Peacock (1965, pp.100-106) continued to give a good account of the proceedings in Cambridgeshire on Thursday 23rd May 1816:
Dennis and the labourers reassembled at The Globe Inn, where their plans for the following day (which incidentally was Ely Fair day) were laid. It is more than likely that someone was sent to Downham, a few miles away, to tell the inhabitants there to make their way to Ely the next morning, and probably a reckoning of who had and who had not been forced to part with cash was made with a view to rectifying any oversights. Certainly Richard Burridge and Richard Nicholas went along in the very early hours of Thursday morning and robbed Mary Morley, Ann Cutlack, a farmer's wife, and Isaac Taylor, who was told that "the mob which were then collected together at Littleport were going to Ely to take the Town up to Government". It was also decided to obtain arms, and Littleport was searched for ammunition and firearms of any kind. John Green and Beamiss went again to Wiles' shop (it is interesting to note that, until Dennis appeared on the scene, the powder and shot were untouched) and took 7 lbs. of gunpowder and a barrel containing 56 lbs. of shot back to The Globe, where Francis Torrington contributed another 5 lbs. of gunpowder he had taken from one of the Cheesewrights. William Murat and John Warner knocked up John Rust, a labourer who shot wildfowl, and relieved him of two guns worth £10, while Burridge and Henry Mainer, wearing handkerchiefs and scarves taken from Vachell, took another, worth £5, from Elizabeth Stimson. Robert Salmon took a gun from Cutlack and relieved Thomas Waddelow of another. Somewhat later, an armed William Gotobed held up Robert Whitworth (or Whitmore) and robbed him of a gun and two pitchforks, saying he was off to join the crowd. Dennis was seen by numerous people distributing shot at The Globe from about one o'clock onwards, and Mary How said the labourers had some target practice in the early hours. In all, the Treasury Solicitors; were told, seventy-three offences were committed in Littleport during Wednesday and the early hours of Thursday, 23rd May.
Having armed themselves, the labourers looked around for a means of transporting themselves and their firearms into Ely. They went along to the farm belonging to Henry Tansley and took a waggon and three horses from his stable. According to George Stevens, the mob was ready to start the march at three o'clock in the morning but the waggon had not then been got ready. Eventually it was loaded up so that it looked like a primitive tank, and was driven by George Crow. "They had armed themselves", a description said,
with the most dangerous and offensive weapons, such as Bludgeons, Pitchforks, Muck Cromes, Fork Shafts headed with short iron spikes, Fowling pieces and Fowler's guns, the tubes of which latter are from 7 to Io feet in length, carry about 2 lbs. of shot, and will kill at a distance of 150 yards.
The procession, headed by the armed waggon and John Walker, "carrying a pole in his Hand by way of a Signal", set out for Ely during the early hours of Thursday morning. One last piece of violence was committed in Littleport when Isaac Harley and Thomas South caught sight of William Martin in the street. They demanded that the farmer should accompany them to Ely but he refused. Harley threatened to kill him and South knocked him down, but they left him behind. Another farmer, an old man named William Poole, was not so fortunate. He was working in a field near the turnpike road that led from Littleport to Ely when he saw an armed party on the road. In spite of protests that he could hardly walk, Burridge and Thomas Armiger forced him to join them. Quite a large number of others were similarly pressed into going.
The authorities had been warned of the approach of the crowd from Littleport, and a magistrate, the Rev. William Metcalfe, met them, on the outskirts of Ely, sometime between five and six o'clock. He asked the crowd to stop but Crow, driving the waggon, said, "Go on, go on, we will go into the market place."
A crowd, estimated by one observer at 500, collected in the market square outside The White Hart Inn, where a number of the magistrates (all clergymen) had gathered. Metcalfe and the Rev. Peploe Ward asked them what they wanted and received the usual replies. Richard Rutter added a demand for beer at 2d. a pint to the now familiar cry for flour at 2s. 6d. and an allowance or wage of 2s. The magistrates, who were by this time scared out of their wits, invited a deputation, led by John Lee, into the inn to discuss their claims and the following paper was eventually drawn up.
The Magistrates agree, and do order that the overseers—shall pay to each family Two Shillings per Head per week, when Flour is Half a. Crown a Stone; such allowance be raised in proportion when the price of Flour is higher, and that the price of Labor shall be Two Shillings per day, whether Married or Single and that the Laborer shall be paid his full wages by the Farmer, who hires him.
