VILLAGERS MARCH ON BAKEWELL

Armed Cavalry move in to restore Peace
A Newspaper report of 1796

Transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © 2000

During the last few months, a number of disturbing incidents have taken place in the usually peaceful town of Bakewell, and local government have finally felt it necessary to take vigorous action to quell further violence. The unrest seems to have started when it was time for the lieutenant of the county, the Duke of Devonshire, to choose by ballot a number of able bodied men between the ages of eighteen and fifty to join the militia.

Under the Militia Ballot Act, each county in the kingdom is required to send a number of men for army training. Derbyshire has been asked for five hundred and sixty men, and of this total, the High Peak area for one hundred men.

In peacetime, the militia's needs are moderate, and men are required perhaps for four sessions of training a year. In these times of threat from France, however, a militia man could expect to be away from home far very much longer. Although there is no suggestion that the choice of men is any other than totally random by lot, a story has spread that Derbyshire is being asked for more than its fair share for the forces.

The rumour has gained most ground among lead mining communities in north Derbyshire whose prosperity depends on the continuous presence of their menfolk.

When their jobs are daily so dangerous and so dirty, one would think that they would have relished the opportunity to do something altogether more adventurous and glamorous, but they seem to be too used to the freedom to make their own livelihood. For lead miners who are away from home for long there is the danger too that those left to carry on these mainly family concerns will not be able to keep away rival claimants to their lead veins.

In the first of three incidents, a mob of forty people, many of them lead miners with clubs and spades, marched on Bakewell on a Monday market day. Sally Stevenson, a waitress at the White Horse Inn[1] saw the men and in a panic is reported to have called out to farmers in the dining room, “The mob is coming - the mob is coming!” Undeterred, the farmers ignored the warning and simply carried on eating.

The crowd of men made their way to the Town Hall[2] and spoke loudly of their intention to come to Bakewell again to destroy militia ballot papers when the magistrates were there at the Quarter Sessions. Much to the crowd's annoyance notice was taken of their protests. Seeing that they could achieve nothing more, they went into the White Horse, drank large quantities of ale for which they paid, and then made their way home.

True to their word, large numbers from Eyam, Tideswell, Castleton, Bradwell and Great Longstone marched on Bakewell on the day when next the magistrates came to the town for the Quarter Sessions. Mostly lead miners, these men were determined that they should not be made to fight Napoleon Bonaparte and his forces.

The rioters broke into the magistrates' courtroom intent on destroying all the militia ballot papers which they could find. The startled magistrates offered no resistance even when their own pockets were searched.

Outside the town hall, in front of the White Horse Inn, the mob built a huge bonfire and threw on the ballot papers. A very much more unruly crowd than before, and armed with clubs, picks and spades, they terrorised the Bakewell townspeople to such an extent that many offered to be sworn in as voluntary special constables to keep the peace at future courtroom sessions.

The magistrates, rather than accept this offer, preferred to call on more forceful resources the next time they met here. The county cavalry were called in to combat even more rioters who came from Eyam, Castleton, Longstone and Baslow. No match for mounted forces, this mob was soon dispersed. Six prisoners were taken and sent to Chesterfield jail.

All in all, the restoration of peace in Bakewell has been a costly affair. The total bill is somewhere in the region of £162 and the cavalrymen alone consumed over £25 worth of food and wine during the entire day of rioting.

Yet Bakewell people are convinced that the expense was well worth it to restore law and order to their town, and do not even seem to mind the cavalry being quartered on them to keep the peace. It is understood that these forces will remain in the town for several months to ensure that no further riots occur.

Reports are just coming in of similar incidents at Ashbourne and Wirksworth but little damage has been done. Mobs protesting too about militia ballot papers have been dispersed and no serious casualties have so far been listed.

In Bakewell, the riots unfortunately have left their mark on the town's reputation. The Town Hall will no longer host the Epiphany Quarter Sessions as it has been decided to remove them to Derby. The legacy of these riots is thus one of resentment against a violent mob who have lost the town their prestigious court sessions. For the rioters themselves, nothing was achieved. One set of ballot papers may have been destroyed but another list with another series of just as unfortunate names will simply replace them.

Modern Footnotes
[1] The White Horse Inn was a well known tavern and coaching inn in the 18th century, but it was demolished in 1804, to be replaced by a new building, now the Rutland Arms.
[2] The Old Town Hall in King Street was built in 1709 adjacent to the churchyard, and next to a row of 17th century almshouses. Quarter sessions were held here until the riots of 1796 necessitated their removal to Derby. The building ceased to be the Town Hall and the upper floor was used from 1826 to 1874 by Lady Manners Grammar School and between 1885 and 1964 by the Working Men's Club. The ground floor housed a fishmongers until 1964, and before that a butter market and even the town's fire engine!
  [Ref: Villagers March on Bakewell. Article published in The Peak Advertiser, November 1984, p1]
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