The Birmingham Riots 1791
The Church & King Riots/ The Priestley Riots
Calendar of the Birmingham Riots
Friday 14 July 1791, Bastille Day in the Republic of France, saw the beginning of Birmingham Riots, also known as the Priestley or Church & King Riots. The spark that exploded the keg was a dinner held at Dadley’s Hotel in Temple Row in the town centre. A number of gentlemen met here to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the French Revolution; they were members of a wealthy and non-conformist/ dissenting elite who were dominant in Birmingham, entrepreneurs, industrialists and free-thinkers.
The rioters were traditional Birmingham working men, whose cry was “Church & King”, ironically people of a similar class to those who were instrumental in overthrowing the established order in France. However, it is certain that they were provoked to riot by the influence of members of the Anglican and royalist establishment in the town who feared for themselves and their way of life should an English Revolution ever take place. And at that time, it was by no means uncertain.
For three days gangs attacked the homes of wealthy non-conformist families in and around Birmingham.
Thursday 14 July 1791
3-6 pm: A dinner was held on Bastille Day for 80 supporters of the 1789 French Revolution at Dadleys Hotel, Temple Row. Many of the diners were prominent Birmingham dissenters. Although careful to propose their first toast to Church & King, their names had been published in the local newspaper.
8 pm: Although the diners had departed, a drunken mob of anti-dissenters gathered outside the hotel breaking windows shouting ‘Church & King for ever!’
Some rioters burnt down the New Meeting House in New Meeting Street where Joseph Priestley was the minister. This was later rebuilt as a Unitarian chapel in 1802 which is now St Michael & St Joseph’s RC Church.
The Old Meeting in Philip Street/ Old Meeting Street (roughly the New Street Station forecourt area off Smallbrook Queensway) was also wrecked.
Then the rioters went down Digbeth, up Camp Hill and into the countryside along the Stratford Road to the house of the scientist and dissenting minister, Joseph Priestley at Fair Hill, now Priestley Road, Sparkbrook. Priestley’s wine was drunk and his food eaten, his belongings were stolen, his scientific work destroyed and his house burnt. Priestley subsequently left for New York in 1794 never to return to this country.
Friday 15 July 1791
2 pm: Just outside the town 1000 rioters burnt down John Ryland’s Baskerville House on Easy Hill, Broad Street, formerly John Baskerville’s residence. Some drunken rioters burned with it. Several hundred special constables who had been hastily sworn in by magistrates in St Philip’s churchyard were repulsed by the mob.
Other rioters burnt John Taylor’s Bordesley Hall; William Hutton could see the smole from his home in Washwood Heath.
On the High Street (opposite the junction with New Street) William Hutton’s shop and town house were destroyed including his entire stock of paper and books.
Saturday 16 July 1791
In Peck Lane (now beneath the central part of New Street Station) the town prison in Peck Lane was broken open and the inmates were released.
Meanwhile on Washwood Heath Road William Hutton’s country house, Red Hill was burned.
George Humphrey’s home was Sparkbrook House on the Stratford Road (at Gladstone Road). He had a furniture warehouse here. Although he killed one of the mob with a pistol shot, he was forced to leave and his house was ransacked, though not totally destroyed.
On Balsall Heath, presumably on the Moseley Road, Presbyterian minister, Rev John Hobson’s private boys’ school for 8 dissenting boarders was burned down.
The mob followed the Moseley Road to Moseley Hall. Owned by John Taylor, this was the residence of the elderly dowager Lady Carhampton who was frail and blind. She was allowed to leave with a few belongings after which the mob burned the house down.
And then on to Kings Heath House, now in Kings Heath Park, where John Harwood’s house was also burned.
On Wake Green Road (between St Agnes Road and Billesley Lane) was Thomas Hawkes’ Wake Green House, Joseph Priestley had made his escape from Fair Hill and stayed here. However, his stay was short-lived as this house too was wrecked.
Priestley also sought refuge at William Russells’ Showell Green House on nearby Showell Green Lane. The family had departed for Warstock the previous day, while William stayed with his servants to repel the mob. However, as the gangs of rioters approached Russell’s men saw to their own safety and left. The house was looted and burned down.
Sunday 17 July 1791
The Russells left for the home of one of their old servants, Mrs Cox whose family lived at Warstock some five miles away. They believed they would be safe from the Birmingham rioters at Cox’s Farm (not identified, but quite possibly Warstock Farm off Warstock Lane, now Shorters Avenue and Crest View). However, the rioters soon arrived to eat the fod and drink the beer in the cellars before setting fire to the farm buildings.
The Russells took refuge with a neighbouring tenant at Mr Taverner's house, which was also subsequently destroyed.
Ranting, roaring, drinking, burning, is a life of too much rapidity for the human frame to support. Our black sovereigns had now held it nearly three days and nights, when nature called for rest; and the bright morning displayed the fields, roads, and hedges, lined with 'friends and brother Church-men', dead drunk! There were, however, enough awake to kindle new fires. On Sunday the 17th they bent their course to Wharstock, a single house, inhabited by Mr. Cox, and licensed for public worship, which, after emptying the cellar, they burnt.
from The life of William Hutton including a particular account of the riots at Birmingham in 1791; to which is subjoined, the history of his family written by himself and published by his daughter, Catherine Hutton, published 1816
And then on another mile to Kingswood, 7 miles now from Birmingham where Kingswood Meeting House and manse were burnt along with six houses in Kings Norton.
Other houses partially damaged were
Ladywood House at the junction of Monument Road and Wood Road, the home of Harry Hunt (St John’s Church was built on this site in 1854);
Near Five Ways, Edgbaston, the home of Rev Coates;
Hay Hall at Hay Mills, the home of Joseph Smith.
Dr William Withering’s Edgbaston Hall was saved by the arrival that evening of 64 men of the 15th Regiment of Dragoons who had been force-marched from Nottingham. The troops were welcomed by thousands of people in the town and peace was quickly restored.
However, the troops were billeted in pubs and private houses in the town much to the annoyance of the residents. Permanent Barracks for some 150 men and their horses were built the following year in Ashted on 2ha between Great Brooke Street and Windsor Street as a result of the riots. The barracks survived until the 1930s when the area was redeveloped for council housing as the Ashcroft estate.
William Hutton's Narrative of the Birmingham Riots 1791
A Narrative Of The Riots In Birmingham, July 14, 1791,
Particularly As They Affected The Author.
William Hutton/ Catherine Hutton August 1791
The fatal 14th of July was now arrived, a day that will mark Birmingham with disgrace for ages to come. The laws had lost their protection, every security of the inhabitants was given up, the black fiends of hell were whistled together and let loose for unmerited destruction. She has reason to keep that anniversary in sackcloth and ashes. About eighty persons of various denominations dined together at the hotel. During dinner, which was short, perhaps from three to five o'clock, the infant mob, collected under the auspices of a few in elevated life, began with hooting, crying 'Church and King,' and broke the hotel windows.
As Mr. Chillingworth walked by the hotel early in the afternoon of the 14th, twenty or thirty people were assembled, all quiet: he heard one of the town-beadles say to another, 'This will be such a day as we never saw.' 'Why so?' says Chillingworth. After repeated inquiries, one of them replied, 'the gentlemen will not suffer this treatment from the Presbyterians; they will be put on no longer.' The beadles could not make this remark without having heard hostile expressions fall from the gentlemen, which proves a preconcerted plan.
It was now between eight and nine; the numbers of the mob were increased, their spirits were inflamed. Dr. Priestley was sought for, but he had not dined at the hotel. The magistrates, who had dined at the Swan, a neighbouring tavern, by way of counterbalance, huzzaed Church and King, waving their hats, which inspired fresh vigour into the mob, so that they verily thought, and often declared, they acted with the approbation at least of the higher powers, and that what they did was right. The windows of the hotel being broken, a gentleman said, 'You have done mischief enough here, go to the Meetings.' A simple remark, and almost without precise meaning, but it involved a dreadful combination of ideas. There was no need to say, 'Go and burn the Meetings.' The mob marched down Bull Street under the smiles of magistrates. It has been said that these were compelled to echo the cry of the multitude, but it is not wholly true. While the insurgents were intoxicated with liquor and power, and carried vengeance where they pleased, it was necessary to say as they said, and many persons damned the Presbyterians who were their real friends; but till the New Meeting was condemned, this was far from being the case; every smile, word, or huzza encouraged them. Had the same wish existed to repress, as did to raise them, no mischief had ensued.
The New Meeting was broken open without ceremony, the pews, cushions, books, and pulpit were dashed to pieces, and in half an hour the whole was in a blaze, while the savage multitude rejoiced at the view.
The Old Meeting was the next mark of the mob. This underwent the fate of the New: and here again a system seems to have been adopted, for the engines were suffered to play upon the adjoining houses to prevent their taking fire, but not upon the Meeting House, which was levelled with the ground.
The mob then undertook a march of more than a mile, to the house of Dr. Priestley, which was plundered and burnt without mercy, the Doctor and his family barely escaping. Exclusive of the furniture, a very large and valuable library was destroyed, the collection of a long and assiduous life.
But the greatest loss that Dr. Priestley sustained was in the destruction of his philosophical apparatus, and his remarks. These can never be replaced. I am inclined to think he would not have destroyed his apparatus and manuscripts for any sum of money that could have been offered him. His love to man was great, his usefulness greater. I have been informed by the faculty that his experimental discoveries on air, applied to medical purposes, have preserved the lives of thousands; and, in return, he can scarcely preserve his own.
A clergyman attended this outrage, and was charged with examining and even pocketing the manuscripts. I think he paid the doctor a compliment, by showing a regard for his works, I will farther do him the justice to believe he never meant to keep them, to invade the Doctor's profession by turning philosopher, or to sell them, though valuable; but only to exchange them with the minister for preferment. There may be fortitude in dying for treason, but there is more profit in getting a living by it.
Breaking the windows of this hotel, burning the two Meeting Houses, and Dr. Priestley's, finished the dreadful work of Thursday night. To all this I was a perfect stranger, for I had left the town early in the evening, and slept in the country.
When I arose the next morning, July 15, my servant told me what had happened. I was inclined to believe it only a report: but coming to the town, I found it a melancholy truth, and matters wore an unfavourable aspect, for one mob cannot continue long inactive, and there were two or three floating up and down, seeking whom they might devour, though I was not under the least apprehension of danger to myself. The affrighted inhabitants came in bodies to ask my opinion. As the danger admitted of no delay, I gave this short answer - 'Apply to the magistrates, and request four things: to swear in as many constables as are willing, and arm them; to apply to the commanding officer of the recruiting parties for his assistance; to apply to Lord Beauchamp to call out the militia in the neighbourhood; and to write to the Secretary at War for a military force.' What became of my four hints in uncertain, but the result proved they were lost.
Towards noon a body of near a thousand attacked the mansion of my friend, John Ryland, Esq., at Easy Hill. He was not at the dinner. Every room was entered with eagerness; but the cellar, in which were wines to the amount of 300l., with ferocity. Here they regaled till the roof fell in with the flames, and six or seven lost their lives. I was surprised at this rude attack, for I considered Mr. Ryland as a friend to the whole human race. He had done more public business than any other within my knowledge, and not only without a reward, but without a fault. I thought an obelisk ought rather to have been raised to his own honour, than his house burnt down to the disgrace of others.
About this time a person approached me in tears, and told me 'my house was condemned to fall.' As I had never with design offended any man, nor heard any allegations against my conduct, I could not credit the information. Being no man's enemy, I could not believe I had an enemy myself. I thought the people, who had known me forty years, esteemed me too much to injure me. But I drew from fair premises false conclusions. My fellow-sufferers had been guilty of one fault, but I of two. I was not only a dissenter, but an active Commissioner in the Court of Requests. With regard to the first my sentiments were never rigid. There seems to me as much reason to allow for a difference of opinion as of face. Nature never designed to make two things alike. Whoever will take the trouble to read my works will neither find a persecuting, disloyal, or republican thought. In the office of Commissioner I studied the good of others, not my own. Three points I ever kept in view;: to keep order, do justice tempered with lenity, and compose differences, Armed with power, I have put a period to thousands of quarrels, have softened the rugged tempers of devouring antagonists, and, without expense to themselves, sent them away friends. But the fatal rock upon which I split was, I never could find a way to let both parties win. If ninety-nine were content, and one was not, that one would be more solicitous to injure me than the ninety-nine to serve me.
It never appeared when the military force was sent for, but I believe about noon this day. The express, however, did not arrive in London till the next, at two in the afternoon. What could occasion this insufferable neglect, or why the Riot Act was omitted to be read sooner, I leave to the Magistrates. Many solicitations were made to the magistrates for assistance to quell the mob, but the answer was, 'Pacific measures are adopted.' Captain Archibald, and Lieutenants Smith and Maxwell, of recruiting parties, offered their service; still the same answer. A gentleman asked if he might arm his dependents? 'The hazard will be yours.' Again, whether he might carry a brace of pistols in his own defence? 'If you kill a man you must be responsible.'
About noon also some of my friends advised me 'to take care of my goods, for my house must come down.' I treated the advice as ridiculous, and replied, 'That was their duty, and the duty of every inhabitant, for my case was theirs; I had only the power of an individual. Besides, fifty waggons could not have carried off my stock in trade, exclusive of the furniture of my house; and if they could, where must I deposit it?' I sent, however, a small quantity of paper to a neighbour, who returned it, and the whole afterwards fell a prey to rapine.
All business was now at a stand. The shops were shut. The town prison and that of the Court of Requests were thrown open, and their strength was added to that of their deliverers. Some gentlemen advised the insurgents assembled in New Street to disperse; when one, whom I well knew, said, 'Do not disperse, they want to sell us. If you will pull down Hutton's house I will give you two guineas to drink, for it was owing to him I lost a cause in the Court.' The bargain was instantly struck, and my building fell.
About three o'clock they approached me. I expostulated with them. 'They would have money.' I gave them all I had, even to a single halfpenny, which one of them had the meanness to take. They wanted more, 'nor would they submit to this treatment,' and began to break the windows, and attempted the goods. I then borrowed all I instantly could, which I gave them, and shook a hundred hard and black hands. 'We will have some drink.' 'You shall have what you please if you will not injure me.' I was then seized by the collar on both sides, and hauled a prisoner to a neighbouring public-house, where, in half an hour, I found an ale-score against me of 329 gallons.
The affrighted magistrates were now sitting at the Swan in Bull Street, swearing constables, whom they ordered to rendezvous in St. Philip's Churchyard, 'where they would meet them.' Here the new-created officers, armed with small sticks, waited with impatience, but no magistrates came. They then bent their course without a leader, to New Street, attacked the mob which had been with me most furiously, and in a minute dispersed it. As my house was in the utmost danger, they ought to have stayed to protect it, instead of which they went to guard Mr. Ryland's, nearly burnt down. Here the mob came upon them with double force, took their weapons, totally routed them, maimed several, and killed Mr. Thomas Ashwin.
My son wishing to secure our premises, purchased the favour of Rice, one of the leaders, who promised to preserve his person and property, and assured him that his men would implicitly obey him. Hearing Mr. Taylor's house was in danger, they marched to Bordesley, one mile, to save it, but found another mob had begun to rob and burn it. I could assign no more reason why they attempted Mr. Taylor's property than Mr. Ryland's. No man could cultivate peace and social harmony more. His is the art of doing good by stealth. Offence was never charged against him; but alas, he was a Dissenter. The sons of plunder, and their abettors, forgot that the prosperity of Birmingham was owing to a dissenter, father to the man whose property they were destroying. He not only supplied thousands of that class who were burning his son's house with the means of bread, but taught their directors the roads to invention, industry, commerce, and affluence; roads which no man trod before him. Nay, when the Meeting Houses were fallen, and the Church was falling, even this violent outrage itself was quelled by the vigilence of a Dissenter, Captain Polhill.
Rice and my son, being too late to render any essential service to Mr. Taylor's premises, returned to save our own. But meeting in Digbeth some of our furniture, Rice declared it was too late; that he could have kept off the mob, but could not bring them off. Perhaps the instant view of plunder had changed his sentiments. Meeting a rogue near the Swan with a bundle of paper worth 5l., Rice damned him, and ordered him to lay it down. The rogue instantly obeyed. Rice sat upon it, while my son requested a neighbour to take it in, who refused. He then applied to a second, but received the same answer, and was obliged to leave Rice and the paper to secure his own person.
Rice then joined the depredators in destroying my house and its contents, and the next morning was one of the leaders in burning my house at Bennet's Hill. These facts were proved against him on his trial by the clearest evidence, and yet an alibi was admitted from one who swore he was then drinking a pot of ale with a soldier at a public-house; but, had he sworn he was drinking with the man in the moon, the oath would have been freely admitted.
About five this evening, Friday, I had retreated to my house at Bennet's Hill, where, about three hours before, I had left my afflicted wife and daughter, and had seen a mob at Mr. Jukes's house in my road. I found that my people had applied to a neighbour to secure some of our furniture, who refused; to a second, who consented; but another shrewdly remarking that he would run a hazard of having his own house burnt, a denial was the consequence. A third request was made, but cut short with a No. The fourth man consented, and we emptied the house into his house and barn. Before night, however, he caught the terror of the neighbourhood, and ordered the principal part of the furniture back, and we were obliged to obey.
At midnight I could see from my house the flames of Bordesley hall rise with dreadful aspect. I learned that after I quitted Birmingham the mob had attacked my house there three times. My son bought them off repeatedly; but in the fourth, which began about nine at night, they laboured till eight the next morning, when they had so completely ravaged my dwelling, that I write this narrative in a house without furniture, without roof, door, chimney-piece, window, or window-frame. During this interval of eleven hours, a lighted candle was brought four times, with intent to fire the house, but, by some humane foot, it was kicked out. At my return I found a large heap of shavings, chips, and faggots, covered with about three hundredweight of coal in an under kitchen, ready for lighting.
The different pieces of furniture were hoisted to the upper windows to complete their destruction; and those pieces which survived the fall, were dashed to atoms by three bludgeoners stationed below for that service. Flushed with this triumphant exercise of lawless power, the words, 'Down with the Court of Conscience!' 'No more ale scores to be paid,' were repeated. A gentleman remarked to the grand slaughterers of my goods, 'You'll be hanged, as the rioters were in 1780.' 'O, damn him,' was the reply, 'he made me pay fifteen shillings in the Court of conscience.' This remark was probably true, for that diabolical character which could employ itself in such base work, was very likely to cheat another of fifteen shillings, and I just as likely to prevent him.
Burning Mr. Ryland's house at Easy Hill, Mr. Taylor's at Bordesley, and the destruction of mine at Birmingham, were the work of Friday the 15th.
Saturday the 16th was ushered in with fresh calamities to myself. The triumphant mob, at four in the morning, attacked my premises at Bennet's Hill, and threw out the furniture I had tried to save. It was consumed in three fires, the marks of which remain, and the house expired in one vast blaze. The women were as alert as the men. One female, who had stolen some of the property, carried it home while the house was in flames; but returning, saw the coach-house and stables unhurt, and exclaimed, with the decisive tone of an Amazon, 'Damn the coach-house, is not that down yet? We will not do our work by halves!' she instantly brought a lighted faggot from the building, set fire to the coach-house, and reduced the whole to ashes.
The beautiful and costly mansion of George Humphrys, Esq., was the next victim. He had prepared for a vigorous defence, and would most certainly have been victorious, for he had none but rank cowards to contend with, but female fears overbalanced manly courage. One pistol, charged with powder, sent them away; and though they returned in greater numbers, one blunderbuss would have banished them for ever. His house was sacked, and the internal parts destroyed.
The next sacrifice was the house of William Russell, Esq., at Showell Green. He had prepared men, arms, ammunition, and a determined resolution for defence; but, finding his auxiliaries rotten, he gave up his house and its contents to the flames.
The house of Thomas Russell, Esq., and that of Mr. Hawkes, at Moseley-Wake Green, were the next attacked. They were plundered and greatly injured, but not burnt. To be a Dissenter was a crime not to be forgiven, but a rich Dissenter merited the extreme of vengeance.
Moseley Hall, the property of John Taylor, Esq., and inhabited by Lady Carhampton, mother to the Duchess of Cumberland, was not to be missed. Neither the years of this lady, being blind with age, nor her alliance to the Crown, were able to protect it. She was ordered by the mob to remover her furniture, and told, if she wanted help, they would assist her; but that the mansion must not stand. She was therefore, like Lot, hastened away before the flames arose, but not by angels.
As riches could not save a man, neither could poverty. The mob next fell upon a poor, but sensible Presbyterian parson, the Rev. John Hobson, of Balsall Heath, and burnt his all.
From the house of Mr. Hobson, the intoxicated crew proceeded to that of William Piddock, at King's Heath, inhabited by an inoffensive blind man, John Harwood, a Baptist; and this ended their work on Saturday the 16th, in which were destroyed eight houses, exclusive of Mr. Coates's, which was plundered and damaged.
Some of the nobility, justices, and gentlemen arrived this day, sat in council, drank their wine, harangued the mobs wished them to desist, told them what mischief they had done, which they already knew; and that they had done enough, which they did not believe; but not one word of fire-arms, a fatal proof that pacific measures were adopted. To tell a mob 'They have done enough,' supposes that something ought to have been done. A clear ratification of part at least of their proceedings.
On this day some curious advertisements appeared. I shall insert one or two for the dastardly spirit they exhibit; another for its singular composition.
'Birmingham, July 16, 1791.
'FRIENDS AND FELLOW COUNTRYMEN, - It is earnestly requested that every true friend to the Church of England, and to the laws of his country, will reflect how much a continuance of the present proceedings must injure that church and that King they are intended to support, and how highly unlawful it is to destroy the rights and property of any of our neighbours. And all true friends to the town and trade of Birmingham, in particular, are intreated to forbear immediately from all riotous and violent proceedings, dispersing and returning peaceably to their callings, as the only way to do credit to themselves and their cause, and to promote the peace, happiness, and prosperity of this great and flourishing town.'
'Birmingham, Sunday, July 17, 1791.
'Important Information to the friends of Church and King.
'FRIENDS AND BROTHER CHURCHMEN, - Being convinced you are unacquainted that the great losses which are sustained by your burning and destroying of the houses of so many individuals will eventually fall upon the county at large, and not upon the persons to whom they belonged, we feel it our duty to inform you that the damage already done, upon the best calculation that can be made, will amount to upwards of One Hundred Thousand Pounds! The whole of which enormous sum will be charged upon the respective parishes, and paid out of the rates. We therefore, as your friends, conjure you immediately to desist from the destruction of any more houses, otherwise the very proceedings of your zeal for showing your attachment to your church and King will eventually be the means of most seriously injuring innumerable families, who are hearty supporters of government, and bring on an addition of taxes, which yourselves and the rest of the friends of the Church will feel a very grievous burthen.
'This we assure you was the case in London, when there were so many houses and public buildings burnt and destroyed in the year 1780, and you may rely upon it will be the case on the present occasion.
'And we must observe to you that any farther violent proceedings will more offend your King and country than serve the cause of him and the Church.
'Fellow Countrymen, as you love your King, regard his Law, and Restore Peace.
'GOD SAVE THE KING.'
Inquiries were made every moment, 'When will the military arrive to defend us?' but not one thought occurred of defending ourselves. Such is the infatuation of the mind, and such the consequence when mobs are masters.
With regard to myself, I felt more resentment than fear; and would most willingly have made one, even of a small number, to arm and face them. My family, however, would not suffer me to stay in Birmingham, and I was, on Saturday morning, the 16th, obliged to run away like a thief, and hide myself from the world. I had injured no man, and yet durst not face man. I had spent a life in distributing justice to others, and now wanted it myself. However fond of home, and whatever were my comforts there, I was obliged, with my family, to throw myself upon the world without money in my pocket.
We stopped at Sutton Coldfield, and as we had no abode, took apartments for the summer. Here I fell into company with a clergyman, a lawyer, a country squire, and two other persons, who all lamented the proceedings at Birmingham, perhaps through fear, they being in its vicinity, and blamed Dr. Priestley as the cause. I asked what he had done? 'He has written such letters! Besides, what shameful healths were drank at the hotel.' As I was not at the dinner, I could not speak of the healths; but I replied, 'If the Doctor, or any one else, had broken the laws of his country, those laws were open to punish him, but the present mode of revenge was detested even by savages.' We left our argument, as arguments are usually left by disputants, where we found it.
I asked the people at the Castle Inn whether they knew me. They answered in the negative. I had now a most painful task to undergo. 'Though I have entered your house,' said I, 'as a common guest, I am a desolate wanderer, without money to pay or property to pledge.' The man who had paid his bills during sixty-eight years must have been sensibly touched to make this declaration. If he had feelings, it would call them forth. Their countenance fell on hearing it. I farther told them I was known to Mr Robert Bage, a gentleman of the neighbourhood, whom I would request to pay my bill. My credit rose in proportion to the value of the name mentioned. Myself, my wife, son, and daughter passed the night at the Castle at Tamworth. We now entered upon Sunday, the 17th. I rose early, not from sleep, but from bed. The lively sky and bright sun seemed to rejoice the whole creation, and dispel every gloom but mine. I could see through the eye of every face that serenity of mind which I had lost.
As the storm in Birmingham was too violent to last, it seemed prudent to be near the place, that I might embrace the first opportunity of protecting the wreck of a shattered fortune. We moved to Castle Bromwich.
Ranting, roaring, drinking, burning, is a life of too much rapidity for the human frame to support. Our black sovereigns had now held it nearly three days and nights, when nature called for rest; and the bright morning displayed the fields, roads, and hedges, lined with friends and brother Churchmen dead drunk. There were, however, enough awake to kindle new fires. On Sunday, the 17th, they bent their course to Wharstock, a single house, inhabited by Mr. Cox, and licensed for public worship, which, after emptying the cellar, they burnt.
Penetrating one mile farther, they arrived at Kingswood Meeting House, which they laid in ashes. This solitary place had fallen by the hand of violence in the beginning of George the First, for which a person of the name of Dollax was executed, and from him it acquired the name of St. Dollax, which it still bears. He was the first person who suffered after passing the Riot Act.
Three hundred yards beyond, they arrived at the parsonage-house, which underwent the same fate.
Perhaps they found the parish of King's Norton too barren to support a mob in affluence; for they returned towards Birmingham, which, though dreadfully sacked, yet was better furnished with money, strong liquors, and various other property. King's Norton is an extensive manor belonging to the king, whose name they were advancing upon the walls, whose honour they were augmenting by burning three places of worship in his manor, and by destroying nine houses, the property of his peaceable tenants.
The Wedensbury colliers now assembled in a body, and marched into Birmingham to join their brethren under Church and King; but, finding no mob in the town, they durst not venture upon an attack, but retreated in disappointment. As they could not, however, return with a safe conscience without mischief, they attacked Mr. Male's house, at Belle Vue, six miles from the town; but he, with that spirit which ought to have animated us, beat them off. While I was hidden at Castle Bromwich, a gentleman sent up his compliments and requested admission. We appeared personal strangers. He expressed a sorrow for my misfortunes, and observed, in the course of our conversation, 'that as I was obliged to leave home abruptly, and had uncertainty before me, perhaps I was not supplied with a sufficiency of cash; that he was returning from a journey, and had not much left, but that what he and his servant had was at my service, and tomorrow he would send him with whatever sum I should name.' Surprised at so singular a kindness, which I could neither merit nor expect, I requested the name of the person to whom I was indebted for so benevolent an act. He replied, 'John Finch, banker, of Dudley.' Those generous traits of character fictitiously ascribed to heroes of romance were realized in this gentleman. With sorrow I read in the public papers, in December following, the death of this worthy man, whom I never saw before or after. I could not refrain from going to take a view of my house at Bennet's Hill, above three miles distant from Castle Bromwich. Upon Washwood Heath I met four waggons, loaded with Lady Carhampton's furniture, attended by a body of rioters, with their usual arms, as protectors. I passed through the midst of them, was known, and insulted, but kept a sullen silence. The stupid dunces vociferated, 'No popery! Down with the pope!' forgetting that Presbyterians were never remarkable for favouring the religion of that potentate. In this instance, however, they were ignorantly right; for I consider myself a true friend to the roman catholic, and to every peaceable profession, but not to the spiritual power of any; for this, instead of humanizing the mind, and drawing the affections of one man towards another, has bound the world in fetters, and set at variance those who were friends.
I saw the ruins yet burning of that once-happy spot, which had for many years been my calm retreat - the scene of contemplation, of domestic felicity - the source of health and contentment. Here I had consulted the dead, and attempted to amuse the living. Here I had exchanged the world for my little family.
Perhaps fifty people were enjoying themselves upon those ruins where I had possessed an exclusive right, but I was now viewed as an intruder. The prejudiced vulgar, who never inquire into causes and effects, or the true state of things, fix the idea of criminality upon the man who is borne down by the crowd, and every foot is elevated to kick him. My premises, laid open by ferocious authority, were free to every trespasser, and I was the only person who did not rejoice in the ruins. It was not possible to retreat from that favourite place without a gloom upon the mind, which was the result of ill-treatment by power without right. This excited a contempt of the world.
Returning to Castle Bromwich, the same rioters were at the door of the inn, and I durst not enter. Thus the man who, for misconduct, merited the halter, could face the world; and I, who had not offended, was obliged to skulk behind hedges. Night came on. The inhabitants of the village surrounded me, and seemed alarmed. They told me it was dangerous to stay among them, and advised me, for my own safety, to retreat to Stonnal. Thus I found it as difficult to procure an asylum for myself as, two days before, I had done for my goods. I was avoided as a pestilence; the waves of sorrow rolled over me, and beat me down with multiplied force; every one came heavier than the last. My children were distressed. My wife, through long affliction, ready to quit my own arms for those of death; and I myself reduced to the sad necessity of humbly begging a draught of water at a cottage! What a reverse of situation! How thin the barriers between affluence and poverty! By the smiles of the inhabitants of Birmingham I acquired a fortune; by an astonishing defect in our police I lost it. In the morning of the 15th I was a rich man; in the evening I was ruined. At ten at night on the 17th I might have been found leaning on a mile-stone upon Sutton Coldfield, without food, without home, without money, and, what is the last resort of the wretched, without hope. What had I done to merit this severe calamity? Why did not I stay at home, oppose the villains at my own door, and sell my life at the dearest rate? I could have destroyed several before I had fallen myself. This may be counted rash; but unmerited distress like mine could operate but two ways - a man must either sink under it or become desperate.
While surrounded by the gloom of night, and the still greater gloom which oppressed the mind, a person seemed to hover about me who had evidently some design. Whether an honest man or a knave gave me no concern; for I had nothing to lose but life, which I esteemed of little value. He approached nearer with seeming diffidence, 'Sir, is not your name Hutton?' 'Yes.' 'I have good news. The light-horse, some time ago, passed through Sutton, in their way to Birmingham.' As I had been treated with nine falsehoods for one truth, I asked his authority. He replied, 'I saw them.' This arrival I knew would put a period to plunder. The inhabitants of Birmingham received them with open arms, with illuminations, and viewed them as their deliverers.
We left the mob towards evening on Sunday the 17th returning from King's Norton. They cast a glance upon the well-stored cellar, and valuable plunder, of Edgbaston Hall, the residence of Dr. Withering, who perhaps never heard a Presbyterian sermon, and yet is as amiable a character as he who has. Before their work was completed, the words lighthorse sounded in their ears; when this formidable banditti mouldered away, no soul knew how, and not a shadow of it could be found.
Exclusive of the devastations above-mentioned, the rabble did numberless mischiefs. The lower class among us, long inured to fire, had now treated themselves with a full regale of their favourite element. If their teachers are faithful to their trust, they will present to their idea another powerful flame in reversion.
Next morning, Monday the 18th, I returned to Birmingham to be treated with the sad spectacle of another house in ruins. Every part of the mutilated building declared that the hand of violence had been there.
My friends received me with joy; and though they had not fought for me, they had been assiduous in securing some of my property, which, I was told, 'had paved half the streets in Birmingham.'
Seventeen of my friends offered me their own houses; sixteen of them were of the Established Church, which indicates that I never was a party man. Our cabinets being rifled, papers against Government were eagerly sought after; but the invidious seeker forgot that such papers are not in use among the Dissenters. Instead, however, of finding treasonable papers I mine, they found one of my teeth wrapped in writing paper, and inscribed 'This tooth was destroyed by a tough crust July 12, 1775, after a faithful service of more than fifty years. I have only thirty-one left.' The prize was proclaimed the former property of a king, and was conducted into the London papers, in which the world was told, 'that the antiquaries had sustained an irreparable injury; for one of the sufferers in the late riots had lost a tooth of Richard the Third, found in Bosworth Field, and valued at 300l.'
Some of the rioters absconded. A thousand might have been taken if taking had been the fashion, but the taker had every obstacle to encounter. As their crimes glared in the strong light of the sun, or rather the fire, the actors were generally known, and the proofs full. Fifteen were committed. Their trials were a mere farce, a joke upon justice and truly laughable. It is a common remark, that 'a man will catch at a twig to save his life;' but here the culprit had no need to seek for a twig, he might be saved by a straw, a thread, or even by the string of a spider. Every assistance was thrown out, and every one was able to bring a rioter out of danger.
The Solicitor of the Treasury was sent from London to conduct the trials of the rioters. He treated me with civility, and said, 'If Mr. Ryland and I would go to his lodgings at Warwick next Sunday morning at ten, he would show us a list of the jury, and we should select twelve names to our satisfaction.' I thanked him, and took the journey accordingly. Upon perusing the list, I was surprised to find they had but ONE sentiment. I returned the paper with an air of disappointment. 'They are all of a sort,' said I, 'you may take which you please.' At that moment John Brooke, the true blue church and King's man, and the attorney employed against the sufferers, entered, and as silently as if he had listened behind the door. He had, no doubt, fabricated the list. We instantly retreated.
Rice's case has been mentioned. Another was saved, because he went to serve the sufferer. Whenever the offender procured a character, and one may be picked up in every street, he was sure to be safe. The common crier rang his bell while Mr. Ryland's house was in flames, to call on the mob; but at the trial 'he did it to call them off.' Another was charged with 'pulling down and destroying,' but as the house was afterwards burnt, it was wisely inferred 'he could neither pull down nor destroy that which was burnt.'
It was proved against Hands, 'that he tore up Mr. Ryland's floor and burnt it;' but he got clear by another attesting that there was no floor. Careless stole the pigs, which every one believed, but he was acquitted by his sister swearing that 'he drove them out to save them.' Watkins escaped, because the evidence could not tell the number of the rioters. Four witnesses, perfectly clear and consistent, accused Whitehead, but he was acquitted by the evidence of one only, James Mould, who denied all they had said, and observed, 'that Whitehead did all he could to save my property.' The real fact was, I hired Mould, with nine others to guard my house at Bennett's Hill, on Friday night. When the riots were over, he was the man who informed against Whitehead as a ringleader, described his person, name, trade, and place of abode; consequently was the sole cause of his being taken. If, however, he swore him into danger, he was allowed to swear him out. How the Court looked, and how the jury felt when facts were set aside, and oaths and characters too their place, I leave to those who were present to decide. . . .Three criminals were executed; Cook for destroying the house of Mr. Russell; Field for that of Mr. Taylor; and Green for Dr. Priestley's. Mr. Russell would have solicited a pardon for Cook, but found his character so notoriously bad, that there was no ground for his plea. Those of Field and Green are better known to others than myself; they were represented as infernals let loose among men. The world will be apt to draw this conclusion, None were executed for the riots.
Although the public are in possession of the toasts drunk at the hotel, I shall subjoin them, that the people both in and out of Sutton may judge how far they were shameful. The company, out of respect to monarchy, had procured from an ingenious artist three figures, which were placed upon the table. One, a fine medallion of the king, encircled with glory, on his right an emblematical figure, representing British Liberty; on the left, another representing Gallic Slavery breaking its chains. These innocent and loyal devices were ruinous; for a spy, whom I well know, was sent into the room, and assured the people without, 'that the Revolutionists had cut off the king's head, and placed it on the table.' Thus a man with a keen belief, like one with a keen appetite, is able to swallow the grossest absurdities.
1. The King and Constitution.
2. The National Assembly and Patriots of France, whose virtue and wisdom have raised twenty-six millions from the meanest condition of despotism, to the dignity and happiness of freemen.
3. The majesty of the People.
4. May the Constitution of France be rendered perfect and perpetual.
5. May Great Britain, France, and Ireland unite in perpetual friendship; and may their only rivalship be the extension of peace and liberty, wisdom and virtue.
6. The rights of man. May all nations have the wisdom to understand, and courage to assert and defend them.
7. The true friends of the Constitution of this country, who wish to preserve its spirit by correcting its abuses.
8. May the people of England never cease to remonstrate till their parliament becomes a true national representation.
9. The Prince of Wales.
10. The United States of America; may they for ever enjoy the liberty which they so honourably acquired.
11. May the revolution in Poland prove the harbinger of a more perfect system of liberty extending to that great kingdom.
12. May the nations of Europe become so enlightened as never more to be deluded into savage wars by the ambition of their rulers.13. May the sword never be unsheathed but for the defence and liberty of our country; and then, may every one cast away the scabbard till the people are safe and free.
14. To the glorious memory of Hampden, Sidney, and other heroes of all ages and nations, who have fought and bled for liberty.
15. To the memory of Dr. Price, and all those illustrious sages who have enlightened mankind in the true principles of civil society.16. Peace and goodwill to all mankind.17. Prosperity to the town of Birmingham.
18. A happy meeting to the friends of liberty on the 14th of July, 1792.
The sum total of the above toasts amounts to this, a solicitude for the perfect freedom of man, arising from a love to the species. If I were required to explain the words freedom and liberty in their full extent, I should answer in these simple words, that each individual think and act as he please, provided no other is injured.
We have now taken a concise view of the rise and progress of a species of punishment inflicted on innocence, which would have been insufferable for the greatest enormities; and with a tear I record the sorrowful thought that there appeared afterwards no more repentance on one side than there had been faults on the other.
End of the narrative of the riots of July, 1791.
Written in August that year.
The Riots at Birmingham, July 1791 - a Pamphlet
For the images above, see the descriptions at the bottom of this page.
The present work consists of an exact Reprint of a Pamphlet published shortly after the Riots; also of Witton’s Views of the Ruins, with their accompanying descriptions. The Views have been transferred to stone, (by Mr. FREDERICK GREW, of Birmingham,) from the original mezzotint plates, which are still preserved; and for the free use of which the Publisher is indebted to H.W. TYNDALL, ESQ.
The following additional particulars may perhaps be interesting.
OLD MEETING HOUSE – This, most likely, was the first Dissenting place of worship erected in Birmingham. The congregation probably dates as far back as the Act of Uniformity; but, being illegal, their devotions had to be performed in secret, and we have no record of them until 1672, when, in consequence of an indulgence, they were allowed to have a licensed room, - the situation of which is now, however, unknown. The first Meeting House (of which the small View at the head of this Preface is a representation) was built in the year 1689, the date of the passing of the Toleration Act. On July 16th, 1715, a mob, said to be inflamed by the eloquence of that zealous and fiery bigot, Dr. SACHEVERELL, attacked the Meeting House and destroyed nearly the whole of the interior by fire; as also the Meeting Houses at West Bromwich, Dudley, Oldbury, Cradley, and Bradley. In 1743, a portion of the congregation, adopting Calvinistic principles, separated from their fellow worshippers and built themselves a Meeting House in Carr’s Lane, a spot now rendered memorable by the 54 years’ pastorate of the Rev. J. A. JAMES. The Old Meeting congregation remained undisturbed till the Riots of 1791; their quaint and humble place of worship having lasted more than 100 years. The present Building was commenced 1792 and completed 1796.
