BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014
BBC Bristol: The website that loves Bristol: City Views

BBC Homepage
»BBC Local
Travel News

Things to do
People & Places
Religion & Ethics
Arts and Culture
BBC Introducing
TV & Radio

Sites near Bristol

SE Wales

Related BBC Sites


Contact Us

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.

Riot 1831 graphic

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


Bristol's wild weekend


Hotheads and heroes

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

Bristol Jamcams
Video Nation in Bristol

This is the BBC Bristol website | Main Bristol homepage | Newsletter | ^^ Top
News | Sport | Weather | Talk Bristol | Made in Bristol | Going Out entertainment guide | City Views

Write to us: BBC Bristol website, Regional Newsroom, Whiteladies Road, Bristol, BS8 2LR
Telephone : Calls strictly for this website only PLEASE do not call for any other reason!: (0117) 9747 747
Main switchboard (radio and Television calls)
: (0117) 973 2211

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy