'Pat-riot-ism': Sectarian Violence
and Public Disorder
WHILE the threat of physical force nationalism was sporadic, disturbance and direct action on the streets were endemic in Victorian Liverpool. Contemporary commentators had a ready explanation: the presence of 'riotous' Irish whose propensity to violence was compounded by 'pre-industrial' notions of time and work discipline. Head Constable Dowling described the Irish labourers working on the construction of the dock extensions in the 1840s as 'the most reckless, violent set of people that can be imagined':
They assist each other, and attack the authorities, whoever they may be;
they keep the neighbourhood where they reside, which is the North part
of the town of Liverpool, in a constant state of uproar and confusion on
Saturday nights, Sunday and Mondays and generally a part of Tuesday.1
When a bitter east wind persisted in February 1855, preventing most inbound shipping from reaching port, there were 'old-style' bread riots throughout the impoverished north end, an anachronistic reprise of eighteenth-century collective bargaining by riot with women to the fore: 83 of the 106 people arrested were Irish.2 The police were to request the aid of the Volunteers when there were fears of similar riots in 1861 and 1867, provoked in the latter instance by the precipitate action of shopkeepers in Scotland Road in boarding up their shops.3
Anxiety about riot intensified at times of industrial dispute on the
1 Quoted in Neal, Sectarian Violence, p.143.
2 R.M. Jones, 'The Liverpool Bread Riots, 1855', Bulletin of the North West Labour History
Society, 6, 1979–80, pp.33–42.
3 LVRO, 352POL2/1, 15 Jan. 1861; 2/2, 18 Feb. 1862; and 2/4, 21 Jan. 1867.