Wellow History Society - 2016 meetings

October meeting

'The Longbow and its impact on the Battle of Agincourt' was the title of our October talk, given by Stephen Whelan, Head of History at St. Edward's School, Melchet Court.  He explained how he loves to make history 'come alive' and brought a yew longbow to show us, along with several arrows that were copies of those found on the Mary Rose, a poleaxe and a dagger. Over 170 longbows were found on the Mary Rose.

The 100 years war with France was marked by three notable battles won by the English: Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356) and Agincourt (1415).  At Crecy the French used crossbowmen at the front but when their cavalry overtook them, they shot their horsemen from behind. Edward III and the Black Prince fought defensive battles; men-at-arms (on foot) were protected by thousands of archers. The French were forced to advance uphill in the face of 100,000 war arrows. Edward, the Black Prince had forced the French to the battlefield at Poitiers after a great 'chevauchée', burning and  pillaging. English arrows could not penetrate the steel breast plates on the French horses, so the archers changed position and shot from the sides, so the horses could be downed; the French advanced on foot and ultimately lost the battle. When King Jean II was captured, the effect of the defeat tore France apart.

In 1415, Henry V considered he had been insulted by the French following the failure of negotiations regarding his claim to the French throne and lands. The English army collected at Southampton included around 2,000 men-at-arms and 8,000 archers, who were contracted into royal service and paid wages. Henry's army landed at Harfleur in August 1415 but by late September when the town surrendered, a dysentry epidemic only left Henry with roughly 1,000 men-at-arms and 5,000 archers. He decided to spend the winter in Calais (then an 'English' town) rather than return to England. The march north was expected to take four days and there would be no chevauchée - this area belonged to Henry. However, the Dauphin had been raising a large army and they shadowed the English, who managed to cross the River Somme at Béthencourt and Voyennes.

 

Archers were trained, by law, from boyhood; often farmers or peasants, they became very strong and physically deformed with barrel chests from pulling the 6 ft longbow with a draw of 132 lbs. Yew was imported from the south of France, Italy or Spain as English yew grows too quickly, with knots. Heartwood is used for the belly, as it resists compression and this pushes against the sapwood used for the back of the bow, which resists stretching. The wood is cut in a wedge and tillered down before notched cow horn is fitted to the ends. Hemp or animal gut was used for the string - kept under your hat to keep dry.

The arrows were 3 ft long, 1/2" thick with fletchings of goose feathers from the same bird. It was a cottage industry as they were made in their millions, archers being able to fire 5 arrows per minute; 7 million arrows were taken to France. Arrow heads were of different shapes; bodkins could pierce chainmail whilst hunting arrows would tear muscle.

By 24 October the English had been marching for over two and a half weeks and had little food, but they still believed they could beat the French, gaining confidence from previous battles that Henry V had won. Both armies spent that night on open ground near Agincourt, with the English ordered to spend the night before the battle in silence, on pain of having an ear cut off. Henry told his men that he would rather die in the coming battle than be captured and ransomed. Meanwhile the French squires exercised the horses on the field, in very heavy rain.

 

Early on 25 October 1415, and though greatly outnumbered, the English were still confident of winning a battle. Henry had created a shield wall, with stakes driven in front of the English position. The rain stopped and to negate any chance of the French cavalry flanking the English, the stakes were upped and they moved forward so that flanking was not possible, the English positions anchored on both sides by woodland. The first French cavalry charge of 300-500 disorganised horsemen rode straight at the English archers, whose aim was to injure the horses. The cavalry could not ride through the stakes and panicked horses were turned through the deep, soft mud, straight in front of their own infantry. The archers chose their targets as the French got closer: eyes and mouth through the visor; underarms and armpits; groin and legs.

The French men-at-arms struggled through the thick mud through a hail of arrows. When they reached the front of the English line, they could scarcely lift their weapons and were so exhausted that if they were knocked down they were unable to get back up. As the English archers ran out of arrows they would grab the nearest weapon and attack with the infantry. Daggers, poleaxes, spikes, hammers and clubs were all used in close combat - not swords - and French corpses piled high; it was a bloodbath.

Henry was concerned that the large number of French captives could have rearmed and overwhelmed the English. He ordered the prisoners to be killed (rather than be kept for ransom) and as the chivalric English knights would not do this, it was the archers that followed his command. However, once Henry realised that the threat was minimal he gave the order to stop. One widely used estimate, numbers the French dead at 4,500 and the English 450, a ratio of 10:1. This was the worst defeat for the French and so many nobles were killed that their administration went to pieces.

