Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Article - Sheffield Food Riots 1812

Another article for you lucky South Yorkshire Historians, if you use this for any article could you please put in a link to this blogsite, Cheers Dave Cook Edited 17/04 and 01/05with extra information from the Luddite bicentenary blogsite and details held in the National archive :

200 years ago this week the men and women of Sheffield had finally had enough of poor wages, lack of jobs and escalating food prices and came out in force to protest against the government and military suppression which had built up in the area with the rise of Luddite activities.
During the early part of 1812 around a hundred men had been working on the new 2 ½ acre plot of land off Broad Lane assigned for St. Georges church in the north west of the town collecting nearby clay deposits to level the land.  Dressed in rags and forced to wear clogs as a ‘badge of receiving parish relief’ (probably the first people in the West Riding to have to wear them). these men had been a skilled cutlers but recent events meant there was no work and without work they had been reduced to moving out of their rented properties to the worst place imaginable – the Workhouse. The main Sheffield Workhouse was located at this time on West Bar and Bower Lane and was built around 1736 (the other at Rock Street, Pitsmoor was built in 1801). A shortage of coins also meant the workhouse produced their own gold, silver and copper coinage, this meant that they could only buy produce from local shops that were willing to take these as payment and redeem them at the workhouse and this was often open to abuse and inflated prices. The Napoleonic wars had been dragging on for several years and trade with Europe had been severely dented due to the ‘continental System’ which was an attempt to cut the UK off from all links with European trade. Although not entirely successful it had created a massive feeling of community unrest and poverty which had in turn created the Luddite uprisings of 1812.  American Congress had placed a prohibition on British manufacturers which was also creating mass unemployment in the country, the worst since the 1760’s. A petition sent to Parliament on 17th March 1812 was signed by 10,000 people from the Sheffield area condemning the Orders in Council system
There were also strong negotiations being held by the master Cutler and Corporation of Cutlers regard to the East Indian Company Act which was due for renewal and on Monday April 6th Earl Fitzwilliam, The Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Buckinghamshire and Earl Grey went to have a meeting in the Cutlers Hall to argue over the monopoly the company held.  Towns including Sheffield, Birmingham, Whitby and Liverpool were petitioning against the continuation with the Act due to high shipping costs and low quota space on its ships. This was partially due to the ships being dual use and able to be quickly refitted as warships.   Sheffield and Birmingham were particularly interested in opening up the export market so unemployment could be reduced.
From this information we can gather that tension was high in the town, unemployment was rife, morale was low, food was expensive, the population of the town was steadily rising (69,275 in 1811 compared to 60,095 in 1801) and the future looked bleak. One contemporary account states “Never in my memory has there been in Sheffield so bad and distressing a time”. The people in charge were well aware of this and on the 7th April the Sheffield Regiments of Yeomanry Cavalry and Local Militia were pressed into service to assist in preserving the peace of the town.

On Tuesday April 14th 1812 at noon the men working on the new graveyard had decided enough was enough and marched down to the corn market  around Prior Lane, King Street and Hartshead (now the area around Argos and the tram stop), walked around the area before marching back to their work.  This was to trigger an instantaneous reaction from the people of the town mainly directed at the potato dealers.  The price of this everyday item had been rising sharply due to several bad harvests due to floods and droughts throughout Britain over the previous four years (corn was a t 26 shillings per Winchester bushel and fine flour was 5 shillings per stone). The locals including women and children grabbed all the food they could during the disturbance, this included butter, potatoes, red herrings taken from a smashed barrel and sacks of corn. Windows were smashed by the gangs and effigies of millers had nooses put around their necks and hung.  The Magistrates and Peace Officers came out on to the street to try and restore law and order, the rioting was quelled by around 2 o’clock and most people returned to their everyday chores.  It was reported that all the food taken was hidden in as many places as possible by the looters and retrieving the goods was nearly impossible.
