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Nottingham cheese riot

A modern cheese wheel
Red Leicester cheese

The Nottingham cheese riot (also known as the Great Cheese Riot)[1] took place on 18 October 1766 at the city's Goose Fair. The riot came at a time of food shortage and price rises in England. Locals intervened to prevent merchants from removing Lincolnshire cheeses they had bought at the fair. Violence broke out, a warehouse, shops and cargo boat looted and hundreds of cheese wheels were rolled through the streets. The mayor was unable to restore control and the military were deployed. One man was killed and others wounded when troops opened fire on crowds. Order was restored after a number of days of unrest.

Background

The Nottingham Goose Fair has its origins in the Feast of Matthew the Apostle, which was celebrated in the city since at least 1000. The feast became a livestock market at which many geese were traded. It later became associated with the sale of horses but by the 18th century was most closely associated with foodstuffs including cheese, of which many tons were sold at the fair each year.[2] The cheese manufactured in Nottingham at this time was sold in wheels and was probably similar to Red Leicester.[3]

In 1766 a poor harvest led to fears of impending food shortages.[3] Despite this the 1766 fair, held from 2 October, saw a larger than usual quantity of cheese for sale, though at increased prices.[4] Prices of 28-36 shillings per hundredweight (112 pounds or 51 kilograms) were recorded, around twice that recorded at Coventry market just a week earlier.[5][4] Because of the shortage people across the country were anxious that foodstuffs be kept in their local area; there were instances of merchants being overpowered and forced to sell their goods at pre-shortage rates.[3]

Riot

An officer of the 15th Light Dragoons circa 1768

The riot broke out on 18 October after some Lincolnshire merchants purchased a large quantity of cheese with the intention of selling it in their county.[1][3] They were then surrounded by a group of "rude lads" who demanded they not take away the cheese and instead share it out in Nottingham.[3][4] Violence broke out and there was widespread looting of cheese; shop windows were broken and hundreds of cheese wheels were thrown and rolled down the streets including Wheeler Gate and Peck Lane.[6][1][5] The mayor of Nottingham attempted to restore order but was knocked over by a rolling cheese.[7][5]

Some locals armed themselves and set up roadblocks on the city streets to prevent merchants from carrying away cheeses.[3] A boat near Trent Bridge was seized and its cargo of cheese looted, despite its owner offering to pay the crowd or to sell his wares at a low cost.[4][8] One warehouse was attacked and, though its defenders eventually drove the crowd off with firearms, some of the cheese was taken. The warehouse owner organised a mounted posse to track down the cheese, which had been taken to Castle Donington. The local magistrate refused to sign search warrants for houses in the village so the posse instead detained a number of the citizens on suspicion of rioting and beat at the gates of the magistrates house, demanding justice. The posse was driven away by a mob of women and children throwing stones and withdrew, the cheese lost.[8]

In Nottingham the authorities called for military support to help restore peace. Nottingham at that time was a garrison town and the 15th Dragoons, together with a number of militia infantry and cavalry, were deployed.[5][1] Some shots were fired into the crowd causing a number of injuries and the death of one man, William Eggleston of Car Colston who was standing near to a pile of cheese.[1] Eggleston was a farmer and it appears he was killed while protecting his own wares, having been mistaken for a looter.[3] A number of people were detained and brought before magistrates in a private residence, however they were freed after the house was attacked by the mob, who smashed windows to gain access.[4][5] The unrest continued overnight.[3]

Aftermath and legacy

Violence continued in Nottingham for a number of days before the military restored order. For a while wagons carrying cheese were formed into convoys and provided with an armed escort.[8] A local newspaper the Leicester and Nottingham Journal accused the rioters of having caused a cheese shortage in the city.[4] There were other riots in England during the Autumn of 1766 caused by the food shortage and increasing food prices. The disorder was particularly severe in Devon and Cornwall but there were also serious outbreaks in Gloucester, Bristol, Derby, Birmingham and Norwich; the south-east was largely peaceful.[9]

In 2016 the 250th anniversary of the riot was marked by the Lord Major of Nottingham Mohammed Saghir in conjunction with a local cheese shop.[10]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e Turton, Kevin (2009). A Grim Almanac of Nottinghamshire. Stroud, Gloucestershire: History Press. p. 184. ISBN 978-0-7509-5315-3.
  2. ^ "Cheese riots and dragoons: The complete history of Nottingham Goose Fair". Notts TV News. 3 October 2017. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Palmer, Ned (2019). A Cheesemonger's History of The British Isles. London: Profile Books. p. 200. ISBN 978-1-78283-475-5.
  4. ^ a b c d e f McWilliams, Mark (2015). Food & Markets: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2014. London: Prospect Books. p. 393. ISBN 978-1-909248-44-1.
  5. ^ a b c d e Sutton, John Frost (1852). The Date Book of Remarkable and Memorable Events Connected with Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood. 1750-1850. p. 73.
  6. ^ Gray, Duncan (1969). Nottingham: Settlement to City. S. R. Publishers. p. 51.
  7. ^ Chronica Botanica. Ronald Press Company. 1935. p. 43.
  8. ^ a b c Palmer, Ned (2019). A Cheesemonger's History of The British Isles. London: Profile Books. p. 201. ISBN 978-1-78283-475-5.
  9. ^ Shelton, Walter James (1973). English Hunger and Industrial Disorders: A Study of Social Conflict During the First Decade of George III's Reign. University of Toronto Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-8020-2087-1.
  10. ^ "Food: Nottingham Cheese Shop Marks 250th Anniversary of the Nottingham Great Cheese Riot". NottinghamLIVE. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 10 September 2020.

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