The Bristol Bridge Riot and Its Antecedents: Eighteenth-Century Perception of the Crowd
by Philip D. Jones
The Bristol Bridge Riot of 1793 was one of the most serious riots, in terms of killed and injured, to occur in Britain during the last half of the eighteenth century. George Rude lists it as second in violence only to the Gordon Riots of 1780. Yet, because it defies classification, it is rarely listed in the categories of riots so meticulously set out by Rude and others. It was neither a turnpike riot transferred to an urban setting, nor was it the expression of long-held social grievances. It was a demonstration of dissatisfaction with official incompetence and deception. In many respects it was a riot caused by officials whose perception of the crowd led them to overreaction and violence.
The tendency by recent writers has been to see riotous activity in the eighteenth century as a sort of class warfare between the "people" and the "establishment,' represented by land owners, entrepreneurs, or parlia-ment.  This class warfare is presented as taking various forms under the categories of food riot, urban riot, country riot, and the like. While classifi-cation of riots may serve useful purposes and there may sometimes be more than a grain of truth in the class-war interpretation, it must be acknowledged that the resulting impression of uniformity in eighteenth-century riots is misleading. In the case of Bristol riots, in particular, it is the differences rather than the similarities that are of significance in understanding the changed perception of the crowd that caused the trag-edy of 1793.
Earlier riots had been seen as lawless, poor non-Bristolians reacting to specific situations. These disturbances appeared as almost unavoidable occurrences to be accepted as part of the natural order. The riot of 1793 was different from previous Bristol riots in that officials denounced Bristol citizens, motivated by revolutionary zeal, as the source of their trouble and, in contrast to past practice, the officials were determined to prevent disorder with all the force required. It was also different because official incompetence was at issue. No longer could Bristolians see themselves as being in conflict with outsiders who came to their city to riot. It was clearly a case of Bristolian against Bristolian, and the reality of citizens opposed to their government had to be recognized. To demonstrate these differ-ences, it is necessary to consider briefly the pre-1793 riots.
Bristol's most famous riot before 1793 occurred during a celebration on 20 October 1714 following the coronation of George I. Similar Tory-inspired riots marred the celebrations in other cities, including Taunton, Norwich, Canterbury, Reading, and Gloucester. The Bristol riot centered around attacks on the property of Dissenters. One man was killed while trying to stop the riot and one of the rioters was killed by a man defending his house. There was little property damage other than broken windows. It was hardly a major disturbance.
Despite the insignificance of the disturbance by eighteenth-century standards, the Whig forces in Bristol decided to take advantage of the situation to strike at the Tories. Having identified a number of the rioters, they petitioned for a special commission of oyer and terminer to try them. The government agreed and apparently intended something of a show trial as an example to the rest of the country. Several important judges and prosecutors proceeded to Bristol with much ceremony. On the last leg of their journey, from Bath to Bristol, the road was crowded with spectators; a mob shouting "No Jeffries, no Western Assize" delayed their entry into the city. The majority of people in Bristol apparently were Tories. Many of the most prominent citizens, including the famous Edward Colston, had formed the Loyal Society as a local Tory club, which was reported to have instigated the riots. There is no evidence that leading Tories were respon-sible for the riot, but they certainly tried to influence the trials. Two were arraigned for raising money to bribe witnesses. When a society member tried to speak at one of the trials, the judges forced him to sit down, despite loud protests from the spectators, because a Whig opponent described him as a ringleader of the riot. Tory sympathizers vilified the jury so much that one pro-Tory was arrested.
Even after careful selection, the prosecutor failed to obtain mem-bers complacent enough to play the assigned role. Their reluctance became apparent when a curious debate occurred between them and the judges over the indictments. The judges announced that the trials were for trea-son. In their argument against such a charge, the jurymen cited several statutes, which indicated that they had their own legal advisors. As there is no mention of treason in the indictments, the judges must have con-ceded. Outside the courtroom, a shouting mob followed the judges about and held demonstrations at night.
For a show trial, the results were meager. Six men were sentenced to three months in jail and a fine of twenty nobles. In addition, a boy who had stolen two old hats received a whipping instead of the hanging for felony burglary desired by the judges. A contemporary Whig writer regretted that examples had not been made of some of the rioters, and says that everyone expected more effective results from the trials.
What was the contemporary perception of the riot? There was a reluc-tance to admit that the mob was composed of ordinary Bristolians. Those arrested were described as "Beggarly, Lewd, Swearing, Drunken, Ras-cally Fellows, the Scum of the Rabble." Convenient scapegoats were readily available in nearby Kingswood. The Kingswood colliers had rioted in Bristol over high food prices five years earlier in 1709, although they had been easily dispersed with promises of lower food prices. Whigs claimed the Loyal Society had paid the colliers to riot, while Tories ad-vanced the theory that the colliers had come of their own volition to loot the city. There is little evidence, however, to support either view. Only one of those arrested, an Oxfordshire gardener, was not from Bristol. The others were Bristol artisans, including a tailor, a weaver, a sugar baker, a barber, a saddler, two cart wainers, a pipe maker, a peruke maker, and a glover. It could be argued that the colliers were not arrested because none was recognized. Certainly such a small sample from a crowd of five hundred prevents any definite conclusions, but it is difficult to believe that many colliers were involved. Subsequent demonstrations during the trials were certainly by Bristolians.
The riot was clearly politically inspired. Religious bigotry played a role in the affair, but religious controversy could not be separated from poli-tical strife in 1714. All classes were represented, if not in the actual riot, then in the following trials. The entire episode would probably have passed unnoticed except for the disputed succession to the throne and Whig nervousness.
