Newton - The Swing Riots
Facsimile of a poster that would have been displayed in Micheldever Parish at the time of the Swing riots
To the memory of
When the Rev. Alfred Milner, vicar of Micheldever, privately published his History of Micheldever in October 1923 he ended his account at 1800, pleading that “To attempt the history of the last 123 years would have overburdened both the book and the writer. So here we make an end.” Aware of the limitations of his work the Rev. Milner added, “There is, no doubt, ample scope for another to supplement and polish this record.”
As the Millennium approached, Micheldever Archaeology and Local History Group decided to re-issue Milner’s History of Micheldever whilst taking the opportunity of adding additional text to bring it up-to-date. The task of revising, editing and adding to Milner’s History of Micheldever fell to myself, aided by committee members of the Local History Group.
Before the task could be completed, however, the Archaeology and Local History Group disbanded. Work on a new history of Micheldever continued, and now booklets are being produced about local events in the last two centuries as a precursor to a re-issue of Milner’s history. “The Swing Riots” is first in this series, and will be followed by “The Coming of the Railway”.
For the poem
MICHELDEVER - (To Henry Cook, 1812-1831) - CLICK HERE
The Story of Micheldever: The Swing Riots
1. Background to the Riots
In 1975 Michael Stretton-Hill found in the loft above a boarded-up inglenook in Corner Thatch Cottage, Church Street, a top-pack of the Waterloo period with the name ‘George Elliott’ written inside. The Church Register records a number of Elliotts as having spent their lives in Micheldever, including James and William born in 1773 and 1775, and Thomas, son of William and Jane, baptised in 1798, but there is no George Elliott listed in the records. How his top-pack, used for carrying blankets and other campaign essentials, found its way into the loft of an old cottage and lay there undiscovered for over one hundred and sixty years remains a local mystery.
Possibly George Elliott was a relative of the Elliotts of Micheldever, and came to visit them at the end of the Napoleonic campaign. Perhaps he regaled them with accounts of the places he had visited and the sights he had seen, and somehow at the end of the visit he left his top-pack behind, to be put in a safe place until his return. There it was forgotten until Michael Stretton-Hill discovered it over a century and a half later. Whatever its story, it is an indication that some of Micheldever’s inhabitants might have been involved with the Napoleonic Wars at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth.
Sometime after 18 June 1815 a row of cottages, shown on earlier estate maps to have been in existence before that date, was re-named Waterloo Cottages in remembrance of the victory of that day; and the victor of Waterloo himself, Arthur Wolseley, Duke of Wellington, became a large estate owner in the neighbouring county of Berkshire and was installed as Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire. However, the main source of information about the history of the parish, Milner's History of Micheldever, makes no mention of these cataclysmic times, ending the story of Micheldever in 1800. This was the year that the Stratton Estate was sold by the Duke of Bedford to Sir Francis Baring, a member of that banking family described by the Duc de Richelieu in 1817 as being the sixth great power of Europe, after England, France, Prussia, Austria and Russia.
The family's banking history had begun in 1762 when Francis Baring set up a merchant's business in Mincing Lane in the City of London. He was the son of Johann Baring who came to Exeter from Bremen to learn the wool and linen trade. Changing his name to John, he stayed in Exeter, married, and when he died in 1748 was one of the richest men in the West Country. His third son, Francis, went to London first as a merchant and then as a banker. Finding that financing trade was a more reliable way of making money than the trade itself, he offered credit guaranteeing that a supplier would be paid by a buyer, taking a commission in the process. Banks involved in this business were called 'acceptance houses' and later became known as merchant banks. One of its most rewarding actions was when Baring's bank helped finance the purchase, by the United States of America, of Louisiana from France in 1802, even though France was Britain’s implacable enemy and the sale was to help Napoleon finance war with their own country. By the time Francis Baring died in 1810 the Barings had become the leading merchant bankers in Europe, and were referred to by Byron in Don Juan:
Who keeps the world both old and new, in pain
Or pleasure? Who makes politicians run gibber all?
The shade of Buonaparte's double daring?
Jew Rothschild and his fellow, Christian Baring.
Walter Bagehot described the Barings as “men who inherited wealth, power and culture, and combine the taste of the aristocracy with the insight and verve of businessmen”, and another writer wrote that the Barings had a “profound belief in themselves.... not subtle or mentally agile, but endowed with that curious combination of character which lends authority even to doubtful decisions.” Explaining the philosophy which motivated them, Alexander Baring, Francis's second son, stated: "Every regulation is a restriction, and as such contrary to that freedom which I have held to be the first principle of the well-being of commerce."
Correspondence of the purchaser’s solicitor, John Claridge, shows that Baring offered £150,000 for the estate in the form of £50,000 immediate payment, and further payments annually of £35,000 from Michaelmas 1801 to 1804 plus interest of a further £12,500. As the house, park and farms were to be handed over on the contract being signed, and Baring to have all rents and profits as from Michaelmas 1800, the purchase was partially self-financing.
In Hampshire Field Club Soc. 44, 1988, pp107-118, Bethanie Afton writes: "Central Hampshire was a region of chalk subsoil which was reasonably productive without excessive effort or expense. While much of the land was uncultivated downland, during the Napoleonic Wars it was ploughed up and a system of rotation was introduced in which sheep fed on root and grass crops and fertilized the soil for grain crops. Farmers profited from corn, wool, and meat; and the ease with which the land could be made productive attracted investment. Hampshire became the "land of gentlemen farmers". The larger landowners tended to live in large houses surrounded by acres of park and garden, while smaller tenants and agriculture labourers lived in close proximity in villages and hamlets."
