Newcomers arriving in Nottingham by train are often disappointed that the squat box perched above the railway line does not resemble their idea of Nottingham Castle. The reason why it does not look like the Hollywood image are rooted in some significant events of English history.
The Castle was the site where Charles I raised his standard at the start of the English Civil War. Victor's justice meant that the mediaeval castle was slighted (effectively demolished) soon after the end of the Civil War. In it's place the Duke of Newcastle built a 'palace ... [which] looks ... as if it stood in north Italy or Praque" (Pevsner (1979: 226), Buildings of Nottinghamshire).
In 1831 this building was burnt to a shell during the Reform Act Riots, and remained as such until 1875, when the building was restored as one of the earliest municipal museums in Britain.
I'd always known about this event, but knew little of the detail. I therefore persuaded my father to join me on a guided walk about the tumultuous days of 1831. The walk was organised by People's Histreh a group of local people interested in radical history.
We joined the group outside St. Peter's Church on the May Bank Holiday of 2011. To keep us together someone had a large loaf impaled on a stick. Apparently this was one of the codes that a riot was impending. Another signal was to grab whole cheeses off market stalls and roll them in the street. (Nottingham had a "Great Cheese Riot" in 1766).
The route followed is shown above. Abbreviated audio of the talks given can be found here and here on Youtube. The embedded video gives feel for what the walk was like, with the early part of the talk by Phillip,an excellent guide.
One of the advantages of failing to finish writing blog posts is that one event overtakes another. In August 2011, Nottingham, like many other English towns, had sporadic events of rioting. At the time I mapped the locations of people brought before the courts for offences connected with rioting:
See full screen
I'm not sure that any specific lessons can be learned from this plot: locations of riot damage might make it more informative. Unfortunately I don't have either the data or a useful map of 1831 to do something equivalent for the Reform Act Riot.
My impression is that people had travelled quite a distance from their home addresses to the places where riotous events took place. Earlier riots in Nottingham, such as those of 1981 in Hyson Green were much more localised.
In the area of Zurich where I used to live (Kreis 4, Aussersihl) it is still traditional to have a riot every 1st of May. Sensible people get out of town.
The 2011 riots in England were seen as an exceptional event motivated by "sheer criminality". However, any serious consideration of riots must take them as a recurrent feature of any urban environment: whether they be motivated by poverty, political unrest, or the dynamics of crowds.