Bristol Riots from 1793 – 2011

The Bristol riots refer to a number of significant riots in the city of Bristol in England.

Bristol Bridge Riot, 1793
The Bristol Bridge Riot of 30 September 1793 began as a protest at renewal of an act levying of tolls on Bristol Bridge, which included the proposal to demolish several houses near the bridge in order to create a new access road, and controversy about the date for removal of gates. Eleven people were killed and 45 injured, making it one of the worst massacres of the 18th century.

Queen Square Riots, 1831

The 3rd Dragoon Guards violently suppressing the Bristol Riots of 1831.

The 3rd Dragoon Guards violently suppressing the Bristol Riots of 1831.

The Bristol Riots of 1831 took place after the House of Lords rejected the second Reform Bill, which aimed to get rid of some of the rotten boroughs and give Britain’s fast growing industrial towns such as Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Leeds greater representation in the House of Commons. Bristol had been represented in the House of Commons since 1295, however by 1830 only 6,000 of the 104,000 population had the vote.

Local magistrate Sir Charles Wetherell, a strong opponent of the Bill, visited Bristol to open the new Assize Courts, on 29 October. He threatened to imprison participants in a disturbance going on outside, and an angry mob chased him to the Mansion House in Queen Square. The magistrate escaped in disguise, but the mayor and officials were besieged in the Mansion-house.

The rioters numbered about 500 or 600 young men and continued for three days, during which the palace of Robert Gray the Bishop of Bristol, the Mansion House, and private homes and property were looted and destroyed, along with demolition of much of the gaol. Work on the Clifton Suspension Bridge was halted, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel was sworn in as a special constable.

The mayor requested the assistance of the cavalry as a precaution and a troop of the 3rd Dragoon Guards and a squadron of the 14th Light Dragoons were sent to Britol under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Brereton of the Dragoons. Brereton did not wish to incite the crowd and even ordered the squadron from the 14th out of the city after they had successfully dispersed a crowd. Seeing this as a victory, the riots continued, and eventually Brereton had to call on the 3rd and 14th to restore order, and he eventually led a charge with drawn swords through the mob in Queen Square. Four rioters were killed and 86 wounded, although many more are believed to have perished in the fires set by the rioters. Along with the commander of the 3rd Dragoons troop, Captain Warrington, Brereton was later court-martialled for leniency, but Brereton shot himself before the conclusion of his trial.

Approximately 100 of those involved were tried in January 1832 by Chief Justice Tindal. Four men were hanged despite a petition of 10,000 Bristolian signatures, which was given to King William IV.

Old Market Riot, 1932
On 23 February 1932 some 3,000 unemployed engaged in running battles with the police as they tried to march down to the city centre, led by the National Unemployed Workers Movement. Police baton-charged protesters outside Trinity police station and along Old Market.

St Pauls Riot, 1980
The St Pauls riot started on 2 April 1980 in the St Pauls district, when the police carried out a raid on the Black and White Café, known as “Britain’s most dangerous hard drug den,” located on Grosvenor Road in the heart of St Pauls. It is unclear why the riot started either due to the police ripping a customer’s trousers and refusing to pay, or they were simply attacked as they removed alcohol from the café. The riot continued for many hours and caused large amounts of damage including a Lloyds Bank and post office. Several fire engines and twelve police cars were damaged along with the shops. 130 rioters were arrested. The next day the Daily Telegraph headlined with,”19 Police Hurt in Black Riot” and blamed lack of parental care.

Hartcliffe, 1992
On 16 July 1992 there was a riot in Hartcliffe estate after two men who had stolen an unmarked police motorbike were killed in a chase with a police patrol car. The disturbance lasted for 3 days. Police were stoned and many shops in the Symes Avenue shopping centre were attacked and destroyed.

Stokes Croft Tesco Riot, April 2011
The contentious Tesco Express was vandalised during the riot.
On 21 April 2011, there was a riot in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol, following a raid by police on a squat named ‘Telepathic Heights.’ A protest ensued, and they withdrew, however at 9pm that evening, riot police blockaded the area and entered the squat. A crowd quickly gathered, with approximately 300 people defending the squat, and a further 1000 caught up in the mayhem. More than 160 officers were involved in the operation. The reason for the operation given by the police was that they held intelligence that petrol bombs were on the premises designated for the Tesco development opposite.
The riot eventually died down following the withdrawal of the police, after which the newly opened Tesco was attacked resulting in smashed windows and graffiti.

The night’s operation cost around £465,000 and involved 160 officers from 12 different forces including Avon & Somerset.

Local Labour MP Kerry McCarthy criticised the “heavy-handed” behaviour of the police and said that “[a Labour council candidate] was hit by a truncheon and I was shoved out of the way by a policeman at one stage.” McCarthy described the riot as “an anti-establishment protest: against capitalism and corporations, similar to what we saw in the march against the cuts in London where Starbucks and banks were targeted.”

A second set of riots took place a week later on 28/29 April. Tesco continued to insist that the protests were not fuelled by anti-Tesco feeling (despite opposition from protesters) and that it was only supported by a small handful of protesters.

The Tesco express reopened on 24 May 2011, causing further peaceful protests during the day.

National Riots, August 2011
In the early hours of the morning on Tuesday 9 August, it was reported that vandalism and looting occurred in Bristol in response to similar occurring elsewhere in the country, predominantly the 2011 England riots.


About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
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One Response to Bristol Riots from 1793 – 2011

  1. carolcork says:

    Bristol is only 43 miles from Cardiff on the other side of the Bristol Channel.

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