Bristol riots

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The Bristol riots refer to a number of significant riots in the city of Bristol in England.

Bristol Bridge riot, 1793[edit]

In 1794 the populace of Bristol were said to be "apt to collect in mobs on the slightest occasions; but have been seldom so spirited as in the late transactions on Bristol-bridge."[1] The Bristol Bridge Riot of 30 September 1793 began as a protest at renewal of an act levying tolls on Bristol Bridge, which included the proposal to demolish several houses near the bridge in order to create a new access road, and controversy about the date for removal of gates.[2] 11 people were killed and 45 injured, making it one of the worst massacres of the 18th century in England.[3][4]

Queen Square riots, 1831[edit]

The 3rd Dragoon Guards violently suppressing the Bristol Riots of 1831

The Bristol Riots of 1831 took place after the House of Lords rejected the second Reform Bill, which aimed to get rid of some of the rotten boroughs and give Britain's fast growing industrial towns such as Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Leeds greater representation in the House of Commons. Bristol had been represented in the House of Commons since 1295, but by 1830 only 6,000 of the 104,000 population had the vote.[5]

Local magistrate Sir Charles Wetherell, a strong opponent of the Bill, visited Bristol to open the new Assize Courts, on 29 October. He threatened to imprison participants in a disturbance going on outside, and an angry mob chased him to the Mansion House in Queen Square. The magistrate escaped in disguise, although a contemporary history states he escaped over the rooftops,[6] but the mayor and officials were besieged in the Mansion-house.[7][8]

The rioters numbered about 500 or 600 young men and continued for three days, during which the palace of Robert Gray the Bishop of Bristol, the Mansion House, and private homes and property were looted and destroyed, along with demolition of much of the gaol. Work on the Clifton Suspension Bridge was halted and Isambard Kingdom Brunel was sworn in as a special constable.[9]

The mayor, Charles Pinney, requested the assistance of the cavalry as a precaution and a troop of the 3rd Dragoon Guards and a squadron of the 14th Light Dragoons were sent to Bristol under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Brereton. Brereton did not wish to incite the crowd and even ordered the squadron from the 14th out of the city after they had successfully dispersed a crowd. Seeing this as a victory, the riots continued, and eventually Brereton had to call on the 3rd and 14th to restore order and he eventually led a charge with drawn swords through the mob in Queen Square.

Four rioters were killed and 86 wounded, although many more are believed to have perished in the fires set by the rioters, with a total death toll put as high as 500.[6] Along with the commander of the 3rd Dragoons troop, Captain Warrington, Brereton was later court-martialled for leniency, but Brereton shot himself before the conclusion of his trial.[9][10] Approximately 100 of those involved were tried in January 1832 by Chief Justice Tindal.[11] Four men were hanged despite a petition of 10,000 Bristolian signatures, which was given to King William IV.[9] The mayor, Pinney, was tried for negligence but exonerated.[12]

Old Market riot, 1932[edit]

On 23 February 1932, in reaction to the government reducing unemployment benefit by 10 per cent, [13] around 4,000 protestors tried to march down to the city centre, led by the National Unemployed Workers Movement. Throughout the protest, police showed heavy resistance, drawing their batons and deploying mounted police on horseback, which caused retaliation from protestors. This behaviour climaxed with the police baton-charging protesters outside Trinity police station and along Old Market, [14]. Many people, including bystanders, were injured. Gradually over the next five years, unemployment in Bristol reduced and by 1937 just 11,500 people were registered unemployed in the city, contrasted to the 28,000 or so that were registered as unemployed at the time of the riot.

