In 1885, a black American was convicted as the ring-leader of an election riot in Nottingham. This blogpost describes the accusations of police brutality which likely sparked the riot, examines how a black American come to be arrested and prosecuted, and explores associated accusations of racism.
Did police brutality spark the riots?
It is in many ways unexceptional that there was a riot in the 1885 election in Nottingham. As Richard Floyd (2008) notes, ‘outright bribery and riot’ were routine features of elections in the city. Our Election Violence database records that Nottingham experienced some form of violence in nine of the ten general elections between 1832 and 1885. This included several riots.
Today’s Short EV Account looks at a 1906 case of property damage and intimidation of a constituency agent, revealing perceived differences between pre- and post-election violence:
At the Poole Police Court in the aftermath of the 1906 election, two men living in Branksome were brought before the magistrates for breaking windows and fencing at the house of A.G. Barralet, having done damage to the extent of £5. Barralet had been constituency agent for the unsuccessful Unionist candidate for East Dorset. Interestingly, M.W.H. Curtis, the agent for the victorious Liberal candidate, had also been the target of violence – a brick thrown through one of his windows was said to have narrowly missed his sleeping daughter.
A large mob had gathered at Branksome late on Monday night, proceeding to Barralet’s house – the police were sent for, but the damage had been done before they arrived. The two defendants were not the ringleaders, but were unfortunate enough to be on the spot at the time, clearly part of the now-dispersed mob.
One hundred and ten years ago this month, County Durham witnessed a rather different form of political turmoil to that experienced in the December 2019 general election. On the evening of Wednesday 26 January 1910, Horden miners attacked the colliery manager’s residence. Police protecting the building baton-charged miners, leaving one man seriously hurt. An imprecise press report added that a boy was ‘injured by a gun shot’. The managers’ house was ‘much damaged’ and his car was ‘hurled over a cliff’. Though the police managed eventually to repulse the attack on the managers’ house, disorder continued and ‘it was deemed advisable to secure the arrival of the military by special train’. As during the Gateshead riots, the pithead was also attacked with baulks of timber, coal tubs and other debris hurdled down the pit shaft. Rioters proceeded to loot the miners’ social club, smashing every window and breaking up its fixtures. As Horden had no pubs, the social club was the only place in the village that sold alcohol. The rioters ‘made a raid on the liquor’, carrying off small casks and bottles and opening the larger casks in the cellar. Many of them were soon ‘the worse for liquor’. The caretaker’s house was also wrecked. The next day, Thursday 27 January, a number of men returned to the looted social club and set fire to it, for good measure. This was the final act of the 1910 Horden riots.
On 17 January 1910 up to 10,000 miners from South Moor, Tanfield Lea, Annfield Plain and Stanley area of the Durham coalfield marched on Gateshead, on the south bank of the Tyne. Parading the town’s streets, they chanted slogans in opposition to John Johnson, a Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) fulltime official (who was now standing for Labour) and in support of Johnson’s Liberal rival. On the march up, a breakaway of up to 400 miners attacked Marley Hill colliery (which was working), looting and smashing windows for about an hour before moving on. On the return home from Gateshead, another group of miners attacked a colliery in Birtley, only to be surprised by a contingent of 100 police and men employed by the Birtley Iron Company waiting for them. Fierce fighting and serious injuries inevitably resulted.
The date the 2019 General Election coincides with a great
many election riots which broke out during 12 December 1832, 187 years before. Today’s
Short EV Account looks at one such riot, in the constituency of Bolton:
The present-day constituencies covering what was the old borough of Bolton have both been marginal seats in recent history, hotly contested by Labour and the Conservatives. In 1832, Bolton was a newly-created borough seat, electing two members. The first election there was hotly contested between Conservatives and Whigs. Notably, the local returning officer decided that polling should begin on 12 December; periodic updates on its progress, and the violence which broke out, appeared in local and national newspapers.
In collaboration with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), the research team for the Victorian Election Violence project recently held a workshop exploring the causes and consequences of contemporary and historical election violence in London.
