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The language of the unheard: civil disorder in Staffordshire 1640-1842

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'The Language or the Unheard' attempts to reconstruct the history or civil ctiaorder within Staffordshire between 1640 and 1842. The prime sources for the study are newapapers, State Papers and Assizes and Quarter Sessions Court records. The latter are perhaps the most significant and legal definitions at the time, together with the whole legal process, are crucial in limiting the nature of the subsequent historical record. Indeed, it ia poasib1e to argue that the record recreates the history or the reaction to disorder rather than or the phenomenon itself.

Using the available sources with their evident limitations, the thesis initially reconstructs the history or civil disorder in four chronological chapters. The first of these, 1640-1714, witnesses Revolutions, Restoration and the complex and interrelationship between religion and politics which acts as an apparent spur to much disorder. The period 1714-1751 ia dominated by anti-Dissenter disturbance, variously associated with the Jacobite cause, whilst the latter half of the 18th century sees a dramatic rise in food rioting. During the early 19th century there is a fall in the frequency of food rioting which corresponds to an increase in riots associated with strike action, particularly amongst colliers, in which strike breakers, rather than employers, are the focus of riotous behaviour. The same period also sees the rise of popular involvement in the call for Parliamentary reform and, post 1832, a dramatic increase in election rioting. Throughout, there are disturbances associated with popular forms of entertainment and opposition to legal officials.

Follwoing the reconstruction of the history of civil disorder in the county, the thesis analyses the frequency and incidence of disorder over the whole period and the rioters themselves in terms of social/occupational status and sex. Whilst women are seen to have a central role in food rioting their indictment for involvement in riot in the early 19th century declines markedly in comparison to men. Artisans have a central role throughout, although colliers are perhape one of the most significant individual occupational groups. The incidence of riot and the numerical size of riots increases in the early 19th century and there is a particular increase in the frequency of riot in the north of the county. In spite of the frequency of riot from 1640 to 1842, there is only one recorded incident of the death penalty being used against a convicted rioter.

Publication Date Jan 1, 1991
Publicly Available Date Jun 16, 2023


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