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Bread riots, Britain, 1795

Michael T. Davis


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The bread riots of 1795 were a series of extensive disorders in Britain over the scarcity and high price of provisions, especially wheat and bread. Traditionally, food riots tended to be localized and transient in nature, but the bread riots of 1795 and into 1796 were more prolonged and outbreaks occurred in most regions of Britain. Palmer (1988 : 141) counts some 74 disturbances in the period 1795–6, which the most significant set of disturbances since the 1760s and 1770s. During the course of the eighteenth century, the diet of most Britons changed toward a greater dependency on wheat-based foodstuffs rather than products derived from oats or barley. In 1795, wheat yields were extremely low as an unfortunate alignment of bad weather and war brought Britain to the brink of famine. The previous year witnessed a poor harvest due to a hot, dry summer and the winter of 1794–5 was extremely cold, affecting crop production and preventing farmers from undertaking field work. The spring of 1795 was equally unfavorable to agricultural production, with bad weather further reducing market supply. At the same time, the war against revolutionary France disrupted European trade and the market balance derived from importing grain when necessary was impeded. As supply was shortened, prices began to rise quickly and sharply. Britain entered crisis mode. Some towns organized food subscriptions ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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