The Swing Riots and Epsom

Rick Burner Cartoon
Rick Burner Cartoon
Image Source The Life and History of Swing, the Kent Rick Burner 1830

The Swing Riots were a widespread uprising by agricultural workers; it began with the destruction of threshing machines in the Elham Valley area of East Kent in the summer of 1830, and by early December had spread throughout the whole of southern England and East Anglia.

Horse-powered Threshing Machine
Horse-powered Threshing Machine
Image Source Wikimedia

As well as the attacks on the popularly hated, labour-displacing threshing machines, the protesters reinforced their demands with wage and tithe riots and by the destruction of objects of perceived oppression, such as workhouses and tithe barns, and also with the more surreptitious rick-burning, and cattle-maiming. The first threshing machine was destroyed on Saturday night, 28 August 1830, and by the third week of October more than 100 threshing machines had been destroyed in East Kent.

The anger of the rioters was directed at three targets that were seen as the prime source of their misery: the tithe system, the Poor Law guardians, and the rich tenant farmers who had been progressively lowering wages while introducing agricultural machinery. If captured, the protesters faced charges of arson, robbery, riot, machine breaking and assault. Those convicted faced imprisonment, transportation, and possibly execution.

Text source Wikipedia.

The pervading atmosphere

'Epsom, Nov. 29.-l send you an account of two fires, which took place within two miles of this place (Epsom), last night (Sunday)-one at Banstead, of a large hay-stack, belonging to Mrs. Howath; another, at a very short distance from the above, of two corn-stacks of large dimensions, belonging to a gentleman farmer, which were destroyed. A body of labourers are going about this county, and the fires are supposed to have been caused by some of them. A respectable shopkeeper told me they were expected to be at this place today. People seem very gloomy in this part of the country.'
Cobbett's Weekly Political Register

Captain Swing Cartoon
Captain Swing Cartoon
Image Source British Museum

The Spread Eagle Connection

"The Lord Lieutenant, Lord Arden, and sixty-three of the magistrates for Surrey met at the Spread Eagle Inn in Epsom on 20th November 1830, alarmed by the disturbances in the county. They reported that if the 'late diabolical proceedings of incendiaries' continued and the large meetings of people assembled together under pretence of demanding increase in wages and a reduction of rent and tithes' do not disperse, they will be prosecuted. The meeting recommended that all magistrates swear in special constables to preserve law and order. This was seen as necessary because there were a relatively small number of troops available. Press reporters were also refused admittance to the meeting for 'it was hinted that the magistrates might have communications to make among themselves respecting the state of the county, of a character too alarming to make a disclosure prudent'. Although sympathy was expressed 'with the sufferings which the circumstances of the times may have imposed on many of the working classes of society', no additional measures were proposed to alleviate the distress."
The Times 22 November 1830 & National Archives HO 52/10, 20 November 1830.

Captain Swing Cartoon
Captain Swing Cartoon
Image Source British Museum

The Young Nursery Connection

Morning Chronicle Report
Morning Chronicle Report 01 January 1931

A more detailed account of proceedings appeared in The Times of 1 January 1831: a daughter (probably young Sarah, aged 10) had purchased three sheets of similar paper for her mother and no convincing account could be provided for one that had been used. The handwriting was identified by Mr Bird's employer, Mrs Collingridge, to be that of Mrs Bird.

Sarah Bird, 'of excellent character', had no obvious reason for any hostility towards Messrs Young but did provide lodgings for two of their workers, Hammond and Yaldon. Did these two pursuade their landlady to write the letter on their behalf 'with a fictitious signature', not the more usual 'Swing' but the initials 'H.Y.N.' - Hammond, Yaldon and A N Other?

Sarah could have been sentenced to transportation or even death but luckily for Sarah the jury at Kingston Assize found her not guilty.

National Archives Assi 94/2070

Brian Bouchard © April, 2017

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