The Bristol riots were a series of significant riots in Bristol, England. They took place in 1970, causing many injuries and causing more than a hundred arrests. The cause of the riots is mainly unknown, but several factors may have contributed to the situation.
The Bristol Riots of 1831 were a reaction to the failure of the second Reform Bill in the House of Lords to abolish rotten boroughs. The Bill, which called for the establishment of reform councils and free elections, had been vehemently opposed by local magistrate Sir Charles Wetherell. The magistrate was chased to his home in Queen Square by a mob. The rioters were estimated at 500 or 600 men. The riots lasted three days and destroyed private dwellings and part of the gaol. Four men were hanged in response to the riots despite a petition of over 10,000 supporters.
Parliament passed the first Reform Act in 1832. This Act restricted the number of votes to the upper classes. Then, in 1835, the Municipal Corporations Act was passed. This Act was designed to give industrial towns representation. It also limited the power of Bristol Corporations.
The riots in Bristol began after the opening of the Assize Court by Sir Charles Wetherall. Assize Courts were held in the county’s largest towns and were presided over by visiting judges from the higher courts of London. Over a hundred people were arrested and sentenced to death. Many police were also attacked, including special constables called ‘bludgeon boys.’
While Bristol has a long history of civil unrest, the 1831 Bristol riots were the most serious and widespread in British history. They were nearly as severe as the Church and King Riots of Birmingham in 1791 and the Gordon riots in 1780. Both of these events were closely linked to the Whig attempts at Parliamentary Reform, which had created a tense atmosphere in the country.
Municipal Corporations Act
The Municipal Corporations Act is a piece of legislation passed in 1835 intended to reform local government and bring about change. It also created a reformed electoral system. Initially, this Act limited local councils’ power and capabilities. Consequently, the riots of 1832 had a significant effect on Bristol.
This Act changed the qualifications for holding office and changed the constitution of the boroughs and cities. Freedom no longer carried any practical advantages but was still prized by many Bristolians. Historically, many freemen were admitted each year by apprenticeship or patrimony. Moreover, being a freeman meant being eligible to join the Merchant Venturers Society.
Local magistrate Sir Charles Wetherall opposed the Reform. However, Bristolians had signed a petition demanding its Reform. This petition attracted the attention of local citizens, who attacked the Mansion House in Queen Square and set it on fire. Hundreds of people also attacked local jails, freeing prisoners and setting buildings on fire. In addition, they looted shops and stole wine and spirits. Eventually, the cavalry intervened to disperse the rioters.
After the riots, the lord chancellor appointed a special commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Bristol riots. This commission was tasked with determining the causes and origin of the riot and any subsequent riots. It also set out the procedures for establishing an effective police force and the magistrate.
The Bristol riots began on 29 October 1831 and were part of the broader reform riots in England. This period was characterized by divisions between the ruling classes and the population. It resulted in a large number of casualties and PS300,000 in property damage.
The Act allowed local governments to regulate several activities and determine where they should occur. The Act also granted the ability to sue, issue bonds and use the corporate seal. It also gave local governments the right to buy, sell, lease, and use the property. However, these powers are not exhaustive. Other laws may grant additional powers to cities.
Tolls for Bristol Bridge
In the 1790s, a book describing Bristolian life wrote that they were prone to mobs occasionally. The 1793 Bristol riots, for example, were over the introduction of tolls on the Bristol Bridge. And in 1831, the city was roiled by the rejection of a second reform bill that would have given Bristol more excellent representation in the House of Commons.
The controversial tolls were intended to be phased out after the bridge was built but were eventually prolonged because of the lucrative income they brought in. The tolls were also supposed to be scrapped once the costs of building the bridge were recovered. However, the French Revolution caused many protesters to turn violent, which led to the Bristol Bridge Massacre.
The protests over the bridge’s tolls began on 30 September 1793, after the Bridge Corporation announced a plan to raise tolls on the bridge. The mob targeted toll houses and attacked authority figures who responded by shooting them. These 11 people were killed in the riot, and forty were injured. This is considered one of the most violent riots in the history of England.
After the police and the rioters took to the streets, several magistrates and a peace officer were summoned to the scene to help the toll collectors. These magistrates then ordered the Bridge commissioners to close the toll houses. As they returned to the council-house, they found the crowd growing in number and threatening to burn the toll houses. This prompted the authorities to call the military, which ordered the group to disperse.
Despite the city’s riots, the bridge is still one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. It is also the site of many significant events, from the 1932 Bristol unemployment benefit riot to the 1980s riots in St. Paul’s, a district populated with a large Afro-Caribbean community.
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