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Workhouse Riot
Details from the magistrates court

Captain Goring, MP was besieged by an angry mob. Four workhouse protesters were sent to jail, two of them with hard labour.

Workhouse sketch 1844The old Steyning workhouse (centre) in 1844, nine years after the riot

In September 1835, trouble was expected at Steyning’s workhouse. Captain Harry Goring, MP, with others, rushed headlong into the workhouse to apprehend the paupers Thomas Moon and Benjamin Hayler. The assault was intended to remove both men to the Henfield workhouse, separating them, as they believed, from their children and wives. Moon and Hayler did what they could to prevent that from happening.

What followed was confusion – a confusion reflected in the differing accounts given by the various participants. However, by the time the accused were brought before Lewes Assizes six months later, the authorities had sorted out a nice tidy case against them. Benjamin Hayler and Thomas Moon got twelve months imprisonment with hard labour – so they did in fact become separated from their families. Two others, Isaac Hammond and William Emery, got three months.

A far better idea of how events unfolded can be seen in the proceedings of the magistrates court, which was held only three days after the riot.

Thomas Moon described how: “Mr. Goring seized me by my neckcloth and said, “You have refused to obey my warrant,” to which I replied, “No, Sir, I beg your pardon. No officer has been here with a warrant.” Then, with three or four others, he dragged me into the street: my neckcloth was pulled so tight that I was nearly choked . . . had it not broken asunder. I was thrown down into the gutter: the people began to throw stones and drove the gentlemen away, and I ran back to the workhouse to my wife and children.”

Benjamin Hayler’s account is similar: “Wallis, the publican at Washington, got hold of me: he and Puttock, the relieving officer, and two or three others got me down and knelt on my chest and squeezed my throat. Wallis struck my wife [who, one account says, was trying to pull their hair out] and Puttock struck Moon’s wife, and her face is now swollen.” He then adds that, “some of the stones being thrown hit some of the gentlemen,” and Mr. Goring and Mr. Puttock retreated into the workhouse governor’s room for safety – leaving Moon and Hayler free.

The crowd of 150 to 200, with sticks and stones, kept Captain Goring bottled up in the workhouse for some hours. A message had been sent for help and, “about half past eight o’clock the dragoons came. Some jumped off their horses and came into the workhouse with drawn swords to search for us but we got out of the way. About nine o’clock several flys [public coaches] came with a number of blockade [coastguard] men but, by then, the town was quiet.”

The authorities also seem to have picked on some of the leaders of “the mob”, almost at random, to make an example. Isaac Hammond claimed, “I was going stubble cutting and never got over the wall at all.” But Zekiel Steer, the postmaster, “saw him get over the wall, someone pushed him over; but I did not observe whether he took an active part: I think I saw a stick in his hand.”  Scant evidence, particularly when there was doubt about identification. Mr. Tribe, a solicitor, said Hammond wore a black hat. Others said it was white.

James Woolgar was charged with aiding and abetting the mob. One account has him walking backwards and forwards with a large faggot stick in his hand but another said, “he was selling oysters and fruit as was his custom and I did not think he took any part in the disturbance.”

Ann Daniels, Mr. Tribe claimed, “was very active in picking up stones” and Mr. Puttock described her as being “very violent” and shouting at those in the workhouse, “come out you b------s.”

The determination of the authorities to make an example of the rioters and the fairly extreme action of calling in the dragoons and the “blockade” men must be seen in the context of several years of agricultural disturbances in Southern England in the early 1830’s.

They possibly had good reason for their concerns. Hayler and Moon, and probably others, identified themselves with a wider protest by wearing blue ribbons on their coats.

< See part one of this story

Workhouse riot causes

The Workhouse
A website about Steyning and other workhouses, with links to some census information. Search for "Steyning". See also details about the Steyning Union, set up after the 1834 Act and the Poor Law Union workhouse at Shoreham-by-Sea.

on The Poor Law Amendment
Act 1834

Spartacus Educational
on the 1834 Poor Law

BBC GCSE Bitesize
on the Poor Law

UK Parliament
on Poor Law Reform

The Spectator Archive
There was a tumult at Steyning,
in Sussex, yesterday week . . .

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