The Luddites and the Swing Riots, 1812-1832.

In the early nineteenth century, the relationship between skilled workers and factory and machinery owners was very strained. During and after Britain’s wars with Napoleonic France, there were many attacks on machines by a group of skilled workers called the Luddites. They were skilled workers protesting the labor economizing technology because it threatened their position in the factory. In their view, it would lead to the loss of their jobs and the hiring of less skilled workers to operate this new machinery. They posed an internal danger to Britain after the war in 1812, and they would attack machines and machinery owners, and such hosiery centers in Derby, Leicester and Nottingham.

The Swing Riots, occurring in 1830-1832, grew out of the ongoing unrest and struggle between workers and owners over wages and working hours. This unrest lead to riots in the south and east of Britain, in places such as Bedfordshire, Flitwick and Maulden, which resulted in incendiarism, machine breaking, wage riots, assaults and threatening letters.

These two displays of unrest in Britain were significant because they lead to movements of reform in British politics. As a result of the Luddites, the government may have responded with military force and draconian laws, but it was the beginning of demands for reform in Britain. As for the Swing Riots, better bargaining positions were gained for workers, and the Swing riots are viewed as the final straw in removing the old Poor laws and the ushering in of the new Poor laws.


Williams, Samantha. Poverty, Gender and Life-Cycle Under the English Poor Law 1760-1834. The Royal Historical Society: The Boydell Press, 2011. 98-100.

Brundage, Anthony. The English Poor Laws, 1700-1930. New York: Palgrave Press, 2002. 44-45.