However some of the crowd were that enraged they reformed shouting "All in a mind for the Volunteer arms!"  They made their way to the militia depositary, a store room previously occupied by Jonathan Hobson, in Brightside at the bottom of Spital Hill across from a public house called The Star. This building was only guarded by two soldiers Sergeant Thomas Flathes and Captain Best. The crowd was small to begin with - estimated at 5/6 men and 40-50 boys but this soon grew to around 4-5,000 people. The crowd started throwing stones at the building smashing all the windows.  According to a contemporary account by one of the guards he was called a “blue back’d bugger”.  The soldiers had no ammunition at the store so fixed bayonets to their rifles and prepared for the worst. Flathes and Best decided not to defend the site such was the anger of the crowd fled fearing for their lives and to protect their wives and children after the crowd declared they would be murdered if the resisted them.  The crowd forced open the door and entered the building and set about taking the firelock muskets from several stands onto the street and smashing them over a wall so they could not be used against them.  It must be presumed Best made a run for it too and raced all the way to the other side of Sheffield to the wooden horse barracks (at Hillfoot/Whitehouse Lane Where Mecca Bingo is now) to raise the alarm. A troop of 15th Hussars were summoned by the magistrates and hastily went to the storeroom to disperse the crowd and detain as many of the looters and rioters as they could. The crowd attacked them with “potatoes, pieces of wood, broken tables and furniture and fish which they had taken from the earlier disturbance in the marketplace. The crowd then scattered and peace restored without serious injuries to either party.
Several of the crowd were captured including a 48 year old labourers wife called Mary Gibbons who was caught with military breeches and gaiters. One of the men was captured by having the belt around his trousers cut making it impossible for him to run away.  All those arrested were sent to York Assizes in the castle for sentencing.   

That evening the Stafforth & Tickhill Local Militia and 2nd Sheffield Troop of West Riding Yeomanary guarded the storeroom whilst the damage was repared and pickets were set up around town at the Town Hall, bayonet factory and sword factory to stop any more thefts.

The day after the Magistrates ordered the Special Constables to patrol the town and break up any crowds and to arrest any that would not split up.  Public houses were forced to close at 10pm unless specially exempted.
Two further petitions condemning the Orders in Council system was sent to Parliament on 17th of April signed by 9,000 and 17,000 respectively as noted by the Sheffield Iris, a political paper of the time.
On 18th April General Grey wrote about the disturbances stating that they were unconnected to the other riots occurring at the same time in other parts of Yorkshire. On 20th April there were further disturbances but nothing on the scale of the week before.
For days afterwards the Yeomanry Cavalry and dragoons were prevalent on the streets of Sheffield keeping the peace. The Royal Buckinghamshire Militia and reinforcements of Hussars were sent from Nottingham followed on April 25th by the South Devon Militia. Troops of soldiers now under the control of General Maitland patrolled at night all around the area looking for anyone causing trouble or bands of Luddites.
In May the price of potatoes were still rising and were now 1d per pound rather than the same price for 3 pounds a year earlier. On 16th May further Special Constables were sworn in at the Town Hall the same day William Pitt became the new Prime Minister after the assassination of Percival.
On June 19th the Orders in Council system was finally repealed The Sheffield Mercury reported "thanks to those Members of Parliament who supported the revocation of the Orders in Council, by which the valuable trade to the United States of America has been restored to Sheffield; and a subscription, limited to sixpence each, formed, to present a piece of plate to Mr Brougham, for his able advocacy of the revocation.”.  This was not enough however, to prevent the American Peninsular wars (1812-1814). 
There were several reports spread around the town that the soldiers had joined the looters and an official inquiry was launched in June to ascertain the facts. Lord Sidmouth set up a secret committee led by Major Searle to go through the evidence. the dragoons were aquitted by the Duke of York of any wrong doing during the event.
On 1st August the captured rioters were sentenced at York assizes by Mr Justice Bayley; William Rodgers and John Rowan[s] (aged 15) were  were given 6 months for rioting and breaking firelocks, Gibbons was also given a further six months for stealing breeches and gaiters. Thomas Wilson was sentenced for assulting the Justices and rioting. William Groom was given time for stealing potatoes and William Shirtcliffe/Shirtley received time for rioting whilst 17 year old Joseph Wolstenholme was acquitted.  William Denton was sentenced for inciting a mob to try and rescue four of the prisoners in the assizes in York Castle. Bayley was later critisied over his lenient sentencing of the rioters. It ias unclear what happened to Charles Parker - he was arrested with John Rowans but no record of his sentence exists and also William Bowen who was taken to York Azzises on the 22nd April with William Denton.
