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THE SWING RIOTS AROUND BURBAGE

The Background to the Swing Riots

At the beginning of the 19th century the lot of the agricultural labourer in general, and those from Wiltshire in particular, was miserable. The decline in their standard of living, which had begun in the late 18th century, was continuing apace. The agricultural depression that set in at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 worsened an already appalling situation and left many people destitute. Matters declined further with the gradual introduction of machinery, both on the land and in the factories, and the labourers realised that these would deprive them of many of their traditional sources of income. In 1813, Thomas Davis prepared a report on the state of agriculture in Wiltshire by revising a previous work of his father's published in 1794. He was the steward to the Marquis of Bath of Longleat, and of the labourers he states:

"It is a melancholy fact that ..... the labourers of many parts of this county ..... may be truly said to be at this time in a wretched condition. The dearness of provisions, the scarcity of fuel, and above all the failure of spinning work for the women and children have put it almost out of the power of the village poor to live by their industry. The farmers complain, and with reason, that the labourers do less work than formerly, when in fact the labourers are not able to work as they did at the time when they lived better".

Things got worse during the years that followed. When that great radical William Cobbett visited the Pewsey Vale and the Avon Valley in August 1826, he was appalled at what he found. He prophetically recorded:

"In taking my leave of this beautiful vale I have to express my deep shame, as an Englishman, at beholding the general extreme poverty of those who cause this vale to produce such quantities of food and raiment. This is, I verily believe it, the worst used labouring people upon the face of the earth. Dogs and hogs and horses are treated with more civility; and as to food and lodging, how gladly would the labourers change with them! This state of things never can continue many years! By some means or other there must be an end to it; and my firm belief is, that the end will be dreadful."

Four years later the working man had had enough of poverty and hunger. By this time his conditions were worse than before or during the Napoleonic Wars and they were suffering from "appallingly low wages, bad conditions and incredibly long hours of work". The recently introduced thrashing machine would deprive him of one of his main sources of winter work and so, faced with a generally uncaring ruling class, he took matters into his own hands. The normally passive and quietly suffering labourers of Wessex had, for once, had enough. Yet despite those in Wiltshire and Dorset being the lowest paid in England (some receiving only 8/- per week compared with 10/- to 12/- elsewhere) the pressure for a living wage, which ultimately resulted in England's greatest proletarian uprisings, started elsewhere.

Isolated outbreaks of arson occurred during most of 1830. There had been industrial unrest throughout the cities of England but the start of what became known as the "Swing Riots" began in August of that year with a thrashing machine being destroyed at Lower Hadres in Kent. The French revolution in July had no doubt excited the labourers but their main motivation was simply for a fair wage. However, despite the isolated attempts of extreme radicals, there was no organised plot or co-ordination between these and future outbreaks. By December trouble had spread to every county south of a line from Norfolk to Worcestershire although there were sporadic outbreaks occurring as far north as Carlisle. Many landowners received threatening letters from the mythical "Captain Swing" while others experienced the full force of the rioters' anger with their barns and stacks being set ablaze or their machinery being broken. The less fortunate encountered a riotous mob who would often threaten violence unless beer, money and food were not forthcoming. There was no centralised organising committee but such was the deep seated feeling of oppression that as news of the troubles spread, there was no shortage of local volunteers to lead or "Captain" his fellow workers. The subsequent trials showed not only the labouring class took to the streets as some of those convicted (often as being the ring-leaders) were local tradesmen or small tenant farmers who were obviously suffering along with the oppressed labourer.

The parliamentary election following the death of George IV in June 1830 resulted in a Tory government, led by the Duke of Wellington. It was unpopular and deeply divided over such issues as parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. Initially they did little to quell any riots other than those which were occurring in London. Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, preferred to leave matters to the local magistrates but, as the troubles spread, society became alarmed and there was a great fear that England was following France and Belgium towards revolution. On November 16th Wellington resigned and was replaced by the Whig, Earl Grey, and Viscount Melbourne replaced Peel as Home Secretary. Ironically, Grey's ministry was formed on the condition of forwarding a Reform Bill yet it was the most aristocratic government of the 19th century. Melbourne immediately called for the Yeomanry to be mobilised. They were to go to aid the gentry of the shires who had begun to organise themselves by swearing in special constables and mustering their defence forces comprising of loyal tenants and servants. These measures proved so effective that by the end of December 1830, 2000 men and women in southern England were awaiting trial.

