The Bread Riot at Newbury during 1766

Newbury bread riot of 1766

The costly wars in which England was engaged almost continuously throughout the eightieth century had a most disastrous effect on the manufacturing resources of the county, and almost paralysed many branches of industry. Especially was this the case as regards the clothing trade, in which Newbury at this time still considerably engaged, consequently there was a great scarcity of employment and the common necessaries of life were raised to so high a price by those who were able to take advantage of the monopoly they enjoyed, that the poor were crushed down to a pitiable state of starvation and despair.

It was therefore no wonder although not to be excused, that when no one would stand up to be the poor man’s friend, the bread-winners of that day at last rose in defence of their starving families to vindicate the wrongs to which they felt they had been subjected.

The millers and bakers of the town and neighbourhood were the especial offenders, as notwithstanding the price of wheat was not immoderately high, they kept up the price of bread much in excess of what was fair and legitimate. At last the long subdued feeling of discontent found forcible expression. On a certain market day in August, during the time the sack of corn were being pitched for sale, the people broke out into wild riot.

Upsetting the open stalls, they flung themselves upon the scattered provisions, corn, meat, butter, and eggs, wrecked a couple of houses and so alarmed the bakers that they at once lowered the price of bread, and promised a further reduction. But the spirit of the mob was not easily to be managed. They proceeded to break into the mills, and throw the corn into the river; windows were broken, and damage to the extent of £1,000 was done. Several persons were injured in the fray, one of them fatally.

The military had to be summoned before this disturbance could be quelled. Happily, it was perceived that the rioters had much reason on their side, however unreasonable their mode of expressing their wrongs might be, and it is satisfactory to know that bread was afterwards sold to the poor at a cheap rate of 9d per gallon loaf, public subscriptions being raised for the purpose, while the millers agreed to grind their wheat free of charge. The Corporation made good the damage done to the farmers in the market, the ringleaders of the mob were tried and punished, and the town sank back to its usual peaceful condition.