When he bought the Bedford Estate the two main centres of population that Sir Francis Baring acquired were Micheldever Village and East Stratton. Originally, the village of East Stratton could be seen from Stratton House. Because Baring considered that it spoilt his view, the village was pulled down and the villagers were rehoused in a new village built beyond the brow of the hill.
Contact between landowners and most of the population was carried out through stewards and overseers, with the local vicar playing an important pivotal role. Much depended upon their abilities and sympathies. In some places, Selborne for instance, the local vicar was held to be responsible for much of the distress of the parish. At Fawley, where a mentally ill woman was forced to take the place of a horse between the shafts and to pull a wagon, the assistant overseer, Mr. Fry, was heartily loathed. Subsequently, rioters were to target their anger at many of these middlemen.
The vicar of Micheldever at the time of the Swing Riots was Rev. Thomas Clarke, who held the incumbency from 1816 to 1870. This exceptionally long period of 54 years suggests that he performed his duties at least to the satisfaction of his patron, if not to his parishioners.
By 1830 the standard of living of English farm labourers, including those of Micheldever, was lower than it had ever been.
One of the causes of their plight was the Speenhamland system devised by Berkshire justices in Speenhamland, Newbury in 1795 which ruled that wages should be subsidised out of local rates. This encouraged farmers to pay labourers as little as possible, as they knew the Poor Rate would bring their wages up to the subsistence level. Although farmers themselves contributed to the Poor Rate, all other property-owning parishioners also contributed to the rates through taxes and naturally begrudged the fact that they were effectively subsidising the farmers’ labour. As an excuse for not being able to pay more, farmers pointed to the high tithes they had to contribute.
Tithes had been originally introduced in 750AD and were a tenth (a tithe) of the produce of the land to be given to the ‘tithe-holder’, generally the village parson. The parson lived on these tithes, together with any other income he might earn from other activities. However, as it was difficult for the tithe-holder to physically collect the share of produce at harvest time, it had become common practice by 1830 for the Church to collect tithes in money, at the rate equivalent to the value of the produce that would otherwise have been due. But this fixed sum did not take into account the natural fluctuations of harvesting, and after two poor harvests in 1829 and 1830, farmers found they still had to hand over the same amount of money to the tithe-holder as in a good year, even though they had less produce to sell in order to pay for it. It is little wonder that the smaller farmer, unlike the large landowners who were protected from these financial burdens, had sympathy with the protesting labourers. If tithes were reduced or abolished, farmers could pay the difference in higher wages to their labourers, and perhaps even take on more labour than before. This would end the need for payment of 'parish relief' to labourers and their families, and Poor Rate contributions by all taxpayers in the parish would be reduced. If tithes, which were as unpopular as the Poll Tax of the 1980s, were reformed everyone would gain except the clergy.
But the church would not willingly give up its traditional income and it would be another hundred and six years before the burden of tithes was finally removed.
Another cause for village distress was the aftermath of the Enclosures Act, which privatised common land. As J.L. Hammond and Barbara Hammond wrote in their classic account, The Village Labourer 1760-1832 : A Study in the Government of England before the Reform Bill published in 1913:
"A traveller who wished to compare the condition of the English and French rural populations in 1830 would have had little else to do than to invert all that had been written on the subject by travellers a century earlier. At the beginning of the C18th England had prosperous and France a miserable peasantry. By the beginning of the 19th the French peasant had been set free from the impoverishing and degrading services which had made his lot so intolerable in the eyes of foreign observers; he cultivated his own land and lived a life, spare, arduous, and exacting but independent. England alone had escaped what Pitt had called the liquid fire of Jacobinism. There had followed for England fifteen years of healing peace. Yet at the end of all this time the conquerors of Napoleon found themselves in a position which they would have done well to exchange with the position of his victims. The English labourer alone was the poorer: poorer in money, poorer in happiness, poorer in sympathy, and infinitely poorer in horizon and hope. The riches that he had been promised by the champions of enclosure had faded into something less than a maintenance. The wages he received without land had a lower purchasing power than the wages he had received in the days when his wages were supplemented by common rights. The standard of living which was prescribed for him by the governing class was now much lower than it had been in 1795.
"This was not part of a general decline. The salaries of the judges had been raised by three Acts of Parliament (1799, 1809, and 1825), a similar course had been taken in the case of officials. The agricultural labourers whose fathers had eaten meat, bacon, cheese and vegetables were living on bread and potatoes. They had lost their gardens, they had ceased to brew their beer in their cottages. In their work they had no sense of ownership or interest. They no longer 'sauntered after cattle' on the open common, and at twilight they no longer 'played down the setting sun.' There were English villages in which it was the practice of the overseer to harness men and women to the parish cart, and that the sight of an idiot woman between the shafts was not unknown within a hundred miles of London. Men and women were living on roots and sorrel; in the summer of the year 1830 four harvest labourers were found under a hedge dead of starvation, and Lord Winchilsea, who mentioned the fact in the House of Lords, said that this was not an exceptional case."
Early in the nineteenth century, many landowners introduced practices which reduced demand for labour, particularly through the widespread use of threshing machines. Small tenants continued to use flails because the large capital needed for new threshing machines was unjustified given the small amount of their grain to be processed. But larger landowners found justification in purchasing threshing machines for reason of economy of scale, with the result that labourers whose work was flailing found themselves redundant.
In addition to the introduction of machines having a major impact on rural labourers, the loss of communal grazing-areas and traditional cultivation land through the imposition of enclosures adversely affected the economic well being of many of the local villagers. While it is generally accepted that the enclosures, which took place at the end of the eighteenth century, made England more productive in industry, the question still remains: "At what cost?"
