Revenge of the Curds: Remembering the Great Nottingham Cheese Riot of 1766

Some people will do anything for cheese.
Some people will do anything for cheese. / seraficus/iStock via Getty Images

No one buying cheese at the Goose Fair saw it coming.

It was October 2, 1766, and the citizens of Nottingham, England, were out in force for the fair. The annual event, held for hundreds of years, offered livestock and a variety of foods from farmers and artisans. (And not, as the name implies, just geese.) That year, however, was different. A poor harvest across Europe had led to food shortages, which in turn led to rapidly rising prices on popular goods. The Goose Fair, normally a civil and quiet day at the market, carried a tense and heavy atmosphere.

When residents saw that the price of cheese had skyrocketed, virtually doubling from just the week prior, they grew upset. Compounding matters were cheese gougers from Lincolnshire, who had arrived to snatch up the cheese and take it back to their area for resale. Nottingham citizens believed the cheese should be traded locally.

Between the high prices and cheese hoarding, the Goose Fair quickly turned chaotic. Cheese enthusiasts began physically seizing cheese, looting merchants, and even swarming a cargo boat. Giant cheese wheels tumbled down the street, reportedly even knocking down the Nottingham mayor as he tried to restore order.

Authorities made arrests, but that, too, was ineffectual, as other residents crowded the prison and demanded their release. A roadblock was set up to intercept rogues looking to abscond with cheese. Citizens threw stones at merchants trying to reclaim the cheese that was rightfully theirs. At least one victim, cheese merchant William Eggleston, was shot to death by members of the 15th Dragoons, the prevailing army unit summoned into town to quell the riot. After things quieted down, cheese dealers began traveling with security.

Nottingham still holds a Goose Fair, though it's focused more on amusement rides than cheese dealing. That's probably for the best.

[h/t The Vintage News]