 

Henry V had no fear and was supremely confident.  The French had chosen their ground badly and could not move or fight in a quagmire. French courage and chivalry then lost them the battle as they refused to accept they could lose. Thanks in no small part to the skill of the English archers, this battle marked the end of the chivalric period.

Note: The last time that a longbow was used in war was at Dunkirk in 1940, by 'Mad Jack' Churchill.

September meeting

We welcomed back Phoebe Merrick to update us on the local Anglo-Saxon project that is being carried out by Romsey Local History Society

 

In 2013, Christopher Collier bequeathed £27,000 to the society.   A retired military man, he had a great interest in Romsey Abbey, particularly during Anglo-Saxon times and so it was deemed fitting that this legacy should be used for an integrated project studying local Anglo-Saxon history.  A three year study would look at the Saxon period, not only within Romsey, but including the villages of the lower Test valley in the Hampshire basin.  Mottisfont and Michelmersh were to be the northern boundaries with Redbridge to the south, but it would exclude the upland ‘chalk’ parishes, the New Forest and other Southampton parishes.  The time-line was to be from the end of the Roman period around 400 AD, to 1118 AD at the death of Queen Matilda, who had spent time at Romsey Abbey.

 

Other local history societies and the University of Winchester are contributing to the project; Dr Alex Langlands was adviser in 2015, now Dr Katherine Weikert is the link.  ‘Saxon’ workshops are held twice monthly by RLHS and contributions by email, papers, books and discussion are all welcome.  Now in the second year of research, LTVAS members have often focused on an area of interest, and field trips to explore the landscape are being matched with maps and documents.  Several members have also been introduced to the art of digital mapping (QGIS), and LIDAR surveys are being studied.

 

An initial study finds Anglo-Saxon remains only in Romsey, where in the C6th - C8th, smelted iron from the Newton Lane area was transported to Hamwic (Southampton).

 

Saxon land charters have identified boundaries but only for those parishes east of the River Test; none from the west have survived. However the Saxon boundary between Ampfield and Romsey still exists today. Place names that are pre-Norman can be identified e.g. ‘wade’ is early English for ‘ford’. Tithe schedules show the area of Wellow village as common land before Inclosure; why did Cross Oak Farm not pay a full tithe? In 931 King Aethelstan probably signed a charter in Wellow - but where?

 

C19th large-scale maps showed parish boundaries and the oldest routes in the area. There are several north/south routes (although some are now only footpaths) and few east/west. Alex Langlands suggested that they could be ancient droving routes down to Wellow Common.  Settlements were very dispersed until the C20th; old farms can be identified as the focus of the route. Estate maps are also important where found.

 

Domesday book marked the end of the Anglo-Saxon period. There were no general ‘redrawn’ land boundaries by the Normans; our parishes fitted into four of the Hundreds (Broughton, Somborne, Buddlesgate and Mansbridge) although Romsey was not in a Hundred until 1300, when it was included in Somborne. There are two entries for Wellow that include the boundary changes putting West Wellow in Wiltshire, and showing two mills, which were valuable.

 

Romsey Abbey had a Saxon church before the Norman one; the seven year old Prince Edmund Atheling was buried here in 971. The project is also investigating Anglo-Saxon minsters at Nursling, Romsey and Mottisfont, particularly in regard to Winfrid (St Boniface); no trace has been found of the monastery at Nursling - could it have been at Romsey?

 

The April 2016 conference on ‘Anglo-Saxons and River Valley Settlements’ was very well attended, although no conclusions were drawn.  The project has highlighted what is still not known and as facts are disproved, that we now know even less! However we are beginning to understand the local landscape of the world of the Anglo-Saxons more than ever before. A follow-up exhibition, open to all, will be held in Romsey Town Hall on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th November 2016 between 10am and 4pm, entitled ‘Saxons, Vikings and Nuns'.

 

The third year will be spent preparing the material for publication.  Phoebe closed this informative talk by noting what a shame it is that Christopher Collier will never know the benefit of his legacy.

June meeting

Romsey and the Rogues of Runnymede

 

Eight hundred and one years to the day after the meeting at Runnymede between King John and the Barons, Barbara Burbridge came to tell us about some local connections.  She first reminded us that the original charter that was sealed at Runnymede was only of temporary value.

