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Thursday 20th September 2001, 1000 BST
The Bristol Riots, the breaching of the gaol and its revenge on the mob
The burning of the New Gaol  from Canon's Marsh.Atist W.J.Muller
Artist W.J.Muller painted the scene as flames rise above the Bristol skyline after the mob set the New Gaol on fire.
In 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 John Eagles.

The mob attack the New Gaol gatehouse.    
The mob attack the New gaol gates    
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.

The prison was then set on fire by the mob, the flames could be seen as far away as Wales.

Order was eventually restored to the city by troops from Gloucester who opened fire on the mob, killing around 130 of them.

In the 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.

Muller's painting of the gaol and its buildings.    
A wider view of the burning gaol showing its inner buildings and outer wall.    

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.

Plaque on the New Gaol door    
The plaque on the door of the gaol, It refers to five rioters hanged over its gate, not four.    
After that shaky start the sentence was carried out.

On a pull of a lever all four were hanged in front of the spectators gathered across the opposite side of the New Cut.

On Sunday 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," it said.

Gruesome Bristol: New Gaol prison.

John Horwood and his macabre book legacy.

Bristol's traumatic last hanging and the gaol's closure.
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Full four page in-depth feature - make sure you read it all!
Gruesome Bristol: New gaol prison

John Horwood and his macabre book legacy

The Bristol Riots, The breaching of the Gaol and its revenge on the mob

Bristol's traumatic last hanging and the Gaols closure
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