Saffron Walden

The Food Riots of 1795



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One of the most dramatic events in the history of Saffron Walden occurred during July 1795 when the town was convulsed by food riots, driven by the high price of bread and other provisions. A large bundle of documents in the Essex Record Office are nearly all dated and enable the researcher to follow the day to day events as they unfolded, and their eventual conclusion with a trial. The archives reveal the extreme alarm with which the riots were viewed, and the significant part played by Lord Howard de Walden in his capacity as Lord Lieutenant of Essex and local landowner. In addition to the documents described below, there are some others among the Saffron Walden town archives. Similar riots took place in a number of other towns. For discussion of the riots, see J. Cooper in The Well-ordered Town pages 125-6, C.B. Rowntree in Saffron Walden Then and Now pages 80-86, M. White in Saffron Walden Chronological Compilation pages 86-90 and elsewhere.

(c) Research notes by Jacqueline Cooper.

ERO D/DBy 012: bundle re 1795 bread riots

April 13th
meeting of committee: to stop bread and flour being sold outside the parish Signed Thos Day, A Gibson, Wm Archer, James Searle, Henry Archer, Wm Archer
June 29th resolution regarding a rate - subscription nearly exhausted and further assistance must be continued to relieve the poor during present high price of provisions - rate of 4d in £ agreed (27 present)
July 10th Mr. Black of Hockrill letter to Lord Howard: ‘Mr Andrews is a respectable young man, I must rely on his veracity’
July 10th meeting of inhabitants at workhouse (20 present) - ‘it appears highly necessary from the great scarcity of wheat and flour in hand that every expedient should be used for lessening the consumption and eking out the supply; the inhabitants present do thereupon resolve to use in their own families a coarser sort of flour, and a small a quantity of it as possible, using every substitute that can be devised and do most earnestly recommend the same to the parish in general as a measure in their opinion absolutely necessary.’
Undated meeting re price of bread etc. - also adds that Henry Archer buying more wheat from John Carter at £26 a loaf; also thanks for Lord Howard for ‘his very handsome proposal of a premium of two guineas over and above the market price for every load of wheat brought to Mr. Henry Archer.’
July 13th meeting of committee: Henry Archer and AF Gibson had bought flour at Cambridge, agreed ‘that the spinning be continued with the usual allowance’ etc.
July 14th letter to Mr. Black at request of mayor re shortfall in orders for wheat - ask for assistance to induce Mr. Horner to deliver to Mr. Archer without loss of time the remaining 14 quarters
July 14th paper put into Lord Howard’s hands, for consideration by mayor and corporation on 18th July re price of flour or wheat £20 a load
July 14th from Henry Archer to Lord Howard, note on price of wheat was £20 - agent lived at Green farm near Sampford Hall.
July 16th Letter from Mr. Hall telling Lord Howard that he had sent 300 handbills to Linton and Stortford Markets, and asked printer to put some into hands of coachman to have in the several villages through which the fly passes. Also at different public houses, and on Saturday they may be dispersed throughout neighbourhood generally. Mayor agreed with Mr. Hall this was a most excellent plan
July 17th Thomas Black of Dunmow to Lord Howard: I understand from Mr. Horner that Mr. Archer had taken the advantage of his nephew Mr. John Andrews by contacting with him for a quantity of flour at a price greatly under the value... which Mr. Archer was acquainted with and which Mr. Andrews could not possibly be - under such a deception Mr. Horner had resolved not to sell corn of any kind to Mr. Archer at any future time, and it was my advice to all Mr. Houblon’s tenants to have no further communication with him, or any one that could be guilty of taking such an advantage.’
July 18th resolution of mayor and corporation: mode of grinding and dressing corn is best they can do; also heard that someone had flour to dispose of, so would try to buy it for the benefit of the parish
July 21st letter saying Mr. Archer’s character is too well established in Walden for his neighbours to give him full credit...
Note undated from Mr. Hall that shopkeepers agreed to sell cheese for a month at 4d per pound and butchers... ‘the mob have dispersed, with tolerable humour’. = 11 o’clock, Monday evening
Note  re grinding arrangements. - Mr. John’s statement of produce of flour - delivered to meeting of Corporation July 18th:

Number of tickets given to poor: 1254 persons relieved at 3d each either in bread or flour = £15.13.6.
220 families received additional allowance for spinning this week - £5.12.10.
Amount of [?]usual allowances exclusive of workhouse charges etc. - £21.6.4.