In Micheldever Parish, enclosures took place well before the Swing Riots of 1830 and in the case of East Stratton at least, was well-received by the populace where the then-landowner, the Duke of Bedford, agreed to grass-seed an area for common grazing as compensation for land being enclosed. However, after the Duke sold his holdings to the Barings matters were not helped by the fact that, at Northington, Alexander Baring created a huge estate centred on The Grange. Its parkland occupied 530 acres whilst the rest of the homesteads and gardens for cultivation occupied only 26 acres from which an increasing population had to try to make their living.
Micheldever Village's population rose from 145 in 1801 to 936 in 1831, an increase of 546%, the highest in Hampshire. East Stratton increased from 518 in 1801 to 1,839 in 1831, an increase of 255%. Popham, next to these two areas, increased from 48 to 104, an increase of 117%. Compared with a then total population of 2,879, modern-day Micheldever's electoral-role is a mere third of the population it was in the 1830s. This tremendous increase brought intense economic pressure on local residents and newcomers, and their situation rapidly became desperate.
In part, it has been argued, this was because the economic success of the district under the Barings attracted many of the distressed from less successful areas. Eventually there were simply too many people for Micheldever to sustain. Whilst hardened landowners like the Duke of Wellington set the dogs on newcomers seeking work and had them chased away, Sir Thomas Baring with a paternalistic attitude, allowed them to remain.
Testifying before a Select Committee on Crime in 1828, Sir Thomas expressed sympathy for men convicted of crimes committed because they were driven by poverty, and he sponsored the Labourers' Friend Society which published information which they believed would lead to better conditions for agricultural labourers in England. He had a school built on his estate to teach workers' children the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, and at the time of the Riots he was planning further construction of suitable housing for estate workers. At least one of Sir Thomas’s buildings for workers still exists. Erected in 1803, it was two adjoining one-up, one-down cottages in Northbrook, which became Nos. 28 and 29 on the estate rent book, and is now called February Cottage.
In one of his rural rides in 1830, from Whitchurch to Alresford, William Cobbett described his visit to the Parish as follows: “A little girl, of whom I asked my way down into East Stratton, and who was dressed in a camlet gown, white apron and plaid cloak (it was Sunday), and who had a book in her hand, told me that Lady Baring gave her the clothes, and had her taught to read and to sing hymns and spiritual songs.
“As I came through the Strattons I saw not less than a dozen girls clad in this same way. It is impossible not to believe that this is done with a good motive; but, it is possible to not to believe that it is productive of good. It must create hypocrites, and hypocrisy is the great sin of the age. Society is in a queer state when the rich think that they must educate the poor in order to insure their own safety.”
Whilst Sir Thomas Baring was trying to help the workers, some of the workers were trying to help themselves.
In the evening of Friday 29 September 1830, a meeting of the Radical and Musical Society held at the White Swan in Sutton Scotney led to a petition being drawn up and signed by some 177 people, pointing out the distress faced by the poor of England. The petition, "To the King's Most Excellent Majesty", described in detail their state of misery. They had "not that sufficient to satisfy our hunger, we have not clothes to hide the nakedness of ourselves nor fuel with which to warm us" and yet, all around them, the fields of Hampshire were rich in produce. They sought the vote. "Not one of your majesty's subjects has ever been allowed to exercise his right of voting at an election". The petition complained at the immense weight of taxes as a result of earlier "unnecessary and unjust wars", and quoted the law of the land that "money shall not be taken out of the pocket of the people in the shape of taxes without their consent or the consent of their representatives".
The White Swan Inn, which was pulled down in the 1960s, was referred to by William Cobbett as being “dear to me and it ought to be dear to every Englishman, for it was at this spot that was signed the petition for parliamentary reform.” Another coaching inn, the Coach and Horses, still stands across The Square from the site of the White Swan and now carries a plaque to commemorate this attempt by commoners to obtain reform without recourse to rebellion or revolution.
Joseph Mason, a smallholder from Bullington, was chosen to make the sixty-mile journey on foot to Brighton to present the petition to the new King, William IV. However, he was unsuccessful in delivering the petition, being fobbed off by minions of the Royal Household who directed that petitions to the King had to be channelled through the Home Secretary. Mason returned to Sutton Scotney, the labourers’ grievances and concerns still unaddressed.
2. The Start of the Riots
By the beginning of November 1830 Hampshire succumbed to the unrest which was sweeping across the South of England.
This was the Swing Riots, the closest England came to emulating the French Revolution of nearly forty years before. In 1795 and in 1816 there had been serious disturbances in different parts of England that had been suppressed with a firm hand, but these were isolated. The rising of 1830 was far more general and more serious. Counties in the south of England were in a state bordering on insurrection.
First disturbances began in Kent where there had been some fires at Orpington and near Sevenoaks. The first riot occurred at Hardres on Sunday 29 August when four hundred labourers destroyed some threshing machines. Threshing was one of the few kinds of work left that provided the labourer with a means of existence above the starvation level. An industrious man could earn from 15 shillings to 20 shillings a week from threshing, but a threshing machine could produce at least ten percent more corn, and more quickly, than hammered out by labourers. To landowners, threshing machines meant bigger profits.
Many farmers and landowners received threatening letters signed ‘Captain Swing’ and over the next few weeks this mysterious name was to spread terror across southern England. Even the Prime Minister, Wellington, received warning: “…. Reform that vile nest of corruption which is bred in Downing St. Destroy those vultures that prey on the public liver or beware! BEWARE BEWARE! Signed Swing.”
