Jun 022022

Captain Swing was a character that appeared in threatening letters during the Swing Riots. A series of riots across southern England numbering nearly 1,500 in number which in the end resulted in 19 executions (although nearly 250 had been sentenced to death). More people than were killed at the far more famous Peterloo Massacre, and who hasn’t heard of the infamous Luddites? Which went on longer and was perhaps more disruptive but less directly threatening to the land-owning ruling classes.

With the curious exception of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a casual student of history could be forgiven for thinking that the South of England didn’t suffer any labour unrest or discontent during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Yet the ancestors of those Tolpuddle Martyrs had been effectively tenant farmers who had been reduced to day labourers within two short generations. To compare the English enclosures with the Scottish Highland clearances is ridiculous, but there is one common thing behind them – greed. And there is one common result – suffering.

“The law locks up the man or woman

Who steals the goose from off the common,

But lets the greater felon loose

Who steals the common from the goose.”

(Part of 18th century poem by Anon.)

Sometimes those on the left are accused of the “politics of envy” … perhaps. But it seems to me that historically it is often the rich who are guilty of the politics of envy – envious of what the poor have because they think they can make “better” use of it (in other words make more money).

Lighting The Sea