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When an election riot prompted a prospective MP to damn the 'Stalham Savages'

PUBLISHED: 14:49 12 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:49 12 November 2019

Author Henry Rider Haggard was involved in the Great Stalham Riot of 1885.  Pictures: courtesy of Community Scene Harvest

Author Henry Rider Haggard was involved in the Great Stalham Riot of 1885. Pictures: courtesy of Community Scene Harvest

Archant

For anyone who thinks politics is a particularly nasty business today, then it might be worth reflecting on a time when it was even worse.

Stalham station and road bridge. Pictures: courtesy of Community Scene HarvestStalham station and road bridge. Pictures: courtesy of Community Scene Harvest

The Community Scene magazine produced by Stalham Baptist church has unearthed the story of the 1885 election riot of Stalham.

That election was the first time most adult males in the country could vote, and passions were running high between the Liberals and Conservatives.

Henry Rider Haggard, a Norfolk man and the author of King Solomon's Mines, was the front runner against the Liberal Robert Price, a surgeon and barrister.

Trouble started as Mr Haggard's cortege reached Ludham and a hail of stones was directed at the group.

Mr Haggard's cavalcade headed for Stalham where an even larger crowd awaited them.

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On reaching the Swan Inn in High Street, a liberal supporter grabbed the reins of an outrider's horse, and the riot began.

The crowd tried to overturn Mr Haggard's coach and attempted to dump it in Stalham Staithe, then attacked the police protecting the prospective MP.

More stones and silt rained down on the party and Mr Haggard made a sharp exit into the Swan and locked himself in against the baying mob outside.

At 11pm marching boots were heard coming over the cobbled railway bridge. The rioters thought the military had arrived, but it turned out to be members of the North Walsham Conservative Club.

About 100 men lined up in front of the pub and erroneously told the riotous crowd, who by now had drunk other pubs dry, that Mr Haggard had won the election. In fact, Mr Haggard had lost to Price by 410 votes.

Afterwards, an article in the Times quoted Mr Haggard as saying that the Kaffirs, Zulus and Hottentots were nature's gentlemen compared to The Stalham Savages - an accusation that was later repeated in Parliament.

The London Standard for July 31 reported on the sitting of the county magistrates at Smallburgh,

"A number of cases arising from the riots at Ludham and Stalham were gone into. The defendants were charged with throwing stones, assaulting the police and others and attempting to upset Mr Haggard's coach."

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