Ministers of the Old Meeting House: - W. Turton, 1686 to 1716; D. Greenwood, 1700 to 1730; E. Broadhurst, 1714 to 1730; D. Mattock, 1732 to 1746; J. Wilkinson, 1739 to 1756; W. Howell, 1746 to 1770; S. Clark, 1756 to 1769; R. Scholefield, 1772 to 1799; N. Nichols, 1779 to 1784; J. Coutes, 1785 to 1801; R. Kell, 1801 to 1821; J. Corrie, 1817 to 1819; S. W. Browne, 1819 to 1821; H. Hutton, 1822 to 1850; C. Clarke, 1850 present Minister.
NEW MEETING HOUSE – In 1692 the second Presbyterian Meeting House was opened, under the name of the Lower Meeting House, by some of the Members of the Old Meeting Congregation, who separated in consequence of doctrinal differences, in a spot still bearing the name of the Meeting House Yard. Like the other it was attacked in 1715; the mob, however, sparing the walls, on a promised being made by the landlord (it was not the property of the congregation) that it should be put to other uses. The building, of which a portion yet remains, has since been used as a workshop. The congregation, thus compelled to removed, purchased in 1727 for £40 a piece of land about 32 yards by 20, situated on the northern side of a narrow lane now called New Meeting Street; here by erected the New Meeting House, which was opened April 1732. In 1764 the Trustees purchased, for £225, the three houses and land which were between the building and Moor Street; the houses were removed, and an open space obtained in front of the Meeting House. The celebrated Dr. JOSEPH PRIESTLEY was appointed a pastor of the place in 1780, and remained so till 1791, when he was driven away by the disgraceful proceedings of that year. During the re-building of the Old and New Meeting Houses both congregation worshipped together in a Chapel in Livery Street, (on part of the site now occupied by Billing’s Printing Office,) which they designated the Union Meeting House. The register of the New Meeting House having been lost, the Society could not recover damages from the Hundred; but, after much delay, obtained £2,000 from the Government towards the erection of the new building, which was opened July 22nd, 1802, to accommodate 1,200 persons. The strip of land in New Meeting Street adjoining the Meeting House was purchased in 1808, for a term of 500 years, for £400; here the school buildings were subsequently erected. Some of the members of the congregation desiring the place of worship and the schools to be removed nearer Edgbaston, several meetings were held in 1857 and 1858 to decide upon the subject; and in this latter year, on October 12th, at a meeting of the seat-renting members, held at Twelve o’clock at noon, it was determined that the “chapel and schools” should be “removed” to Broad Street. By a very small majority the resolution was carried – “That the Trustees be requested to take such measures for disposing of the present chapel, schools, and property in New Meeting Street as may appear to them expedient; and that the Committee now appointed be authorized to give such consent, on the part of the Congregation, to all legal measures for effecting such sale, or for appropriating the purchase monies to accrue therefrom, towards the new chapel and schools, as may be deemed necessary by the Trustees, or by the Court of Chancery, if it shall be found expedient to apply to that Court.”
The New Meeting House was privately sold to a Roman Catholic congregation in or about August, 1861, for £3,500; and the last Unitarian Service was conducted there on Sunday, December 29th, 1861. The site in Broad Street, previously referred to, consists in the right of building over the canal at the corner of St. Peter’s Place; and there an elegant Gothic church and school rooms have been built, which were duly opened on New Year’s Day, 1862, under the name – “Church of the Messiah.” To this building the memorial tablets of Priestley and others have been removed. The closing and sale of the New Meeting House caused much regret to many members of the congregation. Its central situation, large size, and the populous neighbourhood in which it situated, combined to make it a most desirable place for a mission chapel and schools; while is associations with Priestley rendered the area in front of it the most fitting site for a statue of that noble man, - noble alike for his learning, his religion, and his moral virtues, - of whose unflinching devotion to what he believed to be the truth of God, we feel assured, Birmingham will yet make a public recognition.
Ministers of the New Meeting House: - Sillitoe, 1692 to 1794; Thomas Pickard, 1705 to 1747; Samuel Bourn, 1732 to 1754; Samuel Blyth, 1747 to 1791; William Hawkins, 1754 to 1780; Joseph Priestley, LL.D., 1780 to 1791; John Edwards, 1791 to 1802; David Jones, 1792 to 1795; John Kentish, 1803 to 1853; Joshua Toulmin, D.D., 1804 to 1815; James Yates, M.A., 1817 to 1825; John Reynall Wreford, 1826 to 1831; Samuel Bache, 1832, present Minister of the Church of the Messiah.
Every obstacle was place in the way of the sufferers from the Riots claiming redress. The loss of some persons was much greater that their claim, and, to add to the injustice of the case, two years were suffered to elapse before the sums awarded were paid over. The following are the amounts claimed by and allowed by each: -
John Taylor, Esq. – Claim, £12,670 9s. 2d.; allowed, £9,902 2s. Thomas Russell, Esq. – Claim, £285 11s. 7d.; allowed, £100. William Piddock – Claim, £556 15s. 7d.; allowed, £300. John Harwood – Claim, £143 12s. 6d.; allowed, £60. Thomas Hawkes – Claim, £304 3s. 8d.; allowed, £99 15s. 8d. – Cox – Claim, £336 13s. 7d.; allowed £254. Parsonage House – Claim, £267 14s. 11d., allowed, £200. St. Dallax – Claim, £198 8s. 9d.; allowed, £139 17s. 6d. William Russell, Esq. – Claim, £1,971 8s. 6d.; allowed, £1,600. John Ryland, Esq. – Claim, £3,240 8s. 4d.; allowed, £2,495 11s. 6d. Old Meeting – Claim, £1,983 19s. 3d.; allowed, £1,390 7s 5d. George Humphreys, Esq. – Claim, £2,152 13s. 1d.; allowed, £1,855 11s. Dr. Priestley – Claim, £3,628 8s. 9d.; allowed, £2,502 18s. Thomas Hutton – Claim, £619 2s. 2d.; allowed, £619 2s. 2d. William Hutton – Claim, £6,736 3s. 8d.; allowed, £5,390 17s. Total Claims, £35,095 13s. 6d. Total allowed, £26,961 2s. 3d.
The altered condition of the buildings and the changes in the names of places render it difficult for those not well acquainted with the localities to discover the sites of the houses wholly or partially destroyed at the Riots. The following particulars will perhaps help the curious in this matter: -
Old Meeting House, Old Meeting Street, rebuilt. New Meeting House, now called St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church, corner of Moor Street and New Meeting Street, rebuilt. Dr Priestley’s House, Sparkbrook, very little altered. Moseley Hall, much altered. Mr Humphrey’s, Sparkbrook, very little altered. Mr Hutton’s Town House, Hutton Place, 25, High Street, much altered. Mr Hutton’s Country House, Saltley, little altered. Bordesley Hall, (John Taylor, Esq.) Regent’s Park, Bordesley, pulled down, no remains. Baskerville House, (John Ryland, Esq.) Attwood’s Passage, Easy Row, top of Great Charles Street, the house itself little altered externally, but the surroundings very much so. Mr Russell’s, Showell Green, no remains. Edgbaston Hall, rebuilt, much altered. The Rev. Mr. Hobson’s, at Balsall Heath, internally destroyed, but restored. Mr Harwood’s (the property of Mr Piddock,) in the lane leading from the road between Moseley and Moseley Wake Green to King’s Heath, totally destroyed, but rebuilt. Dollax Chapel (now called Kingswood Chapel) and Parsonage, Kingswood Green, Hollywood, Alcester Road, rebuilt.
FREE CHRISTIAN SOCIETY – A large number of the Teachers of the late New Meeting Boy’s Sunday School, impressed with the importance of continuing their work in the populous and ignorant neighbourhood, where for upwards of 70 years they and their predecessors had done a large amount of good, determined, on the announcement of the removal, to remain working in that locality; more especially as the school buildings in St. Peter’s Place would not accommodate many more than two-thirds of the number of pupils then attending the New Meeting Schools. An effort to retain the old building proved unsuccessful. The Teachers then formed themselves into a body, called for the sake of distinction, “The Free Christian Society” and on September 7th, 1861, after a liberal Subscription among themselves, they issued a public appeal for aid to enable them to establish a Sunday School, as near as possible to the old place. Their appeal has been so far responded to, as to justify them in renting a convenient house at 117, New Canal Street, which was opened on January 5th, 1862, for the purposes of a Sunday School, (now attended by upwards of 150 pupils,) public religious worship, lectures, tract distribution, &c., &c., in all of which God has given them abundant success. Further help is yet needed, especially to provide a larger room for the services, lectures, &c., and for a girls’ school. Any profits arising from the sale of the present publication will be devoted to this object.
AN AUTHENTIC ACCOUNT OF THE DREADFUL RIOTS IN BIRMINGHAM, OCCASIONED BY THE CELEBRATION OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, On the 14th July, 1791, WHEN THE PROPERTY OF THE INHABITANTS WAS DESTROYED TO THE AMOUNT OF Four Hundred Thousand Pounds.
Extracts from a Number of Private as well as Public Letters. A faithful Copy of Dr. PRIESTLEY’S Letter to the Inhabitants of Birmingham; also of the Hand Bill signed and distributed under the Direction of LORD AYLESFORD and several of the Inhabitants; of the Inflammatory Hand Bill distributed previous to the Revolution Dinner; and a Letter from W. RUSSELL, Esq. wherein is a more accurate Relation of the Proceedings at the Hotel, than is given in any other Account whatever.
London: Published by H. D. SYMONDS, No. 20, PATER-NOSTER-ROW. 1791. [Price One Shilling]
THE EDITOR’S ADDRESS TO THE PUBLIC.
IN whatever Light the late Proceedings in Birmingham may be viewed, whether as a Struggle to preserve from Danger the Privileges of the Church, or as an envenomed Mob, enraged by the party Spirit of the Times, it is of the most serious and alarming Consequence to the Inhabitants of this Country. If, in the first Instance, it be viewed as tending to preserve unmolested the Rights and Privileges of the Church, it must naturally strike every reasonable Mind, that the Proceedings of a Mob could not in any manner effect that Purpose; nor is it a rational Thought that a Religion so pure as that of the Church of England can admit of any Persecution: and if it be taken upon the latter Ground, every one must be convinced, that, had a more speedy Exertion been adopted, in procuring the Military, the Ravages committed would, in some Measure, have been prevented much earlier than they were by the Mode pursued.
The Editor, not bigotted to either Party, hopes the following Pages will meet with the Satisfaction of the Readers, as he has selected them with the utmost impartiality, and introduced those Accounts only which he conceives are of undeniable Authenticity. He has only to add, that he does not in any Manner wish to pass his Opinion upon Political Differences, but wishes every man to follow the Dictates of his own Conscience, and sincerely hopes that Birmingham may continue in that Peace and Tranquillity, Unity and Prosperity, for which it has been distinguished so considerable a Time. The Editor therefore humbly submits the following Pages to the perusal of a free People.
July 25, 1791.
AN AUTHENTIC ACCOUNT OF THE RIOTS AT BIRMINGHAM ON THE 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th of JULY, 1791.
ANNIVERSARY meetings, in commemoration of the French Revolution, have been declared to be highly dangerous to the peace of this country, the inhabitants of which differ, in point of constitutional ideas, as widely from the democrates of Paris, as it is possible for contrariety of opinion to separate into two distinct forms of Government.
Flushed with the spirit of republicanism, and the victory which democracy had gained over monarchy in France, the too warm friends of that Revolution, in this country, entertained an idea that there was a probability of setting the people of England against their Sovereign, and of overturning the Constitution of the Empire.
For this purpose the most inflammatory pamphlets and advertisements have been dispersed throughout every part of Great Britain, and agents employed to ripen the lower orders of the people into an open aversion to the present system of government; and, to crown the whole, it was determined to have public feasts on the 14th of July, 1791, in the metropolis, and in the most populous and flourishing towns of the kingdom, as marks of veneration for, and approbation of, the Revolution in France.
An act so prejudicial to the constitution, and so subversive of the happiness and welfare of the public, became the subject of general animadversion; and as the great body of the people loved their King, it was natural to suppose that some decisive indignation would manifest itself against such measures; and sorry are we to add that, by accounts from Birmingham, it appears, that the loyal spirit of the numerous inhabitants of that great manufacturing town broke forth with the greatest violence, and fell with uncommon fury on those who were celebrating the anniversary of the new Government in France.
A public meeting, it seems, had been announced to commemorate the 14th of July at the Hotel in Temple Row, Birmingham, to which a number of persons repaired.
The consequence of this was, that in the evening every window in the hotel was smashed to pieces, but not before the company, in defence of their lives, had withdrawn in the best manner they could. It was in vain that the magistrates and peace officers attempted to stop the fury of the public, such feeble resistance only served to add vigour to their conduct, and push them forward to greater vengeance. They proceeded from the Hotel to Dr. Priestley’s conventicle, in powerful force, and having first torn down the pulpit, they then gutted the building, and setting fire to its furniture, made a triumphant bonfire of the whole. Not content, however, with reducing the desks, seats, pews, & c. to ashes, they demolished the building, and left not a stone of it unturned.
Whilst this was going forward, a detachment proceeded to the Doctor’s dwelling house at Fair Hill, which they razed to the ground, burning all his philosophical apparatus, his library and furniture. Fortunately the Doctor had made his escape a few minutes before their arrival, which so incensed the people (who certainly meant to sacrifice him) that they had an effigy made as nearly to resemble his figure, as the time would permit, and after hanging it up in the most ignominious manner, it was burned to ashes, amidst the shouts and acclamations of near then thousand people.