Park Street riot 1944[edit]

The Park Street riot occurred in Park Street and George Street on 15 July 1944. Racial tensions inflamed by earlier incidents, [15] and the racial segregation of GIs both in the UK and abroad, [16] came to a head in Bristol when a large number of black GIs refused to come back to their camps after US Military Police came to end a minor fracas. More MPs were sent, up to 120 policemen, and Park Street was closed off with buses. In subsequent confrontation, an MP was stabbed, a black GI was shot dead, and several others were wounded.[17]

St Pauls riot, 1980[edit]

The St Pauls riot started on 2 April 1980 in the St Pauls district, as a consequence of racial tensions between black members of the community and the police, including concerns over sus laws, poor housing and alienation of black youth.[18] When 20 police officers carried out a raid on the Black and White Café located on Grosvenor Road in the heart of St Pauls, they faced resistance, which escalated into a riot. [19] The riot continued for many hours and caused large amounts of damage including a Lloyds Bank and post office, several fire engines and twelve police cars. Thirty-three people were injured, including 21 policemen and three firemen, and 21 arrests were made, but no one was ever convicted of any crime. [20]

St Paul's riot, 1987[edit]

Clashes with police also occurred in the same area during 1981 and 1986, as the issues that had led to the riot some 7 years previously hung in the air. [21] On the 7th of May 1987, "Avon and Somerset Police organized a large raid in the St Paul's district of Bristol. Almost exactly one year after the 1985 Handsworth riots, 600 police moved into the area to search premises in connection with drugs and drinking offences. The reaction was serious rioting and attacks on police".[22] On the final day of the clash, the 9th May, "2 cops are injured when their patrol car is attacked by stones and other missiles in the third day of disturbances."[23] In 1996 The Independent published an article stating "Inner-city area struggles to lose violent image" [24], but by 2017 not only was the city of Bristol named best place to live in the whole of the UK in March by The Sunday Times, but St Paul’s itself was dubbed fifth ‘coolest’ place to live by The Times the same month. [25]

Hartcliffe, 1992[edit]

On 16 July 1992 a riot occurred in Hartcliffe estate after a father and his son, 32 and 18 years old respectively, who had stolen an unmarked police motorbike were killed in a chase with a police patrol car. The two deceased men were well-known with in the community, while the officers involved were not trained in safe pursuit, and had not followed procedures. Tensions were already high between the authorities and community, as a result of distrust in the police and issues with deprivation in the area. During the disturbance, the breaking news that Hartcliffe had been denied funding from the government's City Challenge Initiative for the second year running, helped to impound this. [26] In total the disturbance lasted for 3 days. Police were attacked and many of the already rundown shops in the Symes Avenue shopping centre were torched, smashed up and damaged.[27] Around 80 or so arrests led to more than 60 people charged and taken through the courts, and the policeman who had swerved his car into the path of the motorbike, was found guilty of causing the two deaths by dangerous driving. [28]

Stokes Croft riot, April 2011[edit]

The contentious Tesco Express was vandalised during the riot..

On the evening of 21 April 2011, immediately before the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, there was a riot on Cheltenham Road in the Montpelier area of Bristol.[29] The night's operation cost around £465,000 and involved 160 officers from 12 different forces, including Avon & Somerset.[30]

The riot followed a raid by police on a squat named Telepathic Heights. A protest ensued, and the police withdrew; however, at 9 pm that evening, riot police blockaded the area and entered the squat. A crowd quickly gathered, with approximately 300 people defending the squat, and a further 1000 caught up in the mayhem. The reason for the operation given by the police was that they held intelligence that petrol bombs were on the premises designated for the Tesco development opposite. The riot eventually died down following the withdrawal of the police, after which the newly opened Tesco was attacked resulting in smashed windows and graffiti.

Local Labour MP Kerry McCarthy criticised the "heavy-handed" behaviour of the police and said that "[a Labour council candidate] was hit by a truncheon and I was shoved out of the way by a policeman at one stage." McCarthy described the riot as "an anti-establishment protest: against capitalism and corporations, similar to what we saw in the march against the cuts in London where Starbucks and banks were targeted."[31]

A second set of riots took place a week later on 28/29 April.[32] Tesco continued to insist that the protests were not fuelled by anti-Tesco feeling (despite opposition from protesters) and that it was only supported by a small handful of protesters.[33]

The Tesco Express reopened on 24 May 2011, causing further peaceful protests during the day.

