Manuscripts and Special Collections

Riots and Reform

Diary extracts (with transcripts) and other useful sources are discussed below.  Where possible, images of the source items have been provided and can be viewed online.


Extracts from the Duke's diaries

11th October 1831 (Ne 2 F 4/1, p. 69)

[...] [Newcastle was attending a debate at the House of Lords] In conversation afterwards [the Home Secretary] Ld Melbourne told me that he had very bad news from Nott’s - that Nottingham was in a shocking state & that the rioters had set fire to Nottm Castle - I have heard nothing about it, & I hope that it is not true, but I much fear that it is - The mob attacked the jails also it was thought but his information came only from the guard of the mail coach - at Derby the people had attacked the jails & liberated the prisoners [-] they also attacked several houses amongst others Mr Mundy’s / Markeaton / - at both places the mobs were outrageous & impelled by the worst spirit - They have vowed the destruction of many large houses - Belvoir Castle they declare that they are determined to destroy - I hope that Clumber is not in their black books - The whole country is in a horrid & fearful state -

View an image of this diary page (diary2s2d1)

12 October 1831 (Ne 2 F 4/1, p. 69)

Having received authentic information of the destruction of Nottingham Castle by fire by the mob - of the sacking of Colwick which they stripped of everything & afterwards set fire to - of the audacity of their proceedings & of the entire impunity with which they have perpetrated all their outrages I have determined to go to Clumber this Evening - I went to the D. of Wellington & had a long consultation with him how I should proceed, the cry of the Mob was that they would proceed to Clumber & the opinion of many was that they would go there - but the D. of W thinks & justly that hey will never go so far - I then went to the Home Office & had a long conference with the people there, who seem to know but little of what has occurred -

View an image of this diary page (diary2s2d2)

Newcastle was well known for his opposition to Parliamentary Reform and the defeat of the Whig government's Reform Bill, on 8 October 1831, made him an object of popular hostility and abuse.

During the Nottingham 'Reform Bill Riots', the Duke was in London. These consecutive diary entries give a vivid first-hand impression of the Duke’s reaction to news of the riots and his determination to return to his estate at Clumber in anticipation of further trouble. The riots at Nottingham and Derby became an important part in the pressure placed on anti-reformers to accept the government Bill rather than risk revolution and Clumber was not alone in being mentioned on the rioters' 'hit-list'.

In subsequent weeks, Newcastle accused the Nottingham magistrates and the Home Office of irresponsibility in their handling of the riots and their aftermath. Nottingham Castle was subject to a lengthy compensation claim, which resulted in the award of £21,000 ‘damages’ to Newcastle in August 1832.

The Duke refused to restore the Castle fabric; the burnt-out shell continued to act as a permanent reminder of the difficult relations which existed between Newcastle and Nottingham throughout his lifetime. 


Other relevant sources 

Use the links to view images of these sources.  Transcripts are available for download:


Eye-witness accounts of the riots, 11-12 October 1831

In this series of letters, the Duke of Newcastle was informed by friends and fellow Magistrates of the events of the night of 10 October, when the Castle was burnt, and of the efforts made to preserve peace in and around Nottingham.


Eye-witness accounts, the defence of Clumber, 11-13 October 1831

The Duke's antipathy towards the Reform Bill was the explanation given for his Castle at Nottingham being destroyed on 10 October. There seemed good reason to believe that his country house at Clumber would also be a target of the rioters.

In contrast to the confused military situation in the town of Nottingham, it proved possible to engage a large number of troops to defend Clumber, supplemented by tenants from neighbouring farms and villages. These letters report the efforts made to defend the house, and to conceal valuable paintings and plate, led by the Duke's eldest son, the Earl of Lincoln.


Explanations and Recriminations, 14-25 October 1831

Once the situation in the Nottingham area had calmed down, the protagonists had the opportunity to reflect on what had happened, and to ask whether more could have been done to prevent the riots. People who had had their property directly threatened, such as Dr Manson, Samuel Parsons and John Musters, were outraged at what they saw as the incompetence of the Magistrate, and wrote to the Duke of Newcastle, as Lord Lieutenant of the County, to complain. Two anonymous letters also made the same accusations.

Mr W. Norton was one of the Magistrates referred to, and his letter to the Duke is markedly different in describing his own conduct on the night the Castle burned.


The trial

On 4th January 1832, a Special Commission was opened for the trial of the 26 men who had been arrested during or following the riots. They were variously charged with burning Nottingham Castle, firing Lowe's Mill in Beeston, or sacking Colwick Hall.

The trial was reported verbatim in the Nottingham Review, from which the 'Report of the proceedings...' was subsequently printed. Three men were executed for their part in setting fire to the mill in Beeston. No-one was convicted of any crime in connection with Nottingham Castle.


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