The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Monday, January 10, 2005

The Melford Riot

Having posted the details of the Great Sudbury Riot, a Glemsford resident has pointed out that their riot was a much better one. To be exact, the Good residents of Glemsford actually rioted in Long Melford. The best account is that of Ernest Ambrose in 'Melford Memories' (1972)which I will quote

When I was seven years old (in 1885) there was a great deal of unrest in the village. Groups of workmen would gather round the pubs, in angry mood, and fights became more than usually vicious. Though I didn't understand very much about it I heard talk about the mat makers in Melford, as well as those in Glemsford and Lavenham, being on strike for more wages. This was a desperate action to take in those days as no money at all would be going into the homes and this meant starvation. At the same time a General Election was imminent and this made feelings run higher still.

Glemsford at that time was a stronghold of liberalism while Melford was very largely tory, and the antagonism between the villages was strong and often bitter. The men of Melford jeered at the Glemsford men, calling them Egyptians, and said they were outsiders. The words Egypt and Glemsford were so synonymous that the confusion spilled over into our geography lessons; and when a Sunday school teacher asked where the baby Jesus was taken when Herod threatened to kill all the babies, the answer came promptly: Glemsford!

Under a recent Parliamentary Reform Act the Glemsford men were demanding a polling station in their own village, instead of having to come to Melford to vote. When Polling Day (Tuesday 1st Dec.) arrived and this was still refused, a body of mat makers from the Kolle Matting Factory led by their foreman on horseback, Henry Cook, came marching into Melford to demand their rights. They came along Westgate Street and broke some windows at the Scutchers' Arms, then marched on down the road past the. conduit into the village. They were armed with sticks and staves and were in a very militant mood. They recorded their votes then threatened to break up the polling station which was at the Lecture Hall (now the Working Men's Club). Some of them swore they'd have my father's blood because they thought he was on the side of the owner of his factory. Father was foreman at the Melford Mat Factory and had tried to persuade the men there not to go on strike.

The Melford men were of course all out on the street, and when they heard the Glemsford men were marching into the village they joined together in a body preparing to fight the opposition. The situation began to look very ugly with stones flying about and manywindows broken. At this point Capt. Bence of Kentwell Hall, a magistrate, read the Riot Act outside the Lecture Hall where the worst of the trouble makers had collected. But the situation still remained very tense and dangerous. The Melford police then appealed to the Sudbury police for help, but apparently they were unable to do so ; probably they too had trouble on their hands with election activities! So they sent an urgent message to Bury, and the whisper went round the village "The red coats are coming!" Before very long a contingent of militia were sent by train. They were paraded on the station square, then ordered to fix bayonets. They marched up the long street, clearing out all the public houses on their way. At the sight of the militia in their red uniform stolidly marching up the street things quietened down very quickly.

When pa came home later on we heard that the Glemsford mob had tried to man-handle him and would have beaten him up, but he escaped by dashing into the Crown Inn and, with a group of others including the landlady, Mrs. Clayden, scrambled out at the back and came home cautiously across the back fields. When he got to the Black Lion he recognised one of his most malicious attackers and was just going in after him when a policeman stopped him. "I just want to give that bugger. . a sole of the skull. You know me" says pa, "I shan't make a fuss. Just want to get my own back". "Be quick about it then," says the policeman, "and give him one for me." And pa did too. His fist could land a pretty heavy one when he liked to exert himself.

The village street was in a sorry state after it was all over, with broken glass everywhere. Shops and public houses down the whole length of the street from Whittle's Mat Factory right down to Branwhite's brewery on Chapel Green had their windows smashed. The Crown Inn suffered most damage as the mob stormed inside and wrecked the premises. Compensation for this alone amounted to £137.15.6, a considerable sum at that time.


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