During the deliberations in The White Hart the Rev. Henry Law, another magistrate who had been asked by Ward to hurry to Ely, entered the room. He wrote a number of letters, now in the Cambridge University Library, justifying his part in the proceedings and they help determine what went on on that day. Law approved of the concessions. He told Sidmouth that increased relief from is. 6d. to 2s. "to the poor families receiving parochial relief was justified ... My Lord, because the price of grain had become much higher (in May 1816) than when the foresaid allowance was made (November 1815)".
The concessions were welcomed by the delegates, but they asked for one thing more—"forgiveness for what had passed". This was not acceptable to all the magistrates and an argument developed. Law told the Home Secretary that he warned the magistrates, as did Lieutenant Goodenough at Brandon, that they were acting ultra vires. "I resisted the compromise about to be made to the rioters," he wrote, "and I stated, that I would not agree to such terms which were contrary to law, reason and common sense, and I told the Mob, that he [Peploe Ward] had no power to hold out such a promise of pardon to them for that if they had offended against the Law, so their offences they must be accountable." The delegates' reply to Law's prevaricating was "then we have done nothing we will agree to nothing we will have Blood before Dinner". This was enough for the majority of the J.P.s and they agreed that "No person to be prosecuted for anything that has been done to the present time; provided that every Man immediately returns peaceably to his own Home". A statement of the magistrates' concessions was printed in an extraordinarily quick time and copies are still in existence. Vachell, writing to Law, said that he hoped that Sidmouth would be told of the way the magistrates were coerced. "... you know," he said, "that they were the absolute prisoners ... at the mercy of a most ferocious armed rabble without any means of defence. Every allowance, I trust, will be made for their complying with terms, to which in fact they were compelled to agree."
The result of the meeting with the magistrates was announced to the crowd who responded with great cheers and many, including those who had been forced along, returned to Littleport with the armed waggon. Rayner Brassett, who had hidden and so avoided being taken to Ely, had followed the crowd there sometime afterwards with one of the Cutlack family and had returned to Littleport by nine o'clock. Shortly afterwards a group, including South, Jefferson and Little Easey, called on him and demanded food and beer. He accompanied them to The Globe and told Robert Johnson, the publican, to let the crowd have whatever beer they wanted. Brassett returned home but was soon called on by John Sparrow (who turned Crown witness) who said that more of the labourers had gathered at The Crown and that they, too, wanted food. The treasurer went along there and found Sparrow, Chevell, Beamiss and others drinking a barrel. Realising that the whole of Littleport was given over to carousing, he then called at The George, where John Lee and Burridge gave him more money, and at The Turk's Head, where he ordered another barrel—"the Mob", he told the magistrates, "said that all the Public Houses should be treated alike". He paid for what had been consumed so far out of his own pocket because, he said, Chevell knew what was in the handkerchief and he dare not touch it except in that firebrand's presence.
At noon Chevell and six or seven others called on Brassett. Adding two pounds more, Chevell counted out the hoard which amounted to £43 4s. 0d. He then turned to his colleagues and "proposed ... that all the Publicans should fare alike and that the whole of the money should be spent on victuals and drink". They then departed and Brassett dutifully went his rounds settling with the landlords. At the end of the day a balance of £6 7s. 1d. remained which "was spent by the Mob in Victuals and Drink on the Friday morning". Brassett said that he acted his part simply through fear, a contention which rings true in his case.
Not all the labourers had returned to Littleport. While those that had were drinking, many of their colleagues were rioting in Ely.
After hearing of the magistrates' concessions, a section of the Littleport crowd—which had been, joined by some of Ely's "refractory inhabitants"—began demanding beer from the local publicans. By about 8.30 they were joined by labourers from Downham and they made their way to the house of Henry Rickwood. "Rickwood," a prosecution brief said, "is a Miller, and resides at Ely and he seems to have been considered by the Rioters as peculiarly deserving of their marked attention." Henry Chapman summed up the general belief about millers when he said, "the corn is got into the great People's hands—Damn them—if they [we?] are all of one mind we will take it away from them".
Mr. Rickwood was not at home when John Dennis, who described himself as cashier, demanded "£50 as a douceur for saving [the] house and premises from destruction". Gotobed fired a gun into the place and Mrs. Rickwood sent her son, William, to see Robert Edwards, the Chief Constable of the Hundred of Ely and the agent for Mortlock's bank, to obtain the sum demanded.