So fast did the riots spread that it took less than one week to arrive in Wiltshire from Sussex. The first attributed outbreak in our county was on November 8th, 1830 and they continued throughout the following year although the worst was over by the end of November 1830. The government, believing that the magistrates of Kent had been too lenient towards their rioters, set up a Special Commission to deal with the worst effected counties: Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset and Wiltshire. As a result of these trials at least 9 men or boys were hanged, 450 were transported (about 200 for life), and over 400 imprisoned. Subsequent trials in the Assize and County Courts raised these figures to 19 executed, 600 imprisoned and 500 transported to Australia for terms of either 7 years, 14 years or life. Despite the severity of the sentences there was only one fatality recorded during the entire Swing Riots when, on Thursday, November 25th 1830 at Pythouse, the luckless rioter, John Harding, was shot dead by the Hinton Troop of the Wiltshire Yeomanry.

Very quickly petitions were organised to save the condemned men and to gain a reduction in the sentences for the others. The actions met with some limited success as, in general, public sympathy seems to have been with the rioters. However, a motion moved in Parliament for a general pardon was heavily defeated by the House of Commons. During their transportation, many of those convicted were given privileges not normally bestowed upon the normal "cargo". We learn from Robert Mason that when those aboard the Eleanor arrived in Sydney they "were permitted to come on shore in our own clothes, a great indulgence and considered an extraordinary thing by the people". By 1834 public pressure in England had forced the government to consider granting pardons to the rioters and indeed, some were issued that year. In 1835 a further 264 were pardoned and by the mid 1840s most of them were free with the only exceptions being those who had committed further offences while in Australia. Despite gaining their freedom, few seemed to have returned to England.

The aftermath of the affair saw the government accusing the radicals of stirring up the troubles. Carlile was tried, convicted and sentenced to be fined £200, imprisoned for 2 years and ordered to find a security of £1000. He only served 8 months of his sentence and neither paid the fine nor found the security. Cobbett was their next target but was acquitted through the skill by which he conducted his own defence. For the labourers, many saw their wages increased to 10/- per week (although in some cases it was later reduced) but the effect of their actions on society was more far reaching. After debating the reform of the Poor Laws since 1817, it was recognised how important a role poverty had played in the unrest and a commission was established in 1832. It announced it's far reaching (and far from popular) recommendations in March 1834. Similarly, the Swing Riots helped ensure that Parliament finally got around to reforming the electoral system that saw, amongst other things, the demise of the "Rotten Boroughs", such as Great Bedwyn and Sarum.

The final tally in Wiltshire was about 100 thrashing machines destroyed, about 20 instances of rick burning, at least 1 cottage destroyed and 399 people arrested of which at least 1 was hanged, 152 transported and 57 jailed.

For those interested in studying this historic event in more details, the following may be of some interest:

"Captain Swing" by E. J. Hobsbawn & George Rude

"The Village Labourers" by J. L. & Barbara Hammond

"Wiltshire Machine Breakers" in 2 volumes by Jill Chambers published privately by her in 1993.

From the latter source, plus others, I have been able to ascertain the effect that these riots had on Burbage (and the immediate surrounding area), plus the names of some of those involved:

The Swing Riots around Burbage

Tuesday, 16th November

"A barn filled with hurdles, belonging to Mr. Ford, of Collingbourne, was burnt this evening. A reward of £200 has been offered for the apprehension of the incendiary."

Wednesday, 17th November

"A rick of bean haulm was burnt this evening, at Easton near Pewsey."

Thursday, 18th November

"Some farm buildings at Collingbourne and Ludgershall were destroyed during the night."

Friday, 19th November

By order of the High Sheriff the various troops of the Yeomanry Cavalry were ordered to assemble. The Marlborough troop assembled at its headquarters under Lieutenant T. Ward.

Mr. Richard Webb of Melchet wrote to Lieutenant Peniston of the Salisbury troop to inform him that he had heard of "five ill looking fellows" at Broughton who "said that the party that were at Whitchurch and Collingbourne (at the former place Mr. Twynham's premises were set on fire, at the latter Mr. Ford's) were now at Wherwell, and meant to be at Broughton, which is about five miles off, tomorrow morning" He believed that these gentlemen were a scouting party and that they were part of a mob of 300.

