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The violent Captain Swing?
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-08, 15:27 authored by Carl GriffinCarl Griffin
Beginning with the destruction of threshing machines in the Elham Valley area of East Kent in the summer of 1830, the so-called ‘Swing Riots’ had by early December spread throughout the whole of southern England and East Anglia. Attacks on the popularly hated, labour-displacing, threshing machines remained the iconic feature of Swing; but incendiarism, wage and tithe ‘riots’, attempts to gain better poor relief entitlements, and dole levying all featured prominently. In total, claimed Hobsbawm and Rudé, authors of the only systematic study of the movement, there were 1,475 protest incidents in thirty-six English counties.3 And, according to John and Barbara Hammond’s classic Village Labourer, Swing was the ‘Last Labourers’ Revolt’.4 Although the validity of that description has been called into question, not least in view of the widespread uptake of agricultural trade unionism in the 1870s,5 Swing’s central place in nineteenth-century British history remains assured. It was not just a short-lived mass outpouring of discontent, but also a historical pivot that was partly responsible for politicizing many rural workers, for the creation of the workhouse-focused New Poor Law, and for the formation of County Constabularies.
JournalPast and Present
PublisherOxford University Press
Department affiliated with
- Geography Publications
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