaf of bread worth 1s.". 
From John Mobbs' house the crowd went to that of Josiah Dewey, a retired farmer of over seventy years of age. Aaron Chevell said to the old man, "Now if you will give me a £1 note I will go away", but Dewey foolishly said he did not have one. Chevell told the mob to "Go it". "Little" Easey and Richard Jessop knocked the old man down and about fifty labourers forced their way into the house. Mrs. Dewey was told to go off and borrow for them while her husband was held a prisoner. When she returned and handed the money over she found her house being cleared of anything at all valuable, including sheets, table cloths, stockings, a watch, gowns and a cleaver, which Thomas South appropriated and used with considerable effect later on. The crowd also found 100 guineas and a promissory note which they took. 
The success at Dewey's prompted the labourers to go to practically all the farmers and shopkeepers in Littleport, demanding money. Robert Crabbe took from Henry Tansley, and Jarvis Cranwell, and Thomas Sindall demanded a contribution from John Cutlack junior. Cutlack offered £3, but this was refused and he had to give £5, along with "a piece of paper containing a Minute of his having paid the Money to Sindall". William Beamiss senior, the shoemaker, took £1 from Thomas Waddelow and his son took more from Robert Cheesewright. Later he and Chevell went to Tansley again. Chevell, who was one of Tansley's tenants, anounced "I am at the head of the Mob", and Beamiss told the crowd "that he was cashier" and that "the old fellow [Tansley] has got the money, let us lug it out". The farmer handed over another £2. George Kidd was also visited twice, Thomas South deciding that the 6s. he had given the first time was not enough. South, wielding his cleaver, was also mainly responsible for robbing Robert Whitworth, a farmer, and entering the house of Mrs. Elizabeth Little and taking 10s. Aaron Chevell also took £1 4s. 0d. from George Aldis, a surgeon, and returned later to enquire whether or not the note was a good one! Henry Luddington, a magistrate, was one of the few people spared, he having persuaded Beamiss to leave his house alone. 
At about nine o'clock the labourers decided to bring some organisation into the proceeding, and Aaron Chevell led a group to the house of Rayner Brassett, a baker and flour dealer who was later charged with rioting, but turned Crown witness. Bras-sett was asked for a pen and paper to put down an account of how much they had obtained, and then the question arose of who was to be treasurer. Taylor, a labourer who appears quite often in the story yet who was never charged, was asked but declined. "Chevell then said let me hold it but the others replied no if Chevell has it we shall never get it again. Brassett shall hold it." The money, some £25, to which more was added during the evening (what happened to Dewey's 100 guineas is unknown), was put into a handkerchief and handed over to Mrs. Brassett. The crowd left to continue levying and wrecking, saying they would call back the following day. 
Thomas South, William Dann and Robert Crabbe then led an attack upon the house of Robert Speechley "a very feeble and harmless character of upwards of 71 years of age". South, brandishing his cleaver, told the people in the house that "he would serve them as he had served Dewey and not leave them a chair to sit upon". He took £2 12s. 0d. from Sarah Butcher, a servant, and William Dann, who was "in liquor", took from Thomas Cheesewright, who had gone into the house after being robbed in the street by William Beamiss. The place was then systematically broken up and glassware worth £20, twenty ounces of silver, linen and a quantity of money were taken. 
By this time the labourers had tasted success and from Speechley's they set out to hunt the unpopular Henry Martin. He lived with his grandparent, Mrs. Rebecca Waddelow, a shopkeeper, and had in fact hidden in the house, although he made his escape as soon as he heard the crowd approaching, shouting for his blood. Joseph Easey led the mob and Mrs. Waddelow, who was said to be "remarkable (7o-8o years) for Piety, Charity and Simplicity of character", sent out her servant, "Little" Sallis, to negotiate with him. Sallis offered Easey £5 to go away but this was refused, Easey saying that he would "have Martin". Richard Jessop was also asked to take the cash, but he, too, refused, "for Martin he would have". The crowd, in which John Walker bearing "an ensign" was prominent, then smashed their way into the house. 
Inside the house the crowd found Mary Cutlack, who was robbed of £3, and William, the brother of Henry Martin. Thomas South, who one report said was a servant of Henry's "whom he would doubtlessly have murdered had he met him ... sought to gratify his disappointed malice upon the Prosecutor (William)". South aimed a blow with his cleaver but missed and the fanner made his escape, along with William Gillett, who had been beaten and said he left "through fear". Thomas Gotobed, who was also anxious to settle with Martin, and others then proceeded to search the house and, not finding their prey, chopped up every piece of furniture they could lay their hands upon. They then "cleared the shop" of food and clothing worth some £50, and George Crow took about £6 in notes. Only one known member of the crowd was not from Littleport. This was Thomas Edgerley, a waterman from Ramsey, who had been working on a gang of lighters that were lying near Littleport bridge. He had joined the rioters and had taken tea and cloth worth £10 from Waddelow's shop, which he kept and eventually sold. 
Henry Martin had managed to get away from the crowd and had met Hugh Robert Evans, a local solicitor and clerk to the magistrates of Ely. The two of them tried to get away from Littleport in a post chaise, but were stopped by William Beamiss, John Hunt and a few others, who demanded money. Evans was relieved of 14s. and Martin, who kept in the shadows and concealed his real identity, parted with 4s. 6d. This was one of the offences chosen to go before the Judges at the Special Assizes, and one of the few that Beamiss was found not guilty of. 
The crowd returned to the Rev. Vachell's house at about eleven o'clock. First of all they demanded money and beer. Two pounds were handed over and they were told they could have a barrel, but Isaac Harley, who was armed with a gun, said this was not enough and threatened to shoot the Vicar and his gardener. Vachell made the mistake of brandishing a pistol and the infuriated crowd, knocking him aside, forced their way into the house. Mr. and Mrs. Vachell and their daughter, "an amicable and interesting young lady in extremely ill-health", managed to make their escape leaving the house to the mercies of the mob. The place was broken up and everything of value was taken, including twenty pounds of flour, silver spoons, "the 5th volume of the Botanical Magazine, a framed portrait of Philip Metcalfe, Esq., and a Bell pull ..." which were discovered in the house of Elizabeth Watson. 
After wrecking Vachell's house, the Littleport labourers took to organising themselves. So far no agreement had been reached with the magistrates as at Brandon and Bury, and, having cowed their own village, they began preparations for an armed march on Ely the following day. There the magistrates could be forced into making the concessions Henry Martin had suggested. 
The incidents in Littleport until about eleven o'clock were not directed by anyone of authority and had simply had revenge as their objective, although the farmers were approached with wage claims early on. At about this time, however, the crowd sent for John Dennis, a licensed victualler, who was sympathetically disposed towards them. According to Mary How, his servant, Dennis was in bed when the crowd first called and she said that they had to go back twice more before he would agree to go. She also said that Christopher Butcher threatened to shoot her master if he would not join, the crowd, but Dennis himself said that he got up and went to the market place because he heard "beer was, to be given". His defence at his trial was that he was forced into joining the crowd, but his actions belie this. It is reasonably certain that he took control of the preparations for the march to Ely.

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