13.2. The Swing Riots – Dimensions

The “Swing Riots” are supposed have covered all Southern England, and thus demonstrate that there was hunger in the agricultural population in all this area. The reality is that almost all the violent acts took place in Kent plus East Sussex, and also in an area composed of the south-eastern half of Wiltshire, the south-western quarter of Berkshire, and some northern parts of Hampshire (in sum, about 50 miles by 40 miles).

Bruno Caprettini, University of Zurich, Hans-Joachim Voth, University of Zurich and CEPR; Rage against the Machines: Labor-Saving Technology and Unrest in England, 1830-32, January 2017; http://www.idep.eco.usi.ch/caprettini-320265.pdf, p. 33, taken from Holland, Swing Unmasked, 2005

The machine-breaking activities were even more localized (note that in Kent, they were only in the extreme East):

Kenneth Hutton, The Distribution of Wheelhouses in the British Isles; The Agricultural History Review, Vol. 24, No. 1 (1976), pp. 30-35; http://www.jstor.org/stable/40273686; p. 34

We also have a map of the basic weekly wage in a number of parishes in 1832, as given in the “Rural Queries”. The most virulent events were in the regions with lowest incomes. But this does not explain why the Riots started in Kent, with a general income of 12 shillings. Note the area of the High Weald, on the boundary between Kent and Sussex, with an income of less than 12 shillings.

Figure 2. Regional divisions based on the amounts that parishes reported for agricultural wages in winter. Sources: “Rural Queries”, Report of Poor Law Commissioners 1834, relating to conditions in 1832.

Margaret Lyle; Regional Agricultural Wage Variations in early nineteenth century England; Agricultural History Review, June 2007, 55(1), p. 95-106

The great majority of the actions took place in a period of 4 months (in Wiltshire + Berkshire + Hampshire, in 20 days, in November):

(Caprettini, Voth, op. cit., p. 32)

The number of each type of “event” by county was (most important figures):

Arson: Hampshire 15, Kent 61, Lincolnshire 28, Norfolk 19, Surrey 23, East Sussex 23, West Sussex 11, Wiltshire 18: Total 316

“Swing” Letters: Hampshire 12, Kent 11: Total 99.

Wage “Riots”: Berkshire 14, Essex 13, Hampshire 14, Kent 29, Suffolk 17, East Sussex 25, West Sussex 22: Total 162.

Robbery: Berkshire 47, Hampshire 76, Wiltshire 62: Total 219.

Breaking Threshing Machines: Berkshire 75, Essex 19, Hampshire 45, Huntingdon 15, Kent 37, Norfolk 29, Oxford 14, West Sussex 11, Wiltshire 97: Total 390.  

(Hobsbawm, Rudé, Captain Swing, 1969, Appendix 2)

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