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Monday, September 22 2014 @ 01:13 PM CDT

Book Review – Dave Featherstone on Carl Griffin’s ‘The Rural War: Captain Swing and the Politics of Protest’

GriffinIn 1830 after destroying a threshing machine at Barham in Kent, the Elham gang shouted out to farmer Sankey to “get up and bring us some Beer for we have been to work damn hard” (p. 175). At Stockbridge, protestors demanded four sovereigns from a Reverend Cutlet as “remuneration for their day’s work”. These actions capture both the ‘audacity’ and claims to legitimacy of those known as Captain Swing, the popular, myth-inspiring name used by bands of agricultural labourers who roamed the English countryside in the 1830s smashing threshing machines and firing ricks of hay. By asserting that “forms of protesting were also ‘work’”, as Carl Griffin notes here, “Swing groups could claim moral legitimacy in their actions”.

Book Review – Dave Featherstone on Carl Griffin’s ‘The Rural War: Captain Swing and the Politics of Protest’

AntipodeFoundation.org

Here Dave Featherstone (School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow) reviews Carl Griffin’s The Rural War: Captain Swing and the Politics of Protest, which was published last year by Manchester University Press.

Dave’s fine review can be read here or below…

Carl J. Griffin, The Rural War: Captain Swing and the Politics of Protest, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-7190-8626-7 (cloth)

In 1830 after destroying a threshing machine at Barham in Kent, the Elham gang shouted out to farmer Sankey to “get up and bring us some Beer for we have been to work damn hard” (p. 175). At Stockbridge, protestors demanded four sovereigns from a Reverend Cutlet as “remuneration for their day’s work”. These actions capture both the ‘audacity’ and claims to legitimacy of those known as Captain Swing, the popular, myth-inspiring name used by bands of agricultural labourers who roamed the English countryside in the 1830s smashing threshing machines and firing ricks of hay. By asserting that “forms of protesting were also ‘work’”, as Carl Griffin notes here, “Swing groups could claim moral legitimacy in their actions”.

The Rural War is the first major monograph on the subject to be published since Captain Swing – Eric Hobsbawm and George Rudé’s (1973: xxi) study of what they termed “the most impressive episode in the English farm-labourers’ long and doomed struggle against poverty and degradation”. A classic of the ‘history from below’ tradition, it was often singled out in Hobsawm’s obituary notices and tributes as a particularly important achievement in his oeuvre. Writing in the shadows cast by such a work presents challenges which Griffin deals with in robust fashion. He confidently asserts that The Rural War not only ‘fills’ gaps he identifies in Hobsbawm and Rudé’s account but also “asks new questions of Swing’s archive” (p. 6).

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