Littleport riots remembered

Littleport riots remembered

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Isabella, four, explores the cells at Ely Museum.

 

Ever wondered what it felt like to be a condemned rioter, awaiting execution in a Georgian gaol?

The Ely Museum will be marking the 200 year anniversary of the Littleport Riots with special events and re-enactments taking place throughout May 21.

People will be able to chat to condemned rioter John Dennis in his cell at the old gaol and visit Ely Courthouse witness the re-enactment of the rioters’ trials.

On May 22, 1816, riots broke out in Littleport after townsfolk demonstrated about rising living costs following the Napoleanic Wars and very harsh economic conditions. Many people were on the brink of starvation and some vented their fury on local businesses.

Fueled by alcohol, protestors went on the rampage in Main Street, smashing houses and shops before targeting the nearby vicarage. They headed to Ely by foot, causing more destruction. The army was eventually called in from Bury St Edmunds to stop the carnage.

The rioters returned to Littleport, barricading themselves inside the George and Dragon pub. Following a gun battle, two men were shot dead and many others were captured and committed for trial at the old gaol, which is now the Ely Museum.

DSC_0754Initially 24 people were sentenced to death. Fearing further riots, magistrates gave the rest of the rioters a reprieve from capital punishment, sending them to be transported to Australia instead, where they faced years of hard labour in very harsh conditions.

On June 28, 1816, John Dennis, William Beamiss, George Crow, Isaac Harley and Thomas South were hanged outside Ely. The following day they were buried in St Mary’s Church and a plaque was installed to commemorate them: “May their awful Fate be a warning to others”.

For more information about Ely Museum’s Remembering the Riots event, see https://www.facebook.com/events/1544632935841642/