"During the night all the wheat, barley, beans and oats belonging to Mr. Fowler of Oare, near Pewsey, was destroyed by fire. Had it not been for the exertions of several respectable people of Pewsey, Mr. Pontin's house and farm buildings would have shared a similar fate. One of them placed the engine between Mr. Pontin's property and the fire. It has to be said that the labourers of Oare, instead of assisting to put out the fire appeared to take pleasure from the situation, and with the exception of a very few, were laying about enjoying the scene. It was found necessary to place 12 Pewsey men to guard the water pipes after it was found that one of them had been cut. One of those fighting the fire has stated the belief that if it had not been for the Pewsey men there would not have been a house left standing in Oare and it is believed that the fire was the work of the labourers of the village. As soon as the fire was put out those watching were heard to mutter threats against other farmers and one of them, Charles Kimber, told Mr. Edmonds to his face, that his property would be the next to go. This fellow was instantly taken into custody and is now in prison. He was apparently very active in endeavouring to intimidate the Pewsey men and in throwing, and encouraging his companions to throw, brickbats at the heads of those putting out the fire. He is also accused of knocking James Self off a rick into the fire. Damage to the property is put at around £400 and was partly insured.

"The distress at Oare and Wilcot is certainly very great, much more so than at Pewsey.".

Saturday, 20th November

"A meeting was held at the Town Hall at Marlborough today and it was decided that a subscription be entered into for the purpose of offering rewards for the apprehension and conviction of the persons who are destroying property by burning or otherwise". The Mayor, John Gardener, was in the chair, Mr. W. R. Brown proposed the motion, Mr. Iveson seconded it and it was carried unanimously. Those present immediately subscribed £400 and it was resolved that the subscription list should be "left at the printing offices of Messrs. Emberlin and Harold, for additional signatures.". The next meeting was called for Tuesday the 23rd at three o'clock, again in the Town Hall.

"Between 8 o'clock and 9 o'clock this evening a fire was started at South Park Farm, Ludgershall. A barn, stable and cart house were destroyed. A cottage, occupied by Robert Chandler and his family was also set on fire.".

Sunday, 21st November

A mob of about 60 people descended on Mr. William Fulbrook's farm in Hippenscombe and threatened to return if the thrashing machine was not destroyed. They also demanded, and got, a sovereign.

Fires were reported at Everleigh and Chute.

Monday, 22nd November

"A meeting was held at the Duke's Arms Inn, in Marlborough, today and a number of gentlemen were sworn in as special constables. A number of resolutions were also moved including the offer of a reward of £200 for the conviction of the person or persons who set fire to Mr. Fowler's premises at Oare.".

"A mob gathered at Great Bedwin area today and visited a number of farms. One farmer, Thomas Gale was forced to hand over a sovereign. At about noon today the mob visited the farm of Mr. William Randall at Great Bedwin, where they broke two machines, a winnowing machine and two sowing machines, almost all of the pieces of broken machinery were carried away by the mob. Some of the mob got into the house and demanded victuals and money. One of them, Charles Pizzie, is reported to have demanded ten shillings, which he said Mr. Randall owed him. The man is said to have threatened to knock Mr. Randall's brains out if he did not get the money. Mr. Randall handed over ten shillings and gave the mob food and drink. The mob left but returned shortly after and Pizzie is said to have demanded more money, to have threatened to split Mr. Randall's head open and to come in the night to set fire to his house if Mr. Randall did not give him the money. Mr. Randall borrowed half a sovereign from one of his servants and gave it to Pizzie after he repeated his threats and held an iron bar up to Mr. Randall's head, in a menacing manner.".

"Mr. John Lewis, who lives at Wilton in the parish of Great Bedwin, was also visited by the mob today. He has a thrashing machine, belonging to Mr. Zebulon Carter, on his premises. The mob beat the iron work of the machine to pieces and destroyed the boards and stage. Samuel Howith was forced to hand over some money to the mob.".

"Mr. Tanner, a farmer at Tidcombe, had his thrashing machine taken down and placed near the road where it could be seen by any passing mob. He hoped that the sight of the machine would satisfy the mob and save his buildings from an arson attack. Other machines had been broken in the area and eventually a mob of around 300 arrived at the farm. They asked for the chaff cutting machine. This was broken along with the pieces of the thrashing machine.".

"Sarah Meaton, of Collingbourne Ducis, was forced to hand over a shilling to a mob.".

