In a period of upheaval on the home and world stage, I thought it might be interesting to look back at public protest in Winchester. You may not associate Winchester with a hot bed of protest, but one of my favourite Winchester stories is that of the Winchester gun riot!
For decades a Russian cannon captured at Sebastopol had stood at the junction of East Street and the Broadway (roughly where King Alfred’s statue is now) serving as a monument to Winchester men who fought in the Crimea. The gun provided a focal point for local people and served as a meeting place. In the run up to the National Pageant that was due to take place in Winchester in the summer of 1908, the city council decided to remove the gun carriage and undertake some maintenance repairs, including the removal of the railings around the gun carriage.
Local residents were concerned that without the railings, the gun carriage would become a nuisance with children playing on it and causing a disturbance. A protest meeting was held, led by local man Joe Dumper and signatures gathered on a petition against the removal of the railings. However, the authorities did not wait to gauge the public mood further and removed the railings forthwith. On 25 May 1908, angry residents hurriedly convened another public meeting which quickly got out of control and turned disorderly. The ‘mob’ used ropes to pull the gun from its carriage and then went on a violent rampage destroying property and causing injuries to the police. I wonder if the irony of this disturbance occurred to those who attended meetings worried about what would happen if the railings were taken away?
In the image below taken by photographer C.E.S. Beloe of Worthy Road, Winchester (ref: HPP5/1/35. Courtesy of Edward Roberts) you can see the gun the day after the disturbance, surrounded by Winchester residents.
Hampshire Record Office holds two fascinating sets of correspondence relating to the Winchester gun riot. The first contains reports to Hampshire County Council’s Standing Joint Committee (ref: H/CL4/1/6) in which the Chief Constable, Major Warde, made statements implying that the Mayor of Winchester had ‘lost his nerve’ and lacked courage in his handling of the events. The second series consists of copy letters dated 29 May 1908 and sent from the Head Constable, W Felton, to the Mayor informing him of the disorder in the city (ref: W/C2/6/19).
“I respectfully beg to report for your information in consequence of the disorderly conduct and damage done to Public and Private Property in the City on the night of Monday the 25th instant, an in anticipation of further disturbance taking place on the night of the 26th instant, I received instructions from His Worship the Mayor, Chairman of the Watch Committee, to obtain the assistance of 300 Special Constables to assist in preserving order.”
W Felton goes on to say in the same letter that “there was considerable disorder, shouting and rushing by the crowd which the Police checked. The crowd also tried to rush the gates of the Guildhall Yard to get at the Special Constables, but this was prevented by the Uniformed Constables. His Worship the Mayor and others from the Guildhall steps requested the crowd to disperse. A portion of the Special Constables were sent out to assist the Uniformed Constables to disperse the crowd, stones were thrown and one window in the School of Art was broken and one public lamp. Police Constable No. 12 Chance was struck in the face by a stone thrown by some person in the crowd and rendered insensible…. Other Constables were assaulted and five persons were arrested and charged with various offences.”
Few would expect to look round genteel Winchester, that the city has seen its share of public disorder.