The Littleport riots started at the Co-op

PUBLISHED: 11:51 30 March 2006 | UPDATED: 13:20 04 May 2010

OBSERVANT shoppers in Littleport will know that the Co-Op there is on the site of a former inn called The Globe. The reason that this is of importance and why there are two plaques attached to the building, is that this is the very place where the Little

OBSERVANT shoppers in Littleport will know that the Co-Op there is on the site of a former inn called The Globe.

The reason that this is of importance and why there are two plaques attached to the building, is that this is the very place where the Littleport Riots started.

As I explained last week, the plight of the farm labourers at this point in history was dire due to recession, unemployment and low pay and food riots had taken place in the local vicinity. In Littleport, as in other towns and villages, benefit clubs had been set up by the labourers to help those in need. Around 50 or 60 members of this club met in The Globe on the evening of May 22.

Those present, were well aware of the disturbances that had happened in the weeks and days before; indeed they were waiting for some of the men who had rioted in nearby Denver and Southery. Aggrieved that the local landowner, Henry Martin, was unaffected by the financial deprivations suffered by the local labourers and fuelled with ale, they decided to forget the men of Southery and Denver, who had not shown up and to have 'a fray to ourselves'.

A man called Cornwall went to get a horn from a local lighterman and went around the town blowing it, gathering a crowd of several hundred people, who followed him back to The Globe. The mob armed themselves with pitchforks, clubs, guns and any other weapon to hand and took to the streets. They broke the window of Mingey's shop and threw the contents of Mr Clarke's shop into the street. Joshua Dewey, a retired farmer, refused to give them any money so they broke into his house and smashed all of the furniture and seized 100 guineas.

The Revd Vachell appeared and read the Riot Act (passed in 1715 it stated that it was a serious crime for 12 or more people to refuse to disperse within an hour). They would not listen to the vicar and continued going from house to house, destroying the contents of homeowners who refused to give them money.

They then reached the home of Henry Martin and his grandmother, Mrs Waddelow. The 'gallant' Henry did 'a runner' out of the back door when he saw the mob approaching, leaving his poor grandmother and her visitor, Mrs Cutlack, to fend for themselves. Poor Mrs Cutlack was relieved of £3, and the house was ransacked. As the mob left they told the two women that they would kill Henry Martin if they laid hands on him. It was probably quite sensible of him to have disappeared!

Their attention then turned to the vicarage. Unable to have stopped the mob the Revd Vachell, the town magistrate as well as vicar, had rather foolishly returned home. He was waiting for the mob armed with a pistol and threatened to "blow the brains out" of the first man to try and gain access to the house. Three men soon overpowered him, relieving him of the gun before he could shoot the crowd then surged into the vicarage destroying everything in their wake.

Luckily for the Revd Vachell and his family, the mob was more intent on destroying his property and they were able to escape. The decided to head for Ely and at Portly Hill they met a horse and carriage and persuaded the driver to take them to the city to raise the alarm.

The mob continued in their rioting and looting and at one point even held up a carriage passing through the town from Downham Market. Eventually the mob returned to The Globe, encouraged by the fact that they had met no opposition, they decided to set their sights on Ely. At the head of the crowd was a horse and cart, taken from a Mr Tansley, mounted with two two- metre long punt guns!

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