Monday, 16 May 2016

16th May 1816: Labourers demanding higher wages assemble in Brandon, Suffolk

On Thursday 16th May 1816 began three days of disturbances in the Suffolk village of Brandon. Labourers demanding higher wages used mass assemblies and property destruction to win higher wages and cheaper prices, a model that was to be repeated elsewhere in the coming days.

Newspaper reports of the disturbances are inaccurate, and because he had access to government documents that we do not, the words of A.J. Peacock, from his 1965 book 'Bread or Blood', will be used to describe what occurred at Brandon:
A crowd of about 200 people, mainly women and boys assembled in a riotous mood in the market place at Brandon at about four o'clock in the afternoon of Thursday, 16th May.  Mr. Burch and J. Moseley, two magistrates who were at the latter's home at Toft's Hall, some five miles away over the border in Norfolk, were sent for by frightened constables unable to quieten the crowd. They arrived during the early evening and immediately proceeded to the Chequers Inn. They sent out for a number of people—some twenty-five in all—like Matthew Burrell, the proprietor of the White Hart Inn, whom they swore in as special constables. Burch then went out to address the crowd. He asked them what they wanted and they replied, "Cheap Bread, a Cheap Loaf and Provisions Cheaper". By this time they were in an ugly mood, amusing themselves by breaking the windows of a house belonging to a Mrs. Brewster, and were being urged by Henry Spendlove, a labourer who was armed with a stick, to even greater deeds of violence. Burrell and Thomas Willett, a butcher who was an object of great hatred to the crowd, went out to make some arrests but thought better of it and returned to The Chequers amidst a hail of stones. Burch then told the crowd that, unless they dispersed, he would have to read the Riot Act, and sent the clerk for "the volume of Buries Justice which contains the proclamation directed by the Riot Act". This had the desired effect and the crowd, which had dwindled to between thirty and forty, dispersed quietly after hearing Burch read his piece at about a quarter to eleven. 
The magistrates by this time had lost their nerve and Moseley sent to the Commanding officer of some Dragoons stationed at Thetford, five or six miles away, "where a riot had lately been". Lieutenant Stephen Goodenough and eleven men of the First Royal Dragoons arrived in Brandon between two and three o'clock on the morning of 17th May to find the town perfectly quiet. Burch and Moseley, who was later quite unjustly accused of running away went home during the night.

This is from Peacock (1965, p.78)

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