The old Meeting House was also burned, and the walls fell in about eleven o’clock; and at that time the New Jerusalem Meeting House it was thought would share the same fate, as well as the private houses of several of the leading revolution dinner men.
One private house, belonging to Mr Ryland, who was at the dinner, was pulled down. It was the house formerly inhabited by Mr Baskerville.
During the whole of those transaction, the populace continually shouted, “God save the King.” – “Long live the King, and the Constitution in Church and State.” – “Down with all the abettors of French Rebellion – Church and King.” – “Down with the Rumps.” – “No Olivers.” – “No false Rights of Man.”
To endeavour to appease this tumult, Lord Aylesford, at the head of several hundred respectable persons, marched to Dr Priestley’s house, and prevailed upon the persons assembled there to disperse; and it was thought his Lordship, who is much respected, would be able to stop this universal destruction of the property, and perhaps the lives of those it belonged to. All was tumult; - all was apprehension. There was no knowing where the fury of an enraged multitude might stop.
Several inflammatory and treasonable hand bills, respecting the glory of the Revolution in France, were distributed on the morning of the 14th in every part of Birmingham. We have collected them for the perusal of our readers, and shall give them with the other occurrences. The following is a copy of the first and principal one that was distributed.
The second year of Gallic liberty is nearly expired: at the commencement of the third, on the 14th of this month, it is devoutly to be wished that every enemy to civil and religious despotism, would give his sanction to the majestic common cause, by a public celebration of the Anniversary.
Remember that on the 14th of July, the Bastile, that high alter and castle of despotism, fell!
Remember the enthusiasm, peculiar to the cause of liberty, with which it was attacked!
Remember that generous humanity that thought the oppressed groaning under the weight of insulted rights, to save the lives of the oppressors!
Extinguish the mean prejudices of nations! And let your numbers be collected, and sent as a free-will offering to the National Assembly.
But, is it possible to forget that your Parliament is venal; your Minister hypocritical; your Clergy legal oppressors; the Reigning Family extravagant; the Crown of a Great Personage too weighty for the head that wears it; too weighty for the people who gave it; your taxes partial and oppressive; your representatives a venal junto upon the sacred rights of property, religion and freedom?
But, on the 14th of this month, prove to the sycophants of the day, that you reverence the olive branch; that you will sacrifice to public tranquillity till the majority shall exclaim – “The Peace of Slavery is worse that the War of Freedom! – Of that day let Tyrants beware!”
No man, of honest principles, can read this without shuddering at the dreadful scene it was meant to realize? Rebellion is featured on its countenance, and republicanism centred in its bosom. But we shall forbear to make any further comments on the unfortunate business at present, and endeavour to put the public in possession of every fact relative thereto, by giving the extracts of all the different public letter received from Birmingham, as well as the private ones communicated to the Editor, and shall commence with the following, which we conceive contains the fullest account, though not the earliest in point of date.
Extract of a Letter from Birmingham.
“Birmingham never experienced so much distress. The mob have been marking and pulling down houses the whole day, and the riot is greater than ever. Unless some soldiers arrive early to-morrow morning, we are in very great apprehension that every dissenter’s house in Birmingham will be destroyed, and with them, no doubt, many other houses which were never intended.
The following is a list of the principal houses only that have been set on fire and pulled down. This list does not include those of inferior note, which have been pillaged by the populace, the number of which amounts to near one hundred:
Old and New Meeting House.
Mr Hawkes’s, jun. Mosely.
Dr. Priestley’s, at Fair Hill.
Rev. Mr. Coutts’s, at the Five Ways.
Mosely Hall, a very magnificent building, just out of the Town, belonging to the Duchess of Cumberland.
Mr. Humphrey’s, at the Turnpike.
Mr Hutton’s Town and Country Houses.
The Town and Country Houses of –Taylor, Esq. one of the Partners of the Birmingham Bank.
Rev. Mr Hobson’s, Balfol Heath.
Mr Ryland’s, Five Ways.
Mr Russell’s, Shovel Green.
Mr Harwood’s, King’s Heath, and
Mr Ryland’s house, which has been burnt down, was set fire to on account of his son’s having assisted in the escape of Dr. Priestley, whom the mob have pursued in different directions. Should the Doctor not be able to elude their vigilance, it is much to be apprehended that they will murder him, as he is considered the mischievous author of all the treasonable hand bills that have been circulated about the town, and which first produced the riot.
The mob have carried on their designs with a degree of system which it is almost incredible to suppose. Had they even received regular orders for their conduct, they could not have been more systematic in their proceedings. Not a house but what belongs to a dissenter has been pulled down.
The methodists, and followers the late Countess of Huntingdon, have all been protected. In the beginning of the riots the mob went to some of their houses, and questioned them concerning the doctrines which they professed, and on their declaring for Church and King, they assured that they should remain unmolested. The church people walk about as usual, without the smallest apprehension of danger.
The hotel belonging to Dadley, where the Revolutionist dined, has been only damaged by the windows being broken, the mob refusing to pull it down, because he was a churchman.
Mr Humphreys, whose house at the turnpike was pulled down, offered the mob four thousand, and afterwards eight thousand, guineas, if they would desist; but they declared that money was not their object, and that they pulled down his house because they considered him as a principal person concerned in the inflammatory hand bills. He is a very principal merchant in the town, and a gentleman much esteemed in his private character.
The town was extremely quiet during church time on Sunday; but no sooner was the morning service over than the riots recommenced. About sixty more houses are marked down for destruction. Among these every meeting house in the town. Dr. Withring, a dissenter, and first physician in the town, has had his house pulled down. The mob amount to about ten thousand.
The manner in which the houses are attacked, is by first sending in boys to break open the doors, and the leader of the mob then follow. At nine o’clock it was computed that the damage already done amounted to two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Those which we have mentioned belong only to the principle persons.
The colliers in the neighbourhood of Westerby, and other adjoining villages, joined the mob; but the latter did not seem willing to have their assistance, and drove them out of the town, giving as a reason, that theirs was a just cause, and that they would not join with any rabble whose object might only be plunder.
No business of any sort is transacted. About sixty of the mob have been killed, besides a number of people on both sides much wounded. The dissenters have all of them fled from the town in the utmost consternation.
Birmingham, Friday, July 15
Ten o’Clock in the Morning.
The meeting at the hotel yesterday, to celebrate the French Revolution, was not so numerously attended as the friends to it expected. Eighty gentlemen only dined at the hotel, all of whom departed soon after five o’clock. The mob, that had began to assemble before, now commenced hostilities, by breaking all the windows of the hotel; and from thence paraded to Dr. Priestley’s Meeting House, which they set fire to. Another party, at them same time, set fire to the Old Meeting House; and both these places were soon burnt to the ground. Some adjoining houses took fire by accident, and were also consumed.
The mob then went to Dr Priestley’s dwelling house, at Fair Hill, about a mile and a half on this side of Birmingham, which they completely gutted, burnt the inside, all his furniture, books, manuscripts, and philosophical apparatus, and drank out all his wines, & c. They are at this moment pulling the next house down.
The mob now get valiant, and swear that Priestley’s man here must come down. In short, the whole place is in the utmost confusion.
Three o’Clock in the Afternoon
Since my last, the following houses have been pulled down, and the furniture removed and burnt; viz Messrs. Ryland’s, (late Baskerville’s,) Humphreys’ and Taylor’s. All these gentlemen are dissenters, and men of great property.
The house of Mr. Humphreys, which is near Dr. Priestley’s, was admired as an elegant structure, but now is a heap of ruins.
Lord Aylesford come into town this morning, and harrangued the mob. What his Lordship said appeared at first to have a good effect, and they promised him and the magistrates that they would disperse peaceably. They did not, however, keep their words, but increased in numbers, and become more riotous. We dread the night as we have no military with us.
This instant a large party of gentlemen, on horseback, are going to endeavour to save Mr Ryland’s house, or his furniture; but it is now known they are too late.
Six o’Clock in the Evening.
The rioters being divided into parties, and mediating the destruction of several other houses, about three o’clock in the afternoon, consternation and alarm seemed to have superseded all other sensations in the minds of the inhabitants; business was given over, and the shops were all shut up. The inhabitants were traversing the street in crowds, not knowing what to do, and horror was visible in every countenance.
About half past three the inhabitants were summoned by the bell-man to assemble in the New Church Yard. Two magistrates attended in an adjacent room, and swore in several hundred constables, composed of every description of inhabitants, who marched away to disperse the rioters, who were beginning to attack the house of Mr. Hutton, paper merchant, in the High Street. This was easily effected, there being not more than half a dozen drunken wretches then assembled on the spot.
From thence they proceeded to disperse the grand body, who were employed in the destruction of Mr Ryland’s house. On entering the walls which surround the house, then all a blaze, a most dreadful conflict took place, in which it is impossible to ascertain the number of the wounded. The constables were attacked with such a shower of stones and brickbats as it was impossible to resist. The rioters then possessing themselves of bludgeons, the constable were entirely defeated, many of them being much wounded. One person was killed, but of which party it is not yet known.
Eleven o’Clock at Night
The mob being now victorious, and heated with liquor, every thing was dreaded. Several attempts were yet made to amuse them, but in vain. They exacted money from the inhabitants; and at ten o’clock at night, they began and soon effected the destruction of Mr. Hutton’s house, in the High Street, plundering it of all its property.
From thence they proceeded to the seat of John Taylor, Esq. banker. There five hundred pounds were offered them to desist, but to no purpose, for the immediately set fire to that beautiful mansion, which, together with it superb furniture, stables, offices, green-house, hot-house, & c. are reduced to a heap of ruins.”
Birmingham, Saturday, July 16.
In the forenoon the following hand-bill was distributed:
Birmingham, July 16, 1791.
Friends and Fellow Countrymen!
“It is earnestly requested, that every true friend to the Church of England, and to the laws of his country, will reflect how much a continuance of the present proceedings must injure that Church and that King they are intended to support; and how highly unlawful it is to destroy all the rights and properties of any of our neighbours. And all true friends to the town and trade of Birmingham in particular, are entreated to forbear immediately from all riotous and violent proceedings, dispersing and returning peaceably to their trades and callings, as the only way to do credit to themselves and their cause, and to promote the peace, happiness, and prosperity of this great and flourishing town.
God save the King!”
Robert Lawley, jun,
Henry Greswold Lewis,
Twelve o’Clock at Noon.
The hand-bill has not produced the salutary effects which were wished.
This moment Mr Hutton’s country house, about two miles from Birmingham, is on fire. Universal despondency has taken place. People of all professions are moving their goods, some to places of private security, others into the country. Plunder is now the motive of the rioters. No military force is nearer than Derby, and nothing but military force can now suppress them.
Eight o’Clock in the Evening.
The rioters are now demolishing the beautiful house of Mr. George Humphreys, and that of William Russell, Esq. a little further on in the Oxford road. The shops are still kept shut up, and not military are yet arrived. Dreadful depredations are expected in the course of this night! The remains of several poor wretches, who had got drunk, and were burnt to death in Mr. Ryland’s cellar, have been dug out; one so much burnt, that he was recognized only by the buckle in one of his shoes. What could be collected of his remains have been just taken away in a basket. Another has been brought from the ruins of Doctor Priestley’s house, who is supposed to have been killed by a fall of some of the buildings.
The people who demolished Mr Humphrey’s house, laboured in as cool and orderly a manner as if they had been employed by the owner at so much per day.”
A gentleman who left Birmingham at the about hour, for the purpose of coming to town, mentioned, that the mob was increasing every hour; and that all the houses above-mentioned were entirely destroyed. Many of the mob had fallen a sacrifice to their own misconduct; near twenty of them, quite drunk, were buried under the ruins of a house by the walls falling in. One poor wretch was found with his legs burnt off, and a bottle of spirits or wine in each pocket.
A great number of the mob were lying in a state of the most insensible drunkenness on the green, and in other places near where they committed their depredations.
Several houses were at this time marked out for destruction; no opposition whatever was made to these riots. The town’s people seemed to be so panick-struck, as to be capable of no exertion. An officer in Birmingham, offered to head any number of the inhabitants, and endeavour to repel the mob, but could not prevail upon them to make the attempt.
No troops had arrived. The mob detained the mail-coach a full hour, but permitted it then to depart unmolested. Such was the state of Birmingham at that time.
Birmingham, Sunday, July 17.
Eleven o’Clock in the Morning.
No military is yet arrived. Last night the people of Birmingham were trembling spectators of the tremendous conflagration of Mosley Hall, the Property of John Taylor, Esq. but in occupation of Lady Carhampton.
Fortunately Lady Carhampton, who is blind, was removed to a place of safety, by Sir Robert Lawley, who took her to his own carriage to Canwell.
About two this morning a most awful scene presented itself! four dreadful fires within a mile each other! It is certain that the house of William Russell, Esq. and that of Mr Hawks of Mosley, have shared the fate of Mosley Hall.
The following hand-bill was distributed, but without its intended effect.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION TO THE FRIENDS OF THE CHURCH AND KING.
Birmingham, Sunday, 17th July, 1791.
