13.6. Violence in Kent and Sussex

“The evidence of the high-constable of Ashford is very strong, and his means of judging extensive,- having been called upon to attend at the numerous fires which have taken place in the district. He has been present in the condemned cells, at the last parting of the convicts from the friends and relations; and it appears that all the acts of incendiarism were perpetrated by frequenters of beer-shops.”

(His Majesty’s Commissioners, Extracts from the Information received by … as to the Administration and Operation of the Poor Laws, 1837; p. 24)

“Beyond all doubt the practice of smuggling has been a main cause of the riots and fires in Sussex and East Kent; labourers have acquired the habit of acting in large gangs by night, and of systematic resistance to authority. High living is become essential to them, and they cannot reconcile themselves to the moderate pay of lawful industry.”

(Ibid, p. 26)

“The relief is in great measure compulsory; but is also considered unnecessary,- for on an accurate examination of the population, the quantity of acres and the numbers requisite for the cultivation of the land in its present state, it is calculated that the money expended for labour, within the Rape of Hastings, is sufficient for the maintenance of nearly the whole of the able-bodied labourers and families without assistance from the rates.”

(Ibid., p. 27) 

“A mob of 180 persons collected at his house, demanding “bread or blood.” The greater part of them were intoxicated, but they said, that they and their children were starving. The larger part of that mob consisted, not of agricultural labourers, but of smugglers from the small villages upon the coats of Sussex, whom the vigilance of the Government prevented from carrying-on their trade.” 

(Mr. J. Smith, M.P. for East Sussex; Hansard, Special Commissions – Amnesty, House of Commons, 08 February 1831, p. 252)

“It may be observed that incendiarism first began in Kent, a county notorious for smuggling, and of course presenting great facility to the lower classes of procuring spirits. I know not whether inadequacy of wages was the primary cause of offence, but I know for certain that cheap spirits will always produce abundance of crime.”

(“Rural Queries”, 1834, Q. 53, “Causes and Consequences of the Riots”, reply of the Magistrate residing in Milton, Berks.)            

The thesis of Carl Griffin, “As Lated Tongues bespoke”: Popular Protest in south-east England, 1790-1840”, describes a continuity of small violent actions by the lower classes from before 1815 to 1830.

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