‘A long career of brutality to the poor’: Popular resistance to the Vaccination Acts in the nineteenth century South West

satirical scene poor patients receive the cowpox vaccine and develop bovine features
James Gillray 'The Cow-Pock or the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation 1802 (c) Trustees of the British Museum

At Stroud in 1897, protesting crowds congregated outside the market hall for three days in an attempt to prevent a public auction of household effects, seized by the authorities in a ‘distraint sale’. These were the belongings of a local family who had refused to let their children be vaccinated against Smallpox as the law required. Distraint sales like this had increasingly become an arena for protest and carnivalesque displays of public outrage and the Stroud riot was no exception. The crowd set fire to heather bushes, acted out pantomimic scenes in fancy dress, and pelted eggs at police constables and auctioneers. They overwhelmed the local police force, as well as the police who had been sent in from neighbouring towns and cities. But why would anybody riot against a vaccination programme set up to combat Smallpox? In this article, Holly John investigates a nineteenth century medical controversy and discovers that despite being the home of Dr Edward Jenner, the ‘Father of immunisation’, the south-west of England was also once home to a fervent anti-vaccination movement.

‘Have They a Sense of Justice?’: Britain’s first female jurors at the Bristol Quarter Sessions

Headline Western Daily Press 29 July 1920

The right to trial by jury has been traditionally acknowledged as a pillar of the English legal system. Under the principle of ‘twelve good men and true’, juries had been trusted for centuries with the responsibility of dispensing justice impartially and according to evidence. Defendants had the right to be tried ‘by their peers’, but juries had always been composed entirely of men. In 1919, reforms in the law allowed women to take their seats as jurors in a criminal trial for the first time. The trial took place here in Bristol in 1920, and not everyone was entirely happy about it.

‘Yells, howls, hisses and groans’: rough music and skimmerton in Victorian Weston

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Weston Super Mare had grown into the most flourishing and fashionable seaside resort in Somerset, its close proximity to Bristol making it readily accessible to thousands of visitors by road and rail. Early Victorian resort economies were dependent to a large extent upon a perception of social tranquillity and calm. Despite rapid expansion, in the mid 1850s Weston still only had six constables to keep its fragile peace. Steve Poole tells the story of the series of disturbances in 1861 which shattered the towns calm façade.

The Unquiet Grave: a fresh look at the Scipio Africanus story

The passing of the Slave Trade Act in London in March 1807 did little to ease the burden of slaves already held in the British Caribbean. They had to wait until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 which began the slow move towards emancipation. The bicentenary of the 1807 Act was accompanied by new publications, exhibitions, and an urging of urban communities to engage in a commemoration of Abolition 200. English Heritage invited people to follow in the footsteps of the abolitionists and recall the lives of those slaves who were to end their lives here in Britain, far from their ancestor's African homelands. Visits to the graves of Africans were encouraged; one such grave was of Scipio Africanus. Colin Godman uncovers the life of Africanus through the information that is available about his master, the Earl of Gloucestershire.

The Transition of Taunton from ‘wicked town’ to ‘peaceable borough’

In the years after 1600 Taunton was marked by a heady mixture of radical Puritanism and the volatile wool trade. Together these pitched Taunton into the centre of the Civil War in the area and, on two occasions in the second half of the seventeenth century, into open rebellion against the government. William Gibson follows Taunton’s transition from a centre of rebellion to peaceable borough in the eighteenth century.

Michelangelo’s West Country equal? Edward Hodges Baily, RA

In 1988, a portrait of one of Bristol's most famous sons was returned to the city after spending fifty years in a packing crate in Scotland. The famous son in question is Edward Hodges Baily, and if his name is unfamiliar, the same cannot be said of the work he has left behind him. For Baily is the man who sculpted the figure of Nelson in London's Trafalgar Square. Julian Lea-Jones goes in search of Baily's glittering career and unravels the story behind the return of the great man's portrait.

‘It is past the art of man to find us out’: anti-Catholicism and the ‘Bristol Firemen’ in 1730

‘Shortly after midnight on 3rd October 1730, a series of brilliant 'fire balls' or hand-made grenades were seen arching through the air on St Augustine's Back, Bristol, and over the back wall of George Packer's large and opulent mansion house. There was 'a noise like the report of several guns', followed by quickly spreading flames. Within minutes, the merchant's home was ablaze, his household in full flight, and it was only a favourable wind that prevented the flames spreading to nearby warehouses and the dense flotilla of wooden ships crowding the adjacent quay.’ In this article, Steve Poole uncovers a story of organised extortion by arson at Bristol, and the ethnic and religious prejudices which it exposed.

‘Genteel and placid’ fighters? The technical skills of Bristol’s boxers in the ‘Golden Age’ of pugilism

Two hundred years ago, Bristol was famous for its bare-knuckle boxers. Prize fighting of the time often seem now as brutal, ferocious and devoid of skill. In this article, Matthew Napier argues that many early boxers, particularly those associated with Bristol, utilised tactical techniques which emphasised science over strength.

‘Fancy and useful’: Bazaars and middle class women in late Victorian Salisbury

Leisure was a substantial part of the life of a Victorian lady. Leisure pursuits took place mostly in the domestic sphere, although attendance at theatres, concerts and flower shows increasingly brought leisured ladies into the public. Another undertaking of these ladies which brought them into the public arena was voluntary philanthropic work. Jane Howells explores the Salisbury Bazaars, where middle class local women sold the products of their leisured labour as a means of charitable fundraising.

A Brush with the Ancien Regime: French Courtiers at Bath in 1787

In the eighteenth century, the Spa town of Bath was bustling with gentry who came to buy luxury goods and specialist services; but until the 1780s, very few of these visitors had been French. In this article, Trevor Fawcett follows the story of the French Courtiers at Bath in 1787, and their connection to a scandal involving Mary Antoinette on the eve of the French Revolution.