 

John was the fifth son and eighth child of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, so was most unlikely to become King.  Three of his brothers died before his father, leaving Richard to succeed Henry II as king.  King Richard spent almost all of his 11-year reign abroad and was constantly in need of money for his crusades, wars and ransom.  John was left in charge at home and given the task of administering Richard’s policy, which made him very unpopular.  His bad reputation, given popular circulation by stories linked to the legend of Robin Hood, may not be entirely justified. 

 

In 1199, aged 32, John took the throne, keeping out his nephew Arthur of Brittany, and was the chief suspect in 1202 of Arthur’s murder.  By 1204 John had lost his French territories to Philip II, being nicknamed ‘John Softsword’ in the process, and spent much of the next decade trying to regain these lands, unsuccessfully. The abuse of his kingship in the process of raising huge revenues by scutage (knightly tax), led about forty Barons (who were no doubt just as guilty of oppressing their tenants) to renounce their allegiance to the King. This rebellion forced a meeting beside the Thames on 15 June, 1215 demanding changes. It was accidental that the new framework formed was between the King and all his subjects; it was a practical solution to a political crisis, promoted by a few people and their own selfish interests rather than for the working man. Four copies from 1215 survive in Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals and two in the British Library.

 

In 1217, a major revision saw 63 clauses of the original document omitted, and it became Magna Carta, with a second smaller charter embodying the Forest Law.  More revisions appeared later in the 13th century and it was not until 1297 that portions of it formally became the cornerstone of English Common Law and eventually led to constitutional government.

 

King John visited Romsey frequently, both in order to hunt and to visit his daughter Joan, who was being educated by nuns at Romsey Abbey.  In 1206, a royal hunting lodge was built in Romsey although we now discount this being King John’s House, which dates from 1256.

 

Prominent among John’s supporters was William Brewer whose base at Ashley Castle was close to Kings Somborne.  The Brewer family had become powerful in the service of monarchs as foresters, tasked with making sure that there was good sport for royal hunts.  William had been Sheriff of Devon and Warden of the tin mines during the reign of Henry II and had helped to administer the country during the absence of Richard I. He was a lifelong supporter of John becoming a favourite adviser and confidante, and gained wealth collecting taxes and fines related to forest laws, not always honestly. He was feared and hated as an efficient but cruel administrator. He used expeditation (cut off the pads or claws) to prevent dogs taking part in hunts and killing deer.

 

William took bribes and infuriated the Barons.  He seized wardships for the King and himself, whereby they received money from an estate until the heir came of age at 21. His loyalty was rewarded by John who trusted him implicitly, supporting William even when he knew he was in the wrong. He allowed William to crenellate Ashley Castle, where John frequently stayed, and gave him a charter to hunt from 1200. William was Sheriff of Hampshire three times and Sheriff of Nottingham twice (a role model for Robin Hood?) and established and invested in the settlement of Stockbridge. He was at John’s deathbed in 1216, when he died of dysentery within 9 days, and was a witness to his will.  He continued to support Henry III throughout his reign.

 

A religious (superstitious) streak seemed to run parallel to William’s vicious streak.  As a very rich man, in 1196 he founded Torre Abbey in Devon, and in 1201 founded Mottisfont Abbey as an Augustinian Priory, and Dunkeswell Abbey, Devon.  In 1224 he moved to Dunkeswell where he lived as a Cistercian monk until his death in 1226.

 

As King John’s reign ended, Walter de Romsey was another contemporary who served as a steward in Romsey Abbey.   He was Abbess Matilda’s attorney and had influence.  His positions included Justice of Southampton and Sheriff of Hampshire and Wiltshire.

 

As Barbara told us, 'Distance lends enchantment of the men who were responsible for Magna Carta' but all was not as it seems!  A most interesting talk was enjoyed by all.

May meeting

Our 18th May talk was given by Colin Moretti, who kindly stepped in at little notice as our arranged speaker was unable to come.  His topic was 'Words from Beyond the Grave - what Wills can tell us'.

Historians looking for family, local, economic or social details can all benefit from the large range of information found in wills. Written wills date back to the Roman Empire, and in Britain from the 9thC (for the aristocracy and royals). The National Archives hold over 1 million wills from 1384-1858 of which, 2,880 are from servants, 2,600 from labourers and one from a pauper!  Hampshire Archives hold 130,000 and Wiltshire Archives 110,000 wills.

Oral wills were made to at least two witnesses. These deathbed or Nuncupative wills were then written down and signed by the witnesses; they could only be used for personal property but were still open to misunderstanding or even fraud. Records survive from the 17thC but they were stopped after 1837. Only in very exceptional circumstances eg the dying wish of armed forces personnel, would they be used today.

