In our fourth blog post, we’ll hear from people involved in conflicts.
In 1731, according to Stephen Yearsley, a yeoman of the Leigh, more than twenty people rioted at Leigh turnpike. Turnpikes were put up to charge people the use and upkeep of the roads which angered locals who had, for generations, used it for free. Yearsley states that the rioters destroyed the gate and threatened if he restored it, it ‘would be the worse for those who kept it’. Riots like this happened all over the country in response to the turnpikes, and it clearly shows us people’s needs and priorities. Road access was vital to trade, so it follows when that access was restricted, there was major pushback. This happens today, for example when public footpaths are blocked or shut off.
A little later, in 1746 Richard Heaven of Minchinhampton, a broadweaver says that John Harris (also a broadweaver) told him ‘he should go with him to stand up for the “ends and thrums”’. They convened on Hampton Common, and Robert Wetmore of Rodborough, a cloth worker, states that he heard them declare that ‘before the ends and thrums were taken from them, they would pull down Hawker’s house and beat out his soul’. The ends and thrums were the ends of material left on a loom after use and we can probably guess that these were left freely for the workers to take, probably to use for making small items of clothing or rugs. New rules either stopped them from doing this or charged them for it. Either way, the result was unhappy workers who obviously felt cheated in some way.
Public mistrust in authority figures is always present when change happens, or happens too fast or too slowly. The people who cause these disturbances often did so more out of desperation than a need to cause destruction. Punishments were much harsher in those days, and although the population was growing, it wasn’t fast enough to grant perpetrators the safety of anonymity.