The Blockley
Riot 1878

R. B. Belcher's
account of the riot

This is in the form of a letter to the Editor
of the Evesham Journal Herald
and dated 13th June, 1878.

The riot which has brought such disgraceful notoriety on this place has caused many enquiries as to what could have led to such an outbreak. In vindication of the character of the place, and in the interests of truth and justice, it is right that the causes should be made known. They are two - the drink and an intense dissatisfaction with the administration of Justice.

The authorities have allowed the village to be overstocked with public houses. Besides out-door and two Gilbey's, there are seven. This number is much beyond the requirements of the village; there is no outside traffic. The people who keep them must get a living, and cannot do so without encouraging drunkenness. With one or two exceptions drunkenness is encouraged to a lamentable extent, and the population is being rapidly demoralized. The Blockley people are not responsible for this; they would shut up half of these houses, and have a strict watch kept over the rest, but they have not the power. The responsibility rests with the Magistrates, who have allowed such a state of things to be established and continued.

The law for the repression of drunkenness is more severe against the publicans than their customers, but with all the prevailing drunkenness not one case of prosecution has been taken up against them; scores of their victims have been severely dealt with, and unfortunately all of them belonging to the working class. Respectable men have distinguished themselves in drunken disturbances, as at the last club feast, with impunity, but five of the working class, who were simply stupified with drink and molesting nobody, were summoned and fined heavily; one of them innocent of the charge laid against him. It was this case that first gave the feeling of dissatisfaction its depth and intensity. Many other such cases might be given is space allowed.

It is strange that Magistrates could go on fining so many men without ordering enquiry to be made as to the conduct of the public-house where they got drunk. It is not so in other districts not far off, where the publican gets the heavy lash of the law and his victim the light one.

The severity with which the law has been administered, has been as remarkable as the partiality. Children summoned to Shipston, seven miles off, for picking wood, when a reprimand and a caution to their parents would have been sufficient for a first offence. A man, wheat-hoeing, came upon five partridge eggs laying on the bare ground, which the took and laid on his jacket in the field, was fined 35s. His earnest assertions that he put them in safety to give the bailiff, went for nothing against the evidence of a keeper, who secretly watched him behind a hedge. That sentence sent ruin into an honest man's home. Two young men reaping on the same farm, were fined 30s each for taking up a dead rabbit which had been placed in a snare while they were away; the same keeper being behind the hedge. Another young man, charged with poaching, took enough evidence to satisfy any Court that he had not left his home. He had to get a lawyer, take a cart-load of witnesses, and spend eight pounds to establish his innocence. Another, less fortunate, had three witnesses to his innocence in court, and begged for an adjournment to bring more, was refused, and fined 35s. An enquiry, promised by the Home Secretary was made by the policeman who served the summons, acting under the orders of the clerk to the Magistrates who tried the case; of course it could have but one result. It would take up too much of your space to insert all the cases that I could quote, but I will give two others. Oliver Booker was stopped on his way home by a bough blown off a tree, which had obstructed the traffic many days, and compelled persons to get out of their vehicles. He put an end to the obstruction by taking the bough in his trap, and putting it in his garden openly. Our zealous policeman got knowledge of it, and actually went to Shipston and obtained a warrant to arrest Booker. He was locked up in the police cell two days and nights, and committed to Worcester Sessions, when he got off without punishment. If this was an offense, and not a public service, as many would think, a summons would have been sufficient. The last case, and the one which was the immediate cause of the outbreak, was that of Jones; for a trifling assault on a young servant girl, as much to blame as himself, he was summoned. Before the day of hearing, they made the matter up, and expected to hear no more about it, but our policeman, as before, obtained a warrant to arrest. He executed it, without mentioning or producing the warrant, by rushing at Jones from behind. A violent struggle ensued, lasting nearly three parts of an hour, which ended in Jones regaining his liberty, and the policeman going home beaten, hooted by a crowd of women and children which this exhibition of lawless violence and weakness had gathered. Jones became the hero of the public-house frequenters, who vowed vengeance on Drury if he was convicted. The next day Jones appeared in court voluntarily. This time prudence prevailed. Little or nothing was said about the street fight between Jones and the policeman. The case was dismissed, and the party adjourned to a public-house to drink whisky at Jones's expense. This double victory over the police caused great excitement among the public-house frequenters in Blockley, and an angry crown assembled in and around their head-quarters, the Crown. Drury was advised, before leaving Shipston, not to show himself up street, and had he taken this advice, in all probability the riot would not have broken out, but he persisted in going into the Crown kitchen, filled with infuriated men. He could not quietly endure their banter about his black eye, and Mrs Herbert's quart pots hurled at his head drove him homewards, followed by a drunken mob. What followed has been described in your report of the examination of the prisoners. I have said sufficient to show that the administration of the law has been such as to cause great discontent. If an enquiry were instituted by the Lord-Lieutenant, or Government, it would, I think, show that a change in the conduct of police prosecutions here is required; also a reform of the Petty-Sessional Court at Shipston. It is not right, or safe, that an ordinary policeman should have power to obtain summonses or warrants at his discretion, to take people seven miles from home. And it is not in the interests of justice or peace that a Court should have the reputation which Shipston Petty-Sessions has acquired. Two of its members especially are dreaded for their s-----ey. Reform in these particulars is absolutely required to restore respect for the law, and it is to be hoped by some means it will be carried out, - I am sure.
Blockley, 13th June, 1878
R. B. Belcher
P.S. - What has happened since the riot is not c----ated to allay angry feelings. A man standing in the street one night, quiet and sober, was roughly ordered by a policeman to move on. He said he would as soon as he had lighted his pipe. Hereupon the policeman dealt him with a blow and kick from behind as few men would have taken quietly. Had he retaliated, he would have been, of course, arrested for an assault, heavily fined or imprisoned, and possibly another disturbance brought on.