Whether or not they were present in 1714, the Kingswood colliers played an important role in the following series of disturbances over the Bristol turnpikes. Riots against turnpikes occurred throughout the kingdom, but rarely enjoyed more success than in the Bristol area. In 1727 an Act of Parliament (13 George I c. 12) established a turnpike commission for the ten to twelve miles of roads leading to Bristol. On 26 June, turnpike gates appeared and collectors began assessing tolls ranging from one shilling for a vehicle pulled by six animals to a half pence for a donkey laden with coal. Foot passengers paid no toll. Since pack animals carrying anything other than coal paid one pence, the displeasure of the colliers must have been anticipated.They soon displayed their resentment. On 28 June, the mayor of Bristol wrote the Duke of Newcastle: My Lord, Upon occasion of the Turnpikes which were erected by an Act of Parliament made last Sessions for mending the Roads leading from the City of Bristol the Colliers (some hundreds) in Kingswood neighboring to this City rose Monday last and con-tinue still Assembled in Tumultuous manner, and have Burnt, pull'd down and destroy'd all the said Turnpikes and Obstinately persist, if any more are erected, they will serve them in the same manner. They are a set of ungovernable people violent in their way, and regardless of consequences, they extort money of people as they pass the Road and treat them very rudely unless they give them some. They have passed through this City with clubs and staves in a noisy manner; but committed no violence here tho' I am persuaded had any opposition been made the consequences would have been fatal, under these circumstances I humbly sub-mit to your prudent care for the security and preservation of the peace of this city.
Efforts to replace the gates were fruitless, as the colliers destroyed the replacements. They also temporarily refused to deliver coal to Bristol, causing the price of coal to increase from one shilling per load to two shillings three pence. A new act of parliament exempted the colliers from paying any tolls, but more riots occurred over the next ten years whenever the tollgates reappeared.
The anti-turnpike campaign entailed more than simply destroying toll-gates. Members of the turnpike commission received threatening letters and had their property destroyed. Sir William Codrington of Dodington, M.P., J.P., and a turnpike trustee, complained that part of his park wall was cut down, and demanded that troops enforce the laws. All of these measures effectively blocked the turnpikes not only because of direct intimidation and destruction, but also by preventing the trustees from obtaining construction loans. Collection of the tolls was too uncertain to secure loans from potential investors.
Considering the resistance to turnpikes even after the colliers were exempted from all tolls, other dissidents must have been involved. Sir William Codrington claimed that some of his fellow country gentlemen were behind the trouble, presumably because they resented paying the toll themselves. He names one Prichet, the steward of a landowner, as being directly involved in paying rioters.
Whoever the rioters were and what-ever sponsorship they may have received, contemporaries labeled them colliers. Again, the part played by Bristol citizens was minimized.
When the Act of Parliament expired at the end of twenty-one years, in 1748, the commissioners requested a new act (22 Geo II c. 20) and renewed their efforts to make the turnpikes a reality. During the ensuing resis-tance, it became apparent that more than colliers were involved. After the gates had been destroyed twice in July 1749, three of the rioters were recognized and arrested when they came into Bristol. Following this episode, the turnpike trustees took it upon themselves to mobilize the city on 28 July 1749.
It being generally reported, That the Persons concerned in cut-ting down the Turnpikes, give out, That they intend to visit this City, in order to Rescue the persons now in Newgate, charg'd therewith; and as it is probable, That in case they are not oppos'd, they will not stop there: it is therefore desir'd that the Citizens will be pleased to defend themselves and Neighbors, in Case of any Insult of that Kind, and to Rendezvous at the Exchange, on the alarm given by the Fire-bells.The promised attack came on 1 August. Several hundred armed Somer-set farm laborers with blackened faces, led by mounted men with flags, destroyed turnpikes at Ashton and demolished the house of a peace officer who had been instrumental in the arrest of the three prisoners. They then attempted to enter Bristol but the city gates were shut. Having been foiled in their rescue attempt, they destroyed more turnpike gates around the city while a crowd of spectators stood by. The two sheriffs of the city would not allow the constables to go beyond the city boundaries, but one of the turnpike commissioners led a posse of citizens and about fifty sailors armed with cutlasses against the rioters and captured twenty-eight of them.
Other city officials were no more eager than the sheriffs to oppose the rioters. The mayor and council displayed the same attitude as their prede-cessors in 1727 who allowed the colliers to march unopposed through the streets of Bristol with clubs and staves. They wrote to the Duke of New-castle that the capture of the rioters would only cause more trouble and complained about "the indiscreet warmth and precipitate measures of the acting [Turnpike] Trustees." In response, Newcastle sent a regiment of Dragoons. By 5 August, the disturbance was over. The mayor wrote Newcastle that "gentlemen in the country" wanted a "speedy and solemn trial to strike terror in the most effectual manner." Two of the rioters were hanged for pulling down the officer's house. The others were tried in Wiltshire because there was too much local sympathy for them. Even so, not a single one was convicted, though five died of smallpox while awaiting trial. Apparently distaste for turnpikes crossed county boundaries. The executions may have produced the desired effect, for we hear no more of turnpike riots in Bristol after 1749.
It is also difficult to see this conflict in terms of class war in the traditional sense of the term. The juries were carefully chosen, and not from the lower classes. Moreover, the attitude of the officials in Bristol shows that they were eager to avoid a clash over the matter and may have even felt some sympathy for the rioters; in 1751, Bristol merchants opposed a turnpike road to London on the grounds that it would damage trade. There was hardly uniform support for the turnpike among the gentry either. Farm laborers paid tolls only if they were driving vehicles.
Obviously, the gentry bore the brunt of the cost. Some of the mounted leaders were rumored to have been from the gentry, but more concrete evidence of upper-class involvement appeared in the account book of Gore of Barrow Court, which contained the following entry: "August 26, 1753. To Mr. Harwick, on my account, for cutting down the turnpikes, LlO."
