Voices from the Old Bailey

The new series of 'Voices from the Old Bailey' is on BBC Radio 4, Wednesday 27 July, 9am, repeated at 9.30pm. The first programme is on riots. It's presented, exquisitely as always, by Amanda Vickery.

I'll be talking about the Wilkes and Liberty Riots of 1768 (note the BBC website is a little misleading in having riot in the singular - there were many, many riots during that crazy time when John Wilkes's supporters tried to get him out his prison sentence and re-elected back into parliament). The Wilkes riots were important because they were the first time ordinary working people got involved in a mass scale in political demonstrations campaigning for reform in parliament. 'Liberty' had a very ambiguous meaning, so the agitation for the libertine and later Mayor of London Wilkes was able to encompass a wide range of grievances.

I'm not sure how much of me will be kept off the cutting room floor, but hopefully I'll also be talking about food riots too. The image of the ballad from the British Museum website is a Cheap Repository Tract, and was designed to dissuade plebeians from rioting during the harvest failure years of 1795 and 1799-1800. It's an epitome of the 'conversation between two yokels' type of propaganda that loyalists and moralists thought most effective in the late eighteenth century.

Peter King and Tim Hitchcock will be discussing the Penlez riots of 1749 and the Gordon riots of 1780. Note also although the statement 'left-wing historians of the 70s and 80s ignored the Gordon Riots because they didn't fit their ideological model of the noble rioter,' is kind of correct, this does not mean that they are the preserve of 'right-wing' historians. The classic work on the riots still remains by George Rude, 'The Gordon Riots: A Study of the Rioters and their Victims', Trans. Royal Historical Society, 5th ser. 6 (1956).

Link to BBC site here


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