Cambridgeshire, EnglandGenWeb Project - Littleport Riots

The Littleport Riots - 22 May 1816

After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 England was left in a very poor condition. The rates and taxes raised to pay for the wars had rendered farmers and other employers too poor themselves to pay very much for labour. There were hundreds of people who were not just poor but very poor to the point of starvation. All over the country at this time there was general dissatisfaction.

This general dissatisfaction hotted up and eventually boiled over in Litleport on 22nd May 1816 in the Globe Inn (since removed) where the would-be rioters were angry and inflamed with drink. This situation inevitably led to a riot. They broke into houses and shops in the Main Street, marched on the vicarage and generally caused mayhem. They then decided to March on to Ely where they caused more disruption before returning to Littleport. News reached them that the Militia had been called from Bury St Edmunds and so they decided to barricade themselves in the George and Dragon public house.

In the ensuing fight two men were shot, many were arrested and committed for trial. Five were hanged, several were transported to Australia and some were imprisoned. Nearly every family on the village was affected in one way or another by the uprising.

Isaac Harley, aged 33, was one of the rioters. He was accused of forcibly entering the dwelling house of John Vauxhall, Clerk, and stealing many articles of plate, linen and china and also committing burlary at the house of Rebecca Waddelow of Littleport as well as committing an assault on William Martin of Downham, a farmer.


At nine o'clock on Friday morning last, the Ordinary (the Rev. R. Griffith) performed his last religious offices in the gaol with the prisoners under sentence of death, and about half an hour after the great bell of St. Mary's tolled the signal, when John Dennis, George Crow, William Beamiss, the elder, Thomas South the younger, and Isaac Harley, were brought out with white caps on their heads, tied with black ribbands, and ascended a cart with elevated seats on each side, covered with black cloth, to be conveyed to the usual place of execution. Several of the Magistrates attended in person, accompanied by not less than three hundred of the most respectable inhabitants of the isle, on horseback, with white wands. All the peace officers, with additional ones sworn in special on the occasion, headed by Mr. Edwards, and three other chief constables, with their staffs of office covered with black crape, forming a large body, preceded and followed the melancholy procession, which was conducted without the necessity of any military aid.

The unhappy sufferers demonstrated the most sincere contrition, and signed an acknowledgement of the justice of their senntence, which they gave to the Ordinary before they left the prison, hoping that their fate would prove an example to the country, and deter others from the perpetration or such crimes for which they were about to die, and particularly their confederates, who had so mercifully escaped being made partakers in their sufferings.

The procession reached the place of execution about eleven o'clock, where a platform was erected, with a drop, which they ascended. The spectacle was awful and impressive on the surrounding multitude. When they reached the platform they knelt down severally, and prayed fervently for a considerable time; the Ordinary then went up to them and assisted them in their last devotions; after this John Dennis addressed the multitude as follows:

"All you who are witness in this my disgraceful end, I exhort you, in the name of God, that God before whom I must shortly appear, to avoid drunkenness, Sabbath-breaking, whoremongery, and had company : oh! beware of these sins. I pray you also to avoid rioting! and in every respect refrain from breaking the laws of your country! - Remember the words of the Judge, that tried us for the crime, for which, we are now going to suffer, who said 'The law of the land will always be to strong for its assailants, and those who defy the law, will, in the end, be subdued by the law, and be compelled to submit to its justice or its mercy.' - We stand here a melancholy example of the power and justice of the law. I freely forgive those who gave their evidence against me, and may the God of mercy forgive me, and have mercy on my soul!"

Harley and Beamiss also addressed the people to nearly a similar effect. - Harley said he died the death he expected; South confessed that his case could not have been pardoned; Crow denied any intention of murdering Mr. Martin, but was checked by Denniss who said - "Yes, yes, he would have been murdered if he had been found," - meaning by this that he saw the temper of the mob, which he declared that he had endeavoured to restrain; and he added, that he gave Mr. Martin warning to keep out of the way. Beamiss acknowledged his general guilt; but denied the words imputed to him.

The whole then prayed again for some time, when, on a signal given, the drop fell, and they were launched into eternity almost without a struggle.

After hanging the usual time, the bodies were put into coffins, and given to their respective friends for interment in St. Mary's Church-yard on Saturday.

The following is an authentic copy of their voluntary confession:-

"We your poor unfortunate suffering fellow creatures, beg leave to present the public with this our dying acknowledgement of the justice of that sentence, which has condemned us to die for the violent outrages we have committed, and hope it will be a warning to all, who may see, or hear of us, to avoid the like course. We acknowledge and confess our sins in general, and we must sincerely beg of God to pardon our sins fervently hoping and trusting that God Almighty will, for the sake of the all-atoning merits of the Redeemer, receive our precious and immortal souls into his favour, though we have delayed their interests to this late hour; most earnestly entreating that the Almighty may grant us all our sufferings in this world, and none in the next. We most sincerely warn you all to avoid those sins, which have been the cause of bringing us here."

"By all means avoid irreligion and vice of every kind, particularly that of swearing, drunkenness, Sabbath breaking, and that of shameful neglect of the means of grace, the only means through the merit of Christ, of our soul's salvation. We sincerely recommend to you, that you attend the public worship of God, particularly on the Lord's day, and most sincerely pray that all our friends and relations will not put off their repentance to a death bed, lest that God, whom they have neglected to serve while in health and strength, should say unto them at last, as he does to every neglector of salvation - 'Because I have called, and ye refused: I have stretched out my hands and no man regarded: but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and none of my reproof. I also will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh.'"

The marks of

In the presence of

A true copy,

Acting Magistrates for the Isle of Ely



At a Vestry Meeting of the Parishioners of LITTLEPORT, it was unanimously agreed, that the thanks of the meeting should be publicly given to Sir HENRY B. DUDLEY and the Rev. H. LAW, for having on the 24th of May last, accompanied the Military to this place; and for having in the most spirited and determined manner oppressed the tumultuous proceedings which were going on here, threatening danger to the neighbourhood.

Also to the ELY GENTLEMEN, who came in the night of the 22nd, and on the 24th of May last, for their assistance and laudable exertions.

Littleport, July 1, 1816.

There are several pictures of the town, a street map and a couple of arial views exist along with the full story of the Littleport Riots with names and deeds of those who were hung, including Isaac Harley and the names of those who they were done to.

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Last Updated on: 05 March 2000
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