The famous riots of 1831 were of more barbarous character [than some election disturbances], and resulted from outlets of brutal passion far fiercer than any such harmless creatures as these suggested in the last line of our quotation. No doubt the popular feeling against the Tories for their opposition to the Reform Bill acted as the first incentive to the revolutionary outbreak, but the frenzy of an ignorant mob is stronger than their patriotic feelings. Being unchecked by external authority, the cry of “Reform” was speedily changed to the howl of “Havoc,” and the dogs of war were instantly slipped against the rights of property. Had magisterial action been suspended during six days instead of three, all Bristol would have been burnt to ashes.

What remained of half of one of the most spacious quadrangles in Europe was a heap of smouldering and dangerous ruins. While women and helpless children, naked, homeless, and terrified, were flying from the dreadful spot where they had so lately enjoyed their own firesides, and while lawless ruffians, madly drunk with the choice wines they had stolen from the richly-stocked cellarage of the Mansion House, were continuing to set fire dwelling after dwelling, the military were restrained from charging the mob, and their commander was shaking hands with the rioters in the delusive hope to conciliate and subdue them by the “power of kindness.” Forty-one spacious houses in Queen Square were consumed, besides four toll houses, the Bridewell, the Gaol, and Lawford’s Gate Prison, and the Bishop’s Palace, the Cathedral itself escaping by the heroism of the verger, who, bold as Cocles, single-handed barred the any of the incendiaries.

Related material


“Bristol Illustrated.” The Graphic (20 July 1878): 60-77. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of Illinois Library. Web. 16 August 2018.

Last modified 16 August 2018