The sympathy felt for rioters is apparent also in the case of the Bristol weavers, who lived outside Lawford's Gate. During financial difficulties in 1728 and 1729, they rioted on more than one occasion, burning looms and attacking unpopular employers. The most serious incident shows very clearly that one had to be careful in dealing harshly with rioters. On 29 September 1729, a group of weavers marched to Castle Ditch where they attacked the house of Stephen Feacham, who killed seven people by firing into the crowd. Unfortunately for Feacham, one of the soldiers sent to disperse the mob was accidentally killed by a shot from the house. A public outcry led to an indictment of Feacham by a coroner's jury for the murder of the soldier. Public feeling was so strongly against him that he applied to the government for a pardon, which he presented at the next assizes, rather than stand trial.
Unlike the weavers, the Kingswood miners were an almost constant source of trouble. The Wesleys and George Whitefield had been at work among the miners since 1738, and it was later reported that Kingswood had become a model for the kingdom. There was, however, little evidence of their pacification in 1753 when they once again played the major role in a Bristol riot.
This time the grievance was over food prices. A cattle plague followed the bad harvest of 1752 and grain prices reached five shillings three pence per bushel. "A great number of colliers and other disorderly persons" gathered at Kingswood and entered Bristol at about 1:00 p.m. on 21 May 1753. The council met with four of their leaders, who demanded a reduction in grain prices. They and most of the crowd appeared to be satisfied with the council's promise to reduce prices as soon as possible. But part of the crowd was not so easily mollified.
One of the mob's major grievances was that grain was being exported while prices remained high in England. Consequently, several rioters broke into the Lamb, a vessel preparing to carry seventy tons of wheat to Dublin. After being driven off by constables, they gathered at the Council House to throw stones through its windows, injuring several members of the council. During these disturbances, at least one person was captured and the colliers threatened to return to attempt a rescue.
On 25 May, the threatened attack materialized when a mob of about nine hundred colliers and weavers entered the city. They proceeded to Bridewell jail and released a prisoner. Fortunately for the city, a troop of Scots Greys from Gloucester arrived the same morning. The combined forces of the city and the cavalry drove the mob away, killing four and capturing thirty. City casualties amounted to five captured. Three of these were rescued, but the other two were held prisoner in the coalpits.
Within a few days the colliers released their prisoners. The townspeople took up a collection for the needy among the colliers, and the mayor sent a surgeon to care for the fifty or so wounded in the riot. This conciliatory spirit continued during the trials of the captured rioters, in which only nine of the fifty were convicted. Each received a sentence of two years imprisonment, was fined two nobles, and had to post a forty-pound bond for good behavior. Another, a weaver named Samuel Bonner, was an "active Person" in the riot, but the jury recommended mercy because of his youth, and he received a sentence of only six months. No witnesses appeared against the others.
Potential witnesses may have feared reprisals. At least one of those captured by the rioters, John Brickdale, was singled out because he had led the posse of sailors and citizens against turnpike rioters in 1749. Since he was one of the three rescued from the mob, he spent no time as a prisoner, but his troubles did not end with his rescue. A coroner's jury indicted him for the murder of William Fudge, one of the rioters. The government followed the recommendation of Bristol's mayor and council by having the indictment quashed in the court of King's Bench. As in the case of Feacham, years previously, Brickdale was unwilling to risk a trial. It would seem that more than fear of reprisals kept witnesses from appearing against the rioters. There was obviously sympathy for them.
In all cases prior to and including the riot of 1753, there was a reluctance by officials to offer serious resistance to rioters. Those who were captured usually received lenient treatment, if they were prosecuted at all. Toleration of, sympathy for, and complicity with rioters in most cases appear to have crossed class boundaries and to have been widespread.Not long after the riot of 1753, the question of a replacement for the old Bristol Bridge arose. As the second city of the kingdom, Bristol was the scene of a great amount of traffic. Items of export and import to and from Bristol's docks, as well as the goods necessary to provision the city and supply its industry, gave rise to a continual stream of horses and carriages across the old Bristol Bridge. The bridge was very old, and, like London Bridge, Elizabethan houses hung over both its sides, making passage hazardous. Frequent accidents and the volume of traffic led to numerous demands for a new bridge. A citizens' committee initiated action in March 1758. They held meetings every Monday and Thursday until they arrived at plans for a new bridge. Their bridge would be financed by a tax of three pence per pound of valuation on houses and a coal duty. They decided against a toll, and a "respectable body" of citizens dissuaded them from a wharfage duty. By October 1758, the mayor and council decided to form an official committee to investigate the problem. In substance, the new committee agreed with the former group; thus the members of parliament for Bristol, Robert Nugent and Jarrit Smith, were instructed to petition parliament for a bill in February 1760. The petition had been delayed by strong opposition "from several Bodies of Manufacturers and Merchants against some of the proposed ways and means for raising the necessary monies." Four days after sending their original petition, the corporation sent a new one dropping the duty on coal, raising the house tax from three pence to six pence on the pound, imposing a wharfage duty, and removing the ten-year time limit on any potential toll. Their reason was that the coal duty was too inconvenient to collect. In protest, the citizens' committee dissolved itself. Their most serious objec-tion was to the provision for a toll in the new scheme. One of the commit-tee's most influential members, Michael Miller, prophetically wrote that "it will never go down, but lay a foundation for a greater flame than ever was at Bristol as in effect it is the most unequal tax that can be thought off [sic] and in all probability would not end in 30 years." It might seem that Miller was exaggerating the importance of the changes but he proved to be right. Bad relations had been developing between the corporation and several merchants for years. In 1737, law-suits began over the "mayor's dues," a tax of forty