Chapter 13. The Swing Riots

13.1. Threshing Machines

13.2. The Swing Riots -Dimensions

13.3 Incomes and Food Level

13.4. Appearance of the Men

13.5. Kent and East Sussex

13.6. Violence in Kent and Sussex

13.7. Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire

13.8. Defense of the Farms by the Labourers

13.9. Beer Drinking and Beer Houses

13.10. Violence against Farmers

From the data given in the previous chapter, it appears that the farm labourers – at least those with steady employment with one farmer – in the period 1822 to 1837 had enough income to eat reasonably well. 

But then we have a difficult question to answer. If they were fairly well off, why did they revolt in the “Swing Riots”? The Swing Riots were a number of violent events, added to written threats, in the southern half of England (especially in Kent/East Sussex and Wiltshire/Hampshire/Berkshire) in August to December 1830. They were thus called, after an invented “Captain Swing”, who apparently sent the threatening letters.

The usual explanation for the riots is that the labourers, after years of hunger and unemployment, which were partially caused by the installation of threshing machines, rose up to force increases in pay, and to stop the use of the threshing machines. 

It is not true that there had been generalized hunger in the previous 24 months. There certainly had been two bad harvests, but the British Government had imported 2,000,000 quarters of wheat in each year, to compensate for this. The wholesale price of wheat was not excessive against the recent past (shillings per bushel):


The harvest in 1830 was good. Strangely, the riots in Kent/East Sussex took place in August to November, during and just after the harvest time. At harvest time, all the men in each farm and the “superfluous” population in the village, worked full time, and it was necessary to use women and children as well. It is difficult to understand, why at this moment, when their purses were (relatively!) full, the men should start riots for more money.

The previous two winters had been very cold and wet, but the weather during 1830 was of an average temperature and rainfall. 

If we wish to decide if the statement “the agricultural labourers in Southern England  had been hungry and poor for years, and thus rebelled in the Swing Riots” is true or is false, then we have to investigate the following points:

  1. What were the weekly incomes and food consumptions in the affected counties in 1830?
  2. Did the labourers look unfed, poor, and incapable of heavy work?
  3. Why did the labourers rebel in Kent and Sussex exactly in August to December 1830?
  4. Why did the labourers rebel in Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Berkshire, exactly in November 1830?

But first, we have to see if the threshing machines really were a cause of the riots.

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