The 1844 Military Riot

The Military Riot (9-11 June 1844)
Green Man Pub, Kirkgate & Green Parrot Pub, Harper Street
In June 1844 reports of soldiers from the 70th Infantry attacking members of the public led to an outbreak of violence at the Green Man pub. Police arriving to arrest the soldiers were booed by an anti-police crowd and a fight ensued, leading to the release of the prisoners. They were later recaptured along with others, convicted and imprisoned. A barracks confinement order was disobeyed and many armed soldiers subsequently gathered at the Green Parrot pub, with the police faring worse in the ensuing riots. Order was eventually restored, with further battles on Briggate between a mob and police halted by cutlass-wielding constables.

On Sunday June 9th 1844, two officers from the Leeds Corporation Police arrived at the Green Man pub, a working-class beer house on Kirkgate; they were there to arrest a number of soldiers on the charge of assault.  Whilst walking their prisoners to the lock up, they were attacked by more soldiers, friends of the men in custody, and beaten with fists and military belt buckles; the prisoners were temporarily freed until extra officers arrived and a brawl ensued – no civilians joined in at this point; instead, they stood back and cheered on the soldiers.

The next evening, up to forty soldiers from the 70th Regiment Foot met at the Green Parrot pub and planned their revenge on the police; armed with bludgeons and belts, they set upon a number of police officers on Vicar Lane.  As the fight moved to Briggate, they merged with an existing crowd of protesters – numbering over a thousand – who were possibly assembled to protest the attempts by Leeds Magistrates and police to stop Sunday political meetings in the Free Market.  On joining together a cry of ‘Down with the police’ from the soldiers incited the already anti-police crowd into joining the mob, with the crowd forcing the police to break and scatter down Kirkgate.

Spreading rapidly by the evening of the second day, central Leeds had been cleared of all police presence by various mobs, including the original Briggate crowd, a York Street group made up of Irish, a third group on Park Row and a fourth group who gathered at the Woodhouse Barracks to cheer and support the soldiers.

Earlier that day, the original soldiers who had set out from the Green Parrot pub had been rounded up by their fellow troops and officers, and marched back to barracks where they were confined for the next few days until the violence died down.  The remaining rioting mob was made up of local people who stayed to fight the police on their own terms.

The third day saw the police face off with a mob made up of only civilians with no military antagonists or supporters.  The police and local magistrates came back better organised and armed with cutlasses; instead of being caught as individuals or in pairs they acted as larger concentrated groups when confronting the riots: by 10pm they had finally restored order to central Leeds.

Extract from a 19th-century map of central Leeds, showing the area of the 1844 disturbance. (c) Ordnance Survey

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