My Astonishing Find, A Link To The 1831 Reform Riots & Almost A Revolution

Favourite Finds


Welcome to another Blog Post from me.

This instalment is all about an astonishing find I had recently, with my findings continuing to develop quite rapidly the more I dig into its story.  I felt it necessary, after my recent video about the piece, to update you all on what is fast becoming a 'Museum Piece'.

So, without further ado, let's get down to business.


Image:  my Peter Maze Jnr Bristol Reform Riots relic


The piece in question is this unusual relic pictured above.  A piece of cylindrical shaped wood with a brass surround which was engraved with the wording "Peter Maze Jnr November 1831 Bristol Riots & Fire 29th, 30th and 31st October."


Image:  my Peter Maze Jnr Bristol Reform Riots relic


My first port of call was to research the reform riots in 1831 and this is what I found out.  In 1831 there were serious riots in Bristol, Derby and Nottingham. In Bristol crowds of people looted and burned down buildings, including the Mansion House, the Bishop's Palace and the new jail. The riots were a protest at the House of Lords preventing the Reform Bill from passing through Parliament. More people would have the right to vote if the Reform Bill became law.


Image:  my Peter Maze Jnr Bristol Reform Riots relic


Before the Reform Act of 1832 just 5% of the population in England and Wales had the right to vote. The right to vote depended on a person's wealth: if you were a small landowner, or wealthier, you were entitled to vote. Bristol had two MPs. Its population was 100,000.


 Image:  my Peter Maze Jnr Bristol Reform Riots relic


So, with this, I began trying to find out a bit more about 'Peter Maze Junior'.  It turns out that Peter, along with his Father, 'Peter Maze Senior', were rather successful businessmen, with their fingers in a lot of pies, so to speak.  They owned property and land, and as such, would have been part of the lucky 5% who had the right to vote. I further learnt that he was an avid Tory and that he may have actually run to become a local MP.


Image:  Sir Charles Wetherell

Anyway, back to the riots now.  The Bristol Riots were a reaction to the statement in Parliament of Bristol's Senior Judge Sir Charles Wetherell, that the people of Bristol were not in favour of reform. Actually, Bristol had gathered a petition of 17,000 signatures supporting the Reform Bill. Wetherell was also an MP for Boroughbridge, a 'Rotten Borough' in Yorkshire where just 48 men were eligible to vote.

Before Wetherell came on his annual visit to Bristol, public meetings were organised in Queen Square on 10th, 11th and 12th October. Demonstrators met Wetherell on his arrival in Bristol on 29th October, then full scale rioting broke out, and angry crowds of protesters held the city for two days. The authorities had arranged for two troops of cavalry, the 3rd and 14th Dragoons, as well as for special volunteer constables ('bludgeon boys') to control the crowd.


Image: the 3rd Dragoon Guards violently suppressing the Bristol Riots of 1831 - Bristol Radical History Group


In the book, 'The Bristol Riots' by Susan Thomas, she explains how;

"...the security arrangements were clearly inadequate. With less than a hundred regular constables in the whole city, untrained 'special' constables (the so called Bludgeon Boys) had to be recruited.  In the event, however, the widespread refusal of the 'respectable' classes to volunteer their services led to the hiring of 119 men who owed no such loyalty and who were widely regarded as 'bludgeon men'.  Hostility towards the 'specials' mounted rapidly on the Saturday afternoon as people watched their violent and indiscriminate sallies into the crowd and one rioter died as a result of blows dealt him by the constables in Queen Square."


Image: Bludgeon Boy truncheon from Bristol Riots - M Shed, Bristol People Gallery


In fact, it was during my contacting of various museums within Bristol that I discovered an item on display at 'M Shed, Bristol People Gallery', that looked very similar to that of my piece. It is displayed in the social history department (object no. T7346) and describes the item as a "turned wooden constable's staff with brass head with spherical brass knob on the end. Bearing an inscription of George Baker Special Constable at the Bristol Riots Oct. the 29th, 30th & 31st October 1831."


Image: Bludgeon Boy truncheon from Bristol Riots - M Shed, Bristol People Gallery


Back to the riots.  When the crowd attacked the Council House in Corn Street near midnight on the Saturday, the 14th Dragoons charged.  Two men were killed and there was a short lull during which the Dragoons were withdrawn. The officer in command of the soldiers was Lieutenant-Colonel Brereton. He believed that some of the Dragoons were actually causing more trouble and ordered them away.


Image:  Bristol burning during the Reform Riots - Bristol Radical History Group


Bristol's Senior Judge Sir Charles Wetherell escaped dressed as a woman while the crowds stayed, looting the wine cellar of the Mansion House and becoming drunk and reckless.  Over the next two days rioters broke into Bridewell Jail and Lawford's Gate Prison and set prisoners free. The Tollhouses, the Bishop's Palace and, in Queen Square, the Mansion House and the Custom House, were all attacked.


Image:  Bristol Reform Riots - Bristol Radical History Group


At dawn on Monday 31st October the destruction of the south side of Queen Square had begun when the 3rd Dragoons charged, bringing the rioting to a final and violent end.


Image:  Bristol burning during the Reform Riots - Bristol Radical History Group

It is uncertain how many people were killed during the Bristol Riots. Rioters were put on trial in January 1832. Seven were transported to Australia and 43 were imprisoned. Five others, Christopher Davies, Richard Vines, Joseph Kayes, William Clarke and Thomas Gregory, were sentenced to be hanged in front of the New Jail. Vines was reprieved. Lieutenant-Colonel Brereton, who had sent the 14th Dragoons away on the Saturday night, was court-martialled, believed by many to be a scapegoat. Tragically he committed suicide before the trial was concluded.


Image:  Peter Maze Snr & Peter Maze Jnr Tomb Slab in Bristol Cathedral


Interestingly, I then discovered that our Peter Maze Junior is recorded as being Sheriff of Bristol in 1833, two years after the Bristol Riots.  He was clearly a man of some standing within the City, with, quite evidently, a penchant for keeping law and order.

In fact, you'll see in the photo above that both Peter Maze Senior and Peter Maze Junior have a tomb slab within Bristol Cathedral, which just shows the wealth and status of the two men.  You'll see that on the tomb slab, Peter Maze Junior has the title of High Sheriff.


Image: Left - my Relic & Right - the truncheon from M Shed, Bristol People Gallery


Based on the evidence I've gathered, I believe Peter Maze Junior, with his status within the city and with his penchant for law and order, may have been a volunteer special constable or 'Bludgeon Boy' during the riots in Bristol on 29th, 30th and 31st of October 1831.  Furthermore, based on the glaring similarities between my piece and the truncheon displayed at the 'M Shed, Bristol People Gallery' (see pictured above), I believe that my piece may well be the head of the truncheon used by Peter Maze Junior in violently attempting to keep order in Bristol during these riots.

This is therefore a piece of important Bristol social history and one that is perhaps even more significant than I had first imagined.  I have contacted a few of the Bristol Museums to see if they hold any further information on Peter Maze Junior and I am awaiting their reply.  If I found out anything further, particularly if its juicy, I will of course add the information to the comments section at the foot of this post. 


Image:  my Peter Maze Jnr Bristol Reform Riots relic


You'll be pleased to hear that this astonishing piece of history is currently available to buy HERE



Anyway, that's it for this instalment.  I hope you've enjoyed this look into the astonishing reform riots of 1831, at moment in history that put Britain on the brink of a revolution...! As always, let me know what you think in the comments section below, it's always a pleasure to hear from you.

Thanks for reading and until next time, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!




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