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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

UK Chaos !! littleport riots - this day – 203 years ago !


Everybody claims to love peace, yet there are so many disturbances in the civil society ~ often there are theories that chaos, riots are doctored – sometimes by the rulers and many a times by the opposition to ensure defeat of the other ideology – how bad these schemers are – they try to gain making others life miserable .. .. … ……

In Aug 2011, there were riots - a series of riots spreading to almost a week,  when thousands of people rioted in cities and towns across England, saw looting, arson, and mass deployment of police, and resulted in the deaths of five people.Protests started in Tottenham, London, following the death of Mark Duggan, a local man who was shot dead by police on 4 August. Several violent clashes with police ensued, along with the destruction of police vehicles, a double-decker bus and many homes and businesses, thus rapidly gaining attention from the media. The following days saw similar scenes in other parts of London, with the worst rioting taking place in Hackney, Brixton, Walthamstow, Peckham, Enfield, Battersea, Croydon, Ealing, Barking, Woolwich, Lewisham and East Ham.

Back home in India, in Mar 1908 -  V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and Subramania Siva were arrested in Tuticorin – crime, delivering inflammatory speeches against the Govt and the British foisted sedition case against them.  A riot broke-out demanding their release – called ‘Tinnevely riot’ –a direct response  to the arrest and subsequent conviction of Indian nationalists Subramania Siva and V. O. Chidambaram Pillai.  Public buildings except the town office were attacked and furniture destroyed though there was no loss to life. Twenty-seven persons were convicted for participation in the riot. .. .. British clamped many restrictions and supressed any uprising with iron hands (boots) – yet there were some in the land, who adored the British, stating that coming from land of disciplined people, they would not tolerate chaos .. .. and that was their ‘brand intolerance’ ~ history would reveal that United Kingdom has not been a land of paradise !

The Swing Riots were a widespread uprising in 1830 by agricultural workers in southern and eastern England, in protest of agricultural mechanisation and other harsh conditions. It began with their destruction of threshing machines in the Elham Valley area of East Kent in the summer of 1830, and by early December had spread throughout the whole of southern England and East Anglia.

There were widespread agitations against Corn Laws too. The Corn Laws were tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported food and grain ("corn") enforced in Great Britain between 1815 and 1846. The word "corn" in the English spoken in Nineteenth Century Britain denoted all cereal grains, such as wheat and barley. They were designed to keep grain prices high to favour domestic producers, and represented British mercantilism. The Corn Laws imposed steep import duties, making it too expensive to import grain from abroad, even when food supplies were short.The Corn Laws enhanced the profits and political power associated with land ownership. The laws raised food prices and the costs of living for the British public.

In that so called peaceful land, riots broke out on this day – 203 years ago !  - know as Ely and Littleport riots of 1816, occurred between 22 and 24 May 1816 in Littleport, Cambridgeshire. The riots were caused by high unemployment and rising grain costs, much like the general unrest which spread throughout England following the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1815, the government increased taxation on imported wheat and grain to help pay for the costs of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815). Poor laws, such as the Speenhamland system, were designed to help alleviate financial distress of the poorer communities, but such systems helped to keep wages artificially low as the farmers knew labourers' wages would be supplemented by the system. Basic commodities, like cereals and bread, became heavily over-priced, creating widespread social unrest. The worst hit were the families of the men returning from the Battle of Waterloo (1815) who arrived home at a time when unemployment was already high. One reply to a questionnaire circulated by the Board of Agriculture in February, March, and April 1816 reported that "the state of the labouring poor is very deplorable, and arises entirely from the want of employment, which they are willing to seek, but the farmer cannot afford to furnish."   The cost of wheat and bread were raising astronomically.

The Littleport riot broke out when a group of residents met at The Globe Inn. Fuelled by alcohol, they left the inn and began intimidating wealthier Littleport residents, demanding money and destroying property. The riot spread to Ely where magistrates attempted to calm the protests by ordering poor relief and fixing a minimum wage. The following day, encouraged by Lord Liverpool's government, a militia of the citizens of Ely, led by Sir Henry Bate Dudley and backed by the 1st The Royal Dragoons, rounded up the rioters. In the ensuing altercation at The George and Dragon in Littleport, a trooper was injured, one rioter was killed, and at least one went on the run.

Littleport is a large village in Cambridgeshire with a population in 1811 of 1,847. On 22 May 1816, a group of 56 residents fuelled by alcohol, directed their anger at local farmer Henry Martin. He had been overseer of the poor in 1814 and was not well liked by the parishioners.  The rioters began at Mingey's shop, where stones were thrown through the windows, and then they invaded Mr Clarke's property and threw his belongings into the street. The rioters  visited the premises of disabled 90-year-old Mr Sindall, throwing his furniture into the street; his housekeeper, Mrs Hutt, was intimidated by a rioter wielding a butcher's cleaver… after many looting,  the rioters arrived at the house of the Reverend John Vachell, who, after threatening to shoot anyone who entered his house, was disarmed when three men rushed him.

Edward Christian, Chief Justice of the Isle of Ely was entitled to try the rioters alone. The government, in this case via the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, nevertheless appointed a Special Commission, consisting of Justice Abbott and Justice Burrough. The rioters were tried in the assizes at Ely during the week commencing June 1816. 23 men and one woman were condemned, of which five were subsequently hanged. General unrest and riots such as that at Littleport may have been a factor in the government passing the Vagrancy Act of 1824 and subsequently the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829.

The Judge sentencing and punishing people observed that - It is of the highest importance to the peace and safety, not only of this isle, but of the surrounding country, that all who are present on this solemn inquiry, and all who read the account of its proceedings (and there are few parts of the kingdom in which it will not be read) may be convinced by the awful lesson which may here be taught, that whatever wild or chimerical notions may prevail of the power of an armed multitude, the law is too strong for its assailants; and that, however triumphant or destructive their sway for a few days, those who defy the law, will ultimately be compelled to submit either to its justice or its mercy.

Some of the convicts were transported and sailed   on the convict ship Sir William Bensley, which departed for New South Wales in Oct 1816.  At least 5 were executed after conviction of diverse robberies during the riots at Ely &Littleport. .. including them there were total of 83 persons executed in 1816 charged with riots.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
22nd May 2019.

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