William Rickwood saw Edwards and told him of the crowd's demands. The constable began walking back to the miller's house but en route met the labourers with Mrs. Rickwood. At first he refused to give them money and made the mistake of brandishing his constable's staff, whereupon he was set upon and beaten by James Gammen into changing his mind. He asked whom he was to pay the money to and Dennis—who had tried to restrain, the crowd—said that he would "go in for Littleport" ; Flanders Hopkin went in representing the Downham labourers, and Stephen Saunderson those from Ely. Edwards handed the three £16 each and had one shilling left. Asked who should have it, Dennis replied that it had to be "divided equally". Edwards placed the amount to Rickwood's debt.
A great number of women were in the crowd milling about the streets of Ely and Sarah Hobbes, a soldier's wife and the only woman actually tried at the Special Assizes, was particularly active. According to John Bacon, a constable, she led the crowd through the churchyard and away from Edwards' house saying "come along, come along . . . we will go to Cooper's, he is a bigger rogue than Rickwood".
William Cooper kept a flour and grocery shop, and was regarded as a profiteer as bad as the unfortunate Willets elsewhere. The crowd of about 200 angry men and women began to call for "a crow or a mattock" to pull the shop down when Law and Metcalfe, the two magistrates, pushed their way forward. They managed to dissuade the mob from destroying the building but a cry of "five pounds, five pounds" was set up. The terrified Cooper handed over a note to Metcalfe who dutifully passed it on to Dennis. At this stage, the Ely labourers pushed William Atkin and Aaron Layton, a tenant of Cooper's and a master bricklayer, forward, saying that they wanted to be treated the same as the Littleport people. Cooper handed Layton, who later claimed he was acting under duress (a witness said he was "taken from the door of his Mother's by one of the Mob"), another note and the crowd gave him (Layton or Cooper?) "three huzzas and went away".
From Cooper's shop the crowd went to visit George Stevens, another miller. Dennis demanded £50, but, after haggling for some time, agreed to accept ten. For some reason, Dennis objected to Atkin, who was a carpenter "possessed of some property", acting on behalf of the Ely crowd, and the money was divided between him and Layton.
The rest of Thursday was given over to rioting and drinking in Ely, the publicans being forced to supply food and drink, as they had at Littleport. Most of the Downham and Littleport people, however, left by the early afternoon, and, after this, the authorities made some show of resistance. Some prisoners were obviously taken for, at three o'clock in the afternoon, Aaron Layton, Walton and Hunt were seen in Littleport asking for help to get them released. This was refused, the locals saying that none of their colleagues was missing and that the waggon had been put away. Later on, Henry Chapman, described as a "yeoman" on one of the briefs, also went to Littleport to ask for help. At five o'clock he was back in Ely, saying this had been agreed to and that "they had got four waggons loaded". This was an exaggeration, but some armed men may have returned. Robert Salmon certainly went and relieved Cutlack of the gun he had returned during the afternoon, announcing that they were off to release prisoners at Ely. Certainly, too, about a dozen were released; this is confirmed by letters from Law and others."
The Littleport labourers were well satisfied with their day's work and the late arrivals joined in the festivities in the town. Dennis, who had purchased ribands, for the crowd, said exultingly, "we have done everything well they give us credit for it", and there were a few more incidents to record. Henry Mainer went to the unfortunate Tansley, who ranked second only to the Martins as an object of hate, and held him up with a gun. James Wortley and Thomas Smith took a pound from Matthew Waddelow. Apologetically, they told him that he had been overlooked the previous night.
Downham had not been as quiet as Littleport, and there there were some minor incidents perpetrated on their return from Ely by a crowd led by Flanders Hopkin, John and William Wilson, and Matthew, Thomas and Samuel Seakins. Alice Cornwall was robbed of 4s. and another inhabitant was threatened but was left alone when he gave bread away. The Downham crowd, however, were a spineless lot compared with that at Littleport. A description of an attack they made on the house of Francis Tingey deserves quoting in full.
The prisoners with many others assembled at the prosecutor's House on the 23rd ult. and demanded Money—The prosecutor having refused to obey the call an attack was immediately made upon his window by the prisoners and their party—The prosecutor's wife then took the Alarm and sent her son Francis Tingey with a Flag of Truce to the Besiegers and he succeeded in saving the Citadel from further destruction by payment of a three shilling piece.