Poole Women Lead Riots Over Food Shortages

On the last day of May 1737 thirty seven Poole women were found guilty of assembling unlawfully and disturbing the peace with their riotous assembly. Sixteen of these women were named:

Mary Galton
Elizabeth Seymor
Sarah Pike
Susannah Gardner
Mary Brimson
Sarah Bridle
Sarah Best
Miriam Bignall
Mary Swift
Elizabeth Ridout
Joannah Ridout
Mary Goringe
Mary Rockett
Elizabeth Wills
Elizabeth Witt
Mrs Weale

The cause of this rioting was rising food prices, the spectre of starvation and the continued shipping of grain abroad. Before the current research being carried out by Poole Museum their names were scattered in different records, quietly forgotten. The deeds of ordinary people rarely survive.

The riots were reported nationally, a Newcastle paper stated;

“We have an account from Poole, in Dorsetshire, that a vessel coming into port to ship corn for Cadiz, the common people rose and threatned (sic) all those that were concerned with sending any grain from thence into Foreign Parts.”

And later, “We hear from Exeter, that a Command of 120 men are marched towards Poole, in order to suppress the rioters”.

An archive record transcribed by a Poole History Centre volunteer describes the event. The bailiff, two justices of the peace and the Sheriff investigated the disturbance:

“We went in person to a place called the Great Key within the said Town and County and then and there Sarah, the wife of Philemon Pike, Elizabeth the wife of Robert Wills, Ellizabeth Witt, spinster and the wife of Thomas Weale and several other disturbers of the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King unknown to us to the number of Twenty persons and Upwards with Staves and Armed Clubs and Unlawfully and Riotously gathered together."

The leading role of women in the riot was emphasised in a contemporary record.

"The Numbers consist in So many Women, & the Men supporting them, & Swear, if any one offers to molest any of the Women in their Proceedings they will raise a Great Number of Men & destroy both Ships & Cargoes".

On this International Women’s Day spare a thought for those women everywhere who have fought for fairness.