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The Swing Riots in Lincolnshire

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.




A Swing Riot Letter

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!




A Threshing Machine

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.
Best
Rod - Comrade to the Workers

8 Comments »

  1. Veronica said,

    June 22, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

    What a fab article; I have thoroughly enjoyed it and the addition of the handwritten item is a great idea.
    I am well acquainted with the Luddites and we always include them in our Industrial Revolution workshops for Upper KS2 (juniors). But I can include this now too, so a special thanks for this.

    Just apologies that I can’t do justice to your hard work on this article now, Rod .( Last minute changes to ‘’the book'’ before Friday, plus I did the Manchester Midnight 10km last night for the cancer hospice and got home at 3am, plus we have an Ancient Egypt history/literacy workshop to get ready for…. ).

    But thanks for another fascinating, well written and well researched post.

  2. Rod said,

    June 22, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

    V,
    pleased you enjoyed it, I’m amazed you even got chance to read it - keep up the good work!
    Best
    Rod

  3. Dave said,

    June 22, 2013 @ 9:51 pm

    Hi Rod.
    My Father told me a story many years ago which may be connected to the swing riots in Lincolnshire.
    A local Farmer bought a “Binder”, a Binder was a machine that cut the corn crop and tied it into a bundle or a sheaf, it was pulled with horses.
    This meant that the farm labourers were not needed to cut the crop with Sythes and tie it by hand.
    Undercover of darkness some of the Labourers got a stout iron bar and drove it into the ground in the standing corn, next morning when the Binder came along it hit the bar breaking the machine and putting it out of action, therefore bringing back the labourers with there sythes.
    Although this this must have appeared to be a most serious act of sabotage I am sure these men must have been driven by genuine fear of losing there jobs, there livelihood, and no doubt there tied cottages, it almost sounds like it was worth having a go doesnt it !!!!!.
    regard Dave.14

  4. v said,

    June 22, 2013 @ 10:31 pm

    fabulous

    There is a British myth/legend about a gnome or dwarf who stuck metal spikes in a field of corn so the new workers could n’t thresh the corn and then he would be re-employed.

    Marvellous how these things are handed down. Oral tradition always has a tiny grain of truth.

  5. Rod said,

    June 23, 2013 @ 10:46 am

    Dave,
    this is fantastic - many thanks indeed.
    I think you’re right and I can both see and empathise with the farm workers - no benefits back then
    No workee no eatee . . .
    Best
    Rod

  6. pam said,

    June 29, 2013 @ 3:02 am

    I wonder who the blacksmiths were at the time and area of the first riots?
    Did they profit from both sides, as did Enoch Taylor and his brothers of Marsden and the Luddites fame?

    “Enoch makes them and Enoch shall break them”.
    Having been well indoctrinated by a Marsden friend I cannot help but think of hammers as Enochs now! (Enoch made both the looms and the hammers used to break them)

    Was there a smith named Swing involved making the machines and the weapons/spikes I wonder?

  7. Steve Colton said,

    October 11, 2013 @ 6:23 am

    think my ancestor John Colton was tried and convicted in 1830 as part of the swing riots and in 1812 as part of the luddite riots.

    John Colton was a framework knitter in Nottingham.

  8. Rod said,

    October 11, 2013 @ 6:23 am

    Steve,
    thanks for the comment and welcome to the site
    All the best
    Rod

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