shillings levied on every vessel of more than sixty tons docking at Bristol quay. Several merchants had refused to pay and the court cases lasted for years. A more representa-tive corporation might have alleviated the problem but it was, in effect, a closed club. From 1581 until 1835 the corporation consisted of the mayor and forty-two members of the common council, which was composed of thirty coun-cillors (two of whom were also sheriffs) and twelve aldermen (who were also J.P.s). The mayor was chosen each year from the councillors by the aldermen, who also chose their own replacements from the councillors. When seats on the council became vacant through death or resignation the council chose new councillors from the citizens of Bristol. With regard to financing the bridge, at least, many citizens did not feel well represented under this system. Since the council refused to spread the cost over the entire city by collecting the toll at the city gates, the three parishes on the Somerset side of the river (St. Mary Redcliffe, St. Thomas, and Temple) were most aggrieved. Their businessmen petitioned parlia-ment, complaining that the quays, markets, and warehouses were on the Gloucester side of the river. Those on the Somerset side would bear the brunt of the tolls, both in shipping and receiving their goods. They asked that the tolls be limited to five years. Miller believed that the powerful society of Merchant Venturers was ready to submit a similar petition against the wharfage duty, because they made little use of the bridge and agreed to wharfage only as an aid to coal duty, which had been dropped. In fact, the merchants did approve the new plan at a meeting in Mer-chants Hall on 22 April 1760, but they got the wharfage replaced by a tonnage rate of two and one-half pence per ton. Their success in getting the sort of tax they wanted may well have been a result of their close relation-ship with the council. One of the aldermen chaired this particular meeting, and, of the eighteen other merchants present, four were councillors and four others had relatives on the council. Passage of an act of parliamentary approval in May 1760 was only the beginning of the trouble surrounding the ill-fated bridge. In September 1761, a temporary bridge was open to foot traffic, and by January 1762 carriages were crossing it. Despite this promising beginning, it was more than three years before construction began on the permanent bridge. Arguments among the bridge commissioners appointed by the act and among the public led to one delay after another. Numerous pamphlets and heated newspaper reports fueled the controversies. Should there be one arch or three arches? Was the old foundation sufficient or should a new one be built? Several architects, each with his own group of supporters, sub-mitted plans together with mutual recriminations. Finally, tests were made, amid further controversy, and the commissioners decided to adopt a plan submitted by the architect originally consulted in 1758, James Bridges. The new bridge, a three-arched structure built on the old founda-tion, was eventually open for general traffic in November 1768. It had cost 49,000 pounds. New problems arose in 1786 when the parliamentary act authorizing the taxes and tolls was about to run out. This act had been limited to twenty-one years, as with most turnpike acts. When the bridge commis-sioners applied for a renewal of the act, they also asked for authority to clear away houses and to build a new street approaching the bridge. David Lewis, a corn and butter merchant in Bridge Street, opposed the new act, on the grounds that the commissioners had been derelict in their duty and that a new street would be too expensive. The unpopularity of the toll and other taxes is demonstrated by the support he received in his campaign against the new bill and for his demand that the bridge commission's accounts be published. He held several public meetings and the resulting pressure was sufficient to cause the commissioners to reduce the scale of their plans for a new street. A contemporary account sums up the general attitude: Notwithstanding the immense sum expended on the bridge and avenues to it, and the bill still continuing to the great injury and unequal burden of those on the Somersetshire side and the other duties so long paid, which were much complained of; yet in 1787, application was again made to parliament to raise more money. Under the new act, the tolls were leased for a year at a time. Lewis became the first lessee and received credit for forcing the commissioners to begin leasing, although one of them claimed that they had intended to adopt a leasing arrangement as early as 1785. At the auction of the tolls on 15 September 1792, the commission's agent, Samuel Seyer, announced that enough money had been raised to pay the bridge debt and that the tolls would not be leased again. As in previous years, Abraham Hiscoxe made the highest bid, this time for 2,150 pounds to be paid in quarterly installments. On the evening of the auction, Wintour Harris, deputy chamberlain for the city, visited Hiscoxe at his toll house, saying, "Well, Mr. Hiscoxe, you have taken the tolls again. . . . You will be the last person who will ever take them." Whereupon he drew an account book from his pocket, in which he showed Hiscoxe a surplus of 3,000 pounds in the bridge account. He told Hiscoxe that "we shall have enough to discharge every debt and a surplus to keep the bridge in repair." Thomas Symons, clerk of the Bridge Commission, also told him there would never be another toll auction. On this authority, he told several people that it was the last year for the tolls. Much to Hiscoxe's surprise, in September 1793 Symons asked him if he intended to bid on the tolls again. Fearing public reaction, he said that he would not. Then he told several acquaintances that he would stop col-lecting the toll for eight or ten days before the expiration of his lease if he could raise sixty pounds. Whether he was the source or not is unclear but somehow the rumor spread that the Bridge Act would lapse if no one collected the tolls for nine days. Hiscoxe succeeded in collecting his sixty pounds by soliciting at the exchange and from house to house, although he received most of it after he stopped collecting the tolls. Trouble began on 19 September 1793. The tollgates were the property of the first lessee, David Lewis. He had agreed with Hiscoxe to remove them on September 20. Word of the agreement spread, and a crowd gathered on the evening of the 19th to celebrate by destroying the gates. Hiscoxe had intended to collect the tolls until the following morning, but the crowd was in no mood to wait, and he was "obliged to retire in a great hurry the same night." The protestors believed that the bridge commissioners were acting illegally, as well as deceptively, when they did not end the tolls in Septem-ber 1793 and that crowd action was thereby justified. As E.P. Thompson has observed, a "legitimising notion" was nearly always present in eighteenth-century