Littleport’s Bread or Blood Riot Begins
The end of the Napoleonic Wars with victory at Waterloo led not to a golden age of peace and prosperity, but harsh economic conditions and no political gains for the vast majority of the population. Discontent continued for years, most famously evidenced in the events that concluded with the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. Three years previously a less well-known demonstration of resentment occurred in the Cambridgeshire town of Littleport, notable for the severe reaction of the authorities afterwards.
A mutual aid club meeting fatefully at a local inn, The Globe, found that rather than a few members needing support, nearly all did. Wages were low, food prices rising rapidly, and unemployment growing. The beer doubtless fuelled hot-heads: they drummed up more support and proceeded on a rampage round the town’s wealthier homes, demanding money with the threat of violence and where not thus placated smashing goods and stealing cash anyway. The next day they moved on to Ely , repeating the performance until a troop of Dragoons brought from Bury-St-Edmunds arrived.
The rioters returned to Littleport and prepared for a stand in The George and Dragon there. A gun battle ensued before the rebels were captured, though some hid in the fens for weeks, and some fled not to return for years. One trying to bolt was shot dead.
At the June trial of the culprits 24 were sentenced to death, but the magistrates feared reprisals so commuted all but five sentences to a year in Ely gaol or transportation to Botany Bay for seven years (then changed their minds again, those facing a year in prison joining their comrades in the journey to Australia). The unlucky five were hanged just outside Ely on June 28 1816.
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