It was thought that a 'good' will would save your soul in the after life. You could show your dedication to God, show atonement for wrong doing and ask for forgiveness of sins. Charitable bequests to the Parish Church, for hanging the bells, or to the poor and infirm persons within the Parish, were meant to speed your progress through purgatory. Wills had to be legally proved as valid through the Ecclesiatical courts before the testator's wishes could be fulfilled by the executor and the estate disposed of to relations, friends or creditors. The Probate process was legislated in 1529 and court fees set; transcripts of 'true and perfect inventories' made by executors and signed on oath before a church representative still survive.  These give us an insight into social history of the day as family relationships and trades can be discovered and possessions valued.

 

Originally a Will was used to devise freehold property whilst a Testament was used to bequeath personal goods, cash, debts and chattels. Both terms came together in the 16thC and we still use the term 'last will and testament'.  A Codicil is a small change or addition at the end of the original will; we heard of one will that was changed several times as the financial circumstances of the testator changed - not always for the better.

Before 1858 there were more than 300 Ecclesiastical courts, which had a complicated and specific hierarchy.  The lowest level was the Archdeacon's court, then the Diocesan, the Peculiars and finally the Archbishop's or Provincial court of York or Canterbury. A Probate case would usually be heard where the deceased had been living and historic dioceses covered very large areas.  However if the deceased also had property worth more than £5 in a diocese other than his own, Bona Notabilia applied and had to be proved in a higher court.  The Peculiar courts were outside the jurisdiction of the Archdeacon or Bishop and could be: the Crown; another Bishop or Archdeacon; Dean and Chapter of a Cathedral; an Incumbent; the Lord of the Manor or the Knights Templar.  Only the Crown court remains today.

After the 1857 Court of Probate Act, the National Probate Calendar set up in 1858, indexes the vast majority of probate cases, summarising the residence, date of death, executors and value of the estate.  Accompanying the Will, and any Inventories or Accounts, other related documents such as Grants of Administration,  Administration Bonds, Death Duty Registers, Renunciations (by Executor or Beneficiary)  and Military Wills may also be found when investigating the wishes of the deceased.

​​​​As we are aware, the preparation of a will by a solicitor should minimise any problems. Sometimes the wealthy did not leave a will, as they had already dealt with their estate beforehand. Before 1882, wives could only make a will with their husband's consent and she must have been left money or assets specifically 'for her'.  There are however 145,704 widows' wills in the National Archive.

Dying without a will raises the problem of Intestacy whereby the probate court has to appoint an administrator, often a family member or a creditor. Any personal estate would be dealt with by the legal rules at the time; real estate was normally left to the eldest son. There were exceptions though, eg in Kent, the youngest son could inherit property.  Disputed wills would be heard in the Court of Chancery but we learnt how being 'cut off with a shilling' stopped the will being contested during probate, with Henry Mitchell's 1703 will being used as an example.

We thanked Colin for a very detailed and informative talk which had even included references to local residents.

April meeting

On the 20th April we welcomed Jan Smith, formerly County Archivist for Hampshire, to tell us “The Story of English Handwriting”.

 

Could you remember the last time that you wrote a letter by hand - or even received one?  With the advance of technology, many of us now rely on email or texts to send our messages.  Writing by hand is becoming rare and students are not used to essay writing, struggling when they have to do this for exams.  However handwriting is a personal art form and it can tell us about the person who wrote it and from the style, the era it was written.  We compared the signatures of Elizabeth I, Samuel Pepys, Handel, Arthur Conan Doyle and Picasso and recognised the changes over the centuries.  The study of historical handwriting is called Palaeography.

 

Handwriting started in the Middle East, around today's Syria, with Aramaic script in the 10thC to 8thC BC.  As it spread it was influenced and changed by Persian, Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew and Roman alphabets and styles but it is the Roman letters that we still identify with today.  The oldest surviving handwriting in England is on the Vindolanda wooden tablets, written around 100 AD at the Roman garrison by Hadrian's Wall.  They are written in capitals and include a letter written in Latin by a woman.

 

For 1,000 years after the Romans, the church wrote the majority of handwritten documents.  It was the late 8thC before the Bible and the St. Jerome Psalms, translated from Hebrew into Latin in the 4thC, were translated into Old English (Anglo-Saxon). 

