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Until the end of the Napoleonic wars, price inflation stimulated farm production, and made farmers wary of committing themselves to high wages they might not be able to afford in less prosperous times. Worst of all, as a result of the misguided decision of magistrates at Speenhamland in Berkshire, it became customary when harvests were poor and wages fell below subsistence level (because of the high price of bread, or the number of children in a family) to subsidise them out of local rates. Authorities elsewhere followed suit, and a "bread and children" scale became almost universal, though never law. Thus the distinction between workers and paupers vanished. In Stalbridge, for example, it became customary for house rent of a large section of the parish's population to be paid from the rates.
When Volunteer and Militia service ended about 1809, and up to 250,000 soldiers and sailors were demobilized in 1815, they swamped the labour market. Farmers cut their demands for labour still further as parish rates rose to pay for poor relief. Threshing once lasted through November-January, and could take a quarter of labour requirements on an arable farm. Use of machines, introduced during the war years, increased even in post-war agricultural depression (though not all farmers were keen on them).They threatened to make a labourer dependent on relief at hardest time of year, and became a symbol of his misery.
But lack of political rights put effective action out of his reach. He could only resort to crime (theft, poaching, smuggling), or blackmail (incendiarism, machine-breaking) to force farmers to pay more. A new Act in 1816 made even suspected poachers liable to transportation. Despite this, cases at Dorchester Quarter Sessions of poaching and related offences (like attacks on gamekeepers) rose sharply.
But between 1820 and 1830, per capita expenditure on the poor was actually reduced by almost one-quarter, e.g. by substituting for money a dole of bread. Significantly, crime increased further (except after a good harvest, like that of 1827/28).
The next harvest was poor, though the winter was mild. The one in 1829 was worse, and very late. In Spring 1830, the weather promised rather better, and was reported to be "most propitious to all growing crops". Labourers at Hazelbury Bryan chose this moment to ask for an advance of wages and - surprisingly - got it.
Accession of a new King, William IV, was welcomed. The more so, because some country folk believed he wanted threshing machines to be destroyed and labourers to have 2s. a day. The tense situation was aggravated by news in July of revolutions in France and Belgium. They may have influenced voters in a general election in England, which replaced a 20-year-old Tory government by Whigs who promised reform. King Charles X of France, forced to abdicate, landed at Weymouth, but was scared by the crowd that met him as he went ashore, and hastened to take refuge with his fellow Catholics, the Weld family of Lulworth Castle.
In early June, riots had begun in Kent, with firing of ricks, barns and houses, and then moved into Surrey and Sussex. The 1st threshing machine was destroyed near Canterbury on 28 August - in Dorset, this was at first regarded as a joke. Later on, some farmers destroyed their own machines.
The movement's momentum increased as the harvest got under way. But it was not until 18th November that it entered Hampshire from West Sussex, From then on, the pace was rapid, and rioting spread to Wiltshire the next day. In both counties, it lasted little more than a week, but by then 300 or more prisoners awaited trial in each of them. There was less arson than elsewhere, but more machine-breaking: as well as threshing machines other agricultural machinery, and also industrial machinery, was now being broken.