Heroic Women

Images we have of 18th century women are generally that they were frail well mannered, ala Jane Austen, but this was a world away from the realities of woken women, most of whom worked harder and longer than we can imagine. W H Pyne gave us an image of a family of mrickmakers, the arms of one girl would make a weigh lifter proud. Most hoes had no running water, so every drop a family ate, drank, or washed in had to be carried, often in heavy buckets, considerable distances – 1 litre weighs 1g, so do the maths. In addition, some ran market stalls so had to walk up to 15 miles each way carrying loads of heavy produce. So, it’s not surprising that when farmers and speculators withheld grain from market, they were prominent in the many food riots. These are from E P Thompson’s Customs in Common:

“For more than 200 years these food riots are the most visible and public expression of working women’s lack of deference and their contestation of authority.”

“Robert Southey wrote : ‘women are more disposed to be mutinous; they stand less in fear of the law, partly from ignorance, partly because they presume upon the privilege of their sex, and therefore in all public tumults they are foremost in violence and ferocity.”

“The West of England food rioting was almost a tolerated form of “negotiation”, authorities found the indictment of women rioters to be distasteful. In 1705 Tiverton was convulsed by community-and-trade riots against the Mayor and Corporation, in which the women were most prominent, dashing in upon the mayor through the windows of an inn, pulling off his wig and threatening to kill him if he didn’t sign a paper.”

In 1693 women in the market are reported to have “pelted millers, melamine bakers etc. with stones.. Ashby-de-la-Zouch…. In 1766 a farmer put his butter up by 2 pence per pound, and an old woman clapped one hand round his neck and with the other smeared his face with the butter.”

But it was not all fun: Food rioters in Nottingham, 1800 “Your hearts would have ached to have seen the women calling for Bread – declaring they would fight till they died before they would be used so any  longer.. the conduct of the people.. withstood the fire of the yeomanry with such undaunted courage that astonished the gentlemen for they poured such showers of stones in on them in all directions that they could not load their pieces after they had fired them.”

2 thoughts on “Heroic Women

  1. Good for them! They probably come from the same stock as those ladies who stood outside the school gates stuffing hamburgers through the bars in defiance of Jamie Oliver..(I mean, in attitude, not in righteousness of cause)


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