Riotous Assemblies: Popular Protest in Hanoverian England

Riotous Assemblies: Popular Protest in Hanoverian England

Riotous Assemblies: Popular Protest in Hanoverian England

Riotous Assemblies: Popular Protest in Hanoverian England


Riotous Assemblies examines eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England through the lens of popular disorder. Tackling both the more closely-studied forms of protest, such as food riots, industrial disorders, and political disturbances, and much less well understood occasions of popular disorder, such as tax riots, turnpike riots, riots against the establishment of the militia, and religious riot, Adrian Randall re-engages the study of riot within a widerinterpretation of the forces - social, economic and political - which were transforming society. He pays particular attention to disturbances in the years between 1795 and 1812, critically examining how far they indicated the major discontinuities discerned by earlier histories of protest, or whether they retained much ofthe character of earlier upheaval. Based upon detailed case studies and drawing upon the most recent research, the book extends the focus of earlier studies of protest. It locates the origins of disorder within the concepts of constitutionalism and the free-born Englishman, and argues that older attitudes proved far more tenacious than many have allowed.


Embarking upon a project like this in the age of ‘Research Assessment Exercises’ might be regarded by the prudent either as wilful self-indulgence or as reckless folly. ‘But it will only count as one’, Directors of Research might legitimately wail. ‘With that number of words, you might have produced all four items.’ Having myself been engaged in the academic ‘management’ business for ten out of the past fifteen years, this is a view with which I have some sympathy. I am very grateful, therefore, to Chris Wickham who, charged with cracking the whip, has resolutely encouraged me forward and refrained from making nasty noises as the book’s completion slipped ever back. He has, moreover, offered trenchant and informed criticism, all of which has been gratefully received. John Breuilly, who, as Head of Department, suggested in a staff development review five or more years ago that I write such a book, might have been having second thoughts had he not departed for pastures new, but I owe him a debt of thanks for the encouragement to start. The Arts and Humanities Research Board, as they then were, provided me the extended study leave to ‘complete’ the project and were remarkably understanding when protracted illness delayed the typescript’s first submission to Oxford University Press.

In my defence I might argue that completion has been hindered by the myriad demands on my time as a Dean. In some respects that role has many echoes of an eighteenth-century justice: a deal of time is taken up with the higher education equivalent of poor law disputes, apprenticeship, and custody cases. I have not, though, been called upon to quell a riot, at least not as yet. However, it must be confessed, I am notoriously slow to finish anything that fits the category ‘research outputs’. I have a fondness for ‘thick description’, believing that one cannot satisfactorily establish a case unless one explains the full context. And the longer I take, the more I tend to find out and therefore want to investigate further. Since this is just the kind of excuse no longer tolerated among the journeymen in the workshops of academe, it is perhaps a good job that, like Squire Weston and his penchant for swearing, I have taken out my ‘dedimus’ and secured my seat on the bench, if only for a period.

This book has had two ‘readers’ in mind who, sadly, will never read it. My father, Frederick, read everything I had written with care and critically, in the nicest sense of the word. His neighbour for nearly fifty years, Joe Drewett, read, in his own words, ‘the interesting bits’. They were both ordinary working men, born

Readers outside the UK should understand that the Research Assessment Exercise is the modern academic equivalent of the excise, and every citizen wishing to retain his or her citizenship must provide four items for evaluation to the commissioners on a regular basis.

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