chris+keir received a bursary from Longhouse to undertake research into the ‘bread and butter riots’ that occurred in the Black Country during the 18th century. As the project progressed through a number of unsatisfactory permutations, it took an unexpected twist when we realised the wonderful possibilities it offered for The Rob Ring Foundation. Fact and fiction became increasingly obfuscated as we set out to appropriate and remake Rob Rings ‘ultra hustle dance party’ dressed as morris dancers in Henley in Arden. Here’s all the blurb:
The period between 1815 and 1822 was one of the most troubled in British economic and social history. The rapidly increasing price of staple foods and the scarcity of employment at this time prompted numerous episodes of civil unrest loosely labeled as ‘the bread and butter riots’. Increasingly intolerable distress faced by the colliers and iron workers of the Black Country finally caused their despair to spill over in mid-1816; groups of unemployed colliers decided to drag waggons containing Black Country coal to London in an effort to publicize their plight. Upon the colliers reaching Henley-in-Arden an extraordinary chain of events were set into motion. The colliers were confronted by a government employed mob who ordered them to call off their protest and turn back. After a tense stand off, the colliers began to turn around and prepared to drag their wagons back to their Bilston base. But then an incredible event occurred. Robert Ringford, one of the wagon dragging colliers, turned and faced the government force, and walking towards them he began to Morris dance. After several minutes, he was joined my several other colliers who joined him in his spontaneous dancing. Before long, there were 150 Morris dancing colliers standing facing the government mob. The Morris dancing colliers then began to slowly walk towards the mob with the other colliers dragging the wagons of coal behind them. The mob, unprepared for the collier’s protest, began to retreat. This situation continued for 10 miles from Henley in Arden to Stratford upon Avon; the mob retreating as the morris dancing colliers gradually advanced forward. At Stratford, the colliers were informed by police that they would be able to continue dragging their wagons of coal up to London as originally planned. Robert Ringford, through his morris dancing protest, almost single-handedly fought back the mob and in doing so made his own special contribution to the history of protest. chris+keir re-enacted this event as a tribute and epitaph to this extraordinary man.