1831 Reform Riots: Attitudes and Impacts surrounding Rioting and Reform in Nottingham.

Malcolm, Alexander (2021). 1831 Reform Riots: Attitudes and Impacts surrounding Rioting and Reform in Nottingham. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author.


In 1831, despite gaining assent in the House of Commons, the House of Lords rejected the Reform Bill. This legislation would have addressed issues relating to parliamentary reform, including widening the franchise. News of the rejection sparked scenes of rioting in several towns including Nottingham. This dissertation seeks to understand why Nottingham was amongst those that rioted, how rioting was understood and what impact the riots had, on national, local, and individual levels. The introduction outlines the national and local contexts in the first half of the nineteenth century, before separate chapters address the attitudes and impacts of reform and rioting.

Current scholarship specifically on the reform riots in Nottingham are largely focused on qualitative, focusing on who the rioters were and the motives. This became a qualitative study, instead focusing on various sections of societies understandings. The riots have often been dismissed due to the lack of meaningful reform, and the lack a wider uprising as proof that England was not ripe for revolution. The study looks to reassess the impact of the riots and Reform Act as informing later movements. It also looks at the local significance alongside the impact on those who experienced them. Criticism has also been levelled at the authorities’ response to the riots, and the study seeks to assess their capacity for control, but also their understandings of the situation.

The study concludes that the Nottingham reform riots would had little immediate impact but added to wider concerns to help pass the First Reform Act. They also found influence in later political movements with Nottingham Castle remaining a symbol of the potential of violent popular action. The importance of collective identity amongst workers is argued throughout, and the understanding of rioting as a legitimate tool for the disenfranchised in pursuit of a collective cause. The authorities are presented as constrained by limited resources and forced to prioritise municipal buildings in town, leading to the reluctance to prevent the destruction of Nottingham Castle.

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