Rural discontent in Derbyshire, 1830-1850
Social protest, especially in agricultural regions, has occupied and caused considerable debate among, historians for many years. This thesis seeks to add to this debate, by looking at various forms of protest in Derbyshire between 1830 and 1850. This thesis examines three aspects of criminal activity: poaching, arson and animal maiming. It contends that none of these crimes can simply be categorised as acts of protest. In conjunction with an investigation of these three crimes, acts of protest such as strikes and episodes of reluctance to conform are also discussed. It argues that the motives behind various criminal activities and anti-authority behaviour were varied and complex. Arson and animal maiming were rarely co-ordinated, mostly they were individual attacks. However, on a few occasions both arson and animal maiming were directed against certain people. In the instances of poaching, there were more proven cases of gang participation than in either arson or animal maiming, with groups of men raiding game preserves. However, the great majority of raids were individual undertakings. What is more, poaching was carried out on a greater scale throughout the county than either arson or animal maiming. This thesis seeks to put these activities into the context of economic and social change in Derbyshire between 1830 and 1850. It maintains that there was a breaking down of the old social order. The composition of the ruling classes was changing with the relative growth of industry. In consequence, the responses of the authorities to social protest were changing. There was an increasing reluctance to offer aid to those less fortunate during times of need. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 was gradually applied. If more slowly, efforts were made to improve policing. By 1850, though discontent was still evident, there was less resort to traditional forms of social protest.