The Otmoor Riots

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OT MOOR was marshland until the mid-19th century; a remote area with its own distinct character and a close-knit community. People were not prepared to let landowners ride roughshod over their rights and drain the wetland when the moor was fenced off in 1829.  Their anguish inspired the rhyme:


“The fault is great in Man or Woman
Who steals the Goose from off a Common;
But who can plead that man’s excuse
Who steals the Common from the Goose.”


Rioters blackened their faces, wore women's cloaks and tied black scarves over their heads and armed themselves with billhooks, hatchets, pitchforks and staves.  On some nights, up to 150 men set out to destroy hedges and stakes with billhooks.  Attempts were mad to keep the situation under control by stationing Coldstream Guards at Islip and additional policemen in the villages, although they could have none at Charlton because no one would offer them lodgings.  The authorities also tried to bribe men to inform, leading to the rhyme:

“I went to Noke 
And nobody spoke.
I went to Brill 
They were silent still.
I went to Thame
It was just the same.
I went to Beckley 
They spoke directly.”


Everything came to a head September 6, 1830, when about 1,000 people walked the seven mile circumference of Otmoor in broad daylight, destroying every fence in their way.  Handbills were published by The King of Otmoor, Given at Our Court of Otmoor.  The Riot Act was read to them, and the Oxfordshire Yeomanry was summoned.  But they refused to disperse and 66 rioters were arrested, 41 of whom were loaded aboard wagons to be taken to Oxford gaol, escorted by 21 yeoman.  The men were not restrained, so, when a large mob from the St. Giles Fair in Oxford attacked the escort with stones and bricks, the prisoners escaped.

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