It was claimed at the time that the well-known radical, William Cobbett, was the mysterious Captain Swing but no evidence has been found to support the accusation. More likely the name was generic, used by different agitators sending anonymous letters, the way ‘Kilroy was here’ appeared in many places during the Second World War, even when he wasn’t.
Dissatisfaction among agricultural labourers spread across Kent to Maidstone and Sittingbourne districts. Sir Robert Peel, then Home Secretary, wrote to magistrates to say: “I beg to repeat to you that I will adopt any measure - will incur any expense at the public charge - that can promote the suppression of the outrages in Kent and the detection of the offenders”.
At the beginning of November disturbances broke out in Sussex, and the movement developed into an organised demand for a living wage. At Ringmere in Sussex the proceedings were marked with moderation and order. So that ringleaders could not be identified when Lord Gage met the labourers by appointment on the village green, a letter was thrown from the crowd and Lord Gage retired with it to the Vestry to read it. Their demands were for a living wage of 2s 6d [12p] a day for a married man and the dismissal of the parish overseers. One of labourers, a veteran of the Peninsular War who had lost a limb, contrasted his situation of 9d [4p] a day with that of the Duke of Wellington whose 'skin was whole' and whose pension was £60,000 a year. Their demands were granted.
A special correspondent writing in The Times on 17th November said that proceedings were being managed with astonishing coolness and regularity. "The farmers have notice to meet the men: a deputation of two or more of the latter produce a written statement, well drawn up, which the farmers are required to sign; the spokesman, sometimes a Dissenting or Methodist teacher, fulfills his office with great propriety and temper.
“When disorder has occurred, it has arisen from dislike to some obnoxious clergyman, or tithe man, or assistant overseer, who has been trundled out of the parish in a wheelbarrow."
But the situation rapidly got out of hand. Mr. Hodges, an M.P. from Kent, declared in the House of Commons that if the Duke of Wellington, as Prime Minister, had acted on a petition sent to him by the Grand Jury of Kent asking for consideration for the labourers there would have been no disturbances. And one magistrate in Sussex, anticipating the spread of the disturbances, advised: "Let the Hampshire Magistrates and Vestries raise the wages before the Row gets to their County, and you will stop the thing from spreading."
By now landowners were in a state approaching terror. The Duke of Buckingham talked of the country being in the hands of the rebels. In the House of Commons, one of the Barings said that if the disorders went on for three or four days longer they would be beyond the reach of almost any power to control them.
The explosion in Hampshire began in the second week of November 1830, and was marked by a considerable destruction of property. At Fordingbridge, factories for the manufacture of sacking and of threshing machines were destroyed under the leadership of a man called Cooper riding a white horse who quickly became a legendary figure known as 'Captain Hunt', and was thought by many to be the mysterious Captain Swing himself.
In the early days of the rising in Hampshire there was a good deal of sympathy for the labourers, with many farmers making no objection to the destruction of the threshing machines and not infrequently agreeing to raise wages provided their own tithes were lowered proportionately.
The rapid spread of the rising, and the scarcity of troops, however, frightened the upper classes. This alarm led to a change in policy as the aristocracy feared being swept away as their counterparts had been in the French Revolution. Sir Thomas Baring was to write, "The motive which has operated on the minds of my people has not been distress but the revolutionary spirit."
This, to some, was confirmed by the fact that although a reward was offered for anyone who identified an arsonist, with a free pardon for all except the actual perpetrator, not one person availed themselves of this opportunity to become comparatively rich. To the Duke of Wellington and his government this was proof that the disturbances were not due to distress but to the influence of the French Revolution.
Later, Wellington boasted that “I induced the magistrates to put themselves on horseback, each at the head of his own servants and retainers, grooms, huntsmen, game-keepers armed with horse-whips, pistols, fowling pieces and what they could get, and to attack in concert, if necessary, or singly, these mobs, disperse them, destroy them and put in confinement those who could not escape. This was done in a spirited manner.” However, by the time Wellington made that claim he had ceased being Prime Minister. On Tuesday 2 November, in a speech in the House of Lords, Wellington dismissed the Opposition’s call for political reform, claiming that “I am fully convinced that the country possesses at the present moment a Legislature which answers all the good purposes of legislation, and this to a greater degree than any Legislature ever has answered in any country whatever.” To the dismay of his own supporters, who were well aware of the strength of feeling amongst the people at large, he continued: “I am not only not prepared to bring forward any measure of this nature, but I will at once declare that I shall always feel it my duty to resist such measures when proposed by others.” Whilst a grass mound near Salisbury called Old Sarum returned Members to Parliament, Manchester with many thousands of people did not have a single MP. Agitation was so great that the King’s attendance at the Lord Mayor’s procession was cancelled for fear that he would be assassinated. On 15 November, after 18 years of being in office, the Tory Government was defeated over a minor matter concerning the Civil List. Next day, Wellington resigned.
But a change of Government made no difference to those who were struggling to survive.
3. The Riots reach the Dever Valley
Records from contemporary sources which give account of what transpired to bring tragedy to Micheldever can be found in Jill Chambers’s book, Hampshire Machine Breakers.
On Thursday 18 November 1830, a large group of labourers gathered at Micheldever and levies were made on householders and passers-by. One of those approached was Sarah Wincombe who handed over 15 shillings to James Pumphrey, of East Stratton. He told her he would see to it that she was not bothered by the mob again. The men were seen later in the public house, sharing out the money.
