The Battle of Ham Run

I was raised in Norwich, a situation which results in a mixture of thwarted pride – it isn’t as backward as all that – and self-deprecating irony – as above.

What then, to make of the footnote in E.P. Thompson’s seminal article ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’? Thompson identifies possibly the latest display of this eighteenth-century phenomenon as the ‘Battle of Ham-Run’ (see footnote 144, on p.129).

Over to Hayes People’s History, who ask (in another footnote):

Is this James “Fred” Henderson, born 1867, the famous Bradford and later Norwich Socialist and poet who was  a socialist pioneer in Bradford and then Norwich, [and in] early life … a journalist. Henderson was arrested for leading with Charles Mowbray… the famous Norwich riot ‘The Battle of Ham Run’ which took place on Friday 14th November 1887, and subsequently tortured on the treadmill (the last man in England to do so).

The riot and looting of food shops by over five hundred unemployed of Norwich was so called because the first policeman on the scene noted in his note book that ” I saw a ham run over the heads of the crowd” … [Henderson] died in 1957 aged 90.

If the details are correct, and we buy into some kind of diluted sense that periodization, whereby time moves at different speeds in different places, and where the eighteenth century might not have ended by 1887 in Norwich, this would mean that E.P. Thompson, had he so wished, could have talked face to face with one of the crowd.

… or perhaps not. Henderson, as Hayes People’s History suggest above, was a socialist and journalist, who had a far more developed sense of class struggle and revolutionary politics than the fundamentally conservative ‘crowd’ Thompson studied. Back to Hayes People’s History:

In 1902 [Henderson] became the first Labour representative to serve on the City Council and it is believed that when his wife, Lucy, was later elected they were the first husband and wife team ever to serve together on a local council. [He was then] Lord Mayor of Norwich 1939-40. The many talks about Socialism which Henderson gave during these Sunday meetings were published and translated into several languages. (see:

… and yet. The last man to be tortured on the treadmill, a participant in the ham running of 1887. A bridge between epochs?

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