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Story last updated: 27 Apr 2004 1149 BST Printable version of this page
Revolting riots in Queen Square
 

The site of some of the bloodiest rioting England has ever seen and enough civil unrest to put the government in fear of revolution.

Here are some facts to get you closer to the action of the Bristol riots of 1831.

Queen square the scene of civil unrest

:: The riot was the culmination of a long struggle for democratic rights... only 6,000 people in Bristol had the vote out of a population of 104,000.

:: At the time some towns in the country, known as rotten boroughs, had Parliamentary representation even though the town no longer existed (due to things like migration or coastal erosion) and candidates could buy their votes.

:: The Reform Bill, which set out to improve the democracy of the country, was overturned by the Lords and particularly denounced by magistrate Sir Charles Wetherall. It was his visit to open Bristol's Assize Courts that sparked the civil unrest and he was chased by angry mobs to the Mansion House in Queen Square.

:: Work on the Clifton Suspension Bridge was halted and Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself was sworn in as a special constable to keep the peace during the Bristol riots of 1831.

William III statue
This statue of William III towered over the rioters in Queen Square

:: Colonel Brereton, who commanded the Dragoons, refused to open fire into the crowd. A year later he was brought to court for negligence but shot himself through the heart before his trial was concluded. Brunel gave evidence at the court martial.

:: Eventually, Brereton led the Dragoons into Queen Square and commanded them to draw their swords on the crowd. It's thought hundreds were killed or severely wounded.

:: Riots also took place in Bath, Worcester, Coventry and Warwick at this time but nothing on the scale of destruction and casualties in Bristol.

:: The government was concerned the riots might be the start of an uprising when scenes in Bristol were described by some as resembling those seen during the French Revolution.

:: The riots went on for three days but only resulted in a collection of show-trials and floggings. It was thought the government was wary of inciting the public into more unrest.

:: Four men were hanged despite a petition of 10,000 Bristolian signatures which was given to King William IV. The crowd and many of the special constables reportedly wept for the condemned men.


MORE FROM THIS STORY
Riot 1831 graphic
SEE ALSO ON BBCi
 

Riot! 1831 main index
See a full index of stories and information

Use a map to find out what happened

Use a 360-degree tour to see what happened

More about the Queen Square Riot project

Facts about the riot

RELATED LINKS
 

Bristol's wild weekend

Riots

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