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Hungerford and Kintbury were both heavily involved in the serious agricultural "Swing" riots in the autumn of 1830.
What were the "Swing" Riots?
The "Swing" Riots were serious riots which took place across much of southern and eastern England in 1830. They were the result of poverty and social deprivation amongst labourers. The perpetrators were dealt with harshly - many were sentenced to death, whilst many more were deported to New South Wales (Australia). The riots in Hungerford and Kintbury were serious, and representative of many others.
- Map showing the extent of the Swing Riots.
- 16 Bridge Street - site of the 1830 Swing Riots at Richard Gibbons' first foundry in Hungerford.
- The Tannery (now Riverside) - where all the glass (170 panes) was destroyed in Swing Riots on 22nd November 1830.
- The contemporary report of the Sentences of the Prisoners tried at the Special Assizes at Reading, 27th December to 4th January 1831. [Kindly sent by George Palmer, May 2014].
- The love token dedicated from Charles Green to his first wife Sarah in 1830 (from The Australian Daily Telegraph, February 2017, kindly sent by Steve Bray, January 2018).
- Queen St, Campbelltown in 1879, just five years after the death of Charles Green. (From the Thomson Collection (Campbelltown City Library, Local Studies Collection) printed in The Australian Daily Telegraph, Feb 2017, kindly sent by Steve Bray, January 2018).
The background to the Swing Riots:
Following years of war, high taxes and low wages, farm labourers, especially in the south and east of England, finally snapped in 1830. These farm labourers had faced progressive impoverishment and unemployment over the previous fifty years due to the widespread introduction of the threshing machine and the policy of enclosing fields.
No longer were thousands of men needed to tend the crops, a few would suffice. 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 (expecting the Parish would make up the rest) while introducing agricultural machinery.
With fewer jobs, lower wages and no prospects of things improving for these workers the threshing machine was the final straw, the object that was to place them on the brink of starvation. The Swing Rioters smashed the threshing machines and threatened farmers who had them.
The start of the riots:
The first threshing machine was destroyed on Saturday night, 28th August 1830. By the third week of October, over one hundred threshing machines had been destroyed in East Kent.
Mystery surrounds the nominal leader of the riots, Captain Swing, whose name is appended to several of the threatening letters sent to farmers, magistrates, parsons and others. The "Swing letters" were first mentioned by The Times on the 21st October 1830. Captain Swing has never been identified, and many people believe that he never existed, having been created by the workers.
The Swing Riots in the Hungerford and Kintbury area:
The riots were to rock West Berkshire. Mobs formed in Newbury, Thatcham, Kintbury, Hungerford, Inkpen, Lambourn and the surrounding villages. They committed arson, vandalism and robbery, although most resisted committing truly violent attacks. Local pubs often became the meeting place for the mobs, notable The Blue Ball in Kintbury.
The riots were dealt with very harshly. Local militias were raised (this all happening before there were local police forces), and soldiers were sent to crush the uprisings and round up the offenders.
Nine of the rioters (including one Kintbury man) were hung and a further 450 (including 13 from Kintbury and 4 from Hungerford) were transported to Australia.
On 22 November 1830 about 600-700 people rioted in Hungerford, causing about £260 damage at the Gibbons iron foundry in Bridge Street, and at the Tannery (now Riverside on the corner of Charnham Street and Bridge Street), all the windows in the front of the building were smashed - 170 panes of glass.
The following letter dated 22 November 1830 from Mr J Westall, Churchwarden of Hungerford, to the Reading Postmaster describes the riot in graphic detail (and rather poor punctuation!):
"Sir, these to inform you there was a riotous mob of the lowest class of poor assembled in the Town this day their object was to have the agriculture labour rose from 8/- to 12/- per week and to break up all the Farmer's thrashing macheene in the Parish and neighbourhood which they accomplished and made a demand on the proprietor of every macheen they brok of 20/- for so doing and would not depart from the premises without food and Beer being given to them the Town was kept in great alarm from 12 o clock last night to this present time there was about 600 or 700 Men Women and Children they collected a good deal of Money and great numbers of them was in liquor - a Mr Anning, a tanner of this place, had all the windows in the front of his house broke by the mob - above 170 panes of glass - a Mr Gibbons Iron founder all his workshops. Moulds, furnice and all cast iron materials found on his premises quite destroid - the Gentlemen and Tanners promises to give the labourers 2/- pr day for their work - there have been a few fires near us one at Lamborne several at a greater distance, I hope we shall be quieter tomorrow - I think if we had a few horse soldiers they would have easy dispersed the mob - the greater part appearing to me to be young men and women but very desparate towards the middle of the day - 1am.