riots. For the Bristolians of 1793, the perception of the bridge commissioners actions as being illegal was the legitimising notion. The intransigent attitude of the bridge commissioners was apparent even at this early stage. They published a proclamation assuring the public that the act had not lapsed and detailing the harsh penalties set forth in it, which included hanging for disturbing the board listing toll rates or the tollgates. To underscore how serious they were, they offered a reward of fifty guineas to anyone willing to name the persons who burned the tollboard and gates. Though Hiscoxe's lease did not expire until the next day, the commission replaced the gates on Saturday, 28 September, in preparation for collecting the tolls themselves. The new gates merely provided fuel for a new bonfire the same evening. As on the 19th, no one interfered, and a carnival atmosphere prevailed. Before the crowd dis-persed, however, some of the aldermen appeared with a few Herefordshire militiamen. Those who had been active in burning the gates threw oyster shells and stones, even after the Riot Act was read to them by George Daubeny, an alderman, the bridge commissioner, and the principal activist among the authorities. Some of the spectators later said they thought the act applied only to actual rioters. Thus the crowd remained despite the warning. The authorities ordered the militia to fire a warning volley over the heads of the crowd. One of the shots killed John Abbot. By all accounts, Abbot had just arrived on the scene when he was shot. He was returning home from a tavern where he drank two pints of ale with friends in celebration of payday, as was his weekly custom. The sixty-year-old plasterer was a steady, sober worker, having held the same job fifteen years at the rate of twelve shillings per week. On the day after his death, his employer and a relative asked a coroner to hold an inquest, but they were refused with insults. When the mayor granted their subsequent appeal for the inquest he directed the coroner to obtain a verdict of justi-fiable homicide. At the inquest, the jury refused to cooperate. They re-turned a verdict of willful murder by the person or persons who ordered the militia to fire. The coroner refused their verdict, however, resulting in a compromise verdict of murder by persons unknown. Foolishly, the bridge commissioners paid little heed to this warning or to the mood of the public. They began collecting tolls the same day, Sunday, 29 September 1793. Sunday was obviously a bad day on which to avoid crowds of spectators and more trouble. As each vehicle approached the tollgates, the crowd urged the driver not to pay the toll. Constables arrested some who shouted "No toll," but the crowd rescued them. Soldiers from the Herefordshire militia appeared and the authorities read the Riot Act three times. The crowd ignored the reading of the act, but there was no shooting on this occasion. At nightfall the authorities and the crowd left the scene. During the night, the aldermen had 2,000 handbills printed warning the public not to gather at the bridge on the following day. Despite the warning, when toll collection began at 9:00 a.m. on the 30th, the crowd interfered again. Some drivers paid the toll, others refused. Tempers flared, several scuffles followed, and tension grew as startled horses and the shouting mob created a chaotic scene. Between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. Thomas Symons, clerk of the Bridge Commission, read the Riot Act three more times. At the 11:00 a.m. reading, he gave the crowd a time limit of one hour in which to disperse. Bridge Commissioners John Noble and George Daubeny tried to convince the crowd to leave with moralizing speeches, but they only made matters worse by denying that the commis-sion had made any mistakes. After 12:00, Daubeny began trying to collect the toll himself. This led to more shoving and the arrest of some of the crowd, who claimed to be only spectators. Daubeny lost his temper and began striking people with his cane. Once again soldiers appeared, al-lowing the tolls to be collected fairly peaceably between 2:00 and 6:00 p.m. When the soldiers left at 6:00, the crowd cheered, bringing them back for a few minutes to demonstrate their authority, but both sides soon left the bridge. Within minutes about twenty boys gathered, broke into the tollhouse, and made a bonfire of its furniture. Some two hundred spectators congre-gated at the fire and joined the boys in singing "God Save the King." Unwisely, a young lieutenant of the Herefordshire militia led eight of his men to break up the gathering only to be met by a barrage of oyster shells and rocks. Having no orders to fire, the soldiers beat a hasty retreat. At that point, drums beat "to arms" and the crowd grew as people came to see what was happening. At 8:15 p.m. the mayor and aldermen appeared at the head of the militia, marching to a "brisk tune." When they were half way across the bridge, the crowd began throwing rocks and oyster shells again. The mayor and aldermen had already ordered the militia to fire if they encountered resistance. Thus, without warning, the soldiers fired in both directions. The result was ten killed and more than thirty wounded. Of course, the crowd fled in panic. On the following day four citizens bought the lease of the tolls from the agent of the Bridge Commission who had technically been the lessee. They opened the bridge to the public for free passage. With ill grace, the alder-men conceded: The Magistrates present are unanimously of opinion that the measure proposed by the Delegates relative to the Bridge Toll (however benevolently intended) is neither a wise or a salutary measure-inasmuch as the proposed immediate abandonment of the Toll, after the Outrages that have been commited, may be considered a concession on the part of the Police of the City, which may be attended with serious Consequences in future. Most of the citizens were clearly against the city fathers regardless of their posturing and whether they were wearing their aldermen's hats or their bridge commissioners' hats. The council gave its thanks to the Here-fordshire militia and awarded its commander, Lord Bateman, one hundred guineas as expense money. On the streets, however, the militiamen met with a different treatment. The aldermen issued a handbill exhorting the population to stay off the streets and "not to join with the Riotous and Disorderly in abusing, throwing Dirt, or otherwise insulting any of the Military, who have only done their Duty." Other handbills and notices in the newspapers announced rewards of fifty guineas for the names of those who burned the tollgates or broke into the tollhouse and twenty guineas for those who broke the Guildhall windows on Tuesday night, 1 October. The mayor issued a request for the parishes to send a list of gentlemen willing to turn out against the rioters. As soon as the parish meetings to consider the request were over, the council announced that 257 gentlemen had pledged their