The Spa Fields Riots, 1816

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, writes Arthur Calder-Marshall, London became a centre of reforming agitation against poverty and political mismanagement.

Shortly after noon on Monday, December 2nd, 1816, a young man wearing a tri-coloured cockade in his hat stood on a cart outside the Pie House in Spa Fields, Finsbury, and harangued a crowd that had collected to hear Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt report on a petition to the Prince Regent. Hunt was not due to arrive until 1p.m. But the young man, named Watson, announced the result of the petition.

To relieve the unemployment and starvation at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Prince Regent in his generosity had advanced £4,000 to the Spitalfields Soup Kitchen, not out of his own pocket but out of the ‘Droits’ which the demobilized seamen expected of their own right as Prize Money.

‘It seems the determined resolution of Ministers to carry things in their own way,’ cried young Watson, trying to attract the attention of as many as possible of the fifty thousand people who had massed on theother side ofthe Fields to hear Hunt, ‘or, as they call it, “Our Sovereign Lord the King will carry every thing with firmness”. That is to say, they will carry the business in defiance of the voice of the people. If they will not give us what they want, shall we not take it? (Yes, Yes!) Are you willing to take it? (Yes!) Will you go and take it? (Yes!) If I jump down among you, will you come and take it? (Yes, Yes! from a thousand voices.)'

At that young Watson seized the largest of the tri-coloured flags which were planted on the cart, waved his hat and jumped into the crowd. Police Officer Limbrick, from the Hatton Garden station, who had been waiting for this moment, drew his cutlass and immediately collared him.

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