In early October 1831, the defeat of the Second Reform Bill in the House of Lords led to a wave of pro-reform public protests and disturbances across Britain and Ireland. In Dorset, a microcosm of the national struggle over electoral reform was being fought out in a county by-election which posed Lord Ashley – an anti-reformer – against the pro-reform candidate William Ponsonby. After a closely fought race, marked by widespread claims of corruption, Ashley was victorious. Immediately after the result was announced, disturbances broke out in a series of Dorset towns, including Poole, Blandford and Sherborne, and then spread into the south Somerset town of Yeovil.
These riots were serious events with significant damage to property and were put down only after the intervention of Yeomanry and regular Cavalry units. In their aftermath many people were imprisoned and several transported to Australia.
This talk, given by Professor Steve Poole (UWE) and Dr Roger Ball (UWE) considered the two days of rioting in Yeovil in detail with particular emphasis on who the rioters were, their targets and interaction with the authorities. Why did local magistrates find it so difficult to control and disperse the crowd? And why, in any case, were labouring class men and women rioting in support of a Reform Bill that was never likely to enfranchise them?
If you want to listen to the talk, then the audio and presentation is here:
Due to the popularity of the event, we ran two talks in Yeovil Library. Thanks to John Powell and the staff at Yeovil Library for organising and facilitating the events and Bob Osborne for his help with the research. Bob’s excellent local history website Yeovil’s Virtual Museum, the A-to-Z of Yeovil’s History can be viewed here.