Friends and Fellow Churchmen,
“Being convinced you are unacquainted that the great losses, which are sustained by your burning and destroying of the houses of so many individuals, will eventually fall upon the country at large, and not upon the persons to whom they belong, we feel it our duty to inform you, that the damages already done, upon the best computation that can be made, will amount to upwards of One Hundred Thousand Pounds; the whole of which enormous sum will be charge upon the respective parishes, and paid out the rates.
We, therefore, as your friends, conjure you immediately to desist from the destruction of any more houses; otherwise the very proceedings which your zeal for shewing your attachment to the Church and King have excited, will inevitably be the means of most seriously injuring innumerable families, who are hearty supporters of Government; and must bring on an addition of Taxes, which yourselves, and the rest of the Friends of the Church, will for years feel a very grievous burden.
This we assure you was the case in London, when there were so many houses and public buildings burnt and destroyed in the year 1780; and, you may rely upon it, will be so here on the present occasion.
And we must observe to you, that any further violent proceedings will more offend your King and Country, than serve the cause of Him and Church.
As you love your King, regard his Laws, and restore Peace.
God save the King!”
Robert Lawley, jun,
Henry Greswold Lewis,
W. Wallis Mason.”
Fires are perceptible in different parts of the country, where no doubt the property of the dissenters become the fuel.
Many manuscripts, of Doctor Priestley’s writing, lie scattered near his later house. Report says that a bond of annuity from Earl Shelburn, (now Marquis of Lansdown,) for 300l. a year to the Doctor, was found; but this I cannot aver as fact.
Some pamphlets, of an inflammatory nature, and a private printing press, being said to be found in the house of Mr Russell, were the cause of its being burned. Indignation, and not plunder, appears to be the governing principles of the populace. “Long live the King, and God protect our Constitution,” is constantly exclaimed: and when a house is pulled down, the cry is “so Perish all Enemies of Great Britain.
The house of Mr Hobson, a Presbyterean Parson, and the dwellings of Messrs. Budd, Hawkes, Harwood, and a farm-house in the neighbourhood of Mosley, were also demolished. These persons were marked as principal applauders of the French Revolution.
The dungeon in Pick Lane, and the prison of the Courts of Requests, has lost their inhabitants during the bustle of Saturday.
Business begins to go on, and we suppose all will soon but quiet.
There is a system of regularity established in the vengeance of the public, that seems most wonderful. No house is plundered by having the goods conveyed away. Whatever is condemned perishes by the flames; and where the house belongs to a dissenter, and the furniture to a churchman, notice is sent to have the goods removed, and that, in such removal, assistance shall be sent, and not article taken clandestinely away.
This was the case at Mosley Hall, the seat of Lady Carhampton, mother to the Dutchess of Cumberland. The people sent her notice to remove her goods, and if she had not persons sufficient, they would give proper assistance. The goods were accordingly removed, and the house burned.
The house was spacious; and the conflagration appeared from the town most tremendous. The fury of the mob being directed against this fine building, did not proceed from any hatred to the Lady, but because it was the property of Mr. Taylor, who other houses have been burnt down.
About sixty of the mob have been killed, besides a number of people on both sides much wounded. The Dissenters have all of them fled from the town in the utmost consternation, and most of them are gone to Wolverhampton and Kidderminster.
Nine o’Clock at Night
The rioters have been all day busy in the country. Dollox Chapel, five or six miles from Birmingham, and Sorhole Mills, are said to have been this day burnt to the ground.
We are more alarmed at present than ever, as most damage, the mob declares, shall be done this night and to-morrow. This mob, I suppose, consists of about 2000 men at least, and they have parties joining them every hour. We hope to have some military soon here, but when they will come cannot be ascertained.
The damage already done is supposed to amount to at least 80,000l. out of which John Taylor, Esq. has lost 25,000l.
Application has been made to various houses in this town for fire-arms, by people from Bromsgrove.
Quarter past Ten
A few light horse, and some foot soldiers, are just past through the High-street. Universal rejoicing.
The rioters, however, are not entirely suppressed; large parties of them are in the country, and are supposed to be continuing their mischief. The troops which first arrived could not pursue them, because their presence was necessary in the town. It is, however, reported, that they are gone to Edgebaston Hall, where we hope they will be pursued, and put to flight.
Three Quarters past Ten
The town is completely illuminated.
An amazing multitude of people are parading the streets.
Birmingham, Monday, July 18
Eight o’Clock in the Morning.
Hay Hall, the house of Mr Smith, is said to be have been burnt down last night.
The soldiers, about sixty-four in number, marched directly to the yard of the Swan Hotel, where they reposed themselves on straw all night.
The bankers, perceiving early that the rioters were likely to reach their houses, and make a distribution of the cash and notes in their possession, took care, in time, to move all the convertible property, and lodge it in safety, before the moment of seizure and plunder came upon them and their property.
Dr Priestley has been singled out as the personal object of popular rage and resentment; and so eager have the mob been in pursuit of him, that, hearing he was retired to what he had considered a place of safety, at three miles distance from the town, they went there deliberately to search for him.
Among the instance of provoking folly, exercised here, which may be considered as having led to the present disturbances, was the affixing a printed bill to one of the churches, bearing the words, “this barn to be let, being of no farther use.” This naturally excited the indignation of the friends to episcopacy against the dissenters, and thence the latter have been single out as such marked objects of unqualified vengeance.
The mob, with a wonderful method in their madness, pull down all the houses they mark as objects of destruction, and fire those which they determine to destroy in the country, where there is not so much danger of the flames communicating mischievously.
They threaten the possessions of Mr. Spry, at Bewdley, who is a relation to Mr Taylor, the chief victim of the outrages at Birmingham. It is thought they will afterwards proceed to Kidderminster, about twenty-nine miles distant, which is crowded with Dissenters.
They have formed themselves into two divisions: one to demolish the Dissenters houses in town, and the other those in the environs.
They have precluded all carriages from passing and repassing, unless the coachman agree to wear blue cockades. The mail coaches are not excepted.
There is a total stagnation of business, and the shopkeepers are using every effort to secure their property.
Several thousand colliers at Dudley, Woodside, and Wedsbury, having received their weekly wages, proceeded to Birmingham, and joined the rioters; and as these places are known to contain about ten thousand people of that description, it is believed the devastations will be dreadful. It is apprehended the whole town will be laid in ashes.
The colliers have got intoxicated, and have sworn that in a few hours 4000 more will join them, messengers having been dispatched to various places to desire their attendance.
The gaols have been broke open, and all the prisoners liberated.
Ten o’Clock in the Morning.
Another party of light horse, about twenty in number, is this moment come in from Litchfield.
Edgebaston Hall was certainly in the most imminent danger last night at nine o’clock; and though many gentlemen exerted themselves prodigiously to preserve it, it is believed it certainly would have been destroyed, but for the report of the arrival of the military.
One o’Clock in the Afternoon.
Soldiers are continually coming into town, and it appears now that the town of Birmingham will be pretty secure, though the country is still exposed to the fury of the mob.
Three Quarters past One o’Clock
The rioters have not yet returned to this place. We hope the news of the military having arrived will deter them from further mischief, otherwise a number of lives must be lost.
Business now goes on as usual, but great mischief is still apprehended in the country.
Upon the appearance of the military, the populace were struck with universal consternation, and for a considerable time remained insensible of the danger to which they were exposing themselves. At length, however, the magistrates, and some of the principal gentlemen of the neighbourhood, explained to them the illegality of their proceedings, and informed them of the immediate and subsequent consequences thereof, which had the desired effect; they dispersed in several small parties, and left the town in possession its former tranquillity.
Before the magistrates made this sensible and humane effort, the enraged people had broke open several sword manufactories, and armed themselves completely for defence; but the representations were so judiciously made, and so powerfully back, as to induce submission.
The losses sustained by the individuals whose property have been destroyed, is estimated at near 400,000l. sterling.
Five o’Clock in the Afternoon.
Amidst such confusion, it is hardly possible to collect any thing with exact precision. It is some satisfaction, however, to be able to say, that Mr Budd’s house has escaped with little injury; and that Hay Hall and Sorhole Mills, though damaged, are not demolished.
At Hay Hall, a party of Mr Smith’s friends defeated the mob, and took five prisoners; but, after some time, were obliged to suffer them to be liberated, and betake themselves to flight.
The streets are filled with an amazing concourse of people, but they all seem to be peaceable spectators. The military are endeavouring to disperse them, but in vain. The 15th regiment of light dragoons left Nottingham on Sunday morning, at ten o’clock, and arrived here about ten o’clock in the evening; distance about fifty-four miles.
People have so crouded about the light horse, that one boy has been trampled on, and is just taken to the hospital.
Large bills are stuck up, requesting all peaceable inhabitants to retire to their respective habitations, but to no purpose.
The military from Nottingham marched in Birmingham late last night, and endeavoured to stop the progress of the mob, but were repulsed with the loss of several men, and were obliged to quit the town until they shall be able to re-enter it in greater force. The colliers were very instrumental in the defeat of the military.
Several fellows from all the adjoining villages, whom the hope of plunder had attracted, also contributed much to the general devastation. They now divided into several parties, and threatened the whole town with destruction. Five houses, chiefly belonging to dissenters, which had been previously marked for the purpose, were set on fire, and presented the most awful scene that can be imagined.
All Saturday every shop in the town was shut, and not any business whatever was transacted in any of the manufactories: in short, not only within the town of Birmingham, but the country for some distance round, is in a state of uproar and confusion: no trade or commerce is now carried on in or near the place. The whole town seems threatened with destruction: the repulse of the military has inspired the mob with fresh courage, who were before alarmed at the approach of them: all is anarchy: no man is safe; nor does any one know where this dreadful insurrection will end, unless the most determined measures are taken by the military, who were expected to pour in from all parts in the course of yesterday and this day.
The mob have forced every person in this place to wear blue cockades, and have dressed the mail coach with ribbons of this colour.
Most of the principal inhabitants, especially dissenters, have withdrawn with their families to places of security.”
A private Letter, addressed to a friend of the Editor, relates to the following effect.
“That between Sunday night and Monday morning, a party of the military had arrived; notwithstanding their exertions to stop the disturbances, the rioters had made a very formidable opposition and killed many; that numbers having been soldiers, and in the possession of fire-arms, the troops had suffered a repulse; but having received a considerable reinforcement, they were about to rally, and to renew their attacks against the mal-contents, who were actuated by the greatest fury.
The Letter adds, - “The riots are, if possible, more alarming than those experienced in London in the year 1780; and God alone knows the consequences.”
Extract of a Letter from BIRMINGHAM.
Monday Evening, half past Five o’Clock.
“The tranquillity of this town is in a great degree restored, but apprehensions of a return of the rioters, and the consequences which must naturally result from their meeting with the military, fill every mind with horror. The mob now consists of about eight thousand men, for the most part from the collieries: they are now destroying several houses on the Oxford Road. The have ravaged several villages in the vicinage of this place, in some of which they have been guilty of many cruelties to the poor inhabitants.
A body of soldiers last night arrived here about half past ten: the joy their presence occasioned was quickly demonstrated by a universal illumination. Several considerable reinforcements have arrived this morning; they have hitherto, however continued inactive. To-morrow morning it is expected they will proceed in quest of the rioters, who are now supposed to be destroying Edgebaston Hall, and some other houses in its neighbourhood; it is reported that five houses, Dollox Chapel, and Sorhole Mills are destroyed.”
The following Account we received from a Gentlemen who left BIRMINGHAM late on Monday night. It corresponds with the dispatches received at the SECRETARY of STATE’S OFFICE.
“As soon as it was known this morning, the number of troops that had arrived the preceding evening, the small remains of the rioters, who remained in the town, hastened to apprize their companions of the circumstance. The main body had arrived within a few miles of Bromsgrove Lukey at the time they received this intelligence; they returned towards Birmingham, where they arrived about half past six in the evening, having been joined in their route by several detached parties: they then recommenced their outrages, and continue to commit the grossest excesses at the moment.
The prisoners who were liberated on Saturday, are among the most active of these desperadoes.
The conduct of Lord Aylesford, and several other gentlemen who acted with him, has been marked with the utmost activity, determination, and humanity. In short, it was such as his Lordship has ever taught us to expect, and which the inhabitants of Birmingham will ever remember with gratitude.
It is now rumoured about, that the military are preparing to attack the insurgents. Heaven knows when and where this business will terminate!
Such are the mischiefs of public meetings, which have for their object revolutions of governments generally approveable and approved. Whatever is defective in the legislation and jurisprudence of this country, is daily amending, by the wisdom and rational acquiescence of our rulers; and where the chosen representatives of the people, as is the case in our Parliament, have free opportunity of proposing every thing, nothing that is not in its nature inimical to justice, equity, and humanity, can be refused.”
Birmingham, Tuesday, July 19.
Nine o’Clock in the Morning
The last has been a very peaceble night, and this morning presents the appearance of tranquillity.
On Saturday night, Mr Taylor, after having beheld the destruction of this beautiful seat at Mosley, had engaged a bed to sleep in Birmingham, but, suddenly altering his mind, he wished to go to Worcester. No post-chaise could be got: he at last procured the Litchfield stage to take him there. The mob getting information of this, intercepted the coach on its return, totally destroyed it; and so ill-treated the driver, that the poor fellow is, for the present, totally incapable of business.
Three Quarters past Nine in the Morning
The Bristol mail is this moment arrived. The guard reports, that a few only of the rioters entered Bromsgrove: he heard of no damage done, but that it was reported on the road, that about an hundred were gone to Bewdley.
