Riot and Assembly
The Waterloo Ironworks was begun when poor people in farming areas were finding life very hard, and the rich were afraid of a revolution as in France. Population was growing, but people were leaving the countryside to work in towns. Age-old methods of farming were changed. Small fields were consolidated into larger ones, then fenced or hedged. This was 'enclosure'. The war with Napoleon made imports difficult, and so food prices were pushed upwards so that by 1812 grain cost nearly three times as much as in the 1790's. The rural poor were forced from subsistence into desperate poverty.
Farmers got rich, but didn't increase the wages of their labourers. When the war ended in 1815 grain prices fell. However, to safeguaurd their profits, farmers cut labourers' wages and introduced mechanisation. The government also passed laws to limit cereal imports to keep prices as high. Farm labourers had to continue to claim relief under the Poor Law, and even that could be taken away from them. In 1830, around Andover, the bread allowance per man was just half what they were entitled to in 1795.
In this situation rioting was bound to erupt. Its main target was the farm machinery that seemed to be robbing the labourers of work - most hated of all being the new threshing-machines. But innocent parties were attacked too, and the punishment that the law would mete out was to be worse than the rioters expected.
On 20 November 1830 at about 4 o'clock a mob of around 300 men came into the Waterloo Ironworks. They tore down walls and part of the roof, smashed windows, destroyed some half-made ploughs and damaged the foundry crane and waterwheel.
The attack was a pointless and random episode in a wave of agricultural riots which began in Kent known as the 'Swing' riots after 'Captain Swing' - an invented name put to letters demanding better pay and conditions for farmworkers.
John Howell, the Taskers' foreman, was there when the rioters arrived, and tried to stop them. Robert Tasker himself was somewhere nearby. According to one account he was hiding in the timber yard. When the rioters came to be tried, though, he was able to say 'I did not speak to them, nor was I near enough to identify the parties'.
30 men were arrested by Special Constables and 14 were later charged. After a month in Winchester prison, the accused appeared before a government-appointed Special Commission with powers to sentence them to hang or be transported. Four of those charged with 'riot and tumultuous assembly' at Taskers were acquitted. The other ten were sentenced to death. For nine of them this was immediately commuted to transportation for life to Australia. The authorities wanted one, John Gillmore to die, but he too was eventually transported. Two Hampshire men were hanged, however, in connection with other Swing riots, and to add to the misery of all the other convicted men they were made to watch their executions.
The Angel Inn, Andover, where the Swing rioters gathered