Protests, Riots and Conspiracies of the Industrial Age
Industrialisation and the Agricultural Revolution brought with them a range of social issues that led to protest. As machinery replaced manual labour, people found themselves in hardship and this led to plots. The motivation for many plots was quite simply hunger. The emergence of revolutionary, radical, ideas on the continent did have some influence on plots. Plotters faced harsh penalties if found guilty, the practise of hanging and beheading in public was used in the most serious of cases.
1816 Spa Fields Riots
A war with France had lasted from 1793-1815. It had cost a lot of money and as a result businesses had closed down, workers had lost their jobs, wages were low, taxes were high and bread was very expensive. The government was lobbied by radicals who wanted change. The rich Tories who held power refused to make any reforms at all. In December 1816 a group of these protesters organised a meeting in Spa Fields, near London. Middle class objectors did not join in as they thought the leaders had gone too far. Protestors broke into a gunsmiths shop and marched on London. The army stopped them and arrested 300 rioters.
1817 Derbyshire Rising
A rising happened in Derbyshire because the poor couldn’t afford to buy bread or find work. Those lucky enough to have a job were paid very little. The protestors armed themselves with guns and pikes. They marched on Nottingham but lacked any real support from the people. When the army appeared they fled. The leaders were caught and later beheaded.
1819 The Peterloo Massacre
On August 16th 1819 60,000 people met at a large rally in central Manchester. Most of them were unemployed or very poor workers. They had gone to listen to Henry Hunt who was speaking about changes that the government should make. Although the crowd were peaceful the army were ordered to arrest Hunt. The Army killed 11 people and badly injured 400 of the defenceless crowd. People from the working classes and middle class were shocked at this. The government did nothing about the massacre, the soldiers had been following orders.
1820 the Cato Street Conspiracy
For some people the extreme hunger was too much. A group of radicals led by Arthur Thistlewood were among these people. They plotted to blow up all of the leading ministers of the government (a bit like Guy Fawkes). They were betrayed and captured by government agents. Thistlewood was the last man to be beheaded in this country: they hung him first though!