Bristol: Timeline – Journey to economic equality, votes for all and justice for women


Bristol was besieged by the Royalist army during the English Civil War. Dorothy Hazzard and Joan Batten led a group of women to the city’s Frome Gate where they barricaded the walls with sandbags. The city eventually surrendered to the Royalists.

Black and white etching showing a group of seven women moving sandbags against a wall with male soldiers looking on in the background.
Artist’s interpretation of Dorothy Hazzard and Joan Batten barricading the Frome Gate.
Photo credit: Bristol Radical History Group From Bristol Past and Present Vol III by J. F. Nicholls and John Taylor 1882.


Royalist Bristol fell to the Parliamentarians, hastening the defeat of the monarchy and the end of the first English Civil War. England became a republic in 1649.


Huge strikes broke out in Bristol including miners, weavers, carpenters and shoemakers. Risking prison, strikers demanded higher wages in response to falling living standards.


Protests against the re-introduction of a toll on the Bristol Bridge resulted in a massacre. The Hereford militia opened fire on protesters leaving 11 dead and 45 wounded.


Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, pioneer of working-class radicalism, campaigned in elections in Bristol on an anti-corporation ticket. Hunt eventually presented the first petition in support of women’s suffrage to parliament.


The radical reformer James Acland launched the popular broadsheet The Bristolian. The paper railed against slavery, corruption and the merchant elite who controlled the magistracy and the Bristol Corporation. Acland was jailed several times for libel.


Violence erupted in Bristol after the rejection of the Second Reform Bill. Days of rioting left prisons, toll houses, the Customs and Mansion Houses and the Bishop’s Palace in ruins. Hundreds were killed and wounded after the military’s suppression of the riots.

Black and white sketch showing Bristol’s landscape with various buildings on fire in the background and a small crowd of terrified residents in the foreground.
Queens Square on the night of 30 October 1831.
Photo credit: Bristol Radical History Group


Thousands of Bristolians, angry at not receiving the vote, gate-crashed a banquet on Brandon Hill thrown in celebration of the passing of the Reform Act which enfranchised only a small section of middle-class men.


Mary Carpenter, notable Unitarian, abolitionist and social reformer, started the Ragged School for homeless children. Initially the children were fed and taught practical skills, but over time the curriculum broadened.

Graphic design artwork showing Mary Carpenter helping children.

Design commemorating Mary Carpenter.
Photo credit: Stokes Croft China/ Brook Tate


Emma Williams, a cotton weaver, daringly took her manager to court on an assault charge. He had violently attacked her and turned fire hoses on hundreds of striking cotton women. He was found guilty – a victory for the cotton workers in a legal system biased against them.


Bristol-born Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to be placed on the British Medical Register. She remained a strong advocate for women’s medical education.


The Bristol and West of England Society for Women’s Suffrage was established. Its founding members included Agnes Beddoe who presided over the ‘Grand Demonstration’, a meeting of 3,000 women, at Colston Hall in 1880.


The Bristol branch of the Ladies’ National Association was formed. It played a leading part in the successful campaigns to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts which legalised the forcible inspection of women for venerable disease.


The Bristol Trades Council was formed with the objective “of altering the laws affecting trade unionists” and to help the working classes organise themselves. Initially composed of male craft workers, it later expanded to include women and the unskilled.


The Bristol branch of the National Union of Working Women was formed. It became the first women’s union to gain admittance to the Trades Union Congress (TUC).


The Bristol Strike Committee was formed to coordinate strikes among previously unorganised workers. Among them were many women, including several hundred cotton workers.


On ‘Black Friday’ 20-30,000 people marched in support of striking confectionery workers, dockers and miners. The police and cavalry were drafted in by the Bristol Corporation to break up the meeting in the Horsefair. Many were injured.

Image of a poster that reads ’The march of the Workers. Friday, Dec. 23rd. Big Lantern Parade. Locked-out deal runners. Sanders’ white slaves. And the general organised trades. The procession will assemble at the Grove at 7 p.m. sharp. A monstre meeting in the Horsefair’.
A poster advertising the ‘Black Friday’ march.
Photo credit: Bristol Central Reference Library


Somerset-born socialist councillor and trade unionist Frank Sheppard helped introduce desperately needed reforms in Bristol’s workhouses.


Somerset-born politician, Ernest Bevin, became secretary of the Right to Work Committee in Bristol. He went on to become the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union and, in 1945, was appointed Foreign Secretary in the newly elected Labour government.

A black and white sketch portrait of a man in a suit.
Ernest Bevin.
Photo credit:


Bristol Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was formed by working-class suffragette Annie Kenney.

A black and white photo portrait of a woman
Anne Kenney. 
Photo credit:,_1909.jpg


A mass rally of 10,000 people was held on the Downs calling for women’s suffrage.


Suffragette Theresa Garnett horsewhiped Winston Churchill at Temple Meads Station for opposing votes for women. Meetings at Colston Hall were disrupted by suffragettes.


Militant suffragettes burned down the University sports pavilion at Coombe Dingle. 500 university students responded by wrecking the suffragette headquarters on Park St.


During the General Strike, thousands of trade unionists in Bristol declared their solidarity with miners who were resisting cuts in pay and conditions.

A black and white photograph showing a group of men holding placards, one of which reads “Not a penny off the workers’ wages. Not a penny tax on food”.
General Strike, 1926.
Photo credit: Socialist Appeal


Thousands joined the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) in mass marches against benefit cuts and the hated ‘means test’. Several demonstrations were violently attacked by police, leaving hundreds injured. Many NUWM leaders were jailed.


Bristol Siddeley Engines Combined Shop Stewards Committee launched a campaign calling for industrial democracy and full nationalisation of the aircraft industry, which was taken into public ownership in 1974.


Ellen Malos, a key figure in Bristol Women’s Liberation Movement, turned her basement, which originally housed a single bed for women fleeing domestic violence, into a women’s centre which later grew into Women’s Aid.

photograph showing a woman with posters behind her, including one reading ‘Sisterhood is powerful’.
Ellen Malos.
Photo credit: Feminist Archive South


After protests and mass refusals to pay, thousands of demonstrators attempted to storm the Council House in Bristol to stop the Community Charge (Poll Tax) rate being fixed.

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