Back in January 2021 the group had it’s first Zoom meeting where we learned about the Bridges of Bristol. Prominent amongst them of course was Bristol Bridge itself which was built on the site of the original crossing. In the third Zoom talk, held on Tuesday 9th March, the speaker was Michael Manson and his presentation was of the Bristol Bridge riots of 1793.
A new Bristol Bridge, built with Monmouth stone, was completed in 1768 and right from the outset tolls were charged to cross it. This did not go down well with local people which eventually led to the events of September 1793. At that time with five weekly newspapers Bristolians were kept well informed of what was happening. The official government of Bristol
consisted of the Mayor and twelve Aldermen. There was no police force just Parish Constaples so when there was trouble the Hereford Militia were called who were billeted at the old Council House.
And so to the fateful day of Monday 29th September. Crowds had gathered. At 9am a chain was pulled across the roadway. Around 10.30am the Riot Act was read three times. Traffic came to a halt and the Militia was sent for. The protests continued until dusk when the Militia withdrew and free passage was allowed. More people joined the crowd and the National Anthem was sung. A bonfire was started on the bridge and a squad of eight soldiers marched to the bridge but promptly withdrew when they saw the size of the crowd. The protests continued and later the Militia again returned to the bridge but this time they opened fire to the south, reloaded and fired north. As a result eleven people died and 45 were injured.
So who was responsible? Those who wanted an enquiry were branded as trouble makers.
At the inquest a verdict of ‘wilful murder by the person who ordered the military to fire’ was rejected by the coroner. Officially, who was responsible would be either the Mayor or the Commander of the militia.
An unofficial committee of enquiry, chaired by Edward Long Fox, was advised to not continue with a prosecution unless it had very complete proof.
So in conclusion the corporation got away with it, the toll was never re-instated.
Once again this was a very interesting zoom presentation enjoyed by all who logged on.