 

Insular (Gaelic) Script was brought over from Ireland and Celtic areas of the north in the 7thC.  It used large initial letters that then decreased in size until the normal size was reached.  Manuscripts were often highly decorated.  Letters with ascenders  (b, d) and descenders (p, q) were used and word spacing increased making it easier to read.

 

In the 8thC and 9thC, at the time of Charlemagne, a standardised style of writing called Carolingian miniscule was developed.  It used both upper and lower case letters, and later became the model for the Antiqua typeface.  We looked at an Anglo-Saxon charter from 957 AD held in Winchester and Domesday Book both in cursive script.

 

We then considered what handwriting was written on and with what: papyrus, parchment, vellum and the 14thC Chinese invention of paper, with ink made from oak galls.  Reed pens, then quills (swan, goose or crow - the finest) were sharpened with a ‘pen-knife’.

 

Abbreviations used in old handwriting do not always have the same sound or meaning today, so it is important to learn the ‘tricks’ when reading old documents.  The old letter ‘th’, called a thorn, looks like a ‘y’ so ‘ye’ should read ‘the’: tea shops beware!  Our alphabet also had only 23 letters, with ‘U’ (10thC), ‘W’ (12thC) and ‘J’ (15thC) added to make it the 26 we use.

 

When the printing press was invented in the mid-15thC, books became mass produced and literacy gradually increased. There were other popular styles of handwriting in England over the next five centuries:

16thC: Secretary hand, influenced by Italic (Italian); Cursive Gothic (Blackletter) script was used in headings.

17thC: Italic dominated

18thC: English Round hand

19thC: Copperplate

20thC: Marion Richardson

 

We were left with a final thought: will handwriting continue to exist, as technology advances and changes the way we communicate?

March meeting

Our talk this month was entitled “Shedding new light on the New Forest past” and was given by Lawrence Shaw, an archaeologist who works for the National Park.

 

He gave us an entertaining and very informative presentation on recent archaeological findings within our area using a combination of techniques including “Light Detection and Ranging” or Lidar. The New Forest area contains a rich and diverse variety of archaeological sites ranging from Iron Age hill forts, Roman pottery kilns and medieval hunting lodges to the concrete foundations of many buildings used during WWII.

 

Lidar is a remote survey technique which fires a harmless laser beam from an aeroplane. This beam is able to penetrate tree canopies and record the ground underneath – something traditional aerial photography cannot do. In recent years the whole of the National Park has been recorded in this way and, by combining the Lidar images obtained with aerial photographs and Infrared Imagery it has been possible to identify many archaeological sites that have previously been hidden by vegetation and therefore unseen by the naked eye.

 

The National Park covers an area exceeding 20,000 hectares and as we know is highly important for wildlife conservation and the restoration of wetlands. It has over 700 local listed buildings, 8 historic parks and gardens, and receives an enormous level of day visitors. It is therefore important to protect the many archaeological sites – by 2010 a total of 1010 sites had been recorded but with the benefit of these new techniques that figure has increased to 3000. These sites form part of the heritage of our area and it is important that they are preserved and protected.

 

Lawrence showed us the stages that were taken in identifying sites in some detail and showed us several examples including Iron Age farming settlements at Stubby Copse near Balmerlawn together with an Iron Age Hill Fort near Matley. One finding that particularly interested our members was an example of post-medieval bee gardens at Holmsley which highlighted the high production of honey in the area at that time. Ancient burial barrows seem to be common place throughout the Park and many findings included activity during WWII such as the airfield at Beaulieu.

 

All these findings need to be verified on the ground and this work is carried out by volunteer groups who have regularly gone out into the field outside of the bird ground nesting season in order to examine and confirm/refute the survey findings. There is no doubt that these findings have increased our knowledge and understanding of our heritage in this area and highlight the importance of its preservation. All findings are being placed on-line and can be seen at the website www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/heritagemapping.

February meeting

Our February talk was given by Dr John McAleer and was entitled "The East India Co. - the company that changed the world".

Over more than two and a half centuries, the English East India Company was to change the language, culture and identity of both Britain and India, through its influence on what we ate (spices), what we drank (tea) and what we wore (textiles); all in the pursuit of wealth, power and profit, it was perhaps the most powerful commercial organisation that the world has ever seen.

