During the late summer and autumn of 1830 a widespread uprising of poor landless rural workers took place across Southern and Eastern England, later spreading as far north as Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Rioters destroyed workhouses and tithe barns, and smashed threshing machines(reminiscent of the earlier urban-industrial Luddite disturbances). There were also numerous clandestine arson attacks on barns or hayricks.

These actions were accompanied by demands, often in the form of threatening letters, sent to magistrates, rich tenant farmers and clergymen, among others. Primary demands were an end to falls in agricultural wages and the introduction of threshing machines, and a reduction in tithes. Letters were commonly signed "Captain Swing", a fictional character making it more difficult for the authorities to identify local ringleaders and end the rebellion, while also being a symbol of affinity for labourers across the country. This tactic was also used by their earlier urban counterparts who often operated under the name "General Ludd".

Although the slogan "bread or blood" was ubiquitous, no-one was reported to have been killed in the risings - attacks were aimed squarely at property rather than persons. By contrast, the response of the government was harsh, with a number of executions as well as hundreds of imprisonments and deportations to Australia. Agreements to raise wages or cut tithes that had been made to quell the unrest were often ignored.

The swing riots were a response to a number of long-term and short-term trends that conspired to make a misery of the lives of many people working on the land for their living. Enclosure of the commons during the previous two centuries had left poor people dependent on wage labour, while growing contractualisation and casualisation in the context of so-called over-supply of labour left workers in a position of great insecurity and often deep poverty. This was a situation exacerbated by particularly poor harvests of the previous two years. At the same time, relief offered under the "Old Poor Law" had fallen, and often carried degrading conditions, while large tithe levies were strongly enforced (and payment-in-kind was no longer permitted). One other supposed factor was the summer revolution that had just taken place in France - although this is likely nothing more than government propaganda designed to make the risings appear more sinister and less popular than they in fact were. Finally, the introduction of horse-drawn threshing machines had led to further falls in wages and higher unemployment.

NB. This is a good example of how, in a capitalist society, labour-saving industrial or agricultural devices lead not to ordinary people working less, but to 1. greater levels of consumption (and usually waste) by the rich, and 2. lower wages and or unemployment among those whose task it is to create this wealth. Madness, don't you agree?

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