At about 4 o'clock 12 people returned to Mr. Fulbrook's farm in Hippenscombe and having inspected the dismantled thrashing machine, demanded food, drink and money. The farmer refused and Shadrack Blake told him that he would be sorry as he would return with a large mob and burn the house down at which Mr. Fulbrook threatened them with his gun. "It was between eight and nine o'clock in the evening when a mob of around 300 people returned to Mr. Fulbrook's They broke the doors and windows, which had been fastened against them, and about 20 people got into the house through the broken windows. Shadrack Blake, William Holt and Thomas Vivash were recognised among these. A lanthorn was taken out to the men in the yard so that they could see to break the thrashing machine. When the mob left it was found that a tea caddy, two tea ladles and a linen table cloth that had been on the table in one of the rooms was missing.".

Mobs were also recorded as being active in Wilcot, Ramsbury, Mildenhall, Froxfield and Buttermere.

Tuesday, 23rd November

The worst day of rioting in Wiltshire with 25 towns and villages being affected.

"The mob that was so active yesterday in Great Bedwin area yesterday had gathered again by eight o'clock this morning. William Barnes, the elder, a farmer at Shalbourne, had already taken down his thrashing machine but when the mob, of about 800 people, arrived at his farm they destroyed the pieces of the machine. Shadrack and Robert Blake were recognised among the mob. The latter was seen to put the brass spindle box into his pocket and he took it away with him when the mob left. The mob also demanded money and Mr. Barnes handed over a sovereign and some other money.

"Mr. George Philips handed over money to the mob that visited his farm in Shalbourne. They had threatened to destroy his house if they did not get the money. James and Robert Baker were recognised among the mob. The same mob also destroyed thrashing machines belonging to Anthony Kingstone and William Baverstock and forced John Butcher to give them some money.".

"A mob has been levying money in the Burbage area. They received a sovereign from Mr. William Westbury and one shilling and sixpence from Mary Pye. Job Blundy was recognised amongst the mob. A mob of about 150 and 200 people came to the premises of Mr. Thomas Gale, of Burbage. Mr. Gale had taken down his thrashing machine, intending to put it back again when the trouble was over. Some of the mob carried the machine out into the road where they destroyed it and Mr. Gale was forced to hand over two half crowns. Two thrashing machines were destroyed at Milton, one belonging to Mr. Edmond Somerset and the other to Mr. Richard Litten.

"When the mob reached the house of Miss Elizabeth Penruddock, at Fifield in the parish of Milton, they numbered between 400 and 500. They told her they had come to break any machines she had. Miss Penruddock told them that she was not a farmer but would give them 5/- if they would go away. They demanded two sovereigns and one of the men climbed up onto the wall, level with the window Miss Penruddock was at. He knocked an ornament from the wall and threatened to throw down the others. Someone else in the mob threatened to knock down the chimneys and beat in the windows. A second man climbed onto the wall and said "We don't stand shilly shally here, my lady."

"Miss Penruddock grew alarmed and handed over some money. Having received the money the men climbed down from the wall and the mob went off up Fifield street.".

"Between three o'clock and four o'clock this afternoon a mob of around 30 people, arrived at the house of Samuel Watts, at Wootton Rivers. The door was opened by Mary Hodding and James Tucker, Mr. Watt's house keeper and serving man. Maurice Pope, who appeared to be the leader of the mob, asked for their master and said they wanted victuals, drinks and money. Mary Hodding said she would not give them food or drink but handed over two half crowns. Pope said, "We must have two sovereigns."

""How can you expect a sovereign from a man whose work is done," said Mary Hodding. "My master is a pensioner under Lord Ailesbury."

On hearing this Pope said that they would take 10/-. Another 5/- was handed over. Pope shook hands and the called the mob to come away.".

"At about four o'clock this afternoon a mob of about 80 or more people visited the lonely farm of Robert Lyne at South Savernake. Maurice Pope appeared to be the leader of the mob and asked Mr. Lyne where his thrashing machine was. Mr. Lyne told him that it was already broken but the mob were not satisfied with this and while Mr. Lyne took Pope to see the machine the rest of the mob went into Mr. Lyne's house. Having shown Pope the broken thrashing machine he then asked if he was now satisfied to which Pope replied, "No, we must have a sovereign." When Mr. Lyne asked why, Pope said, "We have had it elsewhere else and we must have it here."

"When the two men got back to the house the mob were there. Robert Blundy seemed to be in charge and Mr. Lyne asked him what they wanted. "Beer and a sovereign," replied Blundy.

