food riots

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E. P. Thompson, ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’, Past and Present, 50 (1971), stimulated a great deal of academic research and debate on 18th‐century food riots. See the references in ‘The Moral Economy Reviewed’, which Thompson published alongside a reprint of his original article in Customs in Common (1991). He was concerned with the mentalité of the risings of 1709, 1740, 1756–7, 1766–7, 1773, 1782, and, above all, 1795 and 1800–1, and showed that ‘what is remarkable about these “insurrections” is, first, their discipline, and, second, the fact that they exhibit a pattern of behaviour for whose origin we must look back several hundreds of years’. He observed that it was the restraint, rather than the disorder, that was remarkable, and that the central action was focused on setting a just price in times of dearth. The initiators of the riots were very often women. See also Andrew Charlesworth, An Atlas of Rural Protest in Britain, 1548–1900 (1983), and Roger Wells, Wretched Faces (1988), a detailed study of the riots of the 1790s based on archival evidence.

Subjects: History.

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