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Ludds On Tour #4: Onion-gate (Ipswich, 1816)

Part of Ludds on Tour, a series of blogs by Jack Dean looking at how the histories of towns where Jeremiah’s touring relate to the events of the show.

The South East saw plenty of machinery-smashing in the 1800s, albeit of different contraptions than in the North. The threshing machine, invented in 1786, removed the seeds of grain from the stalks and husks, a job formerly done by hand with flails. Their destruction would reach its peak in the Swing Riots of 1830, a kind of sequel to the Luddite Rebellion that had its own fictional leader (the excellently named “Captain Swing”) and similarly saw hundreds of machines destroyed, dozens of men hanged and thousands arrested. But the first rumblings of discontent could be felt decades earlier. On the 25thof February 1816, 8 men who had been arrested four days before for breaking threshing machines at Gosbeck were send to Ipswich Gaol (now the site of Great White Horse Hotel). An unhappy crowd assembled, and the Magistrate who would be presiding over their trial, and refused bail to all but two of them, was pelted with objects and forced to take cover inside until they dispersed . Or was he? According to Luddite Bicentenary:

“Accounts….differed between the Bury & Norwich Post and the more local paper, the Ipswich Journal, which differed principally over whether or not objects were thrown (The Bury & Norwich Post having the last word and insisting an onion was thrown, hitting one of the Magistrates)”.

I bet the 1810s equivalent of sandwich-boards read “SOLID PROOF OF ONION THROWN IN MAGISTRATE KERFUFFLE”. Local journalism hasn’t changed much, and I kind of love that.

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