Monday, 20 May 2019

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JENNY KNIGHT and Kaye Gough spoke about the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading, where they are volunteers, at the group’s April meeting.

The museum was established in 1951 as part of Reading University but has since been moved to Redlands Road. It was refurbished in October 2016.

The speakers then gave a vivid and fascinating account of the Swing Riots of the 1830s, a series of protests against the mechanisation of agriculture — a sort of farming equivalent of the Luddites.

There was no single cause of the riots; the loss of jobs through the mechanisation of threshing was the ostensible motive but the influence of the French Revolution, the economic after effects of the Napoleonic wars, the uncompromising character of the Duke of Wellington and the hardship caused by a series of bad harvests all played a part.

Rioting occurred in many parts of England, starting in Mildenhall in Suffolk in February 1830.

The talk focused on a couple of local outbreaks, in Hungerford and Kintbury, in November that year.

Groups of 30 to 40 protestors roamed the areas over several days, threatening farmers and landowners, demanding money, bread, cheese and beer, and destroying threshing machines. The protests were soon suppressed by the military and the participants detained in Reading.

The subsequent trials resulted in the imprisonment or transportation of many. One man, William Winterbourne, was hanged on January 11, 1831 for his crimes.

The next meeting will be on May 7, when Dr Dave Carless will talk about the archaeology of Blewbury and the surrounding area, with emphasis on the Saxon period. Meetings take place at King’s Arms Barn, off King’s Road, Henley, and lectures start at 7.45pm. Admission is £4 for non-members.

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