Picture of Henry Vincent

Henry Vincent

places mentioned

Apr. 1: The Devizes Riot

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MONDAY, April 1. — Rose at half-past five. Left Bath for Bradford immediately in company with our truly honest and patriotic friend, Mr. Roberts, in his gig. The morning very wet. Arrived in Bradford at a quarter to seven. The town was all alive; hundreds of men and women were parading the streets in the wet, expecting us to address them in the Market-place previous to our departure for Devizes. We breakfasted in the cottage of William Swift, a steady and zealous Radical, whose excellent wife made us a strong cup of tea. At half-past seven we drove to the Market-place, and briefly addressed the people. The greatest enthusiasm prevailed. Although the rain fell heavily they promised to march with us to Devizes. We then drove on to Trowbridge; and at nine o'clock addressed an immense concourse of persons from the window of Mr. Potts, druggist, in the Market-place. Potts is one of the best Radicals I ever met with. I found that bills had been issued by the magistrates and manufacturers warning the people against attending the "illegal" meeting. "Illegal" , eh! — verily, John Clarke and Co., you are greater donkies than I had imagined. Legal , John! Perfectly legal! Our speeches were received with the greatest enthusiasm, and as many as could, promised to walk with us to Devizes in half an hour. A little before ten a procession of about 1000 left Trowbridge. The rain descended in torrents, with the pleasing prospect of twelve' miles march before us. We passed through several small villages, and were joined by all the labourers who were sufficiently free from the trammels of the Aristocrats. We found bills circulated through the villages by the parsons, farmers, and others, telling the men "we wished to separate man and wife", and "do away with agricultural labourers". We found that the yeomanry were ordered out, and troops under arms in all directions. At two o'clock we halted within a mile of Devizes, and were joined by the Bradford, Chippenham, and Bromham men. We were all nearly wet through. Our number now reached about 4000. Within a half mile of the town the procession halted, and I received the following note from a gentleman of Devizes, whose name I purposely suppress:—


I regret to inform you that there is a very strong body of villains brought to attack you. I have been credibly informed that there is nearly 1000 already; they are walking up and down the streets waiting like Mad Bulls, thirsting in their ignorance for the Patriot's blood. The troop of lancers are standing by their horses in the Bear Yard, ready at a moment's notice to come out and fire. The Tories whom the Vindicator exposed on Saturday, are all, I believe without exception, armed with a brace of pistols, determined to make a cullender of Vincent and Carrier, they say, at the peril of their own lives. I have been informed that the Mayor has received a letter from the Government to watch the proceedings of this meeting. I would then, in the name of prudence, suggest the propriety of turning on Poulshot green — you would then make April Fools of your opponents, save life , be heard, and win converts to your principles. Mr. —— one of the Yeomanry strongly requests it, to avoid a dreadful riot, which if you come will doubtless ensue.

Several other Devizes friends said that we must enter the town, and that they believed all would go off quietly. After considering a few minutes, and impressing upon our people the necessity of keeping the strictest order we marched towards it eight abreast. We heard that the Tories had barricaded the Devizes gate. Such was not the case, for we walked through the streets without the slightest interruption. On passing through the streets we were cheered by some of the most respectable inhabitants of the town from their windows. On nearing the Market-place I observed the Lancers, under arms, and a large number of special constables, and also perceived all the streets round the Market-place were filled by large bodies of men, many of whom appeared to be railway labourers. A wagon was placed in front of the Market Cross, and our friends gradually took up their position around it. All the shops were closed, and the windows around the Market filled with spectators. Mr. Roberts and myself jumped upon the hustings. A horn blew in the rear of the hustings immediately, when a stone struck me on the back part of the head and knocked me out of the waggon. The horns now blew in all directions, and an indiscriminate attack was made upon us with large bludgeons heavily loaded with molten lead. When I recovered from the effect of the blow, I found our friends defending the waggon, and Mr. Roberts standing in it. I saw many well-dressed persons directing the attack, armed with pistols. After receiving several blows, I again got up to the waggon, and we remounted it, but found it impossible to speak. The battle had now become general. Our flag was taken and retaken several times. On descending from the waggon I was almost entirely separated from my friends. I observed a well- dressed individual look at me — he retired quickly, and in a moment I was assailed by about twenty bludgeon men. A few friends perceiving my danger (one of whom, I believe, was young Tucker, of Bath) immediately rushed to my assistance, and by a desperate effort we soon regained a larger body of our friends. I was entirely separated from Roberts and Carrier. I was now standing by a flag. A rush was made to obtain possession of it; but our friends bravely and successfully defended it and bore it off in safety. I was next attacked by a tall man, wearing a glazed round cap, and a sort of belted frock. He was at the head of a large number of ruffians. They made use of the most horrible oaths. "Death to Vincent, Roberts, and Carrier", was yelled in chorus. The tall fellow (WHO IS MARKED AND KNOWN) raised his heavy club to the utmost height his arms could reach, and aimed a well-directed blow at my fore-head. I gave way, and received a severe blow on the chest. Finding the confusion increase, and being in the midst of clubs striking in all directions, I gave up all hope of preserving my life. I again met with Carrier and Roberts, and we though the most prudent course to be adopted would be to adjourn the meeting to the Curriers' Arms. We acquainted all our friends that we possibly could, and with them, and a body of special constables, we reached the house in safety. Mr. Roberts addressed the people for a short time, explaining our principles, and was loudly cheered. I also briefly addressed the meeting amidst much enthusiasm. The horns were again blown, and I could see the bludgeon men (who had been replenished with the contents of a few barrels of beer) again mustering for the attack, so I recommended the country people to leave the town quietly and not fight with any body unless attacked. I then proposed three cheers for the people, which were given with the greatest enthusiasm - - and three groans for the "Tory bloodmen" — which were given with appalling earnestness, and the meeting dispersed in a very orderly manner. They had not left us half an hour before our house was surrounded by the Tory mob. Our country friends left the house, a few of them together, and I have not heard that any of them were hurt. By this time the High-Sheriff, and several magistrates arrived. The Sheriff addressed the mob from the window, and told them that unless they dispersed he would not be answerable for their lives. He then asked us if we intended leaving the town that night. We said yes. We told him we had ordered our friends to retire lest there might be another disturbance. He said he would see us safe with all the protection he could afford. I shall give the remainder of the particulars relative to our getting out of Devizes next week. For the present, let my friends rest assured that neither myself, Roberts, nor Carrier, are injured. We have a few bruises which will soon mend. I may just state that had it not been for the very laudable and Christian conduct of a few of the Tories, that myself and Roberts would have been killed.

Henry Vincent, 'Life and Rambles', in the Western Vindicator , no.7 (6th April 1839), p.4

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