The Winchester Riot of 1908

Audrey Chalk has provided some postcards and information about the Winchester Riot of 1908: the story was told in a report published under the header “Snapshots of the Past” by the Hampshire Chronicle.

This report focused on Joe Dumper, who was the leader of this riot: “Some said he was an anarchist and rabble-rouser, others that he was a God-fearing Englishman acting in a noble and self-less cause.”

Whichever was true, Joe (Joseph) Dumper was the heartbeat of The Great Winchester Gun Riot of May 1908, when for three days and nights, mobs rampaged through the streets of the normally genteel Cathedral city.

Its cause was trifling enough: for over 50 years a Russian Cannon had stood in the Broadway, at its junction with East Street. Captured at Sebastopol, it was seen as a monument to the Winchester-based Rifle Brigade soldiers who had fought in the Crimean War (1853-1856). To the townspeople, it became a symbolic soapbox, where meetings were held and bands played.

The Winchester Riot crowd, triumphant on top of the gun, with Joe Dumper.

The Winchester Riot crowd, triumphant on top of the gun, pulled from the carriage behind.

In May 1908, anticipating the city’s National Pageant, scheduled for that summer to raise essential finance for the Cathedral’s structural repairs, the Mayor, Alderman Billy Forder, and City Council decided on a face-lift for the gun and carriage, and planned to remove the railings around the gun, to display it better, and to re-gravel the site and re-paint the gun and carriage.

However there were many townspeople who felt that removing the railings would mean the gun would become a ‘nuisance’ with children. A protest meeting was rapidly convened, led by local house painter Joe Dumper. Before a citizens’ petition was considered however, the railings were removed. Another public meeting was held, and quickly got out of control – it turned into a riot. The Rioters used ropes to pull the gun from its carriage, and then embarked on an orgy of destruction, breaking street lamps and windows of shops and homes owned by councillors. Dumper, as ringleader, was carried around the town by a mob several thousand strong. The City Clock, windows and streetlights were smashed. A ‘chariot’, which was to be used in the forthcoming National Pageant, was thrown into the river from the City Bridge. At Wolvesey Palace, they wrecked preparations for the pageant, and one man tried, unsuccessfully, to torch the band-stand.

The gun barrel displaced from the carriage

The gun barrel displaced from the carriage

The disorder was only calmed when more police were brought in, and the ringleaders, including Joe, were enrolled as special constables, and ordered to help restore the peace.

But the people had their victory, marked in the first photo above. [Here the report went wrong, as it was suggested that Joe was the seated figure, centre left. His great great Grandson, Steve Dumper, has sent a picture of Joe, see below!]. Next day, to defuse the crisis, the authorities quickly enrolled the riot leaders as special constables and peace was restored. The gun and its railings were replaced and survived until melted down during the Second World War.

Replacing the cannon onto its cariage

Later, replacing the barrel of the Cannon onto its carriage

Audrey Chalk’s postcard of the crowd, which was said to show Joe Dumper, is embossed with the name Fred Wright, Photographer, of Winchester, just visible at the bottom right corner. The picture below is from another postcard, supplied by Steve Dumper, which shows his Great-great-grandfather Joseph standing on the gun carriage, some time after the riot!

Joseph on the cannon

It seems likely from these photos that the gun carriage was positioned around where the statue of Alfred now stands, before the roundabout was created.

What happened to the gun?

Steve Dumper was able to add some comments about what happened to the gun later. In February 2016, Steve wrote:

Some years ago I obtained from the Hampshire Record Office  a copy of the letter that Joe Dumper sent to Winchester City Council protesting about the removal of the railings from around the Gun and they kindly sent me that together with some other documentation.
Included in that documentation was an “Account of the Winchester Gun Riots (25.05.08)” written by someone with the initials AGW. This account records the fact that the large Russian Gun was acquired in 1857 as a trophy from the Crimean War. It also includes the following comment:-
‘Sadly the great gun – beloved by many generations of Winchester people – was quietly taken away in 1940 to be melted down for munitions of war. So disappeared a cherished part of the Winchester scene.’
There is also mention of the railings (and presumably the gun) being melted down in the Hampshire Chronicle – the article is dated 30 December 1999.
According to ‘Bloody British History – Winchester’, the City Council, mindful of earlier events, approached Joe Dumper before the gun was taken away: his response was “There have been enough arguments. Let them have it.”

15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Steve Dumper on March 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Many thanks for the interesting article.
    A small point however. The person sat on the gun in the first photo is not Joseph Dumper. He was much older than the young man shown in this picture having been born in 1861.
    I have photos (postcards) of Joe stood by and sat on the gun and can confirm that he is not in the postcard in your article.
    All the best,
    Steve Dumper


  2. Thanks for the correction Steve, and for the picture of Joseph which is now added to the story text.


  3. Posted by Sue Morton on November 14, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    On going through some old family photos and postcards today I found a postcard of ‘The Winchester Riots – Replacing the Gun’… The card was from someone called Harold G. W. to someone called Miss M Barber in Stockwell, London (I think she may be a relative on my mothers side of the family). The post card says “Dear M, No doubt you will have read all about our gun troubles here. Thought I would send you a photo. This is my own work. I sold over 1,000 on Saturday. Alright isn’t it! Talk about a fortune, why a fortune isn’t in it. Love to all .. Harold G.W.”. ..
    {Note: Sue adds that the postcard is the same as the one shown above, attributed to Fred Wright, Photographer: Harold G W was possibly one of the Wright family.}


  4. Posted by Roger Farrall on February 27, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Do you know what happened to the gun? Where is it now ?


  5. Posted by Sarah Hamilton on September 10, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    My mother thinks the man sat to the left on the gun in the first photo is Arthur Dumper, Joe’s son, aged 24 in 1908. When my Mum was a young girl, her Grandma, the daughter of Arthur Dumper, showed her another photo taken at the same time of Arthur and Joe sat astride the gun.


    • Posted by Steve Dumper on September 12, 2016 at 8:51 am

      I believe I have a copy of that photo, an original postcard, with Joe sat astride the gun. There is a much younger man who is stood at the end of the cannon who could well be Arthur.
      I will try and copy it so that I can email it to Nick Denbow and perhaps he can add it to the article.


  6. Posted by Denise Bright on February 16, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    I have only just come across this article as I am doing some research into my late grandmother Iris Ward (nee Dumper), daughter of Arthur Dumper and grand-daughter of Joe Dumper. I would really like to speak to any other relatives of Joe Dumper if they could contact me.


    • Denise, one of his relations contacted me some time ago, by phone or email. Nick, I’ll try and find the contact


    • Posted by Sarah Hamilton on February 19, 2018 at 6:40 pm

      Hi Denise,

      My Great Grandmother was Helen Dumper, also Arthur’s daughter. Happy to help fill any gaps if I can.



    • Posted by Liz on January 21, 2020 at 8:46 pm

      Hi my mother of 79 was a Winchester born dumper in 1941 to ceril & Joan dumper. My mum says the Joseph dumper is a relation to her ( on ceril side) as she recalls (back when she was young ) family members talking about it. Be very interesting to find that out


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