The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Friday, January 07, 2005

The Great Sudbury Riot

We were most amused to read about the great Sudbury Riot, which happened in November 1771. It gets mentioned in the Local History books, but it was rather satisfying to read the original account, and the aftermath. The riot was not a food riot at all, but an electoral dispute which got out of hand. The Sudbury Corporation refused to admit three men to the freedom of the Borough, and this high-handedness turned out to be the last straw for the inhabitants, who besieged the Corporation members in the Moot Hall until they agreed to admit the three men. Unfortunately, under cover of the demonstration, there were several acts of theft and vandalism which led to legal action being taken.

Peter Delande was the real villain. He was a wealthy man who bought shares in the Stour Navigation and became involved with the coal trade. He was elected Mayor of Sudbury in 1755, 1756, 1762, 1765, 1767 and 1770. He and William Strutt, in October 1771, proposed that a Committee be set up to consider admissions to the Freedom.They proposed to deprive some of the Sudbury Freemen of their vote as so many potential Freemen who were entitled to vote by birth or servitude had not been formally admitted.

August 10th, 1771

In the summer of 1771, on July 2nd, a threatening letter was found in the back yard of the Red House, the home of Peter Delande.
The letter was addressed to: “One of the Devil’s Agents”

Sir, not with standing your Conduct for some Years have been such as have merited the ill Will of some hundreds of the freemen of this borough, yet not with standing Humanity teacheth me to caution you against the dreadful Effects that will fall on your Heads from the bitter Resentment such Freemen have or may surtain from your devilish and hellish Proceeding which will be no less than certainly to take away your L- by a premeditated Scheme which will surely be effected by a Small though desperate Set of Men, who have bound themselves upon oath to accomplish the Same before you are aware of, and that not to you alone but some others who deserve and will surely share the same fate, but will have no Caution unless you please to communicate it yourself, pray pardon me for being so free for this, I surely know that you will have your just deserts by one Eternal blow. This from as good a freeman as anyone black amongst you, which as Nathan said to David “Thou art the Man”. 

(The Ipswich Journal noted that Delande had offered a pardon to anyone, except the person who actually wrote the letter, who could discover “his, her, or their accomplices”. A reward of £50 was also offered.)

November 2nd 1771

We are informed that a very great riot happened on Tuesday last at Sudbury in Suffolk when the corporation were assembled in the town hall and that after the corporate body had dissolved their assembly about noon they were forcibly detained in the town hall till after nine at night totally denied off the access of their friends and deprived of sustenance and when night came their lights were put out by the populace and that their lives were not only repeatedly threatened for a long time together but by stones and other mischievous implements they were put into danger till the end, the corporation were forced into compliance with such terms as the populace thought proper to impose on them in order to preserve their lives and recover their liberty.

November 9th 1771

We hear in consequence of the riot at Sudbury (mentioned in our last paper) a party of dragoons marched into the borough on Sunday last to be ready to assist the civil magistrates to preserve order.

February 1st 1772

We hear that from Sudbury that on Tuesday last the Corporation there held a court at which they filled up three vacancies and then entered a protest of the magistrates against such illegal acts as they were for the preservation of their lives compelled by rioters to assent to at the court held October last.

April 18th 1772

17 of the Sudbury rioters, some charged with housebreaking and robbery have been committed to Bury gaol.

August 7th 1773

At Bury Assizes on Monday last, came before the Lord Chief Justice De Grey, a trial by an issue from the court of the King's Bench upon information from the name of the Attorney General, several persons concerned in a riot upon the Moot Hall in Sudbury on the 29th of October 1771 when Walden Hammer was acquitted but six others were convicted of the same offence and are to receive sentence in the Court of the King's Bench next Michaelmas.

February 12th 1774

Last Saturday, six persons were found guilty of the late riot in Sudbury, Suffolk, were brought to the Kings Bench bar to receive sentence and were ordered by the court to suffer six months in prison and whipped, and an inhabitant of the town was ordered to pay £100.


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