When Eliza Stafford left Armley Prison by a back door on Wednesday 22nd February 1865 she was unaware of the crowd that was starting to form at the main entrance. Eliza had been in prison for a month for stealing 2lb of dripping from her employer, local surgeon and magistrate Mr. Henry Chroley of 8 Park Square. Her case had gained widespread sympathy and her offence was considered by many to be trivial and her punishment too harsh.
Eliza, due to coverage by the Leeds Mercury and Leeds Express, had become a heroine to the poor and underprivileged of Leeds. Even though it was a bitterly cold morning, with deep snow on the ground, by 9am the crowd outside the prison had swelled to between 10,000 and 12,000 ready to cheer her release.
When the crowd found out that Eliza was long gone there was uproar. Not at all pleased and feeling that they had been cheated out of the opportunity to celebrate Eliza’s release a large portion of the crowd decided to march to Leeds and make their feelings known to Mr. Chorley.
As the they arrived at Park Square the crowd were good natured and were chanting ‘Dripping, Dripping’ and ‘How’s thee fat lad’ but they soon became rowdy and some windows were broken. The local Chief Constable, Bell, witnessing things becoming more heated sent for police re-enforcements from Bradford and the army from York. By lunch time the crowd had grown to a large number, swelled by workers taking their lunch. Stones and bricks were thrown at the police. In response the police began to charge the crowd, beating them with batons to try to regain some order. It was during one of these charges that George Hodgson, a local potter, was knocked to the ground and trampled on. He was carried to the infirmary by members of the crowd, suspected to have internal injuries. Hodgson died a few days later from his injuries.
By the time the Hussars arrived from York, later that afternoon, the crowd had calmed down and these battle hardened soldiers were cheered by the masses.
Even though the disturbances had lasted most of the day only four people were arrested, with one, Samuel Taylor, being imprisoned for 7 days.
A local committee organised a sizeable public collection for Eliza Stafford and she announced that she was going to open a public house called the ‘Dripping Pan’.
The Dripping Riot is just one of many mass public disturbances in the history of Leeds.
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What do you see now as you look across Park Square?