assistance. This seems a paltry enough figure given the population of Bristol, but when one examines the actual responses from the parishes, it becomes even less impressive. Most of them contain hints or statements of disapproval. From the "principal inhabitants" of Temple Ward came the message, signed by thirty-two men, that they approved of the magistrates' action and would help them but disapproved of their conduct as bridge commissioners. Though they approved, they added a footnote requesting that their names not be published. St. Stephen's proffered help only "in the due and legal" exercise of authority. Others included similar qualifications, while a few were plainly censorious. Some said they would do all they could but were hardly enthusiastic. After the initial furor subsided, the aldermen had more problems to face. There were more indictments for murder despite all the authorities could do to prevent them. Several handbills and pamphlets appeared stating that no citizen had been shot by a soldier since the time of Oliver Cromwell, demonstrating how sufficient money had been collected to pay the bridge debt, and demanding that "particularized" accounts of the bridge funds be published for every year since the bridge had been built. The commis-sioners steadfastly refused this request, maintaining that general ac-counts since 1787 were sufficient. On one occasion, they did offer to publish accounts for any given year if someone would be "manly" enough to sign his name to a request. Such signed requests appeared, but there was no response from the commission. Unfortunately the accounts were never opened to public scrutiny. They have not been seen since 1795. Most threatening to the authorities were the efforts to conduct a public investigation of the Bridge Commission and the riot. Dr. Edward Long Fox, a physician, was the leader of this movement. At first he wanted a large meeting open to all citizens. The council, however, thwarted him by refusing to allow the use of any meeting places controlled by the city and by pressuring independent owners of large assembly rooms. Having failed to obtain adequate facilities, Fox formed a committee of interested citizens to conduct an investigation on a smaller scale. This committee met twenty-eight times between December 1793 and March 1794. Their minute book, which they titled "Minutes of the Committee for Investigating Bridge Affairs," remained in the possession of the Fox family for more than a century and is now in the Bristol Reference Library. It shows that the committee members questioned everyone they could find who had been in a position to observe important events, including a number of con-stables, witnesses to the deaths, toll collectors, members of coroners juries, and others. None of these witnesses had anything favorable to say about the city fathers-in their capacity as bridge commissioners or as aldermen. As might be expected, those who were present at the riot claimed to have been only spectators. Indeed, the basic contention of those who criticized the authorities was that the crowd had been made up of spectators, not rioters. Even allowing for the fact that some threw rocks and oyster shells, the case has merit. All of those killed were respectable enough. One was even a gentleman who had just arrived in Bristol on business, a detail that the authorities tried to suppress at his inquest. The case against the aldermen-cum-bridge commissioners that emerged from the investigation and appeared in pamphlets may be summed up as follows. After mishandling bridge funds for years, the commissioners announced in 1792 that the tolls would end in 1793. They then changed their minds, presumably because of further mishandling of funds. Not only did they change their minds, but they also proceeded in a very arrogant manner to force arbitrary measures on the public without explanation. When this failed to awe the people into submission, they turned a mere incident into a tragedy by ordering troops to fire, resulting in the death of a man on 28 September. Undaunted by this misdeed, they continued their pattern of repression on 30 September, when they ordered the troops to fire on a crowd of mostly innocent bystanders, without warning and without first using the civil forces at their disposal. Warning had, technically, been given earlier in the day by several readings of the Riot Act, but few, if any, of the crowd realized that it was still in force. Moreover, the authorities had lulled the crowd into a sense of confidence by reading the act to them many times on earlier occasions without enforcing it. Most importantly, as several chief constables testified, there was no real attempt to use the constabulary before calling on the militia. How can we explain such actions, especially in view of the relatively mild treatment of earlier riots and invasions of the city? How did the city officials defend their conduct? Publicly, they took a legalistic position: they were within their rights. Everything they had done was legal and correct. Their management of the bridge funds was unimpeachable. It was unfair to accuse the aldermen on the commission of dominating it. More than one hundred people were named as commissioners in the Bridge Act; if they failed to participate actively those who did should not be blamed. Anyone who objected to commission policies and who met the modest property qualification could become a commissioner. If anyone announced the end of the toll in 1792, it was without their authority. (Conveniently the man who leased the tolls for them, Samuel Seyer, had recently died.) During the riot, they had merely done what was necessary to preserve order in the face of grave public disturbances by dangerous rioters. "The consequence (much to be lamented as it most undoubtedly is) has been, that several persons have been killed and wounded, some of whom it is very probable, may have been innocent." But, they should have left the crowd at the first reading of the Riot Act. Less publicly, the authorities insinuated and apparently believed that dangerous radicals were behind the riot. The organized radical move-ment, the French Revolution, and recent riots with seemingly revolution-ary motivation had placed public disorder in a new perspective. Especially after the Gordon Riots of 1780, officials were much more apprehensive of riots and rioters. The Bristol authorities believed that it was their duty to protect the country from dangerous elements, and the government in London was no doubt in sympathy with this attitude for the same reasons. In a letter to Henry Dundas at the Home Office on 7 October 1793, the mayor explained that the riot had abated and only one man had been arrested, "but the Magistrates are using their best endeavors to discover and bring to Justice the Instigators of the disturbances who (there's too much reason to fear) had other objects besides putting a stop to the collection of the Bridge-toll. The mayor and his colleagues never made a direct accusation or ex-plained just what the "other objects" of