20th September 2001, 1000 BST
Bristol Riots, the breaching of the gaol and its revenge on the mob
painted the scene as flames rise above the Bristol skyline after
the mob set the New Gaol on fire.
1831 Bristol suffered the worst civil disturbances in its history
during the political reform riots.
Most of the city, including Queen Square and the Mansion House fell
under mob rule.
The New Gaol was attacked by rioters who breached its iron gates after
battering them with sledge hammers and crowbars for three-quarters
of an hour, allowing a small boy to get inside and draw back its bolts.
"The force of the mob was every moment fearfully increasing,
a dense mass had collected, and on the other side of the river, wherever
the eye could range. Thousands were in motion," wrote the Revd
Around 170 prisoners
were freed and joined the mob, the gaol's treadmill and gallows were
set upon and were thrown into the adjacent New Cut.
mob attack the New gaol gates
The prison was then set on fire by the mob, the flames could be seen
as far away as Wales.
eventually restored to the city by troops from Gloucester who opened
fire on the mob, killing around 130 of them.
following days those arrested for their part in the riots were tried
before the Bristol Court.
Five received the death penalty. Christopher Davies, John Kayes, Richard
Vines, Thomas Gregory and William Clarke were all sentenced to be
hanged over the entrance of the New Gaol
On Friday 27th January 1832, four of the condemned men were led out
to the top of the gatehouse where the open-air scaffold had been erected.
Despite a petition to King William IV signed by 10,000 Bristolians,
"including several merchants of the greatest respectability,"
there was to be no reprieve.
view of the burning gaol showing its inner buildings and outer
However, the day before his execution, Richard Vines was declared
to be an idiot. His sentence was changed to transportation to Australia.
The assembled crowd were sympathetic to the plight of the condemned
men and many of the special constables reportedly wept alongside large
sections of the crowd.
The account of the hangings paints a pathetic picture of the City's
retribution. The executioner was described as a "poor, dirty,
ragged and wretched person" who had only taken on the role to
scratch a living.
He was so overcome by the occasion that as he tightened the prisoners'
nooses, he shook uncontrollably. He was only stopped from falling
from the gallows by scrabbling at the prisoners' shoulders and being
grabbed and supported by one of the jailers.
After that shaky
start the sentence was carried out.
on the door of the gaol, It refers to five rioters hanged over
its gate, not four.
On a pull of a lever all four were hanged in front of the spectators
gathered across the opposite side of the New Cut.
27th May 2000, a plaque was placed on the door of the gaol to commemorate
the rioters who had been hanged above its gateway, imprisoned or transported.
It remains to this day as the only acknowledgment on the site of its
part in Bristol's turbulent past.
The gaol was repaired and continued with its role of holding prisoners
and staging public executions.
Conditions inside were very good for a brief period and a new directive
keeping prisoners in virtual solitary confinement improved their rehabilitation,
as a report of 1841 claimed:
"We know of one-hundred-and-one prisoners tried and convicted
since this new system was enforced, who now honestly earn their bread
by the sweat of their brow, and appear to be thoroughly reformed characters,"
Bristol: New Gaol prison.
Horwood and his macabre book legacy.
traumatic last hanging and the gaol's closure.