""I won't give you money but if you are civil I will give you beer," said Mr. Lyne. He then ordered that some beer be brought to the mob. After the beer had been given Mr. Lyne asked Pope if they were now satisfied. "No, we must have that sovereign," both Pope and Blundy said.

"Fearing that the mob might do him some injury Mr. Lyne handed over the money."

"At around 12 o'clock a mob arrived at Mr. Goodman's farm at Easton [Royal?]. He had taken down his machine before the mob came, but this did not prevent the mob from breaking the machine to pieces.".

The Marlborough Troop of the Wiltshire Yeomanry were involved with mobs at Rockley and Fyfield [probably the one near Lockeridge]. Thrashing machines belonging to three Pewsey farmers, George Winter, John Cook and Michael Cook, were destroyed and mobs were also active in Aldbourne and Ramsbury.

Wednesday, 24th November

In the morning the Marlborough troop, accompanied by about 200 mounted farmers were in Aldbourne and Ramsbury where they apprehended 12 and 20 persons respectively who had been part of the mobs of the previous 2 days. From here they move westwards where they "also dispersed a mob of 300 or 400 near Milton. They captured the leaders and they were taken to Marlborough". The activities of this mob has not been recorded.

Thursday, 25th November

"The Marlborough troop, attended by the magistrates, marched through the villages of Bedwin, Shalbourne and Burbage today. They arrested some of the men who had acted as ringleaders during the disturbances yesterday". There are no details of these disturbances but they may relate to the mob which was dispersed in Milton the previous day.

Friday, 26th November

"Mr. Hyatt, of Burbage, has received a notice which says that unless he takes down his thrashing machine his whole premises will be burnt down. He has had the machine taken down and the pieces put out into a field.". Meanwhile the Marlborough troop were busy over at Wootton Bassett.

Saturday, 27th November

"Mr. Hyatt, of Burbage, who took down his thrashing machine after receiving threats to burn down his property, was visited by a mob today. They destroyed the machine parts Mr. Hyatt had put out in a field. Having destroyed the pieces the mob demanded victuals and drink.".

"The Marlborough troop accompanied the magistrates through Pewsey, Milton, Wootton, Easton, Burbage and other places and assisted in the apprehension of some of the most daring rioters who had been involved in the disturbances in the area on the preceding days."

Monday, 29th November

Nothing is reported locally but an inquest in Tisbury into the death of John Harding brought a verdict of "Justifiable Homicide". The Hinton troop of Yeomanry had caught up with some rioters at Pythouse and a vicious fight ensued during which Harding caught hold of the reigns of a yeoman's horse and proceeded to club the rider. After 5 minutes the soldier could take no more so he drew his pistol and shot his assailant.

"Not a single labourer throughout the whole of the parish of Bishops Canning took part in the disturbances in their area last week. As a result the farmers of the neighbourhood have voluntarily and unanimously agreed to raise their wages.".

Thursday, 2nd December

"A special commission has been issued for the trial of the rioters, but neither the day on which, nor the place where, it is to be held, has been named yet.".

Saturday, 4th December

"At a public meeting of the inhabitants of the Division of Marlborough and Ramsbury, held at Marlborough Town Hall today, it was resolved that a Constabulary Force for the Division be established.". From the poster issued, the following were appointed as "Head or principal Constables" for our local villages:-  

BURBAGE GREAT BEDWYN SAVERNAKE-PARK
Mr. John Gale Mr. Highett Mr. James Pike
Mr. George Gale Mr. Self Mr. Thomas Hillier
Wednesday, 15th December

The government announced that the Special Commission would open on December 27th. By this means the worst cases would be tried by Crown Lawyers, at the government's expense, leaving the lesser charges to the County Assizes. All of the cases are to be held in Salisbury.

Tuesday, 21st December

Mr. John Rowlands of Axford Farm received a letter threatening to burn down the farm and to chop his head off if he testified against anyone.

Wednesday, 22nd December

Mr. Henry Woodman and Mr. Edward Vaisey, both of Mildenhall, received letter which were similar to that of Mr. Rowlands of Axford. Isaac Looker was accused of writing them

Monday, 27th December

The commission of the Special Assizes sat and after completing formalities adjourned until Friday.

Friday, 31st December

The court met again. The judges plus the county's noblemen and dignitaries proceeded to the Cathedral for a service then adjourned until the following day. There are about 300 prisoners to be tried "Of these nearly 9 out of 12 are charged with the destruction of machinery, chiefly thrashing machines and other machines used in agriculture. There are several charged with riotously assembling and obtaining money by threats and menace and there are a considerable number for riotously and unlawfully assembling, without any other offence being charged. There are some charged with resistance to the magistrates in the execution of their duty, some for rescue and some with attacking the Hinton Troop of the Yeomanry Cavalry. There are several charged with pulling down a house, one with setting fire to a thrashing machine and one with sending a threatening letter.".

