Report on 1854 disturbances resulting from bread price rises. Extracted from contemporary newspaper coverage by John Heal.
On 14 January 1854 The Western Times contained a lengthy report on disturbances in the normally peaceful town of Crediton. Devon had been suffering from an extremely severe winter and the previous week the paper had reported that “the weather continues intensely cold, the snow has continued falling for the last three or four days and in some places it is many feet deep.”
The disturbances took place on the evening of Friday 6 January when snow was laying on the ground and there was obvious hardship among the population. The paper reported that “large groups of persons (chiefly women) were parading the streets nearly the whole day begging.” The population of the town was apparently generous to these beggars, with J. W. Buller (of Downes) in particular noted as providing relief for more than 100 of them. Another Exeter Newspaper The Flying Post also reported that there were a number of navvies employed on the North Devon Railway who were in town because they were unable to work due to the bad weather.
The trouble started at about six o’clock at St. Lawrence Green where a small group of discontent persons had assembled, and threats had been issued against the local bakers for raising the price of bread. This group at first began shouting and throwing snowballs, but as the number of the crowd increased the situation became more violent. They first attacked the shops of Mr Thomas Hodge and Mrs Herring breaking at least 35 panes of glass in the first shop and 8 in the other. They then moved on to Mr Simon Lee’s shop in “Narrow-street” where the worst of the violence seems to have occurred. The newspaper account suggests that the mob “partially demolished” the building “breaking every pane of glass in the front of the house and in the partition between the shop and kitchen, destroyed the gas-lights and carried away from 140 to 150 loaves of bread, of all sizes.”
By the time they had moved on to “Broad-street” the local inhabitants had begun to organise themselves and the “few constables” had managed to arrest two persons. Damage here was restricted because shop fronts had been shuttered up. However, it was reported that a Mr Nickels, a local butcher, had suffered a cut head due to stones and other missiles thrown by the mob.
The mob then split up and caused havoc around the town. Some went into North Street and damaged the shop of Mr Gribble. Other went on into east Town where they came to Mr William Lee’s shop which was already shuttered up. Unable to attack the shop the mob broke over 30 panes of glass in the front windows of his house. A further group went into Dean St. where the shops of Mr Pinson and Mr Wippell suffered damage. As the paper says “the crowd then dispersed, and went to their homes, apparently satisfied with their evening’s proceedings.” All shops that had been attacked were bakers.
This was not quite the end of the trouble as on the following Saturday morning a large mob assembled at the market. No damage occurred, but several stall holders were sufficiently concerned to cause them not to open for business that day.
The Western Times report ended by stating that the town was now quiet again and there had been no trouble in the intervening week.
Of the two men arrested: Mr Richard Burgoyne was discharged with an admonition, due to lack of evidence against him; and Mr John Hubber, was committed to the County Gaol at Exeter awaiting trial at the next sessions. (His fate is, so far, undiscovered.)
These events did lead to calls for an effective police force in the town. The Western Times, commented: “Neighbouring parishes, with less than half the number of inhabitants, have a police; but Crediton ... has none. This is a great blot on our wealthy parishioners, which, we trust, will be speedily removed.”
The majority of the above comes from the Western Times of 7 and 14 January 1854, but additional information comes from the Exeter Flying Post of 14 January 1854.
I discovered this information whilst doing more general research into 19th century Exeter. There were bread riots in the city on 9th January, and reports said that there had also been trouble in Tiverton, Crediton, and South Devon.
Two areas of note here are, the number of bakers in Crediton, and the lack of an organized police force. (Exeter had their first proper force in the 1840’s, but had to raise a local Borough rate in order to pay it.)