Labourers have been employed ever since Saturday, in digging out the remains of the poor wretches who, by the fall of the roof, were buried in Mr. Ryland’s cellar. Besides Woodcock, the miserable wretch already mentioned, whose remains were known only by the buckle on one of his shoes, three other have been taken out, one dead, and two alive: one, most frightfully burnt, sat upright on the grass, and said that many more were in the cellar; he was taken to the hospital, but died soon after. The other, a boy, is yet alive in the hospital.
The fires seen from Birmingham, on Sunday, were at the houses of Mr. Harwood, Mr Russell, Mosley Hall, several hay-ricks, a farm-house, Dollox Chapel, (better known by the name of King’s-wood or King’s-heath Chapel,) and some others.
One house, it is reported, has been saved by an ingenious manoeuvre: all the furniture was removed, the sashes and frames taken away, the stone-work round the fire-places, and all the doors removed; so that when the mob came, they were informed that a party of their friends had already done the work, and exhausted the cellar, which the ruinous appearance of the house justified.
Half-past Eleven in the Morning.
The town has been very peaceable and quiet since the troops arrived.
The mob get farther into the country. The report is, that last night they were at Bromsgrove, but I find they did nothing but extort money. They have crossed the country in different divisions, to Northfield, Halesowen, and Bewdley, and are chiefly composed of colliers.
There is a party of dragoons going in search of them. There are no other troops arrived as yet.
At Wolverhampton, yesterday, two men, with blue ribbons in their hats, (the rioters’ mark of distinction), came into the town, singing, “God save the King.” A mob instantly got round them. The constables immediately assembled, and took them to the House of Correction; but the populace would not suffer them to be put into it. The constables then took a post chaise and four and put the two men in it, and drove them to a neighbouring justice.
Our town, thank God, begins to look chearful, and the people get to work again, as you will see by the inclosed hand-bill, circulated by order of the justices, & c. &c.
“The Magistrates request that the manufacturers will immediately open their shops, and set their hands to work, that order and tranquillity may be restored to the town.”
I am happy to contradict the report of Mr. Carpenter’s house being burnt down. The mob in that neighbourhood have not committed any other depredation, than extorting money, and demanding drink, which they have done at the town of Bromsgrove, as well as at Mr. Carpenters’s.
My servant is just come in from Bewdley. He says there is no mob any where on that road; so that the apprehensions of the inhabitants of Kidderminster, Stourbridge, & c. are nearly at an end.
We have not the least doubt of the mob being quickly dispersed, and peace restored to the country, as well as this town. We expect two troops more tomorrow morning, as they are considerably on this side Oxford, on their march hither.
Half past Eight o’Clock at Night.
The mob are at Mr Maule’s near the Leasowes. He had sent here for troops.
I am told another large party are at Mr Key’s, Bewdley.
The town is now pretty quiet; and so it has been ever since Saturday evening. The first rioters seemed to have satiated their revenge, or to have been worn out with fatigue; they retired to sleep in crowds, in barns in the neighbourhood; and some took the road to Bromsgrove, others to Halesowen, and the rest to King’s Heath and King’s Norton.
The depredations had ceased before the military arrived, and therefore happily no struggle between them and the authors of the outrages took place. The five troops of light dragoons have nearly killed their horses by so forced a march; nothing less can be expected of the heavy horse. The Oxford blues never marched so far in so short a time before in cross country roads. Nothing but horse can quell these kind of rioters. Infantry they never regard, though troops of heavy cavalry makes them flee like lightning. Many houses and villa have escaped destruction; though the damage, on the whole, cannot be repaired, it is thought, for less than half a million of money. Shocking to think of! As the country taxes must be much increased to indemnify the sufferers.
We are happy that there now in Birmingham and the neighbourhood, not less than one thousand troops, infantry, and three hundred cavalry; so that we hope peace is fully restored in Warwickshire and Worcestershire.
The following is reported as an extract from a letter found in one of the principal houses destroyed by the mob at Birmingham on Friday last.
I am not apprised that there is the least design of taking any active measures till general circumstances appear more favourable; yet it may be proper to form a body to whom the different parts of the country may look up, by which we may act more in union, and be prepared as occasion may offer.”
The following Letter was sent by Dr Priestley to the Inhabitants of Birmingham, and the Editor doubts not but it will prove highly acceptable to his Readers.
“To the INHABITANTS of the TOWN of BIRMINGHAM.
My late Townsmen and Neighbours,
After living with you eleven years, in which you had uniform experience of my peaceful behaviour, in my attention to the quiet studies of my profession, and those of philosophy, I was so far from expecting the injuries which I and my friends have lately received from you. But you have been misled by hearing the dissenters, and particularly the Unitarian dissenters, continually railed at, as enemies to the present Government, in church and state. You have been led to consider any injury done to us as a meritorious thing; and not having been better informed, the means were not attended to. When the object was right, you thought the means could not be wrong. By the discourses of your teachers, and the exclamations of your superiors in general, drinking confusion and damnation to us, (which is well known to have been their frequent practice,) your bigotry has been excited to the highest pitch; and nothing having been said to you to moderate your passions, but everything to inflame them; hence, without any consideration on your part, or on theirs, who ought to have known and taught you better, you were prepared for every species of outrage; thinking that whatever you could do to injure and spite us, was for the support of government, and especially the church. In destroying us, you have been led to think, you did God and your country the most substantial service.
Happily, the minds of Englishmen have a horror of murder, and therefore you did not, I hope, think of that; though, by your clamorous demanding of me at the hotel, it is probably that, at the time, some of you intended me some personal injury. But what is the value of my life, when every thing is done to make it wretched? In many cases there would be greater mercy in despatching the inhabitants, than in burning their houses. However, I infinitely prefer what I feel from the spoiling of my goods, to the dispositions of those who have misled you.
You have destroyed the most truly valuable and useful apparatus of philosophical instruments that perhaps any individual, in this or any other country, was ever possessed of, in my use of which I annually spent large sums, with no pecuniary view whatever, but only in the advancement of science, for the benefit of my country and of mankind. You have destroyed a library corresponding to that apparatus, which no money can repurchase, except in a long course of time. But what I feel far more, you have destroyed manuscripts which have been the result of the laborious study of many years, and which I shall never be able to recompose; and this has been done to one who never did or imagined you any harm.
I knew nothing more of the handbill, which is said to have enraged you so much, than any of yourselves, and I disapprove of it as much, though it has been made the ostensible handle of doing infinitely more mischief than anything of that nature could possibly have done. In the celebration of the French Revolution, at which I did not attend, the company, assemble on occasion, only expressed their joy in the emancipation of a neighbouring nation from tyranny, without intimating a desire of any thing more than such an improvement of our own constitution, as all sober citizens, of every persuasion, have long wished for. And though, in answer to the gross and unprovoked calumnies of Mr. Madan and others, I publicly vindicated my principles as a dissenter, it was only with plain and sober argument, and with perfect good humour. We are better instructed in the mild and forbearing spirit of Christianity, than ever to think of having recourse to violence; and can you think such conduct as yours any recommendation of you religious principles, in preference to ours?
You are still more mistaken, if you imagine that this conduct of yours has any tendency to serve your cause, or to prejudice ours. It is nothing but reason and argument that can ever support any system of religion. Answer our arguments, and your business is done; but your having recourse to violence, is only a proof that you have nothing better to produce. Should you destroy myself, as well as my house, liberty, and apparatus, ten more persons, of equal or superior spirit and ability, would instantly rise up. If those ten were destroyed, an hundred would appear; and believe me, that the Church of England, which you now think you are supporting, has received a greater blow by this conduct of yours, than I and all my friends have ever aimed at it.
Besides, to abuse those who have no power of making resistance, is equally cowardly and brutal, peculiarly unworthy of Englishmen, to say nothing of Christianity, which teaches us to do as we would be done by. In this business we are the sheep, and you the wolves. We will preserve our character, and hope you will change yours. At all events, we returned you blessings for curses; and pray that you may soon return to that industry, and those sober manners, for which the inhabitants of Birmingham were formally distinguished.
Your sincere well-wisher,
London, July 19 1791.
P.S. The account of the first toast at the Revolution Dinner, in The Times of this morning, can be nothing less than a malicious lie. To prove this, a list of the toasts, with an account of all the proceedings of the day, will soon be published. The first of them was, The King and the Constitution; and they were all such as the friends of liberty, and of the true principles of the Constitution, would approve.”
The following Extract the Editor thinks will be entertaining to the Reader, as it will tend, in some measure, to corroborate the circumstances before advanced.
Extract of a Letter from Evesham, Worcestershire, July 19.
“From the immediate communication between this place and Birmingham, we have news frequently arriving. Our last is, that the riots are entirely quelled, but that the town is still in a ferment. I saw a gentlemen this morning, who was at the fine house of Mr. Taylor, two days before it was consumed: from his description of it, the house must have been one of the most convenient as well as elegant ever seen.
Some of our gardeners were sufferers by the riots; they had no sale for their goods; and two of them had their effects seized by the mob.
As to Dr. Priestley’s house, the loss is irreparable; and it is a melancholy reflection, that what has for a long series of years been collecting with such care and expense, should have fallen a sacrifice to any enraged multitude. No philosopher of Europe has been more industrious in electrical pursuits and experiments than Dr. Priestley. His History of Electricity, a most admirable work, fell with the rest of this valuable library. This work contained many original experiments and observations of his own.
His apparatus was one of the first in Europe: it was an honour to the country. Pity that such a treasure should be lost by a stupid exercise of zeal on account of a foreign country, that has ever been inimical to England, and basely taken advantage of her distresses.
Birmingham, Wednesday, July 20.
Nine o’Clock in the Morning.
The tranquillity which prevailed here yesterday, when the post went out, has not been interrupted. The best supported report yesterday afternoon, concerned the destination of the rioters, was, that they were divided into small parties, and endeavouring, in several parts of the country, to extort money from the defenceless inhabitants.
About nine at night, a messenger arrived at the Swan, acquainting the magistrates, that a strong party of the rioters were in the neighbourhood of Hales-Owen. About ten o’clock, sixteen light-horse, headed by a Worcestershire magistrate, set off in pursuit of them: they found them in the very act of extorting money from Mr. Maule, at Belle Vue, a neat little house near the Leasowes. On the approach of the military, they fled into the fields and hedges in the utmost confusion. Eleven of the ring-leaders were, however, secured in Mr. Maule’s house, and sent to Hales-Owen.
The military had nearly reached Birmingham on their return, when a messenger overtook them with a letter from a magistrate, informing them that one of the prisoners had made his escape, and requesting their return to Hales-Owen, lest the villain, who had escaped, should raise a party, and attempt a rescue in the course of the night. They immediately returned; but having secured their prisoners, they came to Birmingham about one o’clock this morning.
Yesterday the dungeon door, which stood open ever since the riot began, was shut, and several of the rioter taken into custody. The Earl of Aylesford was of the party who went last night to Hales-Owen.
Half past Ten
The 11th regiment of light dragoons is this moment come into town.
The bond mentioned before, is got out of the hands of the barber’s boy, and is now in the possession of Mr. Pearson, Printer, of Birmingham. It is a mistake that this bond secured three hundred a year to Dr. Priestley from the Earl of Shelbourne: it appears to be but one hundred and fifty pounds per annum.
Amidst the confusion on Sunday, a hearse, taking a corpse through the town, had written on both sides, and at each end, the words, “King and Church for ever,” in large characters.
The number of people who moved their effects to save them from plunder, was astonishing. The hospital, the free school, and the workhouse, were considered as the principal asylums of safety.
Several people having moved their plate and light valuables to a small house in the environs of the town, a fellow, on Sunday, having got information of this, applied to the woman of the house, and, in a very peremptory manner, told her he came by order of the magistrates, to take to them all the plate, and other valuables, entrusted to her care. The woman was much intimidated; but fortunately some respectable people coming by, questioned they good gentleman’s authority, and took him into custody.
On Saturday Dr. Priestley, a little disguised, walked from Kidderminster to Worcester, from whence he took the coach for London.
A copy of a letter is handed about here, which causes much conversation: the original is said to have been found in one of the houses burnt by the rioters.
The report that a printing press was found in Mr. Russell’s house, turns out to be unfounded.
Every thing remains quiet here. We have heard of no more parties of rioters since the taking some of those into custody who were at Belle Vue. It is hoped they have now dispersed.”
The EDITOR, for the satisfaction of the Reader, has thought proper to print the following letter from Mr. Russell, an inhabitant of the town of Birmingham, whose property was destroyed during the riots, as before mentioned; giving an account of the manner in which the festivity of the Revolution Society was conducted on the 14th of July.
“Being in London, and seeing in a morning paper of Wednesday the most atrocious calumny that was ever laid before the public, I feel it my duty immediately to contradict it in the most pointed terms. I do therefore declare, that the narrative of the proceedings of the Birmingham Constitutional Dinner, is materially untrue; and that the account given of the first toast is a most flagrant falsehood. The first toast at the meeting in question was the King and Constitution.
The meeting broke up and dissolved without the least riot or disturbance. That the public may judge whether the proceedings of the day, and the toasts, were, or were not, reprehensible, the following true narrative is now produced, the authenticity and truth of which I will vouch for.
The proceedings of the day were preceded by an advertisement in the Birmingham Chronicle, published that morning, of which the following is a copy:
BIRMINGHAM COMMERATION of the FRENCH REVOLUTION.