July 25th

meeting of subscribers: present Henry Archer, Thos Pennystone, Wm Archer, Turner Clark, Thos Gardner, Wm Archer jnr, Joseph Player, Robert Catlin: re price of quartern loaf and flour to the ticketed poor:

‘The number of the committee being small it is agreed to adjourn to 27th... in a quartern loaf which is now sold for 10 pence, the poor pay only 7 pence so that the parish sink or lose 3... a quartern of flour is now sold for 9 pence the poor pay only sixpense, so that the parish sink or lose 3 pence - flour and wheat in hand with what Mr. Johns will bring to the town, it is calculated will hold out a month.’

List of men and horses and where they were quartered

Inn Number of men Number of horses
Rose and Crown 10  12 
Sun 6 6
White Horse 5 5
Cross Keys 5 5
Hoops 5 5
Kings Arms 4 4
Dragon 3 3
Greyhound 3 3
George 3 3
8 Bells 3 3
Compasses 1 1
Queens Head 2 2
Castle 3 3
Bell 2 2
Rose 2 officers


55 men

57 horses
July 27th Warley Camp from Cornwallis re troops
July 27th note that flour and bread shall be sold to the poor at 

reduced price: quartern loaf at 7d and flour at 2s per peck and half a peck of bread four a week shall be allowed to any poor person choosing to apply for a ticket.’ Others left out could apply,’ immediate steps will be taken to improve the quality of the flour.’

July 27th Letter from Henry Archer, Mayor to Lord Howard: ‘A very alarming riot has taken place here in consequence of the high price of provisions and it appears to me and several of the most respectable inhabitants that the civil power of the place will not be efficient to quiet the disturbance without the aid of the military - indeed great apprehensions are entertained that some mischief will take place in the course of the evening at the request of several of the inhabitants, I am induced to take the liberty of applying to your lordship for your assistance in obtaining some assistance from a party of the military.’
July 28th from Lexden Camp - Dragoons would be there on Thursday 1 p.m. Whyte told Lord Howard - 50 strong each
July 29th from Gen. Whyte, re troops on the way
Aug 3rd letter to Lord Howard from Onslow praising him, etc.
Aug 5th letter to Lord Howard re arrival of Troop of Surry Fencibles under Capt Vincent  - 4 of principal ringleaders to Chelmsford, another under bail, information against several others, who for the present have escaped from the neighbourhoods. The effect that these commitments have had is already felt in the neighbourhood’ - it justified sending the troops. ‘The magistrates of Walden, encouraged by the military protection his lordship has afforded them, begin to be held in more respect, and to do them justice are using their best endeavours to give themselves authority to govern, keep in proper subjection a very disaffected class... threats of various kinds are in circulation...harvesting crops of corn growing in the neighbouring parishes... from all these different circumstances I am apprehensive it will take us more time than we could wish before we can for the security say we are safe without the military assistance.’

