Tuesday, 17 May 2016

17th May 1816: "Bread or Blood in Brandon this day"

Peacock (1965, pp.79-80) continues his description of the events in Brandon on Friday 17th May 1816:
The following day, John Kendle, a deputy overseer, met, on the bridge over the river, a crowd of about fifty labourers led Porter Talbot, a labourer armed with a gun "which had a handkerchief tied round the lock". Kendle asked what they wanted and they replied that Mr. Norman, the miller at Weeting, a half mile away, “had not kept his word and they were going his mill down". Kendle argued with them and promised to see Norman on their behalf, if they would hold their hand. They agreed and the overseer rode off. When he returned with the news that Norman had not put his prices up, however, the labourers had already moved into the town.   
A crowd had started assembling in the market place at about nine o'clock that morning. About an hour later some women came along who announced that their men were following them but had stopped along the Thetford road to collect sticks. Eventually fifty or more, all armed, and led by William Peverett, a labourer, marched into the square carrying white and red flags. Willett, the butcher, who was amongst the crowd, told Peverett that the parish would let them have flour at 2s. 6d. if they would disperse, and asked for a deputation to go along with him to meet the magistrates. Helen Dyer, a married woman, had earlier told Willett that, although she could not read, she had a paper containing the crowd's demands, which she wanted shown to the magistrates. On it was written "Bread or Blood in Brandon this day". 
Lieutenant Goodenough at The Chequers had sent for Burch, the magistrate, as soon as the crowd began to assemble. He asked some of the special constables to go out and arrest Talbot, but they replied that they were too, scared of the mob. When Burch arrived, the Lieutenant asked for permission to go take some of the labourers into custody himself, but this the frightened magistrate refused to allow. Instead, he agreed to see the deputation brought to him by Willett, which included Peverett, Talbot, Henry Malt, John Crane—all labourers and William Arnold, a shoemaker. 
Burch asked John Crane why the crowd had assembled again and what their demands were. Crane replied that "they did not mean any injury but that he could not live with his large family as things were, and they must have flour cheaper". They also asked for the military to leave, saying that they did not like the “Redcoats". The magistrate, by this time scared out of his wits, appeared ready to make concessions, although Goodenough warned him that he was acting improperly. He promised that the military would leave, and saved some face when the Town Clerk of Thetford opportunely arrived with a message from the Mayor of that place demanding the return of the troops because “a mob was assembling there”. Goodenough left and Burch, saying that the crowd's demands would be met, arranged a meeting of "the principal inhabitant” for six o'clock at The Chequers. All this time stones were being thrown outside in the square. 
The crowd began to reassemble outside The Chequers around five o'clock and once again women were very prominent and vociferous. The meeting decided that the poor were to have 2s. a day allowance and flour at 2s. 6d. a stone as Willett had suggested. Burch announced this decision to the labourers and agreed to their demand that it be put in writing. Smythe, Burch's clerk, took the agreements along to the Town Cryer. This was the first time demands of this kind had been formulated and the first time that the magistrates had given in. It was to form the pattern for future incidents. 
The crowd announced that they were satisfied with the concessions, and it does not seem to have occurred to any of them that, having got them by violence, they might not be kept. They told Burch, however, "We must have beer or worse will come of it", and in spite of cries from the women saying, "do not give them any", this was agreed to also—provided they had it in the Ram Close, a field belonging to The Ram Public House. They drank and danced and eventually went back to the square and demonstrated their belief in victory by pathetically singing God Save the King and Rule Britannia outside The Chequers. A section of them committed some acts of violence, nevertheless, and the Riot Act was read for the second time. Henry Spendlove was once again prominent, "forming the men into a rank opposite the windows of the Chequers Inn...". Burrell's windows were broken, John Ablett was stoned, and between twenty and thirty people assembled outside Willett's shop and broke his windows. This was the limit of the damage on Friday, however, and the crowd "did not commit any more riot or disturbance".

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