“Several hand-bills having been circulated in the town, which can only be intended to create distrust concerning the intention of the meeting, to disturb its harmony, and inflame the minds of the people, the gentlemen, who proposed it, think it necessary to declare their entire disapprobation of all such hand-bills, and their ignorance of the authors. Sensible themselves of the advantages of a free government, they rejoice in the extension of liberty to their neighbours; at the same time avowing, in the most explicit manner, their firm attachment to the constitution of their own country, as vested in the three estates of King, Lords, and Commons. Surely no free-born Englishman can refrain from exulting in this addition to the general mass of human happiness. It is the cause of humanity, it is the cause of the people.
Birmingham, July 13, 1791”
In the morning, however, after this was published, many rumours of the probability of a riot were brought to the friends of the meeting; and as there was too much reason to think that means had been used to promote one, they determined to postpone the intended dinner, and accordingly agreed to put it off, and prepared a hand-bill for that purpose, of which the following is a copy:
Intended COMMEMORATION of the FRENCH REVOLUTION.
“The friends of the intended festivity finding that their views and intentions, in consequence of being misconceived by some, and misrepresented by others, have created an alarm in the minds of the majority of the town, and, it is thought, endangered it tranquillity, inform their neighbours that they value the peace of the town far beyond the gratification of a festival, and therefore have determined to give up their intentions of dining at the hotel upon this occasion; and they very gladly improve this renewed opportunity of declaring that they are to this hour entirely ignorant of the author, printer, or publisher, of the inflammatory hand-bill circulated on Monday.”
This was sent to the Printer; but before he had composed it, Mr. Dadley, the master of the hotel, attended, in consequence of having the dinner countermanded; and represented, that he was sure there was no danger of any tumult, and recommended that the dinner might be had as was intended; only proposing, that the gentlemen should take care to break up early, and then all danger would avoided. This measure was then adopted, and orders given to the Printer to suppress the hand-bill. Accordingly there was a meeting of eighty-one gentlemen, inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood, at the great room in the hotel, where they dined, and passed the afternoon with that social, temperate, and benevolent festivity which the consideration of the great event, that has diffused liberty and happiness among a large portion of the human race, inspired.
The following toasts were drank, and were agreeably intermixed with songs, composed and sung by some of the company.
1. The King and Constitution.
2. The National Assembly and Patriots of France, whose virtue and wisdom have raised twenty-six millions from the mean conditions of subjects of despotism, to the dignity and happiness of freemen.
3. The Majesty of the People.
4. May the New Constitution of France be rendered perfect and perpetual.
5. May Great Britain, Ireland, and France, unite in perpetual friendship; and may their only rivalship be the extension of peace and liberty, wisdom and virtue.
6. The Rights of Man. May all nations have the wisdom to understand, and the courage to assert and defend them.
7. The true Friends of the Constitution of this Country, who wish to preserve its spirit, by correcting its abuses.
8. May the people of England never cease to remonstrate, till their Parliament becomes a true National Representation.
9. The Prince of Wales.
10. The United States of America. May they for ever enjoy the liberty which they have so honourably acquired.
11. May the late Revolution in Poland prove the harbinger of a more perfect system of liberty extending to that great kingdom.
12. May the Nations of Europe become so enlightened as never more to be deluded into savage wars, by the mad ambitions of their rulers.
13. May the sword be never unsheathed, but for the defence and liberty of our country; and then may every man cast away the scabbard until the people are safe and free.
14. To the glorious memory of Hampden and Sydney, and other heroes of all ages and nations, who have fought and bled for liberty.
15. To the memory of Dr. Price, and of all those illustrious sages who have enlightened mankind on the true principles of civil society.
16. Peace and good-will to all mankind.
17. Prosperity to the town of Birmingham.
18. A happy Meeting to all the Friends of Liberty on the 14th of July, 1792.
It is but justice to the liberality and public spirit of an ingenious artist of this town to mention, that he decorated the room, upon this occasion, with three elegant emblematic pieces of sculpture, mixed with painting, in a new style of composition. The central piece was a finely executed medallion of his Majesty, encircled with a glory, on each side of which was an alabaster obelisk; one exhibiting Gallic liberty breaking the bands of despotism; and the other representing British liberty in its present enjoyment.
A truly respectable gentlemen, a member of the Church of England, was Chairman. Others of that profession were of the company; nor was a single sentiment uttered, or, I believe, conceived, that would hurt the feelings of any one friend to liberty and good government, under the happy constitution we are blessed with in this kingdom. I aver this to be a true and just representation of the proceedings, which have been so scandalously misrepresented in the paper above-mentioned;
And am, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
London, July 20, 1791.”
Copy of a Letter to the EDITOR, dated Birmingham, July 22, 1791.
“Birmingham is now in the utmost tranquillity. We have a numerous body of guards, and there is not the least mob in any of the streets. Peace seems quite restored, and every one repairs to his respective occupation. The damages done, are in a great manner reduced by a scheme of several friends of those whose houses have been destroyed, by going in along with the mob, and secretly taking those articles that they conceived to be of the greatest importance, which they have since restored to their respective owners.”
We hear from respectable authority, that the inhabitants have received a letter from Lord Hawkesbury, wherein his Lordship mentions that proper counsel, under the direction of the Attorney and Solicitor General, shall be sent, in order to assist the magistrates to make a proper estimate of the various losses.
Such are the most ample accounts the Editor has been able to collect, and shall withdraw for the present, praying that Birmingham may never experience such another dreadful catastrophe.
VIEWS OF THE RUINS OF THE PRINCIPAL HOUSES DESTROYED DURING THE RIOTS AT BIRMINGHAM 1791
The New Meeting.
This edifice, erected in the 1730, was a considerable pile; its walls lofty and substantial; in so much as to have survived the rage of the flames, and the still fiercer and more dangerous fury of the Mob. It was more remarkable for plainness and simplicity than for any uncommon elegance of workmanship, or superb style of decorations; compared, however, with buildings of the same name and date, it had few if any equals in the kingdom. The vestry contained a valuable collection of books, for the use of the society which assembled there. This structure, after having existed upwards of sixty years, was doomed to fall the first sacrifice to the pitiable madness of the refuse of mankind: it was assaulted with incredible fury, and in a few hours reduced to the state of which the plate give an accurate representation. From this place the Mob proceeded to the Old Meeting, which was completely rased to its foundations.
Dr Priestley’s House and Laboratory
After the destruction of the New and old Meeting, which the Mob had demolished with the regularity of workmen employed for the purpose, parties of the Rioters moved off to this house, which they attacked with the most savage and determined fury. This mansion is situated on Fairhill; and, though it belonged to a gentlemen who is deservedly a favourite with the poor, yet, because it was the dwelling of Doctor Priestley, it was doomed to destruction; and had not the Doctor been prevailed upon to retire before the arrival of the wretches who were the instruments of its destruction, it is more than probable (from their expression of the way) he would have fallen a victim to their rage. They began by breaking down the doors and windows; and having entered the cellars, many of them drank to an excess which deprived them of every apparent symptom of life; others, by their repeated draughts of wine and ale, were rendered so quarrelsome, that many battle were fought among themselves. These things proved such an interruption to their business, that it was hoped the Laboratory and its invaluable contents would have been saved; but after the effects of the liquor had subsided, they broke into it, and, in the true spirit of Goths and Vandals, they destroyed an apparatus of philosophical instruments, and a collection of scientific preparations for ascertaining the powers and extending the knowledge of nature, of such number and value, as perhaps no individual except Dr. Priestley could have been deprived, in any age or country. At length the whole building was set on fire, and left by the rioters, many of whom were heard to express the bitterest regret, mingled with the most savage malignity, at being disappointed of their prey*. One man was killed on the spot, by falling of a cornice stone.
* Dr. Priestley.
Baskerville House, Residence of John Ryland, Esq.
This house, which stand in the midst of a luxuriant meadow, is situated on Easy Hill. It was formerly the dwelling of the celebrated Baskerville; but had been rendered much more spacious and more elegant by is present owner J. Ryland, Esq. and was receiving its last improvements, from the hand of it unoffending possessor, when attacked, on Friday, 15th July, 1791. The Rioters were several times repulsed: in one of these instances, the house was entirely cleared of them by the unassisted arm of a single individual. The plentiful stock of wine with which the hospitable master of this edifice had stored his cellars, while it gratified the intemperance of the Rioters, proved fatal to their safety. Intoxication rendered them insensible to danger. Many of them, scorched and bruised in a most frightful manner, were conveyed to the hospital. Seven dead bodies, so mutilated as scarcely to be recognised, were dug out of the ruins; and one poor wretch who had been immured in one of the vaults, worked his way out on the following Monday; but expired soon after upon the grass. A number of gentlemen were sworn constables, and at this place attacked the Rioters, while the house, & c. were in flames; but were repulsed by the Mob. One gentleman, who died soon after, leaving a widow and large family unprovided for, received at this place the wound which occasioned his death. With a generosity and humanity that does honour to the inhabitants of the town and its neighbourhood, the widow of this gentleman has been handsomely provided for, by a very liberal subscription.
House of J. Taylor, Esq.
This superb mansion, which was a superbly furnished, is situated in the midst of park, at Bordesley, about half a mile from the town. This house was first attacked on Friday, the 15th of July. Upon hearing the news, a party of gentlemen who had been sworn constables, headed by Captain Carver, repaired to the place, and drove the Rioters whom they found in the cellar from the premises, of which they kept possession till the title-deeds, writings, & c. belonging to Mr. Taylor, together with some small part of the furniture, were removed. Towards the evening however, being joined by the party who effected the destruction of Mr, Ryland’s and people similarly disposed from other parts, the Rioters acquired an accession of strength, which rendered ineffectual the resistance of the gentlemen, many of whom were severely beaten. Thus circumstanced, Captain Carver, as a last effort, offered the Mob the immediate payment of one hundred guineas not to burn it. The answer returned was – “No bribery.” The Captain immediately threw himself in to the midst of them, and narrowly escaped their fury. When the night set in, the flames appeared through the roof, and this beautiful and spacious mansion, the greatest part of its superb furniture, its stable, offices, and ricks, were totally destroyed, excepting the walls.
The House of W. Hutton, Esq.
On the night of Friday the 15th of July 1791, the House of Mr. Hutton, situated in High-street, Birmingham, which had once or twice been assaulted in the day time, was entered by the Rioters, and completely stripped of its furniture: his large stock of paper, his Son’s very valuable library, and all his furniture and wearing apparel, were destroyed or carried away. A woman made an attempt to fire the house, but was prevented by the surrounding spectators, because this might have proved fatal to the adjoining houses. From Mr. Hutton’s house in town, they proceeded early on Saturday morning to his country house. It is situated on Washwood-Heath, about three miles from Birmingham. This, together with its offices, they reduced to ashes, excepting what appears in the View here given. – The town of Birmingham is indebted to this gentleman in a very large sum of gratitude. As an industrious tradesman, as a faithful historian, as an active and useful citizen, who took upon him the troublesome department of Commissioner of the Court of Requests; he has rendered this town services which have been repaid with the severest obloquy, conveyed in some very scandalous caricatures, which have for some time been exposed in the windows of a print-shop in one of the most public streets.
House of G. Humphrys, Esq.
This house, which was of brick and stone, was one of the most elegant and completely finished in the vicinity of Birmingham. It is situated at a place called Spark-Brook, about a mile from the town. On the morning of Saturday July 16th, a large concourse of people assembled on the turnpike road, and in the pleasure-grounds which surround the house. Between the hours of eleven and twelve they began the attack. Neither the generosity of Mr. Humphrys, nor the remonstrances of his friends, could prevail upon these deluded people to retire. The encouragement they received from some who appeared to be their leaders, joined to the stupidity induced by recent intoxication, rendered them deaf to every intreaty, and callous to each feeling of humanity. – Their first business was to break the windows; afterwards they forced their way into the house, and destroyed all the furniture that was then in it. The walls of this once elegant mansion were so strong as to resist the fury of the Rioters, who, in this instance, effected all the mischief without the assistance of fire. For this reason, the View wears no other mark of a ruin, than that of being without sashes, shutters, and doors; but within, everything was defaced, torn to pieces, or utterly demolished. The stair cases, chimney-pieces, architraves, pilasters, & c., which were the work of the first artists in the kingdom, who were instructed while in the employment of Mr. Humphrys, to exert all their genius, without any regard to expence, and which were allowed by the Surveyors on the part of the Hundred, to be in the highest and most finished stile of workmanship, not surpassed by any thing of the kind they had ever seen, fell a sacrifice to the unprovoked and wanton fury of an intoxicated and deluded populace.
The House of W. Russell, Esq.
This mansion, which is situated about two miles from the town, at Showell-Green, was not destroyed till Saturday the 16th of July 1791. By the activity and intrepid conduct of W. Russell, Esq. its inhabitant and owner, the rioters were either repelled or persuaded to retire, more than once. Such was the resolution of Mr. Russell, that he only requested twenty men, and he would have saved at once his house from ruin, and his innocent neighbours from the expence of reinstating it*. In vain, however, was this request made, and repeated; and on Saturday evening, Mr. Russell being the only person left in the house, found himself under the necessity of resigning it to the Mob, and of providing for his own safety. They entered; and after having ransacked the house of what remained in it (the greater part of the furniture having been previously removed) they consumed it, together with the adjoining offices.
* It is observed, that this mansion is situated in Worcestershire.
William Dargue 31.07.2012