An alarming riot
North Molton at this time was a thriving community with mining being the dominant industry in the town. The population had grown from 1,541 in 1801 to 2,121 in 1841. The relationship between some of the incoming miners and the local community were not always friendly. A few months before John was born the North Molton Fair ended in a “riotous occurrence” described in the Sherborne Mercury.
“After the business of the fair an alarming riot took place between a party of Cornish miners, who were employed at the Molland mines, and some of the young men of the neighbourhood. The former, it appears, engaged a room at the King’s Arms Inn for the purpose of enjoying a dance when the latter intruded themselves on their company, and, refusing to withdraw when requested, an altercation ensued, which soon led to blows. Tables and chairs were speedily demolished to furnish weapons for the affray, and every missile which could be obtained was in requisition to maintain the conflict, which became general for more than two hours, during which time much blood was shed. At length the countrymen were got out of the house and the miners were shut up in it when the former assailed the windows with stones, the whole of which were broken, in through which the Devonshire men again entered, and, renewing their attack took six of the miners in custody, while the remainder, leaping though the windows escaped and fled with the utmost precipitancy, which put an end to the riot about 2 o’clock in the morning. Four of the miners who escaped to Molland, summoning their comrades to their assistance, on Thursday morning returned to the town to rescue the captives, but the Rev.Mr.Hodgins, having in the meantime provided sufficient assistance, read the Riot Act and the rioters were deterred from further outrage. The injury sustained by the proprietor of the house extended upwards of £14 and having been paid by the miners, the men who were in custody were discharged.”
Both of John’s parents were weavers but this was at a time when there was serious price competition from the developing factories in Yorkshire and at times William is described as being a labourer.