Next day, a large body of labourers from Wonston, Hunton, Micheldever, Stratton, Barton Stacey, Chilbolton and Longparish gathered in Sutton Scotney and headed off in different directions. To visualise the events of that day present-day residents of Micheldever need to imagine a Dever Valley without the railway viaduct across it and with a way from Sutton Scotney to Micheldever Village running alongside the river. The present roadways came later. Between half past eight and nine o'clock a mob of around 100 people, many armed with sledgehammers and offensive weapons, arrived at Borough Farm, then known as Barrow Farm, which was the home of a Mr. William Paine. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, Mr. Paine went out and asked them what they wanted. Some younger men headed off to the barn and broke the threshing machine while older men stayed talking to Mr. Paine who gave them some beer and promised to raise the wages of his labourers to 2s a day. The younger men returned and seeing their elders drinking beer demanded the same for themselves and food as well. Isaac Hill took Mr. Paine aside and suggested that he give them some money to get rid of them. Mr. Paine gave out a sovereign and the mob left the farm.
According to family history, however, the only representative of the Paine’s in the farmhouse at the time was a little aunt who went out to meet the members of the mob with persuasive words and food and sent them on their way without them doing any damage. However, if the family history is true, it would not accord with the way in which events were subsequently presented to the Courts: that this was a blood-thirsty mob bent on revolution and the overthrow of the existing order.
Meeting up with a group from another parish they went to Mr. Richard Deare's farm at Weston, arriving at ten o'clock. His threshing machine was broken and after a request for money was at first refused, a sovereign was finally handed over.
One of the mob was Henry Cook, a young ploughboy who was unable to read or write. Various historical accounts of these times give his age as being nineteen. However, St. Mary’s Church records show Henry, son of John and Ruth Cook, as being baptised on 17 June 1810 which would make him twenty at the time of the Swing Riots. He was not to see his twenty-first birthday. Since the age of ten Henry Cook had been a farm hand, and for the six months prior to the riots he had been employed at sawing, for 10s [50p] a week, until he was suddenly made redundant. When the riots started he was unemployed, and possibly it was as much from a sense of curiosity and loyalty to his fellow villagers as from intent to be involved in rebellion or revolution that he joined the demonstrators.
Mr. William Bingham Baring met part of the mob on the road from Stratton to Micheldever. They told him that they were going to Northington Down Farm to break machines. Mr. Baring galloped to the Grange for assistance. The mob went to the farm and broke the threshing machines and demanded and received two sovereigns from Mr. Dowden. When they threatened to go to Warren's Farm he gave them £5. On hearing that Mr. Baring had arrived and brought 25 men with him, the mob went through the house and came out the front door. Bingham Baring, perhaps with the Duke of Wellington’s exhortation in mind, confronted the mob and asked for their spokesman. John Silcock stepped forward and told him they were breaking machines wherever they found them. Mr. Baring grabbed Silcock by the collar and the rest of them rushed forward to his rescue. Later, it was claimed that Henry Cook knocked Baring to the ground. At the subsequent trial, one of Baring's men, George Harding, gave evidence that he saw Henry Cook with a sledgehammer and that he had heard him say, "God damn you, get out of the way". Harding testified that Cook then raised the hammer and struck the brim of Mr. Baring's hat and the collar of his coat, causing Baring to fall to the ground.
Thirty-four years later, seeking financial assistance, Harding wrote his account of the incident in a letter to Lady Baring: “We met the rioters and when Mr. Baring was expostulating with them on their unlawful proceedings and striving to induce them to return to their respective duties one of them more daring than the rest aimed a deadly blow at his head with a large hammer and knocked him down and was coming to finish him as the other rioters wished him to do and when he came forward, I having up my arm warded off the blow severely injuring my arm but preserving Mr. B. Baring’s life for which Lady Harriet Baring presented me with a silver tankard in acknowledgement of my Bravery and a pledge that her or Mr. Bingham Baring would do something for me at some future time, but many years have passed by and no further notice taken of the affair…..…”
In all probability Harding received a favourable reply, for when he died in 1875, eleven years after writing his begging letter, he left £200 in trust to help the poor of the parish. Whether this was a gesture to salve his conscience at having testified against Henry Cook and to be favourably remembered by fellow parishioners is a matter of conjecture.
Another of Baring's men, William Tibbell, ran forward and helped Harding to hold Cook. The mob dispersed and Cook was taken before Mr. Wright, a magistrate, who cautioned the uneducated lad not to say anything that would incriminate himself. Cook is said to have admitted he was the man who had knocked Mr. Baring down and said he had done it because the man behind him had said if he did not, he would knock Cook down.
At about 12 noon a large mob of between 800 and 900 came to the house of Francis Callender in East Stratton and broke a threshing machine and a bean mill. They demanded £5 then raised it to £10 otherwise they would go to Stratton House. He handed it over and the mob went to the village pub. On leaving there they headed for Micheldever, where money was taken from Rev. Thomas Clarke and from Richard Twitchin.
Later William Bingham Baring, writing of an expected attack by several hundred men on Stratton Park, described how Sir Thomas "advanced resolutely expecting to fight when he found that the band was composed of his Stoke men who heard he was in danger, had mustered over to the Grange armed themselves out of the carpenter's shop, stuck spruce boughs in their hats and called themselves the Spruce body. He was affected even to tears...." Francis Thornhill, however, identified several of the men of the Spruce Body as having been involved in earlier riots and arrested several on the spot. Sir Thomas Baring wrote: "I am sorry to say that Stratton and Micheldever have been the most active. Those I have been most kind to and who were best provided for have taken the lead."
