The Chedworth "Swing" Rioters

by Mike Tovey and Sandy Kirby

After the Napoleonic wars there were many years of depression in the countryside. Wages were low, unemployment was common and prices high even for basic food. In the Autum of 1830 general rioting broke out across the countryside. Hayricks were burned, farm machinery was smashed and officials were attacked. This "Labourers Revolt" started in Kent and quickly spread northward. There was no single leader of the riots but a mythical character called "Captain Swing" left his name on warning notices and suchlike.
The government became alarmed - troops were despatched and landowners formed vigilante groups to protect their property.
"Swing Riots" between 28 November and 1 December 1830 in the area around Tetbury and between Fairford and Northleach only troubled Gloucestershire briefly. Altogether 86 people were arrested - two of which were brothers Joshua and Robert Stevens from Chedworth.
Joshua and Robert were caught on the 30th November 1830 and tried on 4 January 1831. They were charged that "Upon the oath of Thomas Baxter of Coln St. Dennis, farmer, with having on the 29th day of November last past, together with numerous other persons, tumultuously assembled in the yard of Herman Howes in the parish of Coln Rogers and broken and destroyed a threshing machine, the property of the said Herman Howes". The brothers were found guilty and sentenced to be transported to Australia for 14 years.

Prison records give detailed descriptions of the brothers - both of whom were razor grinders and ploughmen, were married and each had seven children:
Joshua was described as being age 45 and having very dark hair, dark eye brows and dark eyes. He had black whiskers, a mark on the left corner of his left eye, a long face, a large nose pitted by small pox, several scars under his chin a very great many marks of punishment on his back and a dark complexion. He was 5 foot 11 inches high and it was noted that he had been a soldier in the 11th Light Dragoons.

Robert was described as being 50 years old, having dark hair but bald on the forehead, dark eye brows and dark eyes. A large nose marked with small pox and black whiskers. Robert had lost his right thumb and was 5 foot 6 inches high.

The brothers were transported on the ship "Eliza" which set sail on 6 February and arrived at Tasmania on 28May 1831. Records indicate that Joshua died in 1836 whilst working for W. Moriarty Esq and Robert was given a free pardon on 24 April 1837.

In 1831 Emanuel Stevens, a brother of Robert and Joshua was "Returned" from Somerford to Chedworth but later that year sailed to the USA with his wife Elizabeth to start a new life.

The Stevens family were prominent in the Chedworth parish record books of the time:

Chedworth Vestry Book
9 Dec 1828 Joshua Stevens given £1 on condition he does not trouble the parish for a year.
5 Jan 1829 Robert Stevens junior given gift of £1 5s and Emmanuel Stevens senior given gift of £2 5s.
7 Apr 1829 Emanuel Stevens open to take £3 to Michelmas and at Michelmas to receive £3 to the following Lady day and not to trouble the parish until Ladt day 1830.
3 Nov 1829 Joshua Stevens given 7s6d until next Vestry meeting when his contract expires and Robert Stevens given 10s until the first Vestry meeting in 1830.
5 Dec 1829 Mr. Newman takes Joshua Stevens at 6d until Lady day and 8d per day until Michelmas. Joshua Stevens given £1 on condition that he does not trouble the parish for a year. Mr. Radway takes James Stevens at 7d a day until Lady day and 9d a day from then to Michelmas. Moses Stevens not being hired to Lady day given 1s a week until next Vestry meeting.
2 Jan 1830 Moses Stevens given 10s as a gift up to Lady day, Ambrose Stevens given 10s and Robert Stevens junior 10s until the next Vestry meeting and Joshua Stevens 10s until the next Vestry meeting.
30 Jan 1830 Appeared at my house ye wife of Robert Stevens junior and claimed £1 5s on the order of Mr. Randell as allowed annually at the first Vestry meeting in the year. The same was accordingly paid. They appear to have been received 10s and 5s on account of the severity of the weather. The frost and snow abated 8 January after continuation of 7 weeks and 3 days.
27 Mar 1830 Emanuel Stevens of Somerford agrees to take £3 to Michelmas and at Michelmas to receive £3 to the following Lady day and not trouble ye parish until Lady day 1831 and promises to give arrears of rent up to Lady day 1831. Stevens sons and wife to receive 12 half crowns for 12 weeks in advance as they are going to travel.
1 May 1830 Ambrose Stevens given 10s.
4 Dec 1830 Emanuel and Ambrose Stevens given £1 each and not to apply again until April 1831. Joshua Stevens family given 4s per week and paid for shoes for Moses Stevens. Wife and daughters of Robert Stevens given 4s per week. Old Stevens given 2s6d and his wife 2s6d also.
1 Jan 1831 Emanuel Stevens of Somerford given 10s.
4 Apr 1831 Old Stevens and wife to be allowed 12 weeks in advance at 5s per week. Ambrose Stevens given 10s. Joshua Stevens’s wife given 8 weeks in advance at 4s per week. Agreed with Emanuel Stevens and family as follows:
The parish to pay their expenses clear until they are on board a vessel at Bristol. To pay the passage over to Quebec. To give them £15 in hand for providing for themselves and £20 by a letter of credit paid on their arrival at Quebec. Emanuel Stevens to receive £1 10s on condition that he does no apply to the parish until Lady day 1832 for work or pay.
30 Apr 1831 Robert Stevens senior wife from March 2s per week.
4 Jun 1831 Ambrose Stevens with the small pox £1 10s his bill for the doctor and £2 2s due to Cranham parish for money advanced by them.
Chedworth Overseers Book
30 Apr 1836 Paid WG Randell £2 5s for part interest and principal of money loaned for the emigration of Emanuel Stevens and family to America reducing the principal to £3 9s 11d.
Abt Dec 1838 Aaron Stevens "being of necessity" given half crown for bread & meat
13 May 1841 3d paid for a letter from Glasgow war office informing that Aaron Stevens had deserted.
Abt Mar 1842 2 loaves of bread – 1s6d for Stevens "urgent necessity".
June 1844 2s relief in kind given to James Stevens in case of emergency
10 Sep 1844 Paid 4s for horse and cart to convey Eleanor Stevens to workhouse
8 Jan 1846 15s paid for the relief of Joshua Stevens
A Note from the Vestry Book
On the night of Friday the 25th of June 1830 about 10 o’clock commenced a dreadful storm of thunder and lythtning accompanied with such heavy rain and hail as did very considerable damage to the hay, washing it off from the fields to great distances bearing down in its progress walls and other fences flooding the houses to 2 and 3 feet deep in the parish conveying away whole fields of soil and rendering the hilly roads impassable. The floods produced by the storm did considerable damage in the low country covering whole meadows and destroying the sheaves. Mr. Lane of Compton was the greatest sufferer in this nightmare – computed loss from £400 to £500.

Courtesy of Mike Tovey