The Swing Riots Project
Academic Advisor: Michael Holland
Project Co ordinators: Jacqueline Cooper and Stella Evans
The purpose of this project was to determine the true extent of the Swing Riots across England. This spate of agricultural rioting occurred in parts of England between the beginning of 1830 through to the spring of 1832, although the main body of the rioting occurred between the summer of 1830 and the autumn of 1832. Earlier research (Hobsbawm and Rudé's) considered the focus of the riots to be southern England. The FACHRS Swing Project researchers have successfully identified over 3000 reported instances of "Swing Protest" activity, nearly double the reported instances documented in prior research activities. The FACHRS research also confirmed that instances of Swing Protest were far more (geographically) extensive than earlier research had concluded.
The fundamental cause of the outbreak of rioting was the threshing machine. Traditionally, the winter months were a time when farm labourers could be kept in employment by hand threshing the cereal crops that had been harvested that year. It was a hard and laborious process, but it kept the men employed
When the wars against France broke out in 1795 a great many agricultural workers were absorbed into the armed forces either with the army and Royal Navy, or, on home defence with the militia. This in turn created a manpower shortage, which ultimately affected the ability of farmers to process their crops for market. Industrialisation came to the rescue in the form of the threshing machine. This was found to be a far more efficient means of threshing cereals. Once the war ended and the men returned to agriculture, many farmers were reluctant to return to the old, inefficient, labour-intensive ways. Therefore many farm labourers were forced to turn to the parish for support instead of being able to earn wages.
Documented civil unrest associated with Swing protests primarily occurred between 1830 and 1832.
In 2005 the results of this research project were published in a book entitled Swing Unmasked: the agricultural riots of 1830 to 1832 and their wider implications. ISBN:0954818088. It is available from our online shop and the price now includes the associated data CD.