In spite of their paternalism, the Barings failed to attract the loyalty given to landowners elsewhere. One commentator said that they did not have the autocratic nature that comes either from long-entrenched aristocratic authority or from command of men in battle, and thereby failed to prevent the growth of an open, independently-minded parish.
4. Trials and Punishment
Those taken into custody were confined in Winchester Prison, which was then situated in Jewry Street, and eventually brought before a Special Commission, which met in the Great Hall, Winchester.
A number of those who were sentenced in the aftermath of the Swing Riots were innocent of any crime. Robert Mason, of Barton Stacey, had accompanied the mob to meet with the Rev. J. Joliffe expecting that the man of the cloth, being accustomed to public speaking, would persuade the mob to disperse before further harm could be done. Found guilty and sentenced to be transported for life, Mason observed: "If the learned Counsel, who has so painted my conduct to you, was present at that place and wore a smock frock instead of a gown, and a straw hat instead of a wig, he would now be standing in this dock instead of being seated where he is."
Few if any of those arrested during the Riots were provided with adequate legal advice. Isaac Hill, junior, of Micheldever, was charged with breaking a threshing machine near his village, for which the maximum penalty was seven years. In his defence he explained that he had not broken the machine and that all that he did was "to ask civilly for money, which was given to him and which he offered kind thanks before the mob took it from him." This admission made him liable to the death penalty. Fortunately for him, the death sentence was commuted to imprisonment with hard labour for one year in the House of Correction.
His father, Isaac Hill senior, then aged 62, was also charged, on 13 December 1830, ‘with having, on the 19th day of November, at Mitcheldever, feloniously made assault on one Richard Paine, and put him in bodily fear, and stolen from his person one piece of the current gold coin of this realm, called a sovereign, the monies of the said William Paine [sic].' He, too, was sentenced to death, the sentence being commuted to transportation for seven years. Following the intercession of Sir Thomas Baring, the sentence was reduced to one year and a free pardon for him eventually was issued on 16 December 1831.
During the trials that followed the riots the most famous instance of the labourers exercising a sense of brotherhood was when the Simms brothers were being tried for extorting money from the wife of the unpopular parson of St. Mary Bourne. A twenty-four-year-old, Henry Bunce, was called as a witness for the defence and declared that he had been present himself at the scene and that William Simms had never used the expression "blood or money" that he had been accused of. The judge cautioned Bunce that he was liable to arrest himself by admitting that he was present at the time. Henry Bunce immediately jumped over the bar into the dock and lined up with his former comrades. He was sentenced to death but after being petitioned by parishioners of St. Mary Bourne the authorities commuted his sentence and he was transported for life. Pardoned in 1837 he remained in Australia, dying in 1873 in Goulburn, New South Wales.
Henry Cook was not so fortunate. Taken with other accused rioters to the specially convened court in the Great Hall in Winchester, the first indictment against him was that "on the 20th day of November instant, at the parish of Micheldever, feloniously made an assault on Richard Twitchin, and put him in bodily fear, and took from his person two pieces of the current gold coin of this realm, called sovereigns, the monies of the said Richard Twitchin." Yet according to contemporary accounts, Henry Cook was under restraint by the time the mob met up with Richard Twitchin. Tried on Thursday, 23 December 1830 along with several others, he was found guilty. The following day, Friday 24 December 1830, other offences were brought against him and again he was found guilty.
On Wednesday 29 December he was brought again before the court and charged with striking Mr. William Bingham Baring with a sledgehammer with intent to murder him. He was found guilty. The following day, in a conveyor belt of prisoners being sentenced, Henry Cook joined Robert Holdaway and James Annalls in the dock to face three judges wearing black caps.
Between then and the day of execution frantic efforts were made to obtain a reprieve, including a petition signed by 700 gentlemen of Winchester. This petition was not supported by the clergy, prompting a Times correspondent to comment that “It wears but an ill grace when they are seen refusing consent to the practical application of their own doctrines.” The Barings also tried, unsuccessfully, to intercede with the Government.
Holdaway and Annalls were reprieved and transported. The Times, describing Cook as “heavy, stolid, and unattractive” endeavoured, after he had been sentenced to death, to portray him as brutal, cruel and vindictive, deserving of the ultimate penalty. Propaganda was put out that he was actually thirty years old and had been earning the goodly sum of 30 shillings a week, that he had struck down one of his benefactors and was only prevented from killing his victim by a more faithful servant. The labourers of Micheldever subscribed what money they could spare to have newspaper misstatements about Cook corrected, but they could not persuade the authorities to commute his sentence as had been done in other cases.
On the morning of Saturday 15 January 1831, in Winchester Prison in Jewry Street, young Henry Cook was hanged together with the thirty-three-year-old ostler, Joseph Thomas Cooper of Fordingbridge, the man of exceptional organizational talents who had ridden a white horse during the riots. All the men who had been condemned by the Special Commission and those still awaiting trial were brought into the prison yard to witness the executions as a salutary lesson. As the clock struck eight o'clock that Saturday morning Henry Cook and Joseph Cooper were brought out from the condemned cell accompanied by the prison chaplain, Rev. Zillwood. It was he when he finished the readings, who gave the signal to open the trapdoors by inclining his prayer book towards the ground.
Cooper's body was taken to West Dean, Wiltshire. That of Henry Cook was transported back to Micheldever where the whole parish came out to meet it. He was buried in solemn silence in an unmarked grave. Local legend says that snow never remains on the site of his grave, although the Rev. Donald Gill, Vicar of Micheldever from 1945 to 1971, tried to put paid to the legend by writing in 1966 that no bare area was found after a search during a recent snowstorm.
