Meeting - May 2015

Friday, 29 May 2015 - 7:30pm
The Priestley Riots
Dr Chris Upton

A PowerPoint presentation.


We were pleased to welcome back to our Society, Dr Chris Upton, a Senior Reader in History at Newman University in Bartley Green, Birmingham. Dr Upton last visited us in January 2014 and his return visit was much looked forward to particularly as he was talking about the Priestley Riots. Because these riots had also resulted in the burning down of the original Kingswood Unitarian chapel we did have a number visitors, members of the current Kingswood chapel, attend the meeting.
The Priestley Riots took place in Birmingham in 1791 and Dr Upton’s talk did in fact deal more with the causes which led to the riots and the growing feeling among a number of the “intelligentsia” of the day that the French revolution was not such a bad thing and that the people of Britain might well benefit from such a shake up.
The riots did in fact originate on a night when a group of well known Religious Dissenters, men who had done much in the field of industry, science and learning, had enjoyed a “Dinner” together in Birmingham to mark the anniversary of the French Revolution, and a protesting crowd had met up outside the building where the dinner was taking place. The crowd resented the views of those at the dinner, particularly those of Joseph Priestley, and they expressed their dislike of the “Dissenters” views by rioting. They sacked and burned Priestley’s house and then turned on the homes of a number of other well known “Dissenters”. There was no Police Force in those days and the riots continued for three days and nights before the Military arrived to put down the riot.
Dr Upton’s presentation certainly stimulated many of those present to learn more of this Birmingham event and to try and appreciate both sides of the argument.

Brian Sadler