The Bristol riots of 1831 started in Queen Square, Bristol. This was because it was 1831 and Bristol, a lethal combination at the time. It was in the build up to the Great Reform Bill of 1832. Many in the square that October day knew Bill personally and considered him to be a decent type already. A mob assembled and drank copious amounts of stolen alcohol. Soon raucous behaviour degenerated into a riot. The mob then burnt down buildings, freed all the inmates from the local prison and destroyed all the records contained in the cathedral, which meant the Bishop of Bristol had to hire a live act every Sunday to compliment his sermons on the organ.
Inside the nearby Mansion House the Mayor and his invited guests – which included the unpopular and illiterate MP for Bristol, Sir Charles Wearwithall – became concerned for their welfare and that of the city they represented. As soon as the Mayor was informed that buildings were being destroyed by the unruly mob he immediately read THE RIOT ACT. This prompted Sir Charles Wearwithall to swiftly take flight across the roofs of adjacent buildings, in case he was asked to read something too.
A revolutionary council was established and they adopted three aims that the rioters would hold out for, and only once they were obtained would peace be restored. These aims were put to the official City Council:
- To amend all road signs and maps of Bristol so that they displayed the easier to understand stone’s throw scale rather than miles. This was a great relief to Miles Temple of Totterdown who had been extremely peed off with being picked up and thrown around the streets of his native city. It was also a tremendous relief to Bristolians too, because Miles Temple was 6 foot 4 inches tall and weighed just under 300 pounds. The City Council agreed to this demand as they knew they wouldn’t encounter much difficulty in finding employees already on their payroll who could measure Bristol in stone’s throws as they had enough tossers working for them already.
- To replace the historic coat of arms of the City and County of Bristol with a red flag. The Council agreed to this proposal too, as they could see no arm in it. As long as they avoided official visits to Spain.
- As the mob so enjoyed the free booze, they demanded that free or extremely cheap alcohol should be available thereafter 24/7 in Queen Square. However, the City Council could not capitulate to this demand as they did not want to grant planning permission for a Tesco store to be built in the historic square.
Due to this breakdown in talks, the riots continued for three days and only stopped when a drunken Bill exposed himself on the equestrian statue of William IV that took centre stage in the square. It was then that the mob realised he perhaps did need reforming after all.
The authorities needed to make a harsh example of those they considered responsible for the riots, once they had re-established control. After hanging several rioters, their anger turned towards Colonel Berryton of the Gloucestershire Royal Fusiliers who had refused to give the order to fire upon the rioters. This was because he had observed that several of them were his neighbours in Horfield and he did not fancy being the only person in his street that Jehovah’s Witnesses could call on. In a famous trial he was found guilty and sentenced to being hung, drawn and quartered; although this was later reduced to being hung, drawn and halved on appeal.
Berryton was not the only casualty as the City showed no mercy in its attempts to harshly punish offenders. Other people were hung for simply having watched the unruly mob, or for doing nothing to stop the 1831 Bristol Riots. These included Mr Hickory Turn of Lawrence Hill, who had died in 1825. That is how tough justice was in those days.