The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Pentlow Riot

After I reported on the Glemsford riot a few days ago, I was reproached by a Pentlow resident for ignoring the two great Pentlow riots. There seems to be a certain 'more riotous than thou' attitude creeping into local pride.
For a small parish to have had two riots seems excessive, but they were separated by a five hundred years interlude where the worst excess seems to have involved outlawing the rector. (another story). In both the riots, it was the unruly men of Cavendish who were chiefly responsible
The first riot happened during the peasants revolt. Pentlow Hall was the home of Sir John Cavendish who became Lord Chief Justice in 1372. At the start of The Peasants' Revolt in 1381...
"A band of them near 50,000 strong, as infuriated as the canille of Paris or the peasants of Gallicia in the crisis of a revolution marched to the Chief Justice's mansion at Cavendish, which they plundered and burned. The venerable judge made his escape but was taken in a cottage in the neighbourhood. Unmoved by his grey hairs they carried him in a procession to Bury St. Edmunds It was resolved however that he should be treated with insult as well as cruelty for his head being immediately struck off, it was placed in the pillory amidst savage yells and execrations of the bystanders."
a separate account it is recorded that the men of Cavendish assembled at Pentlow Hall with axes and threw the house in the river.
The next riot happened at Pentlow Mill, just over the road. There are two newspaper mentions..

May 15th 1772

This Wednesday Samuel Allen, Susannah Ottley and William Clark of Glemsford and Thomas Deeks of Cavendish were committed to Chelmsford gaol by Robert Andrews esq for being concerned in riots at Foxearth and Pentlow near Sudbury and with pulling down two mills and extorting by threats-flour-victuals and beer.

August 7th 1772

At Chelmsford Affizes the following persons were capitally convicted---Samuel Allen and Thomas Deeks for riotously pulling down some boulting mills.

These were one of the famous food riots in East Anglia. It was not a particularly serious riot, as the entire mill was not pulled down, but only some pieces of machinery (boulting mills) used for sifting flour. What incensed the local people was that dealers from London were buying up the local reserves of grain and shipping them off to the capital to maintain bread supplies there; The consequence was wild fluctuations in the local price of bread, and accusations of profiteering on the part of the dealers involved in the supply chain. There had been widespread attacks on mills, particularly in the disturbances of 1765-1766. At Norwich, an entire mill was destroyed (see the Gentleman's Magazine 1766) In 1769, the Riot act was extended to make attacks on mills a felony, and therefore a capital offense. This had little effect on the unrest in East Anglia, and a number of mills were attacked.
Pentlow mill was, at the time, a large concern that also was engaged in commercial brewing, which is why the rioters demanded beer as well as food. Foxearth Mill was on the Essex side of the Stour but served Glemsford as well as Foxearth. It is likely that it received the attentions of the aggrieved Glemsford mob in a separate incident to the one that affected Pentlow Mill. Samuel Allen and Thomas Deeks may have been the ringleaders, but they were certainly sentenced to death for their part in the riot.
Their conviction was not sufficient to quell the unrest, which was to increase over the next fifteen years.
It would seem that their sentence was never carried out. In Peter Wilson Coldham's book "The Kings Passengers to Maryland and Virginia" Samuel Allen, Susannah Ottley and Thomas Deeks are all listed as being sent to Virginia in January of 1773 on the ship "Justitia." Samuel Allen seems to have gone on to raise a family and fight in the War of Independence. He has living descendents. We don't yet know what happened to William Clark.


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