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Rural Conflict, Crime and Protest: Herefordshire, 1800-1860

Rural Conflict, Crime and Protest: Herefordshire, 1800-1860

Timothy Shakesheff
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 238
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  • Book Info
    Rural Conflict, Crime and Protest: Herefordshire, 1800-1860
    Book Description:

    Rural Conflict, Crime and Protest makes a major contribution to the historiography of nineteenth century crime. The work presents a new analysis of several important and controversial themes: the concept of social crime, petty crime and protest in the English countryside between 1800 and 1860. The bulk of the research into rural crime has traditionally emanated from East Anglia, the south and the east; however, the bulk of the evidence for this book has come from Herefordshire, in the west of England, adding to the historiography of nineteenth century rural crime. Based upon a rich vein of primary source material and liberally interspersed with court room revelations and newspaper reports this work is both informative and scholarly and would make a useful addition to the bookshelves of academics and students alike, without excluding the casual reader. TIMOTHY SHAKESHEFF is lecturer in modern British social history at the University College, Worcester.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-149-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Although this was written in 1872, beyond the period with which this book is principally concerned, the stereotype of the slack-jawed, straw-chewing yokel was a commonplace picture throughout the nineteenth century. Undoubtedly the rural labourer of Herefordshire was poorly educated and quite often totally illiterate. Moreover, he was poorly paid and his horizon rarely extended past his parish, but it is a mistake to confuse his illiteracy with lack of intellect and his poverty with dumb obedience. Research for this study has suggested that his intellect was far from childlike. To illustrate his intelligence and assertiveness, however, is problematic. He...

  5. 1 Rebels without a clue? The nature of rural protest in Herefordshire, 1800–60
    (pp. 7-29)

    On 30 March 1831, before the opening of the Oxford Circuit Assize at Hereford, Justice Patterson remarked:

    I am happy to find this calendar does not contain any cases of arson, rioting or breaking machinery . . . it shows that the labouring classes in this county are more peacable and contented . . . it is proof that they are treated by their employers with kindness and attention to their wants.¹

    The following day he proceeded to sit and pass judgment upon cases of rural vandalism, armed poaching and sheep-stealing. While this is not the evidence the historian would...

  6. 2 ‘A painful scene of crime, depravity and misery’: Rural poverty and crime
    (pp. 30-53)

    Many nineteenth-century observers believed that crime was an increasing problem. A contributor toBlackwood’s Edinburgh Magazinein 1844 argued that crime had risen by 700 per cent since 1805.¹ Engels, writing in the same year, agreed that the available statistical evidence showed a dramatic increase in criminal activity.² And writing from a totally different ideological standpoint, Sir Archibald Alison, the Tory Sheriff of Lanarkshire, commented, again in 1844, that ‘destitution, sensuality and crime advance with unheard of rapidity’.³ Despite their ideological differences they not only agreed that crime was on the increase but also that it was an urban phenomenon,...

  7. 3 ‘To overawe those vagabonds who infest the county’: Policing rural Herefordshire
    (pp. 54-77)

    If the rural working class reacted to their poverty by resorting to crime, the county’s elite, failing compromise or compensation, sought to bring offenders to court. This chapter seeks to examine the methods employed to achieve this end. It will identify ways in which Herefordshire was policed between 1800 and 1860 and assess the extent to which the growth of policing contributed to a rise in recorded crime. Attention will also be given to the criminal justice system as it applied to the county. In itself, more intensive policing was not enough to deter the rural criminal; for examples to...

  8. 4 Rustlers, social criminals or common thieves? Sheep-stealing in rural Herefordshire
    (pp. 78-112)

    Sheep-stealing was a common crime in the English countryside but sheep-stealing, as a subject of historical research, has not received the attention given to other types of rural crime, notably poaching and arson. Although seen as ‘marginal’, arson was the tool employed by many rural protesters, especially, although not exclusively, during the ‘Swing’ years.² Equally poaching is seen as the classic social crime that, although illegal, was not regarded as such by rural communities.³ Sheep-stealing, it could be argued, fits either of these categories. Moreover, the crime could be purely acquisitive, or simply committed as a defence against hunger. As...

  9. 5 Criminal women, crop deprivators and crop-thieves
    (pp. 113-140)

    None of the rural crimes dealt with in this thesis are glamorous. Nevertheless, they may all be seen as assertive actions carried out as a defence against hunger or as an expression of discontent. The crimes of wood- and crop-theft, on the other hand, are often portrayed differently. Because of their petty nature these crimes are often seen as the acts of the very lowest economic stratum in rural society. Moreover, because of the frequency of female involvement in the crimes of wood- and crop-theft they have often been dismissed as acts that merely contributed to the domestic economy. This...

  10. 6 ‘Give him a good un’: Social crime, poaching and the Game Laws
    (pp. 141-175)

    Game – that is, hares, pheasants, partridges and deer – were perceived in different lights by the gentry and the rural poor. The gentry saw the hunting of game as a privileged and prestigious pastime; a pastime that should be reserved for those who could legally indulge in the pleasures of the field. The rural poor, on the other hand, saw game species either as food or as a means to supplement an often inadequate income. The gentry saw their quarry in terms of private property and believed that they were both legally and morally entitled to protect it from the ravages...

  11. 7 ‘Vile’ and ‘evil-disposed persons’: Incendiarism and animal-maiming
    (pp. 176-200)

    There can be little doubt that certain rural crimes were committed with the sole intention of striking terror into the victim’s heart. The crimes of arson and animal-maiming fall into this category. The destructive, sadistic and threatening nature of these crimes, crimes that gave no material benefit to the perpetrators, simply carried a message of hate. We can only imagine the horror of the farmer upon the discovery of a mutilated mare, or the helplessness as he watched his wheat rick burn to ashes. Moreover, following such an attack we can imagine his feelings of vulnerability and isolation. Incendiarism and...

  12. Conclusion: The rural poor in Herefordshire, c. 1800–60 – assertive criminals or silent victims?
    (pp. 201-205)

    As we have seen, the condition of the Herefordshire agricultural labourer during the first half of the nineteenth century was largely dependent upon the availability of employment, his wage rate and the price of basic provisions. To all intents and purposes these matters, although they affected his very livelihood, were outside his control. He was at the mercy of his employer’s prosperity, generosity and compassion. All too often he was paid barely enough to keep body and soul together, hired and fired at will and generally exploited. Essentially, then, he was a victim: a victim to the greed of employers,...

  13. Appendices
    (pp. 206-217)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 218-226)
  15. Index
    (pp. 227-230)