Also re constables: 32 extra ones sworn in - Mr. Hall objected to Erswell personally on the ground of his having suffered an improper meeting at his house at the time of riot, and that consequently he would not trust himself in the situation of an officer with a character who had so conducted himself - he seemed to require further explanation, but was left in the dark; - so Capt Vincent would have an nco and 2 privates ‘to attend the culprit - more constables to be sworn in on Thursday (this was sent Tuesday).
Aug 7th meeting, 7 worthies present, agreed re disposing of wheat and flour in mayor’s hands
Aug 8th meeting, tickets worked over, non inhabitant tickets thrown out
Aug 14th Agreement of Thomas Webb farmer of Walden for sale of 2 loads of wheat at £20 a load ‘such bargains have the effect of forestalling the market and the present juncture of keeping up the very extravagant high price of that commodity’ - so he relinquished the bargain with consent of John Campion, promised not to make such bargains again, i.e. made before the crop was reaped. Witness to agreement was Thomas Hall. Note that Webb had ‘inadvertently entered into agreement without considering effects of it’ - ask old Howard to use his benevolence out of compassion to his wife and family to forgive him and allow him to continue in possession of his lordship’s farm lands, promising not to do it again. Signed Thomas Webb
Aug 20th letter to Lord Onslow saying ‘that we cannot venture to say this neighbourhood is at present likely without your aid to remain peaceable and quiet.’ i.e. wanted to keep troops longer.
Aug 22nd troops to stay a little longer in town
Aug 22nd resolution re removal of military- Thomas Hall to Lord Howard that the troop ‘did not appear to be necessary for the defence of the town ‘ any longer. Thank him for getting troops and getting them to stay longer.
Aug 22nd numbers on tickets to be reduced from half pecks to quarters. Henry Archer brought more wheat. ‘Orders to crier to give notice ‘that the poor shall be allowed to glean in the fields from five o’clock in the morning until seven in the evening but not sooner or later.’
Aug 27th from Lexden (where troop came from): letter to Lord Howard complimented behaviour of Surrey Fencibles at Walden, ‘bestowers of peace and order to that neighbourhood.’ Asking for them to be sent back as they were needed elsewhere. Compliment to Lord Howard ‘If every landlord will act as you have done with an avaricious and forestalling tenant they will do the community good essential service.’
Aug 27th Mr. Hall sending letter to Lord Howard re evidence of Andrews sale of wheat to Mr. Archer
Sept 2nd letter to Lord Howard re sending back troop of Surrey Fencible Light Dragoons: ‘We have been perfectly quiet of late in the neighbourhood, the very plentiful harvest we have, and the fine weather for having it, I think, ensure plenty.’ – from someone at Lexden
Sept 3rd to Lord Howard from Onslow - thanks to him etc.
Notes on wheat etc. - calculations by Mr. Hall
Mar 1796

1795 Commitments of Walden rioters tried at March 1796 Assizes - Samuel Porter went on to next assizes. Evidence of what happened on 27th July:

Thomas Gardiner saw Thomas Lord,William Mead, Charles Erswell, Thomas Ruskan, John Ward and Augur (all labourers) going into chamber and bringing down wheat... saw them acting in a riotous and tumultuous manner several times - they wanted to sell the wheat at market... William Church threatened that as soon as the corn was ripe on a place Buckenhall Leys, that they would go and cut it and their wives should carry it away and to commit other depredations, such as taking potatoes and lopping trees...

Charles White baker and cornfactor of Cuckingstoolend - he mentioned Thomas Lord and William Mead, as above and William Church, also Pluck of the same place, cordwainer - threatened him and Thomas Lord stopped at his door and said ‘White you may depend upon it before night your bread and flour will be all taken away’ - crowds round his house, so in fear he gave Lord half a crown - saw several hundreds...

John Leverett shopkeeper said they demanded bread, flour, cheese and meat at prices fixed by themselves - saw same men, also Robert Morgan. Charles Erswell said ‘Master no mischief shall be done today, we do not intend it but I will be damned if there is not murder done the next time we meet’, and said he did not give a damn about his own life, for if he was gone the parish must maintain his wife...

Charles White of Castle St baker and cornfactor similar evidence.

Thomas Debney butcher said ‘during the whole course of the day the town was in a constant state of riot and confusion from the general insurrection of the lower class of inhabitants - also mentioned Thurgood of Sewards End, a labourer.

William Wiseman shopkeeper - also mentioned John Hammond- similar (they forced shops to hand over food each time) - said Robert Morgan had a shovel and said Duke Archer (= Wm Archer the butcher) had refused them and they would have life for life if the goods refused at the price offered.

One of Thomas Day’s journeymen gave similar evidence re Morgan.

William Tylor innkeeper - he mentioned Myso of Helions Bumpsted, William Pettit of Walden, William Turner sawyer, Thomas Ruskin, Thomas Rickard worsted maker, Samuel Porter cooper, William Kent Symonds collarmaker, Thomas Lord and William Augur among the crowd: they loaded wheat onto a carrier’s car to take to market.

This was Michael Markwell’s cart (of Hempstead) - said same, it happened near White Horse back gate, demanded he go with them with his waggon to Mr. Horners of Sampford to fetch some wheat away...

John Kent the younger, watchmaker mentioned James Linsell, staymaker - Thomas Rickard took Kent’s collar and said he must go with them but he escaped at the White Horse and ran through the yard having made some attempts before but was prevented by some of them.

James Linsdell staymaker said the people at Greyhound public house drinking included Samuel Porter and Rickard - Porter collared him and dragged him along assisted by others - he also escaped at White Horse yard...