WA_2003_Douce_4064-a Ashmo.jpg
WA_2003_Douce_4064-a Ashmo.jpg


A series of riots in agricultural districts, which took place against widespread agitation for political reform, together with political uncertainty and economic depression.

The riots, which had a sense of contagion about them, began in Kent in late August with two nights of attacks on and the destruction of threshing machines, and they continued throughout the autumn until the end of the year, although in different forms and with different demands throughout southern and eastern England. The destruction of labour-saving machinery, predominantly threshing machines, was the most common form of protest, but there were also hayrick and barn burning. Protests were often accompanied by the sending of threatening letters, with the signature 'Captain Swing'. Historians argue that the widespread character of the riots, and their intensity, were a function of the failure of the authorities to react rapidly and punitively, as they had to agricultural rioting in 1816 and 1822. Lenient sentences were taken as signalling sympathies with their cause. Moreover, the agricultural rioters seem to have been aware of rising demands for political reform and the uncertainty by the government as to how to respond. When a new Whig administration was formed at the end of November 1830, it took a more determined stance against the rioters, and could rely on widespread public support in doing so, because of their willingness to press for political reforms (the wider and stronger interest outside agricultural communities).

A great deal is often swept under the label of Swing Riots - such as the Otmoor Riots of 1830. However, it is important to sift through the evidence and distinguish the eruption of long-standing local grievances from the more general contagion of anti-machinery hostility and economic distress in the south and east of the country.

The image is by Cruikshank, and represents Captain Swing as the devil, indicating a turn in sympathies against the rioters.