The Swing Riots


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What was the Swing Riots?

Attacks on farm machinery and buildings by agricultural workers angry at low wages and high food prices.

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What happened?

November 1830, John Benett, the MP for Wiltshire, was woken with the news that his house was about to be attacked.

400 farm labourers were approaching, armed with hammers and crowbars.

They smashed their way into the barns and broke up the threshing machines used on his farms.

This was just one incident in the Swing Riots that raged across the south of England late in 1830. There were 1500 such incidents of machine-breaking, arson and riot in just four months.

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Who was involved?

The leader of the movement was a fictional figure, Captain Swing, but the real memebrs were young men, mostly skilled farm workers and craftsmen, who had never been involved in any crime.

They were angry about poverty and because, no longer thought that helping their workers was their responsibility.

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The Problems...

The problems were:

  • low wages
  • high bread prices

Bad harvests had forced up food prices. Wages had fallen because farmers had introduced new machinery.

Unable to vote, the workers had no other way to influence the government than their campaign of machine-breaking and rick-burning at farms belonging to prosperous landowners.

The government was determined to end the riots. In Europe there had been a series of revolutions and in Britain protests were beginning again, over political reform.

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  • Hundreds of labourers were arrested.
  • Petitions were collected, pleading for mercy and pointing out that the men had not used violence against anyone

Despite this, the Swing rioters were punished more severely than any other group of protesters. The government wanted to stamp out any possibility of revolution.

Local magistrates were outraged that their farmworkers had dared to riot and passed heavy sentences.

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