That sash will hang you : political clothing and adornment in England, 1780-1840
On 25 November 1830, John Benett, Tory MP for Wiltshire, met a group of “Swing” rioters approaching his property near Salisbury. Though their threat to break his agricultural machinery obviously disturbed him, Benett was also struck by their appearance. The leaders of the group were wearing what he described as “party‐coloured sashes.” Benett warned one leader: “I am sorry to see you with that sash on. … Young man, that sash will hang you.” The rioters blankly refused to take off their adornments and continued toward his land. Benett called out the yeomanry but was unable to prevent his threshing machines from being destroyed. The sashes carried potent layers of symbolism. The rioters may have worn “party‐coloured sashes” in order to connect their campaign against the agrarian capitalist economy with the wider political agitation of the time. The incident took place only a week after Lord Grey became prime minister, a situation that encouraged renewed pressure for parliamentary reform. Benett assumed that the leaders were expressing a radical political point through their attire. He later told Parliament that “the mob had been excited by the writings of Mr Cobbett and by the speeches of Mr Hunt” (the nationally prominent campaigners for parliamentary reform). Conversely, the leaders may have used parti‐color, or pied, sashes merely as a means of identification. This was a bold gesture in itself, as previous forms of plebeian collective activity had often been enacted in disguise or at night. The rioters asserted their aims through a vestimentary symbolism usually seen at holidays and fairs: wearing carnivalesque adornments, they enacted their own interpretation of justice in a “world‐turned‐upside down.” The law took a different view. As foreman of the grand jury for the special assizes, Benett ensured that justice was done, though the sashes led the Swing rioters not to hanging but to seven years’ transportation.