The Usual Suspects?

Trawling through Bristol’s 18th century newspapers, came upon a series of reports in the 1770s of street lamps being smashed. It was automatically assumed by the authorities that it was young tearaways that were to blame. Young males, especially schoolboys and apprentices were often noted as being out of control. To try ot control this, masters were supposed to be fined if they failed to take their apprentices to church on Sundays, and those at church schools had no choice in the matter.

People think teen rebellion is a new thing, but there are some very startling examples of students and apprentices rioting. This happened at the universities in Europe as well. My favourite was some boys at a Bristol school who stocked up on food, and held their master hostage at gunpoint. I can’t remember how this happened – think they disliked his teaching.

But back to the lamps, this was an ongoing problem for some time, to the extent that rewards were offered for information leading to convictions. But then there was a letter from an anonymous gent published that put the vandalism into – quite literally – a different light.  He complained about the tenders for maintaining the oil in the lamps failing to fulfil their contracts. Instead of supplying enough oil for the lamps to burn all night, by the time this gent was staggering home from a night out with his friends at around 2 or 3  am, the lamps were spluttering out. He found this outrageous, so admitted to smashing the lamps with his walking stick to teach the fraudsters a lesson.

So for once, the kids were innocent. This also shows that failing to provide proper public services is also not a new thing.

There is another anecdote which I’m pretty sure is apocryphal, but that seems to fit in with this.

A gent from about the same time found a lad smashing windows. He ordered him to stop, but the lad said, he was just following orders from his employer, who was a glazier in need of work. The gent responded by hitting the boy over the head with his walking stick, saying, “I’m a surgeon. That’s good for my business.”

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