However, after reading a report in The Dever magazine of a lecture on the Swing Riots a former resident of Micheldever wrote as follows to the Secretary of the Micheldever Archaeology and Local History Group:
“In the early 1950s aural history said Henry Cook's grave was close to the old bakehouse wall. The grave was protected from bad weather by the wall and by several lime trees standing in that area of the churchyard. This meant that little snow fell upon it, and the warmth from the bakehouse, where the ovens were used 365 days of the year, would of course explain why snow never settled on the grave.
The letter went on: “Note - it is said that the snow never fell on Cook's grave, not that it didn't settle. There is a subtle difference in country lore - rather like the difference between 'raining stair-rods' and 'raining pitchforks'.
“The article [in the Dever] seems to indicate that the talk was based upon research into written documents of the period. As you will know, it is said that the history of any conflict is written by the victors. It does not appear that anything was said about how Henry Cook's body was brought to the churchyard, or the strict injunctions laid upon the mourners.
“As I've heard it, 'They didn't get the Assize judge to try 'Enry, but got a special bloke down from London.' (I assume that was a legal member of the Special Commission which was set up by parliament) 'Being a furriner 'e didn't know that if work were bad the men went round the farms, else they starved. 'E thought they was Frenchified' (obviously a reference to the French revolution.) 'Enry never tried to kill Baring like they made out. All 'e did was throw a lump of moss. 'E wouldn't 'ave felt so grand without 'is 'at.' (It has also been said that Cook threw a stone. In that version the object was to knock his tall hat off.)
“’At least they let us 'ave 'is body back so 'is folk could bury 'im decent. But they weren't allowed to sing or say owt. They met 'is coffin at the main road an' they walked 'im 'ome in silence all down Gin 'ill, up Sloe Lane and down to the church and nobody said nothing. Parson buried 'im proper, but no one else said a word. God knows 'Enry weren't a killer, that's why the snow never falls on 'is grave, even now. Don't know what would 'ave 'appened if anyone spoke - trouble a some sort.'”
The suggestion that Henry Cook’s body was buried close to the bakehouse gains credence when one considers that, given the circumstances of the poor lad’s death, it is possible that he was buried in unconsecrated ground, that is, just outside the churchyard proper. The ovens of the bakehouse are said to have been housed in a timber-framed structure at the side of the shop. This would place the site of the grave in the garden of the house next to the present-day bakehouse.
Later, Henry Cook's mother, Ruth Cook, gave a deposition in which she said:
"Cobbett sent a man by the name of Diddams to my husband to tell him to go to London which he did. Cobbett gave him money and gave me clothes and Diddams told me that Cobbett would be a friend to us as he had been to a woman of the name of Mason of Sutton whose sons were transported and that he would put up a stone over my son’s grave. I do not wish it. I know it is only done to spite Mr. Baring and not for my son. I wish it not to be done and my husband who is very ill is of the same mind. I have been and so have my husband been very uneasy in our minds at Cobbett's papers in which he says Mr. Baring caused my son's death and I wish to make it known for I believe from what my son told me that it is false. I hope my statement will be made public. I am ready to swear to the truth of it. I wish Cobbett would let me alone and my son rests in peace. Cobbett's talk stirred up the people and my poor son who was no scholar ran headlong with the rest for which he was very sorry but it was too late
X Her Mark
sworn before me the 25th October 1831 Thomas Baring
Witnesses: M W Callendar
In all, 457 prisoners were transported, of whom 100 were from Hampshire. Out of this 457, only one in five returned to England. Most settled in Australia after their sentences were commuted in 1836 and 1837 by Lord John Russell, Home Secretary.
Of the Micheldever and East Stratton labourers known to have been arrested for involvement in the Swing Riots, one was executed, 6 were sentenced to death but had their sentences commuted, 2 were transported to Australia, 4 were acquitted and 5 discharged for lack of evidence.
Of the two local men who were transported to Australia, one was a ploughman called David Champ, aged 21 of East Stratton, who was charged with taking 2 sovereigns from Richard Twitchin. Described as being 5 feet 5 inches tall, with brown hair, grey eyes and a ring on every finger of his left hand, he was transported for seven years. Pardoned in 1836, he stayed on in Australia, married twice, had twelve children and died in May 1892 in Hobart, Tasmania aged 82 years.
The other to be transported was James Pumphrey, aged 28, also of East Stratton who was sentenced to death for assaulting Sarah Wincombe and stealing 15 shillings from her. He too was 5ft 5 inches in height, with light brown hair, and hazel eyes, with a scar across the top of his nose and a horizontal scar along the left side of the upper lip. His sentence was commuted to transportation for life. When forwarding a petition about him to the Home Secretary, Sir Thomas Baring wrote of him: "His father begs of me to add my recommendation in favour of his son which I told him was impossible for me to do as I was too well acquainted with his former bad life and conduct and my belief is that unless he is sent out of the Country he will commit some greater offence." Pumphrey served his sentence and was pardoned in Australia in 1837, but subsequently, there is no further trace of him.
Those sentenced to death, later commuted, were Joseph Carter aged 45 of East Stratton, who was pardoned and discharged in Dec 1832; John Kear or Kerr, aged 29 and Isaac Hill Jnr. who both served one year's hard labour; and Isaac Hill senior, aged 62, whose death sentence was also changed to one of twelve months. He died on 5 April 1854, aged 86, after having been listed in the 1851 census as a pauper.