. . .Sir, your Most obt. Servt- J. Westall, Hungerford".
Extract from "Captain Swing" by Hobsbawm & Rude, 1969:
The agrarian depression enclosed rural labour in a diminishing and increasingly vicious circle. The employer hired as little and as briefly as he could, relying on the parish to maintain the unemployed. The parish could do so only at increasingly astronomic expense, and in turn the ratepayer (i.e. to a large extent the employer of labour) cut down his labour requirements even further, as his expenditure on poor relief rose. The insane logic of this process reached the point of tragic absurdity when decent men "are driven, without the pretext of a complaint, from services of long standing with masters to whom they had become attached" because someone else had sacked his labourers and "if X has turned off 20 of his men; if I'm to pay their wages he'll have to pay yours".
Letter from John Pearse MP to the Home Secretary:
In a letter dated 5 December 1830, Mr John Pearse, (of Chilton Lodge) MP for Devizes, wrote to the Home Secretary:
"Chilton Lodge, 5.12.1830. My Lord, I have great satisfaction in informing your Lordship that this country is become perfectly quiet, the poor people having returned to their work with great good humour. I lament that they should have obtained an increase of Wages by such violent means but such is the total want of feeling of the Farmers towards the common labourers that I fear they never would have got it without. Their crying wants would never have reached the unfeeling hearts of these people otherwise. In most of the villages purely agricultural they paid the labourer only 7/- a week and in Hungerford 8/- a week whereas by common consent they ought to receive 10/-. I am speaking of course of able bodied labourers - lesser wages will be paid to others according to their power of earning their pay. I never saw so much happiness as has been produced by this change. It is a great step from 7 or 8 to 10/-, more than they ever expected to receive but nor more than meets their want. I am strongly of the opinion that when this new pay begins to produce its effects there will be a corresponding reduction in the amount of the poor's rate equal to the advance of wages and the poor man's pride will be relieved from the opprobrious epithet of pauper. The destruction of the Threshing machines will give employment to a great number of labourers and as it is an operation generally carried on between Michaelmas and Ladyday it will be important with respect to the time of year and I am of the opinion will give employment to all the labourers usually out of work at this season.
The Incendiary still continues involved in mystery, but in my opinion carried on by the purses and influence of radical scoundrels who think they can produce revolution by the anarchy and confusion of the common means of subsistence.
I am My Lord .. Your Lordship's Obedient Servant John Pearse".
Norman Fox's "Berkshire to Botany Bay":
Very great detail of the events is available in Norman Fox's excellent book - "Berkshire to Botany Bay". The following is extracted from his book:
"The Hungerford men made their way to Denford where they met with their Kintbury comrades. From there the combined body (possibly around 500 men) marched on Mr Hayter's at Denford Farm, from which, having smashed all the machinery they could find, they advanced on Hungerford.
"About ¾ mile from Hungerford on the London Road" they were met by about a dozen mounted gentlemen led by Mr John Willes of Hungerford Park. The party included Mr Barnes, Mr Pearce and Capt Lidderdale. Also in the party were General Popham of Littlecote, Mr George Cundell of Hungerford, and Mr John Hill of Standen. Alongside Mr Willes rode a Mr Annings whose windows received the attention of the crowd later in the morning.
Mr Willes attempted to negotiate with this very large body, but according to Capt Lidderdale, the attempt to speak civilly to the crowds was met with violence.
On reaching the outskirts of the town some of them broke the windows of the house belonging to Mr Annings, a tanner. Thomas Major, surgeon, of Hungerford, testified that about 11 o'clock he was on his horse in Charnham Street when he saw David Garlick try to open the door of Mr Annings' house, opposite the White Hart Inn. Having failed to open the door Garlick tried to open the yard gates with a bludgeon. This was the signal for others to break the windows.
From Charnham Street the crowd made their way to the High Street. Most of them had passed Richard Gibbons' iron foundry in Bridge Street when "one man called the mob back". A wine merchant, appropriately called Viner "stood in the middle of the gateway of the foundry to prevent them entering" and turned back six or seven by saying that "there was no threshing machine ever made there". But one man halloed out "Hark forward! Go at it! Break the iron to pieces!" and about 3-400 of them broke through the gateway. Charles Kent, an employee of Richard Gibbons, tried to prevent one of the mob from breaking a cast-iron pan, but the rioter said "I'll break that pan and knock thy brains out." By the time the crowd withdrew from the foundry they had demolished virtually everything in the yard.
Richard Gibbons claim for compensation amounted to £261.8s.6d, and the list of goods broken included 'threshing machine wheels'. Poor Richard Gibbons claim was rejected, and he failed to gain any recompense for the damage done.
A short while after the affray at the foundry, two 5-man deputations (one from Hungerford and one from Kintbury) entered the Town Hall together. Read the full account in "A town hall confrontation" - Norman Fox's 6th article.
The men were tried at a Special Assize at Reading - it opened on Monday 27 December 1830. 130 men were tried, 70 coming from the Hungerford and Kintbury area. Of the 24 Hungerford men, 11 were sentenced to death. However, Mr Justice Park told all eleven of them that they had been convicted of offences that had forfeited their lives to the offended laws of their country. However, he added that he recommended them to mercy as far as sparing their lives was concerned, although with respect to some it was only after "deep and painful consideration" that the court had come to this decision. In the end, five were deported (one Joseph Smith dying in the Portsmouth hulks on 19 January 1837, never having left Portsmouth), 14 were imprisoned, and five were acquitted.
The Hungerford men included:
- John Aldridge, destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, transported to New South Wales (Sydney) for 7 years, (aged 36 years, married with six children, illiterate, blacksmith). At the time of his Certificate of Freedom on 18th December 1839, he was residing in Liverpool on the Great Southern Road to Campbelltown.
- William Chitter , destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, 6 months hard labour,
- John Cope, destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, 12 months hard labour,
- Jeremiah Dobson, destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, 12 months hard labour,
- John Field, destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, 12 months hard labour,
- Charles Green, indicted for destroying threshing machines, and forcibly demanding food, was found guilty and was transported to New South Wales (Sydney) on S.S. Eleanor in July 1831 for 7 years. The story of Charles Green is a particularly interesting one - and it merits its own expanded article dedicated to Charles Green.
- David Hawkins, indicted for Robbery, destroying threshing machines, destroying fixed machinery and riotous assembly. He was found guilty of destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, transported to Van Dieman's Land [now Tasmania] for 7 years, (aged 39 years, married with five children, illiterate, farm labourer),
- Israel Pullen, destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, 18 months hard labour,
- Charles Rosier, destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, 18 months hard labour
- George Rosier, destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, 18 months hard labour.
- Joseph Tuck, destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, transported to New South Wales (Sydney) for 7 years, (aged 29 years, widower, able to read and write, groom and porter). Less than a year after he had received his certificate of Freedom, he died in Sydney in May 1838.
- Thomas Willoughby, destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, 18 months hard labour,
- David Garlick (or Yarlick), destroying machinery belonging to Richard Gibbons, 12 months hard labour.
The Hungerford men acquitted were Edward Everett, Charles Smith , William Haynes, George Sturgess and James Wilkins.
In 1977 the Kintbury Players performed a play based on the Swing Riots to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Jubilee. The play was written by Christine Millard, wife of the then vicar of Kintbury, Rev Albert Millard. Follow this link for the text of the play (12.9Mb).
- For more on the "Swing Riots" in the Kintbury and Hungerford area, see http://www.accessdbdev.com/berkshiretobotanybay.htm where you can download for free Norman Fox's excellent and well-researched book "Berkshire to Botany Bay - the 1830 Labourer's Revolt in Berkshire" in PDF format. [With thanks to Norman and Mike Fox, Nov 2014]. The text of this book is now available on the Virtual Museum - see links below.
Part 1 - Berkshire:
Part 2: To "Botany Bay"
Abstracts by Norman Fox published in NWN 1980-81:
- "The Swing Riots" - a play by Christine Millard, 1977 (pdf - 12.9Mb)
- "The Swing Riots" by David Knight, East Garston
- Two Depositions of 26 Nov 1830 describing the riots (Richard Goddard (Templeton Farm) and Rev John Sloper of Woodhay) - kindly sent by Keith Jerome
- Selborne & Headley (Hampshire) workhouse riots of 1830 - for more background on the social strains resulting in 1830 riots. Those convicted were also sent to New South Wales on the SS Eleanor in 1831, like the Hungeford rioters.