The Lincolnshire Swing Riots of 1830
A look back in time at a very interesting piece of Social History and also a nice little snippet to show times haven’t really changed
You’d be forgiven for never having heard of the Swing Riots but they marked a pivotal period in farming and the countryside labour market - it was all about jobs . . .
As the Mill Workers saw, technological advances usually meant two things primarily, and it’s pretty much true today as well.
The Loss of Jobs
Greater Profits for Business Owners
In the case of farm workers and the Swing Riots it was Agricultural Machinery such as Threshing Machines which did the work of many men and in a fraction of the time - it’s the age old story.
The problem in the countryside was there was little else to do but work on farms so when labourers lost their jobs it caused a natural glut in the available workforce which landowners then used as a means of forcing down labour costs - a double whammy . . . there was a backlash.
The Swing Riots started in Kent in 1830 but soon found their way to Lincolnshire and there were some 29 recorded cases of ‘revolt’
A few Threshing Machines were destroyed by mainly it was acts of arson such as they firing of haystacks and the sending of threatening letters to landowners.
The name came from a fictitious character called ‘Swing’ who was said to ride through the countryside on a white horse carrying out various attacks on behalf of farm labourers, the name stuck as was even used to sign off some of the threatening letters sent to farmers.
Such was the unease and worry of escalation that an important landowner in Lincolnshire, Sir Gilbert Heathcote, actually took out adverts in local papers stating that his tenant farmers would no longer use threshing machines!
Much like the earlier Luddite Loom-Breakers the workers grievances were wholesale really and not confined simply to a machine, in tough times their situation was being worsened by what they saw as the rich profiteering elite . . . it sounds very familiar to us today in fact.
To compound my theory of history being relevant today I offer the case of Boston and the Swing Riots.
Today, Boston in Lincolnshire is probably the most cited place when it comes to discussion of immigrant labour in the county - a tale of Modern Times - well, hardly . . .
In 1830 the biggest grievance of the Boston Swing Rioters was the farmers use of Irish Immigrant Labour over local farm labourers - there’s nothing new under the sun!
The landed gentry believed that the ‘Lincolnshire Peasants’ were being stoked up by outside influences and wild paranoid theories abounded.
The response was the swearing in of nearly 200 Special Constables - there was no shortage of volunteers at 3 Shillings a night!
It was a significant event and demonstrated the widespread social unrest at the time, people were really suffering, not suffering as people are said to be in Britain today, but really suffering with little or no possibility of a way out - they were blameless so hard, in my opinion, to criticise.
I’ve found researching this very interesting, it’s another slice of Local Social History which never fails to fascinate but what struck me particularly was that nearly 100 years later I see very similar embers smouldering . . .
Any further information or opinions on the Swing Riots is warmly welcomed.
Rod - Comrade to the Workers