Friday, 23 May 2014

What a Riot!

Nearly every week the NADFAS volunteers working on the Quarter Session Court Records come across something interesting that arouses their curiosity and this week is no exception. 

The session for Michaelmas 1830 (C CQP/155) contains requests by the court officials for a number of residents in the town of Kingston upon Hull to come before the court and give evidence on the events that led to many glass windows and shutters on business properties and houses being broken. Our first thoughts were that it had been caused by the Swing Riots which were a widespread uprising by agricultural workers that spread across towns and cities throughout the country at this time, but we could not understand why this may have occurred in Hull. One of the volunteers decided that this warranted further investigation and so she decided to look through the local newspapers and soon discovered the cause.

In July 1830 a general election took place which included the election of two new members of Parliament for Hull, and the voting process at this time involved two days of polling and campaigning. The first day of polling started on the morning of Thursday the 29th July at a quarter to twelve following speeches from the candidates, and closed at eight o’clock in the evening. The three candidates were Mr George Schonswar, Mr William Battye Wrightson and Mr Thomas Gisborne Burke. The votes were counted at regular intervals and at the end of the day Mr Schonswar had 781 votes, Mr Wrightson had 590 and Mr Burke had 361. Despite the late hour of the day all three candidates continued their campaigning in Whitefriargate, each giving a speech in front of crowds of people which stretched as far back as Lowgate. Some of the crowd had been causing trouble throughout the day and were reported as being supporters of Mr Burke who had declared that he was representing the ‘working people’. 

Article from the Hull Packet reporting the events of 29 July 1830
The Hull Packet newspaper from the 3rd August records what happened when the speeches had ended. The report says that the damage to properties was caused by ‘some little skirmishing’ which implies that little damage occurred, but the court papers offer a different picture.  Windows and shutters were broken on buildings on several streets, including High Street, Market Place, Brooks Street, Lowgate, Whitefriargate, Salthouse Lane, and Silver Street. 

Witnesses were called to attend the next court session ‘after the apprehension of all or any of the parties who on the twenty ninth day of July last did riotously and tumultuously assemble together in the public streets’. The details show damage to many business and domestic properties, one house having over fifty broken panes of glass, and  ‘twenty two squares of broken glass in the dwelling house of George Schonswar Esquire situate in Salthouse Lane and used as a branch of the Bank of England’. 

Research into the electoral process shows that prior to the 1830s they were neither representative, fair, or balanced, and a range of factors determined who was eligible to vote, and it was usually restricted to land and property owning men over the age of twenty-one.  The French Revolution of 1789 had started inspiring people across Britain to start demanding a more open and democratic system for elections, and the increasing population, especially in the towns and cities meant there was more chance of new political ideas spreading, especially with the development of the railways and national newspapers.
The pressure for greater democracy gained greater momentum during the early part of the nineteenth century and eventually led to the creation of the Reform Act of 1832 which gave voting rights to more people and removed some of the differences in electoral systems that existed across the regions to make it fairer.  In reality the Act created little change and working class people were still not eligible to vote, and so reformers continued to campaign and little altered until the Reform Act of 1867 which was the beginning of greater and more rapid changes to the electoral process, leading us to where we are today. It is against this backdrop  that events in Hull took place on the night of the 29th July 1830, no doubt inflamed by bribes of money and alcohol on offer. 
And the result of the election? 
The following day after further polling Mr George Schonswar and Mr William Battye Wrightson were both elected as serving MPs for the town of Kingston upon Hull. Mr Schonswar was carried around the town for three hours on the Saturday as part of the Chairing Ceremony, but Mr Wrightson had to wait for another four days before his ceremony could take place, as he had been accused of bribery, and following threats from Mr Burke’s supporters over five hundred special constables were sworn in for the occasion, but this did not prevent him from being attacked and struck by several stones.
Hopefully it will not be too long before the volunteers discover if any of the ‘mob’ were brought to court and found guilty of their crime.
Christine Brown
Preservation and Conservation Manager

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