Captain Swing in the North : the Carlisle Riots of 1830
On the evening of Tuesday, 30 November 1830, incendiaries set fire to a wheat stack and a haystack situated in two fields a quarter of a mile outside Carlisle, Cumberland. Large crowds gathered at the sites of both fires and proceeded to riot. Disturbances continued the following day when workmen attempted to salvage what little remained of the stacks. Local newspapers and witnesses at the ensuing trial assumed that the incidents were the work of ‘Captain Swing’, the imaginary leader of the wave of arson and agricultural machine breaking that was concurrently raging across southern England. This impression of the unusual nature of the agitation was amplified when, some days later, the clerk of the peace and several local gentlemen received threatening letters signed with pseudonyms, including that of ‘Swing’. Two handloom weavers, James Mendham, alias Montgomery, aged twenty–six, and Robert Thursby, aged thirty–eight, were eventually arrested and tried for arson, and five other men were charged with rioting.