The agricultural labourers’ revolt, usually termed the Swing Riots, began in Kent in the summer of 1830 and spread to other southern counties, the Midlands and East Anglia by the end of the year. The revolt was against low wages, the use of threshing machines which took away important work from labourers, the harsh and degrading system of poor relief and general rural impoverishment. Protest took the form of rick burning, smashing agricultural machinery, other act of violence and threatening letters, often signed with the pseudonym Captain Swing, hence ‘Swing Riots’.
Southampton, surrounded by farmland, was peripherally affected. In November 1830 a band of labourers, said to be 500-strong, smashed threshing machines at Fair Oak before moving on to Swaythling, where they were confronted by magistrate Dr Godden Jones who ordered them to disperse. They refused and Jones read the Riot Act. Moving on to Portswood they smashed a threshing machine on a farm belonging to Major-General Gubbins and then turned towards Stoneham Park, the seat of John Fleming. Fleming organised his own workers and confronted the rioters, taking 45 of them into custody. A detachment of dragoons then arrived from Winchester and the remainder of the rioters fled. That night a fire broke out at a saw-mill in Marsh Lane causing considerable panic amongst the townsfolk, although it was not clear that it was the work of incendiaries. The following day the mayor called a town meeting at which it was decided to form a body of special constables, and James Weld of Archers Lodge suggested that the young men of the town should join him in forming a rifle corp. The next day labourers from Shirley and Millbrook gathered peacefully to demand a wage increase. Captain Peter Ranier, a retired naval officer, swore in a hundred special constables to preserve the peace. They were not needed, however, as the local landowners and farmers met and agreed to pay the labourers 12s a week throughout the winter. Over the next days, machine breaking and other disturbances continued in the area surrounding Southampton.


Further reading:
History of Southampton Vol 1, by A. Temple Patterson, p154-156. (HS/h)
Rebels of the Fields, by Jill Chambers. (H/h)
Hampshire Machine Breakers, by Jill Chambers. (H/h)
‘When the Hampshire Peasantry Rose in Revolt’, by John Edgar Mann, in Hampshire, vol. 35, no. 7, p21. (H/y)


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