National riots, August 2011[edit]

Protests had started in Tottenham, London, following the death of Mark Duggan, a local man who was shot dead by police on 4 August.[34] In the early hours of the morning on Tuesday 9 August, it was reported that vandalism and looting occurred in Bristol in response to similar occurring elsewhere in the country.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The New History, Survey and Description of the City and Suburbs of Bristol, or Complete Guide. page 90. Printed, published, and sold by W. Matthews, no. 10 Broad-mead near Union-street, price three shillings. 1794.
  2. ^ Jones, Philip D. (1980). "The Bristol Bridge Riot and Its Antecedents: Eighteenth-Century Perception of the Crowd". The Journal of British Studies. 19 (2): 74–92. doi:10.1086/385756. Archived from the original on 3 April 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2007.
  3. ^ "'Riot!' The Bristol Bridge Massacre of 1793 (audio file)". Bristol Radical History Group. Retrieved 7 March 2007.
  4. ^ Michael Manson, Riot! The Bristol Bridge Massacre of 1793, Past & Present Press, 1998
  5. ^ "Bristol riots". Spartacus Education. Archived from the original on 5 February 2007. Retrieved 7 March 2007.
  6. ^ a b "The terrible Bristol Riots mainly caused by a Hastings Parliamentary Representative". Brett Manuscript Histories of Hastings and St Leonards. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  7. ^ "The Bristol 1832 Reform Bill riots". The Victorian Web. Retrieved 7 March 2007.
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c "Revolting riots in Queen Square". BBC Bristol. Retrieved 7 March 2007.
  10. ^ The Yeomanry Cavalry of Wiltshire. D Marples & Co. 1886.
  11. ^ Trials of the persons concerned in the late riots. Broadmead, Bristol: Philip Rose. 1832.
  12. ^ State Trials (New Series) III
  13. ^ "Eighty-five years on from the Old Market Riots when a 4,000 strong crowd protested over cuts". Bristol Post. Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  14. ^ "Bristol riots: plus ça change". Bristol Culture. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  15. ^, Ray Thomas -. "Riots (2)". Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  16. ^ Nalty, Bernard C. (1 January 1986). Strength for the Fight: A History of Black Americans in the Military. Simon and Schuster, Free Press. pp. 154–157, 228. ISBN 9780029224113.
  17. ^ Wynn, Neil A. (November 2006). "'Race War': Black American GIs and West Indians in Britain During The Second World War". Immigrants & Minorities: Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora. 24 (3): 324–346. doi:10.1080/02619280701337146.
  18. ^ "St Pauls 1980: Was it a riot or an uprising?". Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  19. ^ "The St Paul's Riots 37 years on". Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  20. ^ Dresser, Madge; Fleming, Peter (2007). Bristol: Ethnic Minorities and the City 1000–2001. Victoria County History. Chichester: Phillimore and Company. pp. 146–149. ISBN 978-1-86077-477-5.
  21. ^ "St Pauls 1980: Was it a riot or an uprising?". Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  22. ^ Out of Order? Policing Black People. Routledge Revivals, pps. 35,50.
  23. ^ News From Everywhere. News From Everywhere Chronology, pps.11-12.
  24. ^ "Inner-city area struggles to lose violent image".
  25. ^ "The 7 things that show the gentrification of St Paul's is happening before our very eyes". Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  26. ^ "Regeneration and the Legacy of Thatcherism". Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  27. ^ "Summer 1992 riots in England". Archived from the original on 22 October 2009. Retrieved 13 March 2007.
  28. ^ "Hartcliffe Riots 25 years on - setting the record straight". Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  30. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 2012-10-31.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  31. ^ Bowcott, Owen; Malik, Shiv (22 April 2011). "Bristol riot over new Tesco store leaves eight police officers injured". The Guardian. London.
  32. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  33. ^ "More arrests in Stokes Croft 'Tesco protest'". BBC News. 29 April 2011.
  34. ^ "Riots in Tottenham after Mark Duggan shooting protest". BBC. London. 9 August 2011.
  35. ^ "Shops and cars damaged in Bristol disorder". BBC. London. 9 August 2011.

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