the rioters were. In their published defense, they stated that there were "some mischievous person or persons who are certainly at the bottom of this business, and who most undoubt-edly have been all along inciting the common people (who in fact have no cause of complaint about the toll, because they pay it not, but only the substantial Citizens . . . who travel over the bridge) to acts of violence." These unknown persons worked "under the cover of night." When Dr. Fox began his investigation, their suspicions gained some focus. In their re-fusals to allow his public meetings, they hinted broadly that he had sinister motives. Anonymous handbills appeared, some for as long as two years after the riot, accusing him and his friends of being "Republicans and Reformers, and consequently enemies to the Establishment." According to his son, Fox suffered for his involvement in the bridge affair. [He] regretted to the latest hours of his life, the part he had taken therein, and he always asserted that his course of action had prejudiced his interest as a medical man, & created enemies for life. He was . . . a believer in the principles which originated the Revolution in France-a believer not in the acts of spoilation, violence, and murder-but in those of freedom of thought and action. He in fact anticipated & strove for the freedom of our own days. Fox protested that the only purpose of his investigation was to examine the "Bridge Affairs" and protested the "calumnies" circulated against his committee. The "calumnies" must have had some effect. The first solicitor approached by the committee declined to represent them. Their second choice did all he could to discourage them. He told them that prosecution for libel would result if they published the evidence they had gathered, even if their findings were accurate. His advice was to take their evidence to a grand jury if they felt their case against the city officials was strong enough. But he warned against advertising for witnesses or offering a reward for information because juries would be unlikely to believe wit-nesses attracted in such a way. Having been thus discouraged, the com-mittee abandoned its efforts. Fear of the city officials hampered the committee's investigation as much as any official action. Such fears were likely to have been well founded. There were certainly reprisals against Fox and his supporters, who organized themselves into the Constitutional Society. In March 1797, the mayor allowed a riot to continue against the Constitutional Society for two days without official interruption, although a man had been sentenced to death for participating in a minor food riot in 1795. The council spent 189 pounds in an attempt to prosecute a London newspaper, The Star, for libel when it reported unfavorably on Alderman Daubeny's part in the riot. Whatever justification the city government may have believed it had for its repressive measures, most Bristolians did not agree with them. For years after 1793 the council had great difficulty in getting those selected as mayor or councilmen to accept office. There had been occasional difficulty with mayors before, but the problem grew after 1793 despite an increase in the mayor's salary from one thousand to twelve hundred pounds per year. Councilmen had never before refused election. Finally the council insti-tuted a fine on those who refused to accept office or who would not partici-pate in council meetings after they were chosen. After the heat of the moment passed, commentators universally condemned the city officials in satires, histories, and even the poems of Mrs. Rueful. In view of such universal condemnation, it would be difficult to see the conflict in terms of class struggle unless one were to define the class as virtually everyone against the current aldermen-bridge commissioners. Even such a loose definition of class struggle hardly applies in this situa-tion. Anyone with the modest property qualification could join the bridge commission and the council could not even force fellow citizens to become aldermen. Further, those alienated by the council were opposed only to the individual aldermen and their actions. There is no evidence that anyone wanted to change the form of government or open the closed corporation. if there was an establishment in Bristol, it was the Society of Merchant Venturers, and it appears that they stayed out of the affair as a society, though their members could be found on both sides. Curiously, in the more famous Bristol riots of 1831, it was official inaction that led to serious consequences. Political motives aside, one cannot avoid the impression that the mayor on that occasion, Charles Pinney, was most anxious to avoid any responsibility for using force against the crowd. At his trial, this point is made repeatedly. Could he have been inhibited, at least in part, by the tradition of censure for the overreaction of his predecessors in 1793? The Bridge Riot of 1793 was a riot caused by officials overreacting to a comparatively mild popular disturbance. Their stated motive was a desire to show that they would deal forcefully with potentially revolutionary activity instigated by conspirators. Of course, they were probably also eager to use the threat of revolutionary activity as a cover for their own mismanagement of bridge affairs, which is evident from the beginning. But despite this wish to brazen out their mistakes, it is obvious that the official perception of mobs and riots had changed by 1793. Food riots, political riots, turnpike riots, invasions of the city, capture of its citizens- none of these provocations met with the severity meted out in 1793. Moreover, on most earlier occasions non-Bristolians were believed to be the major offenders; in 1793, the troops fired on citizens. One would expect even more reluctance to use force on that occasion, but riots were no longer perceived as something akin to natural disasters-dangerous and poten-tially destructive but quick to pass. There was no longer much sympathy by officials for rioters. They had become probable revolutionaries incited by "mischievous . . . persons . . . under cover of the night." BRADLEY UNIVERSITY 1. George Rude. The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbances in France and England, 1730-1848 (1964), p. 255. 2. For example, E.P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act (1975); Douglas Hay et al., Albion's Fatal Tree (1975); John Foster, Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution: Early Industrial Capitalism in Three English Towns (1974). 3. On this point, see W.M. Reddy, "The Textile Trade and the Language of the Crowd at Rouen," Past and Present (February 1977), pp. 62-89. 4. Except where noted, the following account is taken from "A Full and Impartial Account of the Late Disorders in Bristol, To Which is Added the Compleat Tryals of the Rioters..." (London, 1714) and "The Bristol Riot; Containing I. A Full and Particular Account of the Riot in General with Several Material Circumstances Preceding and Contributing to it; II. The Whole Proceedings Relating to the Tryal..."