In Part one, I looked at the interaction between ribbon weaving in Coventry and Nuneaton and the unrest which arose with the onset of industrialisation in the early 19th century .
However, these were not the only riotous incidents in Coventry and Nuneaton. The following list is by no means comprehensive, but it gives an indication of the range of incidents that occurred over the last 650 years. Many of these stories of ‘mischief’ might seem like quaint anecdotes, but these events were drastic and radical even then. We can only imagine the feelings of injustice and desperation which drove people to such acts.
An (incomplete) timeline of riots in Coventry and Nuneaton
- The Coventry city annals record seven occasions when ‘the commons arose’ between 1370 and 1422, two involving bread-hurling at the mayor.
- In 1665 there was a ‘tumult’ in Nuneaton when some school children barricaded the school-house (see photo) against their master. They were aided by the local vicar, and the schoolmaster was ‘denied entrance with pistols & guns’ for several days. The scholars even ran out of gunpowder, and had to make a run for fresh supplies.1
- In 1756, ‘great mischief’ was done to various agricultural mills in Nuneaton, Atherstone, Polesworth and Tamworth. Two of the rioters were sentenced to execution.2
- A letter held at the County Record Office describes a riot in Coventry in 1757. Apparently the workers were ‘incensed against [Sir Woolston] for turning off several weavers; which he was obliged to do, not having any silk till the arrival of the Leghorn fleet’. The crowd carried ‘the Effigy of Bob Bird’ around the town, with a label reading ‘No Rice pudding bob for starving the poor – No Taffaty bob.’3
- A riot in Nuneaton on 29th September 1766 was recorded in Jopson’s Coventry Mercury, held at Warwickshire County Record Office.4
- In April 1795, the war with France had caused bread prices to rise severely, leading to a food riot across Coventry, Nuneaton, Hinckley and Atherstone, which was put down by the military.5
- Elections could cause a great deal of controversy, often pivoting around the silk industry. On 3 July 1802, there was a riot when one candidate, Nathaniel Jefferys, entered Coventry. There was rioting again during polling for the 1820 and 1826 elections. The candidate Richard Heathcote wrote on 12th March 1826, ‘none can have a greater interest in preserving the peace of the city, particularly at the moment of an election, than the corporation authorities, as it is notorious that that portion of the freemen which from their habits and station in life would be most likely to occasion riots and tumults, has been almost uniformly opposed to their wishes.’6
- In Nuneaton, riots involving 300-1,500 people at election time on 21st December 1832 had to be quelled by the military.7 The defendants pleaded that ‘there was no riot… all was quiet’, and were found ‘not guilty.’8
- In 1838, around 20 drunken military men armed with bludgeons began a riot in Coventry, apparently due to ‘grudges against the police’.9
- There was a riot of around 1,000 weavers, 400 of whom were on strike, in Coventry in 1859.10
- The ‘war between the vicar of Coventry and the Nonconformists’ lead to a riot in September 1882, when the vicar attempted to sell goods which had been seized from his debtors for non-payment.11
- Riots broke out in Coventry on July 19, 1919, following a procession to mark the Peace Treaty signed at Versailles.12
1 Warwickshire County Record Office, CR0136/C680.
2 The Leeds Intelligencer (Leeds, England), 31 August 1756.
3 Warwickshire County Record Office, CR4141/7/241.
4 Warwickshire County Record Office, CR0136/C695.
5 Warwickshire County Record Office, DR0429/329. Warwickshire County Record Office, CR1022/2a. The Tamworth Herald (Tamworth, England), 16 February 1895.
6 Coventry Archives and Local Records Office, PA/14/10/64.
7 Berrow’s Worcester Journal (Worcester, England), 3 January 1833.
8 The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), 13 April 1833
9 The Westmorland Gazette (Kendal, England), Saturday, 3 November 1838.
10 The North Devon Journal (Barnstaple, England), 16 June 1859.
11 The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (Bristol, England), 16 September 1882.
12 Western Times (Devon, England), 22 July 1919.