European revolutions in 1830 and the growth of a radical movement in England caused such unease that in December 250 special constables were enrolled in Yeovil and a Mudford Troop of Yeomanry constituted.
These precautions were fully justified by events in 1831 when the narrow defeat of the Blandford parliamentary candidate for reform caused rioting to break out in Yeovil. Targets for attack were the houses of prominent townsmen who were alleged to have been agents for the successful anti-reform candidate.
Windows were broken and furniture destroyed, peace being restored only after rioters had been fired on by the Yeomanry. Special constables patrolled the streets daily for some four months following. During this time thirteen of twenty rioters were arrested, charged with riotous assembly and received prison sentences at Taunton Assizes.
Underlying causes for the outbreak had in part been due to a recession in trade and the establishment of an active radical Political Union in Yeovil. January 1834 saw Yeovil’s first trade union established with some 200 members consisting of gloving operatives.
These members were threatened and intimidated by employers, magistrates, and others, resulting in resignations and eventual dissolving of the union. A newspaper commented it was hoped that ‘every attempt of wicked and designing men to sow discord, would be resisted in the future’.
Glove making and leather dressing, by now the staple industry, is shown to have been carried on in Yeovil from at least the 14th century. By the 18th century the trade had expanded to the extent that there was no lack of employment in the town and by 1822 of the 858 families here, 680 were said to earn their living from gloving. In 1834 there was said to be an annual output of 300,000 dozen gloves, while in 1856 4,600 dozen pairs were being produced weekly.