Historical Walk: Bristol's Burning! 1831 Riots from M Shed

Blog Single

The city's revolutionary history is paid tribute to in this two-hour tour, says James Higgins

Get reacquainted with Bristol’s radical past with this two-hour walking tour through the city's historic streets. The M Shed is the meeting place for this tour, and from there a guide will illustrate this infamous incident with stories of the landmarks and individuals that were influential in the unrest of October 1831. 

The 1830s were a time of great political upheaval, as the age of mass protest entered the political foray and established ‘the populace’ as a challenger to ‘the elites’ of Westminster. Democracy then was a less encompassing affair than nowadays, with roughly only 6% of Bristolians eligible to elect their member of parliament. 

In the autumn of 1831, three days of protest led to scenes ‘reminiscent of the French revolution’ and resulted in the deaths of many. Four men were hanged despite a petition that attracted 10,000 signatures before being handed to King William IV. 

Centred in Queens Square in central Bristol, crowds of six hundred, or more, men engaged the Third Dragoon Guards who were drafted in to suppress the mob. 

The passage of The Reform Bill was frustrated by the Tory party, who resisted changing the electoral system. Efforts to broaden the electorate and abolish ‘rotten’ boroughs (i.e. constituencies with only a handful of electors) and replace them with constituencies that reflected the increasing populations of industrialised cities were thwarted by the House of Lords. When an acerbic critic, and magistrate, named Sir Charles Wetherall visited Bristol, civil unrest broke out in which a mob chased him to the Mansion House (in Queen Square). 

With such a rich story to be told, and with many of the most important sites still standing, this historic tour will wonderfully conjure the revolutionary spirit of the Bristolians of the 1830s. 

When: M Shed Tickets: Free

Where: Sunday 7 January 

Website: bristolmuseums.org.uk 

Share this Post:

More Posts: