« Top Ten War Films | Main | COOLinks »

Capt. Swing

As the year ends let me try and pull together some threads I have started.

The biggest threat we all face is Islamic terrorism, my optimistic view is that this desperate and bloody revolt is the work of a people who know they are beaten. They are Luddites raging against the machine, they know that western culture and "liberal" values are, with the help of technology, winning the battle for minds. And as always Luddites eventually lose.

In my own fair part of the Wiltshire we had a revolt not long ago - and I will leave you with a quote about The Captain Swing Riots which draws in my threads of 19th century rural suffering (it wasn't just Ireland), the stoic nature of us English and the notion that even we have our breaking point and then we turn to revolt (but even then with restraint).

"At the beginning of the 19th century the lot of the agricultural labourer in general, and those from Wiltshire in particular, was miserable. The decline in their standard of living, which had begun in the late 18th century, was continuing apace. The agricultural depression that set in at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 worsened an already appalling situation and left many people destitute. Matters declined further with the gradual introduction of machinery, both on the land and in the factories, and the labourers realised that these would deprive them of many of their traditional sources of income. In 1813, Thomas Davis prepared a report on the state of agriculture in Wiltshire by revising a previous work of his fatherís published in 1794. He was the steward to the Marquis of Bath of Longleat, and of the labourers he states:

"It is a melancholy fact that ..... the labourers of many parts of this county ..... may be truly said to be at this time in a wretched condition. The dearness of provisions, the scarcity of fuel, and above all the failure of spinning work for the women and children have put it almost out of the power of the village poor to live by their industry. The farmers complain, and with reason, that the labourers do less work than formerly, when in fact the labourers are not able to work as they did at the time when they lived better".
Things got worse during the years that followed. When that great radical William Cobbett visited the Pewsey Vale and the Avon Valley in August 1826, he was appalled at what he found. He prophetically recorded:

"In taking my leave of this beautiful vale I have to express my deep shame, as an Englishman, at beholding the general extreme poverty of those who cause this vale to produce such quantities of food and raiment. This is, I verily believe it, the worst used labouring people upon the face of the earth. Dogs and hogs and horses are treated with more civility; and as to food and lodging, how gladly would the labourers change with them! This state of things never can continue many years! By some means or other there must be an end to it; and my firm belief is, that the end will be dreadful."

Four years later the working man had had enough of poverty and hunger. By this time his conditions were worse that before or during the Napoleonic Wars and they were suffering from "appallingly low wages, bad conditions and incredibly long hours of work". The recently introduced thrashing machine would deprive him of one of his main sources of winter work and so, faced with a generally uncaring ruling class, he took matters into his own hands. The normally passive and quietly suffering labourers of Wessex had, for once, had enough...

Go here for the complete article

Another view on THE SWING RIOTS

Comments

"In my own fair part of the Wiltshire we had a revolt not long ago..."

Two hundred years ago is "not long ago"?

I sure hope you are right about the stoicism. I dunno, from afar the things that go into the formation of a Wiltshire man's character seem rather different from those that went into forming it 200 years ago.

Post a comment