The Bedfordshire Swing Riots

Captain Swing Strikes Bedfordshire

After decades of unrest in the countryside labourers banded together to take part in the Swing Riots of the 1830s. These riots were widespread across southern England but this particular set of riots took place in the East. The county of Bedfordshire was home to a number of agricultural labourers who felt they were underpaid and not being compensated enough. There were two separate instances of rioting one of which was more large scale than the other.

The first instance of Swing Riots in Bedfordshire occurred on November 28th 1830 and it was a farm yard burning. All of the crops stored there were destroyed in the fire and the act was suspected to be done by two men. This kind of act was a way to get at the wealthy landowners because it actually dented their income. Other ways were destroying farm equipment that was putting people out of jobs. However destruction was not always used during the riots.

On the 1st of December the start of a large scale riot would begin which would develop over the rest of the week reaching its climax on Thursday. During Wednesday night a mob started to form and people who were content with staying inside where dragged out onto the street to join. They made their way to one of the landowners houses and demanded a higher wage. The owner insisted that if they wanted to have a discussion it should be in the morning at the church. Having agreed with the owner the mob started to disband, however they regrouped very early in the morning. This new mob even greater in number devised a plan to make sure everyone was involved.

This mob made sure no one was going to work on Thursday which sometimes involved forcibly removing people from fields. At the meeting they had three demands two of which were met. The first demand was to be exempt from church taxes because they were extremely poor and could not pay them. The second demand was that the assistant overseer to the poor should be fired. Their final demand which was not met was every worker should be given two shillings a day.The meeting ended with the mob upset because their demands were not fully met so they turned to violence.

Having upwards of two hundred people the mob was quite intimidating and they used this fear on the village. They targeted everyone from bakers to just wealthy residents. Sweeping through the town they acquired bread,beer and money through intimidation. If someone tried to deny them the goods they would simply barge in and take their belongings which was worse than just handing over the goods.This behaviour continued into the night and escalated when they lit brush on fire in order to cause panic. The fire did not cause any damage but was a factor in intimidation. Eventually they dispersed and started work as normal on Friday on the condition that their demands should be met by Saturday or rioting would resume.

By Friday afternoon though the ring leaders threatened a local mill with destruction adding more fuel to the flame. This incident made the local magistrate demand that these leaders be arrested. So on Saturday morning nearly one hundred constables came into the village and arrested ten of these ring leaders. Having the leaders imprisoned brought an end to the swing riots in Bedfordshire.

The Bedfordshire Swing Riots where only one of many that occurred but none the less was an important part of the movement.


N/A. “State of The Country .” The Times (London), December 1, 1830. Accessed October 3, 2017.

N/A. “State of The Country .” The Times (London), December 6, 1830. Accessed October 3, 2017.