 

Given its charter on 31 December 1600, by Queen Elizabeth I, the Company was given permission to trade eastwards of the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia and India.  This followed 5,000 years of trading with Persia, Arabia, China and Japan, but currently because they wanted to share in the East Indian spice trade then being monopolised by the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies - now Indonesia, and the Portuguese.  Sir James Lancaster, of Basingstoke, sailed 4 ships to the Spice Islands in 1601.  His 'barter' cargo of heavy English tweed didn't go down too well and he captured a Portuguese carrack, stealing its rich cargo of gold, silver and Indian textiles. The pepper he purchased filled his ships and they returned to England in 1603 after 954 days, although without a large number of their sailors who had died during the voyage.  The East India Company (EIC) had begun. East India House in Leadenhall Street, London eventually became the centre of operations; the site is now occupied by the Lloyd's building.

 

In 1684 the Chinese give permission for the EIC to trade from Canton importing silk, tea and chinoiserie, the first tea services being brought into England. By the 1700s the EIC was supplying cloth to the world with over 200 varieties of Indian textiles - silks, cottons and calicos - and by 1750 they were trading cloth over 5,000 miles in length each year. Factories in Madras, Bombay and Calcutta were set up because of EIC trades between Asian ports - it had become a global multi-national company.  The demand for tea also grew and they traded over 2 million pounds per year; diversification was good as the cloth trade diminished, but the tax on tea imposed by the British Parliament was to contribute to the Company's financial problems. (Tea was grown only in China until 1840.)

 

In 1757, Robert Clive made a pact with Mir Jafar at the Battle of Plassey, and the EIC was granted the Diwani of Bengal - the right to collect taxes, responsible for the civil, judicial and revenue administration of India's richest province of some 20 million Indians. The Company Raj (Empire) begins. It sees itself as a sovereign power: minting its own money in Bengal; has a civil service; has its own training college; has its own army with up to 250,000 Indian Sepoys (private soldiers) and begins to expand its territory, eventually ruling large areas of India. The largest merchant navy in the world, even having its own dockyard in Deptford, conducted and controlled 50% of the world trade. Between 1600 and 1833 over 4,500 voyages took place.

 

In 1773 the company's right to have political control through its shareholders was stopped and a Board of Control was established by Parliament.  Richard Wellesley (brother of Arthur, Duke of Wellington) became Governor-General of India from 1798 to 1805; he found the EIC a trading body but left it an Imperial power. 

 

In the early 19th century when the English became concerned that too much silver was leaving their shores, the EIC began to finance the tea trade with illegal opium exports to China, leading directly to the opium wars between Britain and China.  In 1813 the EIC lost its monopoly to trade with India and China and by 1834 it had become a government agency. In 1857 during the Sepoy Mutiny against the officers of the Bengal Army, William Peel (third son of PM Robert Peel) repressed the mutiny in the relief of Lucknow and by 1858, all EIC assets were transferred to Queen Victoria's government, creating the 'Birth of the British Raj in India'.  A trading company could not be more powerful than the state.  The EIC ceased to exist as a legal entity in 1873.

 

We showed our appreciation for a most entertaining and well illustrated talk as we learnt of the rise and fall of this most powerful company which has had such a huge influence on the world we live in today.

January meeting

On the 20th January, WHS was pleased to welcome back Stephen Ings who gave us a talk entitled "The Real Captain Swing - the swing riots from the labourer's view".  Stephen is a well-known and respected local historian who has carried out research into this subject and many other local issues.

 

We have all heard of the Swing Riots which took place in the early 19th Century, when impoverished farm workers, led by the mythical Captain Swing, would gather in groups and attack the threshing machines and farm buildings of the land owners, which they perceived as threatening their jobs.  Stephen, through his research, was able to provide a summary of events as seen through the eyes of the labourers.  They had suffered from reductions in their wages and rent increases, plus hardships caused by the administration of the Poor Law.

 

The land owning classes had felt severely threatened by these riots, no doubt looking to events in Europe, and responded with severe punishments.  Many labourers were imprisoned or transported to Australia although there were some who were found not guilty.  There seems little doubt that alchohol had played a major part in a large number of cases, however some of the presumed ringleaders were found guilty and executed.  From examining local Court records it was possible to cite individuals close to Wellow who took part; one was transported to Australia but eventually ended up as a landowner and a farmer in that country, having made the most of being given a 'new start'!

 

Stephen certainly provided a different perspective to the events surrounding those troubles, and showed in many cases, the injustices meted out to the labouring classes at that time.  One of the landowners was the accuser who tried his own case and passed sentence on the 'guilty' party!  The real Captain Swing however was never truly identified.

 

In retrospect, the riots had a major reforming influence on the Whig government of the day which culminated in the Reform Act of 1832 and the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.

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