The rioting in Sheffield was not over though and on 18th August a large group formed in the town demanding that flour be sold to them at 3 shillings per stone (nearly ½ price from its value). A paper had been drawn up by the crowd and one had disguised himself with a white hat as Earl Fitzwilliam, the Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire telling the dealers that he would pay the difference of all the sales afterwards.  Other flour dealers were threatened that their property would be destroyed if they did not sell it at a reduced rate. Once the rest of Sheffield had heard about the reduced rates every able person went into town to collect as much of the cheap flour as possible.  The Justices of the peace; Lord Milton, Mr Wortley, Mr Parker and Mr Corbett were all out on the street with militia and cavalry.  Lord Milton tried to reason with the crowd stating that they must wait until the harvest for cheaper prices and to be patient – this was met by several stones being thrown at him.  The Riot Act was read out several times, several of the crowd arrested and the flour dealers shops were protected by soldiers with their swords drawn. Several of the crowd threatened to go to Wentworth House to see Lord Fitzwilliam. Soldiers were requested by Lieutenant Colonel Laney to be brought from Barnsley. On the 20th a group of twenty three men were arrested close to the town. By September the price of lour had risen to 6 shillings/4d per stone. It is worth noting that contemporary sources describe brad made from the 1811 wet harvest as having the outside baked like a husk whereas the innards were like gruel.
More trouble occurred on the 3rd December when several persons met in the Wicker to vent their grievances before parading around the town with ‘symbols’ including a loaf of bread dripping in blood and placed on top of a pole.  There were also many disturbances during the night.  John Blackwell aka "Jacky Blacker" a well known political activist and tailor from the area was arrested. Three days later another crowd met at the burial ground which the disturbances had originated moths earlier but were met by soldiers and sent on their way. On 19th March 1817 Blackwell was given a two year prison sentence for his participation in the riots in December. On 23rd June 1817 Joseph Wolstenholme’s name reappears after he was arrested at the Blue Bell public house on information from a spy about a secret meeting.
The poor rates collected in Sheffield throughout 1812 was £27,253.9s10d.
Food riots also occurred in Barnsley, Bristol, Carlisle and Mansfield during the coming months, a sign that the locals were less than happy.
In 1821 the Foundation stone for St Georges church was laid and it is now a campus building for the University of Sheffield.
I do wonder what happened to the men that started the riot on 12th April, the Workhouse was a cruel place and undoubtedly they would have been punished for this.
200 years ago this week the men and women of Sheffield had finally had enough of poor wages, lack of jobs and escalating food prices and came out in force to protest against the government and military suppression which had built up in the area with the rise of Luddite activities.
During the early part of 1812 around a hundred men had been working on the new 2 ½ acre plot of land off Broad Lane assigned for St. Georges church in the north west of the town collecting nearby clay deposits to level the land.  Dressed in rags and forced to wear clogs as a ‘badge of receiving parish relief’ (probably the first people in the West Riding to have to wear them). these men had been a skilled cutlers but recent events meant there was no work and without work they had been reduced to moving out of their rented properties to the worst place imaginable – the Workhouse. The main Sheffield Workhouse was located at this time on West Bar and Bower Lane and was built around 1736 (the other at Rock Street, Pitsmoor was built in 1801). A shortage of coins also meant the workhouse produced their own gold, silver and copper coinage, this meant that they could only buy produce from local shops that were willing to take these as payment and redeem them at the workhouse and this was often open to abuse and inflated prices. The Napoleonic wars had been dragging on for several years and trade with Europe had been severely dented due to the ‘continental System’ which was an attempt to cut the UK off from all links with European trade. Although not entirely successful it had created a massive feeling of community unrest and poverty which had in turn created the Luddite uprisings of 1812.  American Congress had placed a prohibition on British manufacturers which was also creating mass unemployment in the country, the worst since the 1760’s. A petition sent to Parliament on 17th March 1812 was signed by 10,000 people from the Sheffield area condemning the Orders in Council system
There were also strong negotiations being held by the master Cutler and Corporation of Cutlers regard to the East Indian Company Act which was due for renewal and on Monday April 6th Earl Fitzwilliam, The Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Buckinghamshire and Earl Grey went to have a meeting in the Cutlers Hall to argue over the monopoly the company held.  Towns including Sheffield, Birmingham, Whitby and Liverpool were petitioning against the continuation with the Act due to high shipping costs and low quota space on its ships. This was partially due to the ships being dual use and able to be quickly refitted as warships.   Sheffield and Birmingham were particularly interested in opening up the export market so unemployment could be reduced.
