An unfortunate Swing protester is caught by chance


In December 1830 a man was brought to the bar at Marlborough Street Police Office (as it was termed then) charged with being the ringleader of a gang of rioters.

Riot was a capital offence until the late 1830s (when almost all of the so-called ‘bloody code’ was dismantled leaving just murder, high treason, piracy and arson in a Royal dockyard punishable by death by 1861). Riot was however, fairly commonplace in the long eighteenth century and well into the 1800s.

Rioters protested about food (wheat) prices, the enclosure of common land, the erection of turnpike tolls, the press gang, as well as specific incidents and actions of the authorities or people the ‘community’ did not approve of.

The man at the Marlborough Street court was William Cheater, described as having ‘an athletic appearance’ and he was accused of orchestrating a riot in Wiltshire. Apparently there had been several such incidents in that county in 1830 and Cheater was accused of causing damage to the home and property of his employer, Sir Charles Hulse of Bremoire (Breamore) House.

Cheater and a group of men had ‘entirely demolished all [Hulse’s] machinery about his farm’ and then absconded with a bounty of 50 guineas on his head.

Cheater came up to London where he must have hoped he could disappear among the crowds but he had a stroke of very bad luck. One day he was standing on a London street which happened (not to his knowledge) to be opposite the town house of his master. One of Sir Charles’ servants came out of the house and recognized Cheater.

This man then attempted a ruse: he sent another man across to Cheater who invited him for a drink   in a local pub (the White Horse) while in the meantime a messenger was sent to the police station in St James to fetch an officer. This must have been one of the very first ‘Peelers’ as the Metropolitan Police Act (1829) had only become law late the previous year.

The rioter was arrested and later made his appearance at Marlborough Street. There the magistrate was handed a letter from Sir Charles Hulse requesting that the prisoner be conveyed to Wiltshire where he could face trial. The prisoner denied he was responsible for the attack on his master’s farm but it emerged that the authorities in Wiltshire wanted him for organizing several other riots as well.

He was remanded overnight to be dispatched to the country in the morning, where he would face a trial by jury and almost certain death or banishment to Australia.

William Cheater was probably part of a widespread protest movement that affected Wilsthire (and several other English counties) in 1830. Reaction to the Salisbury Swing riots led to hundreds being executed and many others being transported as the authorities clamped down on small famers and agricultural workers who rioted and engaged in covert activities to protest about changes to their working conditions and the effect on their livelihoods.

Swing was a protest against the introduction of labour saving machinery (such as the threshing machine) to agriculture which made it easier for large farmers to dispense with labourers and pay those that remained less. The problems of the rural poor were famously highlighted by William Cobbet in his Rural Rides (1822-6) and the post ‘Swing’ world saw many agricultural workers leave the countryside and migrate to the growing towns and cities, never to return.

[from The Morning Post , Thursday, December 09, 1830]

One thought on “An unfortunate Swing protester is caught by chance

  1. Particularly liked this story, since the background to it contained such a lot of detail. There’s definitely a whole story about this man, and why he did what he did, his likely punishment (transportation), and how many others would have been similarly affected. Thank you.


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