Everyone agrees that the worst trouble was at the Crown Inn and a remarkable account exists, taken down in shorthand, many years ago by Miss Mary Dee from the recollections of Mrs Hancock, who was nine years old when it happened. An unpopular and over-zealous policeman named Drury was determined to clean up the village and declared war on poachers. "Why, if you kicked a stun along the street he wur after you ... Every time there was a magistrates' meeting at Shipston, he wur theer wi' ten or twelve Blockley men. One day the magistrate told 'im 'If you bring such paltry cases 'ere agen, I won't 'ear 'em'. Now that day, the day of the riots, he 'ad took about a dozen Blockley men to Shipston ... and Mrs Pate Keyte in Lower Street was servant at the Crown and 'er see it all ... at 10 o'clock 'e must needs goo upinto the Crown and peep over the settle. Theer they was, a-sittin' and a-drinkin' many of 'em half drunk and when they seed 'is 'ead come over the top of the settle, somebody banged a quart pot 'o beer at it and 'it it ... he took to 'is 'eels and they arter 'im along the 'igh Street ... every doer along that street opened and out come somebody else to join in. He made straight off down the churchyard to 'is 'ome, they followin'. My mother were a-darning' stockings and when 'er 'eard the runnin' off 'er went and of course I 'ad to follow 'er ... and got upon the mill wall and dangled me legs over the top ... I could see all as went on. Well, 'e got to 'is 'ouse and got inside ... they was a 'owling mob and they was determined to get 'im ... battered the door down and got in. Them as couldn't get in, throwed stuns at the winders. Well, they fetched 'im out and they mauled 'im and then they dipped 'im in the brook ... a time or two and then Pate Keyte, 'is father and Oliver Eastbury as 'ad 'elped to knock 'im about, 'e carried 'im in and carried 'im upstairs, washed 'im ... and 'e wanted washin' and stayed by 'im all night. You know, they'd 'a killed 'im if somebody 'and't fetched 'im away from 'em for by that time they 'ad very nearly killed 'im ... Five got away, but five were took; four on 'em got 18 months ... Now when all them men 'ad done thur time at 'Ooster, theer was great doins the days they came 'ome. They closed the mill ... and all the women wi' tin cans and kettles and pots and pans and trays went down to the station to meet 'em and drummed 'em into the village".

Many were fugitives for years and were never caught: the policeman recovered and ultimately became Chief Constable of Malvern, N.M.M.   

Passages from the book the Autobiography of Richard Boswell Belcher of Banbury and Blockley. A lot more information can be found in this book along with theSmall Pox epidemic. Published by the Blockley Antiquarian society in 1976.