From this information we can gather that tension was high in the town, unemployment was rife, morale was low, food was expensive, the population of the town was steadily rising (69,275 in 1811 compared to 60,095 in 1801) and the future looked bleak. One contemporary account states “Never in my memory has there been in Sheffield so bad and distressing a time”. The people in charge were well aware of this and on the 7th April the Sheffield Regiments of Yeomanry Cavalry and Local Militia were pressed into service to assist in preserving the peace of the town.

On Tuesday April 14th 1812 at noon they had decided enough was enough and marched down to the corn market (now the area around Prior Lane, King Street and Hartshead (now the area around Argos and the tram stop) before marching back to their work.  This was to trigger an instantaneous reaction from the people of the town mainly directed at the potato dealers.  The price of this everyday item had been rising sharply due to several bad harvests due to floods and droughts throughout Britain over the previous four years (corn was a t 26 shillings per Winchester bushel and fine flour was 5 shillings per stone). The locals including women and children grabbed all the food they could during the disturbance, this included butter, potatoes, red herrings taken from a smashed barrel and sacks of corn. Windows were smashed by the gangs and effigies of millers had nooses put around their necks and hung.  The Magistrates and Peace Officers came out on to the street to try and restore law and order, the rioting was quelled by around 2 o’clock and most people returned to their everyday chores.  It was reported that all the food taken was hidden in as many places as possible by the looters and retrieving the goods was nearly impossible.
However some of the crowd were that enraged they reformed shouting "All in a mind for the Volunteer arms!"  They made their way to the militia depositary, a store room previously occupied by Jonathan Hobson, in Brightside at the bottom of Spital Hill across from a public house called The Star. The crowd forced open the door and entered the building.  According to a contemporary account by one of the guards he was called a “blue back’d bugger”.  The soldiers had no ammunition at the store so fixed bayonets to their rifles and prepared for the worst. The guards decided not to defend the site such was the anger of the crowd fled fearing for their lives and to protect their wives and children after the crowd declared they would be murdered if the resisted them.  The rioters set about taking the firelock muskets from several stands onto the street and smashing them over a wall so they could not be used against them.  Some of the guards had raced all the way to the other side of Sheffield to the wooden horse barracks (at Hillfoot/ Whitehouse Lane Where Mecca Bingo is now) to raise the alarm. A troop of Dragoons were summoned by the magistrates and hastily went to the storeroom to disperse the crowd and detain as many of the looters and rioters as they could. The crowd attacked them with “potatoes, pieces of wood, broken tables and furniture and fish which they had taken from the earlier disturbance in the marketplace. The crowd then scattered and peace restored without serious injuries to either party.
Several of the crowd were captured including a 48 year old labourers wife called Mary Gibbons who was caught with military breeches and gaiters. One of the men was captured by having the belt around his trousers cut making it impossible for him to run away.  All those arrested were sent to York Assizes in the castle for sentencing.   The day after the Magistrates ordered the Special Constables to patrol the town and break up any crowds and to arrest any that would not split up.  Public houses were forced to close at 10pm unless specially exempted.
Two further petitions condemning the Orders in Council system was sent to Parliament on 17th of April signed by 9,000 and 17,000 respectively as noted by the Sheffield Iris, a political paper of the time.
