Where does the saying “Paint The Town Red” come from?

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What is the origins of the well known saying, ‘paint the town red’? The Leicester Chronicle explores further.

In the early hours of Thursday, 6 April 1837, Henry Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford and his fox-hunting friends arrived in Melton Mowbray at the Thorpe End tollgate.

They had been drinking heavily at Croxton races, and understandably the toll-keeper asked to be paid before he opened the gate for them.

The Marquess of Waterford dressed in Eglinton armour, by Robert Thorburn (1840).

Sadly for him some repairs were underway, and ladders, brushes and pots of red paint were lying nearby; the Marquess and his cronies seized these and attacked the toll-keeper, painting him and a constable who intervened red.

They then nailed up the door of the tollhouse and painted that red before moving into the town carrying the stolen equipment.


The Marquess goes on a rampage.

They rampaged down the Beast Market (now Sherrard Street), through the Marketplace, and into Burton Street, painting doors as they passed, pulling on door knockers and knocking over flower pots.

At the Red Lion (now part of the Harborough Hotel), they pulled down the sign and threw it into the canal.

At the Old Swan Inn in the Marketplace, next to what is now the Grapes, the Marquess was hoisted onto the shoulder of another man to paint the carved swan inn sign red. (In 1988, when the old Swan Porch fell down, traces of red paint were found on the back of the carved swan when it was removed for restoration).

They also vandalised the Post Office and the Leicestershire banking company before trying to overturn a caravan in which a man was fast asleep.


A struggle for the local Police force.

Solitary policemen tried to intervene at intervals and were beaten up and painted red for their trouble. Eventually more police arrived in numbers and seized one of the men, Edward Raynard, who was put in the Bridewell prison.

The others promptly returned and rescued him, breaking three locks and beating two constables, threatening them with murder if they did not produce the key.

The following day there was uproar; when the Marquess of Waterford finally sobered up, he paid for all the damage to people and property, but the group were still brought to trial before the Derby Assize Court in July 1838.

They were found not guilty of riot, but were fined £100 each for common assault, a considerable sum then.

Following the incident, the phrase “paint the town red” entered the language.


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Book Recommendation.

If you are interested in the darker side of Leicester’s history then check out this book on Amazon. (Click on the image or link below)

Foul Deeds & Suspicious Deaths Around Leicester

“Within the pages of this book are some of the most notorious and often baffling cases in Leicestershire’s history. From the appalling double murder at Melton Mowbray in 1856, known locally as the Peppermint Billy murders, to the 1953 murderer Joseph Reynolds who killed because he wanted to know how it felt. This book explores the cases that dominated the headlines, not only across the city and surrounding county but also nationwide.”

Thomas Kirkup is an engineer in the Royal Navy. Born and raised in Leicester he is fascinated by the city's long and varied history. He also hates to discus himself in the third person, but can be persuaded to do so from time to time.
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