Also sentenced to death, which was then changed to imprisonment for one year, was a tythingman, William Winkworth, aged 43. Sir Thomas Baring wrote on 29 January 1831 that it was his duty "to point out that if the punishment of Winkworth is mitigated to imprisonment we shall in all probability have the same tumultuous proceedings acted over again as soon as he is discharged. I consider him to be by far the most dangerous character of any that I apprehended and he used every means in his power to raise a mob to rescue the prisoners after their apprehension and did actually collect from 40 to 50 persons with that intention".
Although the authorities might have thought that the executions of Cooper and Cook would serve as an example to others it did not immediately end the unrest. On Friday, 1st April 1831 fire broke out on William Paines Barrow Farm at Micheldever. Two straw heaps, a straw rick stand and one pig were destroyed. Charles Talmarsh and James Grunsell were charged with having set fire to the property belonging to Mr. Paine but in July the charges were dropped through lack of evidence.
In that same month, Thomas Deacle brought an action against William Bingham Baring, Francis Baring, and three others for assault, claiming that they had entered his house, assaulted and imprisoned himself and his wife, and destroyed some of his property. Deacle had been indicted for being involved in the Swing Riots, a warrant being served by a constable, Lewington, who visited the Deacles at their house. As he was waiting for Thomas Deacle to get ready to accompany him the two Barings and their men arrived and ordered that husband and wife should be handcuffed. As they were being bundled, handcuffed, into a cart to be transported to Winchester Deacle was struck by Bingham Baring, the man Henry Cook had been charged with assaulting. The case against Deacle was abandoned when it was discovered that witnesses had been threatened with prosecution if they did not testify against him. Deacle brought an action against the two Barings and their men. The jury found in his favour and was awarded damages of £50 against Bingham Baring for assault.
Resentment lingered on. In December 1831 a large fire broke out at Cocum Farm, Barton Stacey. In due course, Henry Hunt, aged 25, Thomas Berriman, aged 27, and James Whitcher, aged 25, were charged with causing the fire. All three were sentenced to death: Whitcher was granted a reprieve and was sentenced to transportation for life to Australia where he entered folklore as one of the most recalcitrant of prisoners. Before he was finally recommended for a conditional pardon in 1846 he had received a total of 254 lashes for various offences against prison discipline and ended up as one of the inmates of horrendous Port Arthur. Hunt and Berriman were hanged on Saturday 17 March 1832, the last of the Swing Rioters so to perish.
Although many of the aristocracy believed the Swing Riots was an expression of the revolutionary spirit that failed, for most participants it had been a matter of survival. An immediate result of their demonstrations was an improvement in the economic position of the labourers. A meeting in Micheldever at the height of the riots agreed to raise wages to 10s [50p] a week. Poor relief was to be linked to the price of bread. Tithe reductions were signed. But these concessions were temporary, and after the brutal suppression of the Swing Rioters with sentences of execution and transportation, the average wage was lowered again.
History provides a mirror in which we can, by looking carefully, see a reflection of ourselves. If we had lived in Micheldever in 1830 would we have marched with Silcock, Cook and the rest, or would we have lined up with the aristocratic landowners against them? Or would we have stood silently on the sidelines and let events unfold without our involvement?
The effect of the hanging of Henry Cook on the people along the Dever Valley would have been long-lasting. As Olive Schreiner observed: “It is a curious property of bloodshed on the scaffold for political offences that it does not dry up.
“Blood falling on the battlefield sinks into the earth; it may take a generation, or it may take two, or more, for it wholly to disappear, but it is marvellous how the memory of even the most bloody conflict, between equally armed foes, does, as generations pass, fade.
“But bloodshed on a scaffold is always fresh. The scaffold may be taken down, the bodies buried, but in the memory of the people it glows redder and redder, and with each generation it is new-shed; it sanctifies, sacrificially, the cause it marked.”
The ringleaders of rural village life had been transported, taking with them much of the initiative and natural leadership that could have benefited the villages. The class system that bedevils the country was reinforced. Those who remained would treat aristocrats and landowners with grudging obedience, but a lingering sense of bitterness and injustice had been created.
And the memory of Henry Cook’s execution would become a local legend.
The fight against new machines was in vain. Within ten years yet another machine would invade Micheldever and further transform the district: the railway engine.
A century after the execution of Henry Cook, J.R. Ackerley, literary editor of the BBC magazine The Listener, visited Micheldever and looked for his grave. His fruitless search gave rise to a poem, which was first published in the review Horizon in August 1940 and later in a posthumous collection, Micheldever and Other Poems, in 1971.
With the kind permission of Ackerley's literary executor, Francis King, the poem Micheldever is here published in its entirety, in its original version. When it was to be published in Horizon one of its verses was deemed by the printers to be too forthright in its condemnation of the Church’s collusion with the landowners and was altered to “And parson toadied after them. Enough!”
After the poem appeared in print a regular contributor of poetry to The Listener, H.B. Mallalieu, criticized the change. In reply, Ackerley said: “Ordinarily I tinker at my work endlessly, but am never convinced that it gets any better – or worse. I didn’t tinker much with ‘Micheldever’ as I would have done if we’d been peaceful. The war depresses me too much.
“…. The last sections seemed to me to have some virtue, so I let Stephen [Spender] have it. If it makes a small contribution to the general undermining of our plutocratic constitution, I ask for nothing more.”
Until such time that a plaque is erected at the entrance to St. Mary’s churchyard to say: “Near this spot in an unmarked grave lies the body of young Henry Cook, hanged on 15 January 1831 for participating in the Swing Riots”, this poem is Henry Cook’s only public memorial.
Thank you to the Newton family for giving permission to www.micheldevervillages.org to publish this text.