(London, 1714). The latter pamphlet was apparently published before the trial. I have not seen a copy that contains Part II. 5. Samuel Seyer, Memoirs Historical and Topographical of Bristol... (Bristol, 1823), II, 563. 6. Ibid., p. 562; George Pryce, A Popular History of Bristol, Antiquarian, Topo-graphical, and Descriptive (Bristol, 186 1), p. 422. 7. Seyer, Memoirs, II, 569. 8. "A Full and Impartial Account.. ." pp. 18-24. 9. Ibid., p. 10. 1O. John Latimer, Annals of Bristol in the Eighteenth Century, (Bristol, n.d.), pp. 78-79. 11. Seyer, Memoirs, II, 565. 12. Public Record Office (hereafter PRO) SP 36/1. 13. Farley's Bristol Newspaper, 1 July 1727, and Latimer, p. 156. 14. Letters of Sir William Codrington to the Duke of Newcastle, 21 July 1731 and 11 August 1735, and affidavits, PRO, SP 36/23 and SP 36/35: Colliers' Letter to the Turnpike, 3 July 1727, Gloucester Record Office, D/15/2, also quoted in William Albert, The Turnpike Road System in England 1663-1840 (1972), pp. 27-28; Journals of the House of Commons, XXI, 828 (2 March 1731 O.S.). 15. British Library (hereafter BL), 1865 c.7 (30) and PRO SP 36/111. 16. Mayor Weekes to Newcastle, 1 August 1749, PRO, SP 36/111; Seyer, Memoirs, II, 594-95; John Evans, A Chronological Outline of the History of Bristol... (Bristol, 1824), pp. 269-70. 17. Letters of 5 August and 15 September 1749, PRO, SP 36/111. 18. Journals of the House of Commons, XXVI, 280 (June 1751). 19. Latimer, Annals of Bristol in the Eighteenth Century, p. 275. 20. Ibid. pp. 166-67; Evans, Chronological Outline, p. 261. 21. A. Braine, The History of Kingswood Forest (Bath, 1969), pp. 224-26. 22. Letters of Mayor Clements to Newcastle, 21 May and 15 May 1753, and affidavit of John Hones, 21 May 1753, PRO, SP 36/122; Felix Farley's Bristol Journal, 26 May 1753, lists the names of the captured rioters. Opposition to the export of grain was not unusual. Similar riots had occurred in other parts of the country-R.B. Rose, "18th Century Price Riots and Public Policy in England," International Review of Social History, VI, 287 (1961). 23. Felix Farley's Bristol Journal, 2 June and 8 September l753. 24. Letter of Attorney General to Newcastle, 2 June 1753, PRO, SP 36/122; and Hugh Valence Jones to Newcastle, 2 June 1753, BL, Add. Mss. 32732. 25. W.E. Minchinton, "Bristol-Metropolis of the West in the Eighteenth Century," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th Series, Vol. IV (1954); Peter T. March, "Bristol's Roads and Communications on the Eve of the Industrial Revolution," Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 87 (1968), 149-72. 26. Report of the Committee, 23 February 1759, Bristol Record Office, (hereafter BRO) AC/JS (Jarrit Smith Papers) 96 (3)b. 27. Common Council Proceedings, 28 October 1758 and 14 February 1760, BRO. 28. Letter from Mayor Ames and eight councilmen to Smith, 26 February 1760, BRO, AC/JS 96 (8); leaflet of 28 February 1760, AD/JS (11) 6, Miller to Mayor Ames, 1 March 1760, AC/JS 96 (9). 29. Petition in BRO, AC/JS (12)a; Miller to Smith, 8 March 1760, BRO, AC/JS 96 (11)a. The Merchants turned a deaf ear to the council's request for direct financial aid. Hall Book 8, 16 and 23 January 1759. See Patrick McGrath, The Merchant Venturers of Bristol (Bristol, 1975). 30. Minutes of Council's Bridge Committee, 22 April 1760, BRO, AC/JS 96 (16); several citizens to Nugent and Smith, 24 April 1760, AC/JS 96 (17)a. The act (33 Geo II c.52) may be seen in the BRO or the Bristol Reference Library (hereafter BRL), 11539. 31. William Barrett, History and Antiquities of the City of Bristol (Bristol, 1789), p. 97. 32. The Lamentation of Bristolia," BRL 25550; Broadside, 10 April 1786, BRL 13061; newspaper clipping 6 April 1786, BRL 11539; letter from "A Bridge Trustee" in Bristol Gazette, 24 October 1793; John Rose, "A Reply to a Bridge Trustee," , BL. 33. Evidence of Hiscoxe, William Collins (Hiscoxe's assistant), and George Webb, Minutes of Committee for Investigating Bridge Affairs, 25 and 29 November 1793, BRL 13065; handbill by Hiscoxe, 29 September 1793, BRL 13084. 34. For the theory of the "legitimising notion' see E.P. Thompson, "The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century," Past and Present (February 1971), pp. 76-79. 35. An Account of the Tolls Payable for Passing Bristol Bridge," 23 September 1793, BRL 11539. 36. Except where indicated, the account of the actual riot is taken from the Minutes of the Committee for Investigating Bridge Affairs, BRL 13065; John Rose, "An Impartial History of the Late Disturbances in Bristol . . . " (Bristol, 1793), BRL and BL; and "An Impartial History of the Late Riots in Bristol" (London, 1793), BL. According to "The Auction," BRL 25552, Mr. Rosser, the printer of the Mercury, was the author of the latter pamphlet. Rose was critical of the authorities and Rosser defended them. 37. BRL 13066. 38. BRO, Committee Book, 1757-99, p. 320. 39. Ibid., pp. 321, 323 (10 and 12 October 1793); various handbills of 1 and 3 October 1793, BRL 13074 and 13067; newspaper clipping 2 October 1793, BRL 4560. 40. Newspaper clipping 4 October 1793, BRL 4560; notice from mayor to chief constable, 2 October 1793, and numerous resolutions from parishes, 3 October 1793, BRO correspondence box for 1793. 41. They were last mentioned when they were to have been turned over to the city in 1795. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, 1791-1796, pp. 334-36 (7 June 1795). 42. A Letter to the Citizens of Bristol on the Conduct of Dr. E.L. Fox Concerning the Late Riots" (Bristol, 1793), BRL. 43. Announcement by Mayor and Aldermen, 1 October 1793, BRL 4560. 44. PRO, HO 42/26. For the changed attitude throughout the kingdom toward riots following the Gordon Riots in 1780, see Clive Emsley, "London Insurrection of December 1792; Fact, Fiction or Fantasy," Journal of British Studies (Spring, 1978), p. 70. 45. Newspaper clipping 1 October 1793, BRL 4660. 46. For instance, handbills of 26 October 1793 and 11 December 1795, BRL 13092 and 13108. 47. Letter from Edwin F. Fox to Francis F. Fox, 4 June 1872, BRL 13064. 48. Minutes of Committee for Investigating Bridge Affairs, BRL 13065. 49. A Statement of Facts Relative to the Riot which Took Place in Union Street. . ." (Bristol, 1797), BRL 9528; BRO, Common Council Proceedings, 1791-1796," pp. 353-54 (5 September 1795). 50. BRO, Committee Book, 1757-99, p. 256 (11 December 1793) and 343 (8 Febru-ary 1794); Star, 4 October 1793. 51. BRO, Common Council Proceedings, 1791-96, pp. 7, 24, 41, 60, 165, 178, 291, 353-54; Latimer, Annals of Bristol in the Eighteenth Century, p. 507. 52. BRL 13069, 13070, 13072, 4554, 4555, 25549. 53. For the notion that we may enjoy the convenience of viewing eighteenth-century riots in terms of class struggle by merely redefining class to include any economic group according to the situation, see E.P. Thompson, "Eighteenth Century English Society: Class Struggle Without Class?" Social History (May 1978), pp. 146-50. 54. The Trial of Charles Pinney (Bristol, 1833).