On 18th April General Grey wrote about the disturbances stating that they were unconnected to the other riots occurring at the same time in other parts of Yorkshire. On 20th April there were further disturbances but nothing on the scale of the week before.
For days afterwards the Yeomanry Cavalry and dragoons were prevalent on the streets of Sheffield keeping the peace. The Royal Buckinghamshire Militia and reinforcements of Hussars were sent from Nottingham followed on April 25th by the South Devon Militia. Troops of soldiers now under the control of General Maitland patrolled at night all around the area looking for anyone causing trouble or bands of Luddites.
In May the price of potatoes were still rising and were now 1d per pound rather than the same price for 3 pounds a year earlier. On 16th May further Special Constables were sworn in at the Town Hall the same day William Pitt became the new Prime Minister after the assassination of Percival.
On June 19th the Orders in Council system was finally repealed The Sheffield Mercury reported "thanks to those Members of Parliament who supported the revocation of the Orders in Council, by which the valuable trade to the United States of America has been restored to Sheffield; and a subscription, limited to sixpence each, formed, to present a piece of plate to Mr Brougham, for his able advocacy of the revocation.”.  This was not enough however, to prevent the American Peninsular wars (1812-1814). 
There were several reports spread around the town that the soldiers had joined the looters and an official inquiry was launched in June to ascertain the facts. Lord Sidmouth set up a secret committee led by Major Searle to go through the evidence. the dragoons were aquitted by the Duke of York of any wrong doing during the event.
On 1st August the captured rioters were sentenced at York assizes by Mr Justice Bayley; William Rodgers was given six months, Mary Gibbons 12 months whilst 17 year old Joseph Wolstenholme was acquitted. Bayley was later critisied over his lenient sentencing of the rioters
The rioting in Sheffield was not over though and on 18th August a large group formed in the town demanding that flour be sold to them at 3 shillings per stone (nearly ½ price from its value). A paper had been drawn up by the crowd and one had disguised himself with a white hat as Earl Fitzwilliam, the Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire telling the dealers that he would pay the difference of all the sales afterwards.  Other flour dealers were threatened that their property would be destroyed if they did not sell it at a reduced rate. Once the rest of Sheffield had heard about the reduced rates every able person went into town to collect as much of the cheap flour as possible.  The Justices of the peace; Lord Milton, Mr Wortley, Mr Parker and Mr Corbett were all out on the street with militia and cavalry.  Lord Milton tried to reason with the crowd stating that they must wait until the harvest for cheaper prices and to be patient – this was met by several stones being thrown at him.  The Riot Act was read out several times, several of the crowd arrested and the flour dealers shops were protected by soldiers with their swords drawn. Several of the crowd threatened to go to Wentworth House to see Lord Fitzwilliam. Soldiers were requested by Lieutenant Colonel Laney to be brought from Barnsley. On the 20th a group of twenty three men were arrested close to the town. By September the price of lour had risen to 6 shillings/4d per stone. It is worth noting that contemporary sources describe brad made from the 1811 wet harvest as having the outside baked like a husk whereas the innards were like gruel.
More trouble occurred on the 3rd December when several persons met in the Wicker to vent their grievances before parading around the town with ‘symbols’ including a loaf of bread dripping in blood and placed on top of a pole.  There were also many disturbances during the night.  John Blackwell a well known political activist and tailor from the area was arrested. Three days later another crowd met at the burial ground which the disturbances had originated moths earlier but were met by soldiers and sent on their way. On 19th March 1817 Blackwell was given a two year prison sentence for his participation in the riots in December. On 23rd June 1817 Joseph Wolstenholme’s name reappears after he was arrested at the Blue Bell public house on information from a spy about a secret meeting.
The poor rates collected in Sheffield throughout 1812 was £27,253.9s10d.
Food riots also occurred in Barnsley, Bristol, Carlisle and Mansfield during the coming months, a sign that the locals were less than happy.
In 1821 the Foundation stone for St Georges church was laid and it is now a campus building for the University of Sheffield.
I do wonder what happened to the men that started the riot on 12th April, the Workhouse was a cruel place and undoubtedly they would have been punished for this.



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