‘And lo and behold! Here I am!’
It was a perfect autumn day for a bike ride,
Mournful golds and russets and crimsons,
Sun dappled and splashed as I climbed the wolds,
To leave the pastoral valleys behind,
And so reach the wide, open, brown-ploughed fields,
Up above Avening, on the high, back lanes
Around Chavenage and Cherington and Beverstone,
On my cyclo-geographical trip to the Troubled House inn;
Back in the winter of 1830,
These lanes were thronged with anxious farm hands:
Families were hungry with bread prices high,
With wages low, and winter indigence
Threatened by these new threshing machines;
And so the Captain Swing riots had made their way
From Wiltshire to Gloucestershire –
Smashing threshing machines, burning hay ricks,
Penning threatening letters to farmers, signed by
The half-mythologised gentleman on a white horse,
The impossibly ubiquitous Captain Swing:
“this is to inform you what you have to undergo gentelemen if providing you Don’t pull down your meshenes and rise the poor mens wages the married men give tow and sixpence a day the single tow shillings or we will burn down your barns and you in them this is the last notis
He came to Horsley at the end of November:
Threshing machines were dutifully broken,
Lord Sherborne rallied the J.P.s of the shire,
And appealed to the agricultural labourers:
Return to your labours and we will listen to your complaints,
But the promise of a ‘just’ response
Was the jailing of nearly a hundred labourers
In the prison at Gloucester …
The cavalry were dispatched to the Trouble House,
Surrounding the inn, with their swords drawn
(‘I’ll give them “Bread or Blood”, be damned’),
The farm hands pausing for some bread and cheese,
Escaping out the back door, into the rain,
Pursued by the cavalry through the plashy fields,
Near two dozen captured in the mud and mire,
Drenched to their skin and bone in their threadbare coats …
The nearby lanes and farmyards were frantic too,
Tetbury, Chavenage, Cherington and Beverstone,
All so surface upper crust these days,
But over a hundred gathered then on the Beverstone Road,
‘Be damned if we don’t go to Beverstone and break the machine!’
Sledge hammers, picks, staves all carried
Under the tutelage of Elizabeth Parker,
To the farm of Jacob Hayward,
To smash that damned threshing machine,
A signal moment for Gloucestershire
In ‘The Last Labourer’s Revolt’ …
And what echoes did I hear today?
What ghosts did I see in the fields and lanes?
(As I cycled past Princess Anne’s Gatcombe Park
But then the home of the economist, Mr Ricardo,
Whose speculations on the labour theory of value,
Would be turned upside down and revolutionised
Within a generation by Chartists and Karl Marx.)
And, more pertinently, perhaps,
How was this event memorialized
Within the here and now quite posh Troubled House?
A framed newspaper cutting from the last century
Recounts stories of “troubles’ at the inn,
‘MEMORY OF A RIOT
About 120 years ago, when disturbances broke out among agricultural workers and there was frequent rioting, owing to manual labour being displaced by new farming machinery, the old inn, then known by the name of the “Wagon and Horses”, was the scene of one such outbreak.
So intense had grown the feeling of workers on the land in these parts that farmers who had become possessed of any of the new “contraptions” were obliged to keep them in hiding.
One day a carter was attempting to convey, with as much secrecy as possible, a hay-making machine to a certain farm in the Tetbury neighbourhood. He had it covered up on a wagon, but as he was passing through a quiet side street of Tetbury it was detected by the wife of a farm worker.
Quickly she spread the news about and within a few minutes an infuriated crowd had gathered with menacing cries of “Down with machinery!”
The carter and the hay-making machine were surrounded and bundled outside the town to a lonely spot, where the horses were unharnessed. Bundles of straw were fetched, piled up, and the wagon and the hay-maker burned out.
Having thus whetted their appetites for destructiveness, the mob proceeded to various farms in the locality and destroyed other machines which they found in hiding.
So serious did the sabotage become that the authorities sent post-haste for a company of horse-soldiers stationed at Dursley. By the time the military arrived, the mob had reached the “Wagon and Horses” Inn, and it was here that the struggle between the rioters and the soldiers took place.
ARRESTED AT THE INN
Needless to say, the military soon gained the upper hand and a number of the rioters’ men – and women – were arrested and taken to Gloucester to await trial. Some were eventually liberated, but the ring-leaders were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.’
There is another framed, yellowing newspaper cutting,
Over on the wall towards the toilets,
Another litany of Trouble House woes,
With the unnamed Captain Swing Riots
Featuring once again, similar in tone,
But with slightly different facts to the other narrative:
This time the ‘new fangled machine’ is for mowing,
Hidden as before, but now ‘brightly painted’,
It could cost ‘ten men their livelihood’;
A possee was waiting for the carter as soon as his wagon had cleared the town.
The men unhitched the horses and fired the wagon and its hated load. Their success as they watched the bonfire blazing whetted their appetite …
The mob were quenching their thirst at Trouble House when the mounted soldiers overtook them. It was a short struggle with victory for the military never much in doubt.
Men and women fire-bugs were arrested and hauled off to stand their trial at Gloucester Assizes.’
I took photos and cappuccino,
Rather than small beer and bread and cheese,
But the ghosts of the twenty-three were there,
Out in the October autumn-brown
Large-spread new ploughed fields,
And as I cycled home along the old back lanes,
Who should I see but a man upon a white horse?
‘What a coincidence!’ I cried.
‘Why? What coincidence?’
I explained about Captain Swing and his white horse.
‘And lo and behold! Here I am!’