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Little George Public House

The Little George public house, Langley Burrell once stood at the end of Maud Heath's Causeway on the site of the present La Passione restaurant, Chippenham. It was remembered in the autobiography of the Wiltshire antiquarian John Britton published in 1850, as 'a house famed for its strong and fine beer.' However, in the annals of Langley Burrell it is perhaps most notable for the part it played in the 'barbarous and blood-thirsty conflict' that occurred on 7 September 1822 between the men of Langley and the men of Chippenham.

The affray occurred several weeks after the Kington Langley revel at which some local offence was taken at the conduct of several individuals from Chippenham. According to newspaper reports, after several 'skirmishes' between the men of Chippenham and Langley, it triggered a more significant retaliation by the men of Kington Langley and Langley Burrell. Between 10 and 11 in the evening on 7 September, approximately 20-30 Langley men (40 in some reports) entered Chippenham 'armed with bludgeons and other weapons, when they assaulted and most dreadfully beat all persons they met without distinction.' The 'most respectable high constable' tried to appease the rioters but was beaten. The crowd's cries of 'murder' roused many from their beds, including Joseph Hull, a saddler. He was later found in 'a deplorable state' and died several hours later. James Reynolds, brazier, was also found beaten, and he died three days after the riot. In total, 31 were reported having been injured in the affray. Twenty assailants, including two identified as ringleaders, were taken into custody. Those arrested were all men 'of Langley'.

Witness testimony at the inquest (taken only from Chippenham residents) corroborated the press reporting and further recorded that the Langley men had been pushed out of town to just inside the boundary of Langley Burrell near the Little George public house. From here, they had then driven the larger group of Chippenham men back into the town. The inquest returned the verdict of ‘willful murder’ against John Matthews and Henry Knight, two farmers of Langley Burrell and a number of others. In the event, however, just two individuals, George Thomas and Thomas Pearce were called to trial. The rest were discharged on entering into recognisances to keep the peace.

The court was 'intensely crowded' during the trial. Although witness after witness was called, the case that the accused Langley men had caused murder was not proved, and they were acquitted. The reporting noted, 'There was very much rejoicing outside the court when the result was made known to a number of Langley people, who awaited with anxiety the fate of their neighbours.'

Over fifty years later, the diarist Francis Kilvert recorded a version of events, informed by the testimony of Hannah and John Hatherall. Kilvert's synopsis varied slightly from the one reported at the time. Unsurprisingly, perhaps as he was also the curate of Langley Burrell, he laid the blame for the events with the town, stating, 'It was the fault of Chippenham. They began it.' According to Kilvert, the men of Chippenham had long ill-used Langley Burrell residents, beating local men on market days. The events of 7 September had not been planned, but local men had decided to attend the market that day in force to avenge the usual insults. After some fighting, the Langley men withdrew as far as the Little George, next to the turnpike, where men from Chippenham taunted them. 'The Langley men, having gained their purpose and having drawn their enemies out of the town, now turned fiercely and charged upon them down the hill.' According to this version, 30 or 40 Langley men drove the 200-strong Chippenham mob 'before them like sheep.' Suffice to say, according to witness testimony at the time, the Chippenham contingent had been 50. Kilvert continued, 'The scene in the streets was fearful. But unhappily [alluding to the death of Hull and Reynolds] innocent men suffered with the guilty.' A day later, the courtyard at the brewery in Langley Burrell where John Hatherall worked was filled with people from Chippenham. Meanwhile constables combed the cottages for those suspected of being part of the riot. Kilvert noted that scarcely anyone from Chippenham was arrested and thus 'most of the blackguards got off scot-free.'

Thirty years after Kilvert made his observations, the inn burned down in 1903 and the present structure built in its place.

 

Little George Public House, Swindon Road,
Swindon Road,
(formerly) Langley Burrell

 

NGRef: ST 91931 73862
Historic England 1267957 

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