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The Matlock Bath Riot, 1863
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On Saturday 29th August 1863 an extremely large party of Sheffield workers from a company owned by the Mayor, along with the managers, clerks and their wives, arrived in Matlock Bath for a works outing. They were taken to the village in three trains, each of about 20 to thirty carriages long. Despite the good humour at the beginning, the day was to go horribly wrong.

The managers and their wives were accompanied by the band of the Hallamshire Volunteers to the Old Bath Hotel, which had been opened up especially for them. Dinner, which the party had brought with them, was served there. In the meantime a tent was erected for the workers, who were split up into groups to visit the Rutland Cavern, High Tor, to go boating on the River and generally enjoy themselves. However, during the afternoon things deteriorated and fighting broke out, which the very small force of local police could not control.

Below are three newspaper items that describe the events of the day:-

On the day

The Derby Mercury, Wednesday, 2 September, 1863

WE have received the following reports of the alarming riots which took place at Matlock Bath on Saturday. About 3,500 working people from Sheffield, amongst whom were many Irishmen, arrived by special trains, and having access to two waggon loads of beer, they soon became excited and desirous of indulging in a "row". Our correspondent says:-
Three monster trains were filled, and in all it is said that about 5,000 excursionists were poured into the place. They brought with them an immense quantity of drink, which was served out to them in a field adjoining the ferry, and by four o'clock drunkenness and broiling began to be the principal features. Shortly after this time a fight commenced on the parade, and as though the malady were infectious, six or seven others were instantly got up, so that the whole length of the parade presented a scene of the most disgraceful and revolting description. The police, as well as they could, managed to restore order, and having captured one of the principals were removing him in order to take him to the station at Wirksworth, when they were set upon by a vast and infuriated mob and their prisoner was rescued. Stones and other dangerous missiles were hurled at the officers, and for a time their lives appeared in great jeopardy. Manfully, however, did the officers fight - there were but five of them - rushing amongst the crowd with their staves, and felling the foremost of their opponents. They were, however, outnumbered, and being overpowered were obliged to retire. Mr. T. Smedley's and Mr. Roper's houses adjoining, were then attacked, many of the mob having become possessed of the idea that one of the officers had secreted himself within. To satisfy them, one of their party was permitted to search the houses, and failing to find the officer he informed them of the result. After considerable wrangling the mob withdrew to the railway station, and the trains shortly after bore them away. Such a disgraceful scene has never before been witnessed in Matlock, and it is hoped will never be repeated. We were extremely sorry to notice amongst the foremost of the mob, men wearing the uniform of Volunteers - disgracing not only themselves, but their Queen and country - and to hear "Men of Hallamshire Rifles" shouted as the rallying cry in the midst of such dastardly and outrageous proceedings. Mr. Brown, who is the Mayor of Sheffield, accompanied the party, and we believe expressed regret at what had occurred and offered to give the names of the principal instigators to the police. At the time of the occurrence a despatch was sent to the deputy chief constable at Belper, and Mr. Moran speedily arrived with a posse of men, but two trains were gone away and the third was already filled on his arrival. Too great credit cannot be given to the police officers who maintained themselves against such superior numbers, and to Mr. Moran for the speedy arrival of a stronger force to meet further emergencies which might have occurred.

(From a Correspondent)

Last Saturday Matlock Bath was inundated by the importation of above 3,000 Sheffielders, en employed by Messrs. John Brown and Co., Atlas Works, with their wives, &c. It is a fact that many of the men, and not a few of the lads, conveyed by three large trains, were intoxicated on their arrival, and they had not been in the place very long before fights had lost much of their novelty by their frequent occurrence. A fight between about half a dozen English and the same number of Irish was commenced in the middle of the afternoon, near the stables belonging to the Old Bath Hotel. The police very wisely forbore to interfere amongst a mob of some two or three hundred infuriated men for some time, but the roughs at length began hitting them on their heads with sticks, when the police (of whom there were about five in the place) drew out their staffs in self defence. Upon this they were set upon and beaten in a most brutal manner, but they succeeded in securing one or two of the ringleaders, and locking them up in a beer-house close by, which had already suspended business. Just at this stage Mr. Brown, the employer of these men who is the Mayor of Sheffield, said he thought the police were too ready with their staves, whereupon the men near him thought they had free license to go at the police, and they did so. They used their sticks, hurled stones and other missiles, and broke open the door of the house, but did not then succeed in rescuing those who had been locked up. Many other fights took place, but the greatest row and riot took place at the railway station, in the evening, between six and seven o'clock. The police had marked one of the ringleaders of the afternoon row, and when he went into the station in the evening, four of their body took him into custody, and brought him out with the intention of taking him to Wirksworth lock-up ; but no sooner was he brought out of the station yard, than there were loud shouts, both by men and women, of "Are you going to let the b--- bobbies take your mate", "Take him from them", &c. &c., and immediately a mob began to collect, and before the man could be got over the railway bridge, a distance of little more the 100 yards, there was a mob of some 300 or 400 men round the four or five policemen, shouting and yelling in a fearful manner. The man in custody had been dragged over the bridge, struggling so violently as to tear all his clothing off, except his trousers and neckcloth. The police had hold of the neckcloth, with one hand each, and were using their staffs with the others, when their prisoner slipped hiss head through it and fell on his back In a second he was put on his feet, and hurried off, almost before the police, or even the greater part of the mob, knew he was gone at all. The police were now hooted at, and assaulted worse than before, stones and bottles flew in all directions, some men tied up stones in their handkerchief and struck about right and left. At last the police were jammed against the wall near Smedley's spar shop, and if they had not managed to get out and run for it, some of them would most inevitably have been murdered. However, they were beaten, some one way and some another, the mob giving a cheer of exultation, and a shower of stones and bottles as a farewell. Just before the last train was started, and when the whole of the rioters had got into the train, a party of about seven policemen arrived from Belper, under Deputy-chief Moran, who immediately headed them and marched them to the station, in conjunction with two or three from Wirksworth, and the Matlock men. Mr. John Brown had some conversation with Mr. Moran, and he undertook to produce the men who were wanted. The last train for Sheffield left directly after half past seven (the proper time), and the place immediately became as quiet as it normally is without excursionists. Many natives of the place expressed their surprise that they were not charged by the Superintendent of police to assist him, as there were plenty of them about, if they had been slightly organised, to have given the rioter the quietus in a short time. The police from Belper left about ten o'clock. Several of those men who were in the place all day got some bad bruises, one or two having their uniforms torn in several places.
A large body of excursionist are expected from the Saltley Works, Birmingham, next Saturday, when we trust a larger staff of policemen will be in readiness to keep down anything like a recurrence of such disgraceful scenes.


