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Today in 1735 - The Turnpike Riot PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Eager   
Monday, 28 September 2009 00:00
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Today in 1735 - The Turnpike Riot
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28th September 1735

Bloody Riot Ends In Deaths

On the orders of Justice Skip the townsmen of Ledbury today crushed a terrifying riot by ax-wielding mobsters, which left several dead, dozens injured and eleven arrested.

Furious fighting on the streets lasted until late into the night. The rioters were met by the Justice's men, who, armed with guns, pistols and swords, defended the turnpikes and attempted to make arrests. After hours of fighting the remaining rioters were chased away into the surrounding countryside.

Unrest over the introduction of turnpikes has been increasing throughout the year across Gloucestershire and the Ledbury area. Local people have been complaining about the deadness of trade, the greatness of taxes and the burdens of the poor and have described the Ledbury Turnpike Trust as an unnecessary and unjust tax collector. The trust has insisted that the opposers to turnpikes are ignorant men with a dull understanding of the necessity of raising taxes to repair the roads.

Despite the fury of the mob the Ledbury riot took on a somewhat bizarre quality as many of the rioters were dressed as women and had blackened their faces in an effort to disguise themselves.

The authorities are saying the mob consisted mainly of local farmers and their servants and was bolstered by the criminally-minded and unemployed. They successfully managed to cut down and destroy the Ledbury turnpike, and then, at about 9 o'clock, they made an attack on the Justice's house. Several of the rioters were shot down but they refused to give up and responded with equal force injuring several of the townsmen protecting the Justice.

The rioters had threatened to burn the Justice's house down in order to liberate two of their own.These two men have now been identified as locals Thomas Reynolds and James Bayliss. Both men were arrested earlier in the day on suspicion of breaching the peace and the levying of arms. They were both secured at the Justice's house.

It transpires that Justice Skip has been fortunate as the conspirators had forewarned him of their criminal intent days earlier in a letter setting out their aims and objectives, which had even named the day of their intended attack. This allowed the Justice time to form a local militia of townsmen, his own servants and others to put down the rioters.

The manner of the arrest of Reynolds and Bayliss had particularly offended the mob. Eye witnesses claim that a gang of the Justice's men had approached Reynolds at the End of the Town knocked him to the ground and seriously wounded his head. Bayliss then staggered out of a town pub bearing an ax and the two men were arrested together. Reynolds could be heard protesting his innocence saying he had only come to town to buy a pair of stockings, shoes and hat.

Thomas Reynolds, 28, of Ledbury Parish, is well known in the area as a God-fearing, sober and well-behaved man. He is educated and has been employed by various farmers in the county. He has been described as a man of good character, honest and industrious. His arrest has surprised some locals who are assuming that he must have been misled by cunning and factious opposers of the turnpikes.

Authorities have already stated that the arrested men will be taken to Hereford Gaol in the morning. They can expect a lengthy detention before trial. The men are expected to be charged with Rioting, Insurrection and violations under the Black Act - all offences punishable by death.

The authorities would also like to question one Francis Rolland, the millar at Dimmock. Rolland is suspected of riding about the county encouraging and persuading other people to demolish the county's turnpikes. The authorities would like to interview Rolland about his possible involvement in the Ledbury Turnpike Riot.

Last Updated on Saturday, 27 February 2016 15:32
Comments (2)
Perverting the Course of History
2 Tuesday, 29 September 2009 10:57
Ray X
The information the above account is based upon is the Old Bailey's version. Unfortunately, the trial of Thomas Reynolds was a show trial and the court was given inaccurate information.
This Ledbury Turnpike Riot took place on 21st September 1735, one week earlier. Most of the actual events are the same except the two men who the mob/turnpike levellers attempted to free were not Reynolds and Bayliss, they were in fact William Bithell and William Morgan. Both men were later hanged at Worcester amid tight security - almost 100 soldiers armed with muskets with bayonets attached.
There had already been disturbances in and around Ledbury because of the turnpikes and their one shilling levy on all the nine roads leading out of Ledbury, so much so that the Government passed an act in June 1734 making 'cutting down turnpikes' a capital offence.
On the day of the levelling John Skyppe III (one of the 39 trustees of the Ledbury Turnpike Trust) read the riot act to a mob of about a hundred men armed with guns, swords and axes. Skyppe and his men then went to defend the 'last turnpike.' From this we can then assume that the other eight had been successfully destroyed.
Even after this riot there were further turnpike disturbances which still continued after the renewal of Ledbury Turnpike Act, when the toll was reduced to 6d. Troops were sent to Ledbury to quell the riots but they were refused food and accomodation by the towns people.
The turnpikes were a failure. They were hated by the people, they further damaged an already depressed economy and the roads were as bad as ever.
It wasn't until the end of the C18th when Ledbury became the first market town in Herefordshire to get a canal linking it to Gloucester that Ledbury's economy improved significantly and times they changed.
1 Monday, 28 September 2009 15:09
A friend of mine asked meet to pick up my axe and meet him in town that morning but when i arrived i noticed there where no musicians around unless you count the two official looking chaps pounding a beat on some poor guys head, Wow! this really is an experimental style i thought to myself and is also attracting quite the audience but its not really my kind of thing so i headed back home before i got caught up in what seemed to be a moshpit in full effect.I didn't find my friend and haven't seen him since.Thank you Portal for shedding light on what was really happening there.I don't like the idea of paying to travel across the land i was born to,it just encourages greed.What will be next,Paying to leave you vehicle behind?