In today’s guest blog, Lara Green explores the interplay between national issues and local reputations, and how these affected the character of electoral violence:
At the nomination for the 1865 election for Colchester borough, Essex, the arrival of the Conservative candidate Phillip Oxenden Papillon and his supporters on the hustings was greeted with ‘eggs, fresh and rotten’, thrown by members of the crowd. When it finally came time for Papillon to make his speech, he was assailed with further volleys of eggs and a newspaper, which he attempted to deflect with his umbrella. The crowd, estimated at around four thousand, called for ‘soot’ and mocked Papillon’s campaign. More than once, their actions forced those on the hustings to retreat. Continue reading “‘[Loud cheers, and eggs]’: Protests at the 1865 Election for Colchester”
Today’s short EV Account contextualises a rather disdainful account of popular violence, which perhaps reveals more about the attitudes of the writer than the nature of the violence:
In previous Short EV Accounts, we have mainly focused on incidents which appear to have been motivated by overtly political reasons (with the following exception). These could spring from the electoral machinations of political elites, or the dissatisfaction of the disenfranchised. There were, however, incidents which appear to have owed little or nothing to politics – events which occurred as a by-product of the festival-like atmosphere of Victorian elections. These were often encouraged by the apparently widespread popular belief that disorder was (to an extent) tolerated by the authorities during contests. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Violence Without (Political) Purpose?”
The use of Special Constables to keep order during Victorian elections was common – as one court case illustrates, however, this practice could do more harm than good:
During the 1874 election for Newcastle-under-Lyme, there were disturbances in which large crowds of men gathered and several free fights took place in the neighborhood of both the Conservative and Liberal parties. The Conservative committee rooms were smashed, with public-houses displaying red flags also targeted. The Mayor threatened to delay the declaration of results, which had the desired effect of ending the violence.
In the aftermath, several rioters were brought before the local magistrate, including Martin Fallon, John Kelly, Alfred Rogers, and three members of the same family – William, John, and Sarah Matthews. Three regular policemen gave evidence, corroborated by several other witnesses, that during the breaking of the windows of the Gardener’s Arms, one of the Constables went into the mob and was attacked by John and William Matthews. In a striking example of female participation in rowdy popular politics, Sarah Matthews was also present in the crowd and apparently masterminded the assault. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Special Constables In The Dock”
After a short break, we are happy to post releasing a geographical day-by-day representation of our recent 1865 election violence tweets; the red dots appear on the day that they occurred, while the black dots represent all events over the election period:
The following map also roughly splits these into incidents (green), disturbances (red) and riots (blue):
It seems clear that election violence was both common and geographically widespread, reaching most areas of England and Wales. The most interesting things among the dispersed events that we’ve noticed are as follows:
Between 1 and 24 July, the 1865 General Election and its lead-up directly caused to a total of six deaths, including that of a small child
There were at least 28 small-scale violent and individual incidents, including assaults, shots fired, property damage, and murder – once our data collection is complete, it’s likely there will be much more of this type of violence to report.
There were at least 43 serious mass disturbances, involving large crowds, significant property damage, and multiple serious injuries.
There were at least 21 full-scale riots, with giant crowds (at least several hundred, often thousands), many serious injuries, occasionally-devastating property damage, significant military/police responses, and reading of the Riot Act.
Over the total period covered by our tweets (23 days), this equates to almost one English/Welsh full-scale riot per day in 1865, but in reality violence was much more concentrated.
The 11th of July was the 2nd-most violent day: 11 July. 19 events of varying intensity occurred, including in Grantham, where rioting caused the destruction of the polling booth, military to be called in, Riot Act read, and a man’s death.
The 12th of July was the most violent day. 22 violent events of varying intensity occurred, including in Lincoln, where the mob set fire to a barrel of tar and rolled it to a hotel where a candidate was dining, smashing the windows of the room he was dining in. One hotel owner shot at them, injuring several people.
This election was (somewhat) comparable in terms of violence to the next General Election in 1868, the first held after the 2nd Reform Act expanded the electorate. That election featured at least 18 incidents (10 less than 1865), 29 disturbances (14 less than 1865), 30 riots (9 more than 1865).
While smaller incidents and disturbances were seemingly more common in 1865 than 1868, full-scale riots were significantly more likely to occur in 1868. Mortality rates were also comparable – at least 20 were killed due to 1832 election violence, 6 in 1865, 8 in 1868, and 3 in 1880.
(The county boundaries are provided by www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth)