farm workers riots kent england

Taken from a London Newspaper

article supplied by Jane Bledsoe


The farm workers riots of the 19th century began in Kent and spread across the Home Counties. When their campaign was finally quashed, more than 1,100 rioters had been executed, transported or imprisoned.

By the 1830s Kent's rural workers were at the end of their tether. Many families were facing starvation and the countryside was a tinder box of despair and anger. It would take just one spark....

The seeds of revolt were sown more than 15 years earlier with the Napoleonic war ( against France ).

While many young men from the countryside answered the call to fight for their country, many farmers made the most of the opportunity to demand high prices for their corn, and later the richest landowners forced through protective legislation to prevent cheap imports from abroad.

The returning veterans had expected that their sacrifice would be rewarded but all they got were minimum wages-if they were lucky.

However, each year it got worse for both workers and owners. Finally hit by falling corn prices, farmers began to reduce wages at a time when the rural population was growing.

Poor law rates were crippling many landowners but the rural workers and the unemployed saw many farmers still enjoying an inflated lifestyle.

The catalyst came via new technology with the introduction of threshing machines which sounded the death knell of labour-intensive harvesting and with it many of the jobs the rural community depended upon.

There had been several violent protests previously but in 1830 the rural workers of the arable South East and South rose in the so-called 'swing riots'', demanding higher wages and an end to the thresing machines which destroyed their winter employment.

The first major incidents occured at Lower Hardes in East Kent, where a mob smashed a local farmer's threshing machine and at Orpington.

During 1830-31 more than 1,000 incidents of machine breaking, arson attacks on both properties and baled crops and other violent protests took place across the South.

In East Kent upwards of 100 threshers were smashed by gangs of up to 50 breakers at a time. Leaders of the riots were often craftsmen and the gangs were mostly made up of labourers who were often paupers on poor relief.

But it was left to former solder and reforming politician William Cobbett to explain their case to the rest of the nation. In 1830, he wrote about the living conditions of rural workers: " Forty five years ago the labourers brewed their own beer, and that now none of them do it; that formerly they ate meat, cheese and bread, and now they live almost wholly on potatoes; that formerly it was a rare thing for a girl to be with child before she was married, and that now it is rare that she is not; that the felons in the jails and hulks ( prison ships ) live better than the honest laboring people and that the latter commit thefts and robbery in order to get into the jails and hulks; that men are set to draw wagons and carts like beasts of burden, that they are shut up; and married men are forcibly separated from their wives to prevent them from breeding.

It is no temporary cause, it is no new feeling of discontent that is at work: it is a deep sense of grievous wrongs; it is along harbored resentment; it is an accumulation of revenge for unmerited punishment."

Eventually, troops were sent in to end the riots and the last great peasant revolt was brought to an end.

In all, some 252 rioters were sentenced to death but all but 19 had their sentence commuted to transportation; 505 more were sentenced to be transported; 644 were imprisoned, seven were fined, and one was whipped. A further 800 were either acquitted or bound over to keep the peace.

Among the hundreds of convicted rioters deported to Van Diemen's Land ( Tasmania ) were:

ANDREWS Henry , born 1807 in Kent
BROWN William , born 1796 Isle of Thanet
BUSHELL Stephen , born 1802 Monkton
BUSHELL William , born 1812 Monkton
DUNK James , born 1795 Chislet
GOLDER Thomas , born 1800 Kent
HEPBURN Thomas , born 1798 Kent
HOLLAND George , born 1802 Birchington
HULKES Henry , born 1807 Bishopsbourne
MOORE George , born 1808 Ash
OLIPHANT Richard , born 1805 Birchington
POINTER James , born 1800 Birchington
READ Thomas , born 1805 Margate
SEAMAN John , born 1785 Westerham
SIDDERS William , born 1785 Preston
STANNARD John , born 1803 Ash
STONE William , born 1800 Ash
STROOD Thomas , born 1810 Preston
STUDMAN Elizabeth , born 1810 Monkton
TICKNER John , born 1771 Hawkhurst

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