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The Outrages in Kent

A widespread uprising of agricultural labourers, the so-called ‘Swing Riots’, occurred in southern and eastern England in 1830. The men were protesting against agricultural mechanisation and harsh conditions. The spark that ignited the countryside occurred in Kent, in the Elham Valley, between Canterbury and Folkestone, where threshing machines were destroyed.

The Outrages in Kent

Canterbury, Monday.

I have come "thus far into the bowels of" East Kent, with a view, by personal inquiry, to learn something of the true state of the county, and the nature and origin of those insurrectionary movements which have disgraced this hitherto peaceable part of the country, and converted Kent into something resembling an English Munster.  These outrages, which, with few exceptions, have hitherto been confined to the demolition of the thrashing machines, commenced about two months since, just previous to the season when they are brought into operation.  These machines are worked by  horses, and attended by eight or ten men, and they supersede in employment, during the winter, at warm indoor barn work, about thrice that number, performing the labour so rapidly, that the farmer is enabled, through those means, to have his corn in market so early as to have for it the early price.  The cost of a machine may be about 40l to 50l; and if, as is stated to be the case, the agricultural mobs have destroyed at least 60 of them, the damage to be levied on the county, as is always the case in riotous proceedings similar to these, may be estimated at nearly 5,000l; but what care they? - they want employment, and pay no rates.

There is nothing, it should be remarked, of a political nature whatever in their tumults - their object is the machine; but it cannot be concealed that there are among them what the Irishman would call a "Paddy McKew," the Englishmen a "Castles, or an Oliver."  These fellows have adopted a plan of going into the public houses in the unfrequented hamlets about the county, and, getting into conversation with the peasantry, exciting their bad passions, apparently from motives of commiseration at their condition.  I heard of one of these fellows yesterday at Elham, and, perhaps, a description of his person may not be without its utility:  he was dressed in a white new silk hat, blue frock coat, dark grey trousers, and boots;  about five feet eight in height, and, either from affectation or defect, lisped.  From what I have learned, however, he is not the only one of his infamous calling prowling about this division of the county - these fellows have for their object to get up jobs for themselves, and earn blood money.

There can be no doubt that the secrecy and caution with which the agricultural rioters have acted in their nightly proceedings has struck terror into the farmers to such a degree, that many of them have almost invited them to come and demolish their machines; and it is almost impossible, in the cases where they have been destroyed, to procure any information, or obtain any clue to the affair. When you can get them into conversation on this dangerous subject, they are as cautious as the frequenters of a Parisian cafe during the old system of police informers.

The Magistrates have not been inactive, but they allege, in justification of their inability to prevent these outrages, that it is impossible to do so unless they are provided with a sufficient force, either of civil or military, to patrol the roads.  Something of this sort must eventually be done, as the misery and distress will be now on the increase during the winter, and, no doubt, many recruits, in consequence, will be found to swell the ranks of the rioters.

But the most alarming feature in this matter is, that they have commenced burning the farm-yards and corn-stacks.  When this shall end no one can tell - the whole proceedings bear so close a resemblance to those of Captain Rock that it is impossible not to notice it.  Like him, too, the insurrectionary spirit here has taken a nom de guerre, and the epithet adopted is "Swing," in which name several notices, threatening destruction, have been sent to the farmers; one of them runs thus: -

"You are to notice that if you doant [sic] put away your thrashing machine against Monday next you shall have a "SWING."

The roads, too, are chalked with the same ominous name - so that we may designate the Kent rioters as the followers of "Swing."

The effect of all this on the smaller class of farmers has been to prevent their adopting such steps, in concert with the Magistrates, as can alone put a stop to the proceedings of the rioters.  Ledbetter, the police officer, has been here some time, and been actively engaged in endeavouring to trace the offenders.  Six men are now in custody on suspicion of having been of the party who set fire to the Rev. Mr. Price's corn-stacks and barn last week, at Lyminge - they have undergone and examination before the Magistrates.

Yesterday morning news reached this city that a fire had taken place during the night, at Sturry; that the mills there had been maliciously set on fire.  A party of military, accompanied by several special constables, and the different fire engines, immediately started for the spot; but, fortunately, it was discovered, on their arrival there, that the alarm was false.

HOP INTELLIGENCE. - Hop-picking has closed throughout this county.  The crop is said to be in very fair condition, despite of the anticipations of the speculators.

Owner of originalMorning Herald (London) 13 October 1830, p. 4, col. 1
Date13 Oct 1830
PlaceCanterbury, Kent, England
Latitude51.2802° N
Longitude1.0789° E

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