The Bradlaugh Riots

I love the stories of the ordinary – and extraordinary – people who lived and worked in my local area in years gone by. 

While researching a character I was to play, I ran across the book “For Pottery And Peace” by Richard Church, documenting the stories of the author’s ancestors who founded and ran Church’s China, one of Northampton’s best loved family businesses, for 140 years.

Of all the stories, my favourite was of the Bradlaugh riots, because it very effectively illustraded the feelings within the country at this pivotal time in our history, and how monumental events affected individuals and businesses. I’ve recorded the story at the bottom of this page.


The family’s shop was set up in 1874 located in Parade House,  on the North side of the Market Square. 

Northampton’s market square has a fascinating history going back to medieval  times when King John frequently held Parliament in Northampton castle. 

As a result, Richard Church’s ancestors had a grandstand view of many of Northampton’s historic events.

One such event, not long after they moved in, was perhaps a little too close for comfort!

Church's China, Parade House, 1881

in 1874, the square became the focus of national news when The Riot Act was read to protestors complaining about the undemocratic way in which arguably the most popular candidate, Charles Bradlaugh, was being beaten by candidates put forward by political party grandees in the days before many men and any women were allowed to vote.

Bradlaugh Riots

The Riot Act ordered illegally assembled groups of more than twelve people to disperse. Refusal was an offence punishable by the death penalty. Reading the Act essentially allowed the military to fire live rounds at protestors.

This was, obviously a major situation, and Richard Church’s book carries a very clear description of what it was like to have been unwittingly involved.

With the author’s kind permission, I’ve recorded the story here.

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Bradlaugh Riots