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‘Bread or blood’ riots

‘Bread or blood’ riots, 1816. The years after Waterloo saw high prices, unemployment, and a trade recession, causing widespread distress. The agricultural labourers of the fenland were a depressed group, badly paid and housed. They complained of tithes, enclosures, threshing-machines, and the hiring of Irish labour, and arson, tree-cutting, sheep-stealing, and cattle-maiming were not infrequent. The worst disturbance was at Littleport in May 1816 when a large crowd was dispersed by the yeomanry, with two killed and nearly 100 arrests. Tried by special commission at Ely on 17 June, 24 were sentenced to death. In the event, five were hanged and nine transported. The protesters were said to have carried placards threatening ‘Bread or blood’.

J. A. Cannon

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