Possible Local Influences

So ended 1830 with the worst of the troubles over and law and order again restored. Even so, there were to be several more sporadic arson attacks and machine breakages in the county during 1831 (but none recorded in the Burbage area).

From the above accounts it can be seen that many of the parishes then dominated by the Marquis of Ailesbury were to suffer at the hands of the rioters. As yet no hard facts have come to light as to why this should be so and the published histories of the Wardens of Savernake Forest fail to even mention the disturbances. From this one can assume that they regarded it as either being an insignificant event or one best left unmentioned. It is true that the lands of many wealthy landowners were similarly effected so we can assume that the Ailesburys treated their tenants no worse than many of their peers. However it is notable that in places such as at Bishop's Cannings, the labourers refused to rise against a noted philanthropic landowner.

The main causes for the unrest are stated at the beginning of the article. To these can be added some local factors that may well have influenced Ailesbury's tenants - especially those in Burbage; namely land enclosure and the unemployment created by the completion of Tottenham House.

Enclosures

The enclosing of the wastes and common fields undoubtedly improved the efficiency of English agriculture but the effects on the resultant dispossessed small farmers and labourers were socially devastating. The Parliamentary Acts were drawn up by the landowners, for the landowners, and without any thought of the poverty and depravity that their actions would cause. Although much of Burbage had been enclosed during the 1720s, Lord Ailesbury inspired a private Act in 1815 to enclose land in Burbage, Collingbourne Kingston and Mildenhall. This resulted in the fencing of the last of Burbage's commons and the extinguishing of all the villager's common rights and ancient rights of pannage in Savernake Forest. The division of the land was finally settled in 1823 after which the effects of their masters' actions would begin to be felt by the villagers. It is probable that the unpopularity of the enclosures inspired Lord Ailesbury to found the Tottenham Association some time before 1827. They met annually in May at the White Hart Inn, Burbage, and operated by offering quite lavish rewards for information that led to criminal convictions. Interestingly, the crimes of damaging fences and stealing dead hedges - both common acts of sabotage against the new enclosures - were both mentioned. At a time before the establishing of the modern police force, Associations were seen by the ruling classes as a way of subjugating the increasingly unruly labouring classes by paying rewards and funding prosecution costs. At their peak, over 400 were in existence in England. Sadly few records from the Tottenham Association remain although it is known to have met in 1827, 1828, 1829 and 1830.

Tottenham House

In 1821, the elevation of the Brudenell-Bruces from Earl to Marquis led to the enlarging of Tottenham Park into the current Tottenham House. Believing that the then current house, built in 1720, was not impressive enough for the new status, a reputed £250,000 was spent creating the new house and the extensive building works must have provided some much needed local employment. The house, described by a later Marquis as a "white elephant", was completed by the end of the decade and this would presumably have led to unemployment in he area. Although it needed a larger staff to keep it running, this would be but a fraction of the number used during its construction. To add insult to injury, the contrast between the master's opulence and the labourer's poverty could not have been starker nor more inflammatory.

Summary

Lord Ailesbury's tenants were no more riotous than those of most of his neighbours but they were certainly discontent enough to risk death and imprisonment in an attempt to better their lot. Most, if not all, parishes which were dominated by the Ailesbury's experienced disturbances so while it is not possible to claim that his governance sparked the troubles, it is certainly true that his tenants did not hold him in high enough regard to trust his benevolence as a cure for their desperate plight (as the tenants of Bishops Cannings were to do). With his son riding with the Marlborough Troop of the Yeomanry Cavalry, the Marquis obviously had no outward sympathy for the rioters and did little to endear himself to them.

Looking back 170 years from the safety of our classless society (!) it is easy to both sympathise with the rioters and to decry the attitudes and actions of Ailesbury and his like, but that would be unfair. The great wave of social change had yet to sweep through England and so the upper classes were fighting to preserve the long established and accepted order. But the riots played their part in changing attitudes and many reforms were on their way - although it was to take many, many years before lot of the Wiltshire farm labourers was to improve.

 

For details of the Burbage men tried, visit the Family History section

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©Colin Younger 1996