Another correspondent informs us that at the request of the Mayor of Sheffield the 3,500 excursionists were fed by "Henry Hutchinson, of the Victoria Hotel, High-street, Sheffield", who sent a scale of charges for xxxx beer, porter, all kinds of wines, and meats, the latter including "choice sucking pig at sixpence per plate". Two waggons loaded with beer, were drawn by eight horses, and by these means an unlimited supply of beer was at hand without troubling the Matlock publicans. We hear that Mr. Brown told Mr. Moran that the police were to blame in the early part of the affair, and that if they attempted to take any prisoners murder would be the result. Mr. Moran replied, that he had assumed the command of the police, and if Mr. Brown would pledge his word to facilitate the operations of the police hereafter against those who were at fault, he would not attempt the arrests then. Mr. Brown said that he would be responsible for his men if Mr. Moran would be for the police, against whom complaints may be made. This amicable arrangement was made in time to get the Sheffield trains off as stated above. As for "Mr. Henry Hutchinson" who ventured to sell liquors, &c., without permission of any county magistrate, we hope he will not be lost sight of whatever proceedings may be taken with respect to other offenders.

Editorial comment

The Derby Mercury, Wednesday, 2 September, 1863

It has become a common complaint that the inundation of this formerly quiet retreat of Derbyshire by the aid of monster excursion trans has driven a large proportion of the visitors elsewhere, and promises the ruin of the tradespeople. Matlock and the adjacent places afford a very striking example of the truth of this complaint. Without doubt, excursion trains have become the pest, instead of the profit, of Matlock Bath tradesmen. We should be among the last to countenance a policy that would deprive the working classes of the advantages of travel and the enjoyment of a holiday amongst the beautiful spots of our own country, but we think the people of Matlock and the neighbourhood have a right to complain that five, six or even eight thousand persons are poured into their midst in one day, especially when, as it frequently happens, a good proportion are of the lowest characters. The particulars which we give in another page with respect to the disgraceful outbreak on Saturday will afford us justification for these remarks, and although the conduct of the drunken roughs who attacked the police, and even the conduct of the officers themselves, must undergo a stringent scrutiny, we feel that we are even now at liberty to express our regret that facilities for such ruffianism should be afforded by the absurdly cheap conveyance of which the Atlas workmen availed themselves. If the delightful retreats in the valley of the Derwent and of the Wye are to be open to the poor as well as to the rich, and we sincerely hope they will continue to be, some rule must be adopted which will prevent the country being swamped by the lawless conduct of drunken black-guards.

What happened afterwards

The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, Saturday, 5 September, 1863

The Mayor's Workmen at Matlock
[The paper first described what had happened from their viewpoint] ...
At the Wirksworth Petty Session, on Tuesday, before R. P. Wood and A. F. Hirst, Esqs., Patrick O'Brien was charged with an assault upon Police-constable Madeley, on Saturday last at Matlock Bath. It appeared from the evidence of the complainant that O'Brien was one of the workmen of Messrs. Brown & Co., and had come that morning with the excursion train that the firm had provided for the employees and their families. A fight took place between two drunken men of the party. The constable attempted to quell the disturbance, upon which the defendant told him that if he interfered further he would knock his brains out, accompanying the threat with an oath and foul language. The constable, however, persevered, and the defendant then struck him a violent blow on the head ; other parties present also striking him at the same time. The defendant did not deny the charge. He was convicted in a penalty of £5, and in default of payment committed to the House of Correction for two calendar months.