While the landscapes of large parts of rural England had changed markedly since 1700, the protest landscape in many ways remained little changed by 1851. The major forms of protest deployed by rural workers in the early years of Victoria’s reign would have been familiar to those who tilled the land and worked in rural industries in the final years of William III: the making of threats; riotous assembly; incendiarism; maiming; and the destruction of property. Indeed, the three major agrarian rebellions of the early nineteenth century were arguably the most widespread resort to riot the countryside had witnessed since the Civil War. It can even be asserted, albeit with less conviction, that the ‘new’ forms of protest that rural workers were deploying with increasing confidence from the 1830s — specifically radical politics and trades unionism — were already present in the protest canon of 1700. Persistences, underpinned by the defence of custom, the potency and transmission through time of popular cultural forms, and the fundamentally unchanging nature of grievances, were profound.
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Carl J. Griffin
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