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1714 Riot Act

The early 1700s was a time of unrest in Britain with riots occurring in 1710, 1714 and 1715. The preamble of the Riot Act refers to these ‘rebellious riots and tumults' and states that the existing laws were insufficient. The Act allowed local officials to read a proclamation ordering illegally assembled groups of more than twelve people to disperse. Refusal to disperse was a felony offence which carried the death penalty. It is from this we get the phrase ‘reading the Riot Act'. Contemporary accounts disagree as to whether the Riot Act was successfully read at the 1839 Newport Rising. Some claim that the mayor read the full proclamation, others claim that he was shot and injured while trying to read the Act from the window of the Westgate Hotel. Interestingly, the leaders of the Newport Rising were charged with treason rather than being charged under the Riot Act. The Riot Act was repealed in 1973.