M Shed’s Historical Walks: Bristol’s Burning! The 1831 Riots

Posted on by Lauren MacCarthy.

Walk guides Steve Spear and Richard Stableford © Dave Blackburn

Walk guides Steve Spear and Richard Stableford   © Dave Blackburn


By M Shed volunteers and walk guides Steve Spear and Richard Stableford

The story of the 1831 riots walk has something for everyone: attempted murder, gaol breaking, arson, looting, mass drunkenness, street fighting and sabre charges. Total anarchy!

When you start doing the research and understanding the causes of the unrest, it gets even more interesting.

It’s often the case that the initial spark of a riot can unleash actions arising from a wider agenda and that was certainly the case during the fateful weekend of the 29 October 1831.

Troops Marching up Corn Street, William James Müller




The public outcry for parliamentary reform may have been the spark, but the contempt for the Bristol Corporation held by a jaded and disenfranchised populace led to full-scale insurrection.

On the walk we explain the social and political backdrop leading up to the riots and also the main characters involved, especially those in authority.

We hope that by bringing those people to life we can help to understand why certain decisions were made that ultimately led to catastrophe.



Steve and Richard describe the attack on the Council House to walkers gathered in Corn Street © Dave Blackburn



Attempting to combine a physical route within an historic timeline matching the events that took place is no easy task, but all the more enjoyable when everything comes together.

Hopefully this walk will enable more people to learn about a critical piece of Bristol’s history that has either been misunderstood or long forgotten.



Was all the death and destruction worth it? Join us to find out.


Ruins of the North Side of Queens Square, After the Bristol Riots, William Innes Pocock

Main image: Sketch by James Baker Pyne showing the burning of Lawford’s Gate prison

M Shed’s historical walks are led by volunteer guides with a wealth of knowledge and an infectious passion for their subject. All the walks at M Shed are free, donations are gratefully received, and bookings can be made on the day at reception.

Find out when the next Bristol’s Burning! The 1831 Riots walk is.

Other blogs in this series:

All images  © Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives unless otherwise stated.

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