The Swing Riots were an agricultural phenomenon. Following years of war, high taxes and low wages, farm laborers finally snapped in 1830. These farm laborers had faced unemployment for a number of years due to the widespread introduction of the threshing machine and the policy of enclosing fields. No longer were thousands of men needed to tend the crops, a few would suffice. With fewer jobs, lower wages and no prospects of things improving for these workers the threshing machine was the final straw, the object that was to place them on the brink of starvation. The Swing Rioters smashed the threshing machines and threatened farmers who had them.

The Swing Riots were a widespread uprising by agricultural workers; it began with the destruction of threshing machines in the Elham Valley area of East Kent in the summer of 1830, and by early December had spread throughout the whole of southern England and East Anglia.

As well as the attacks on the popularly hated, labour-displacing, threshing machines the protesters reinforced their demands with wage and tithe riots and by the destruction of objects of perceived oppression, such as workhouses and tithe barns, and also with the more surreptitious rick-burning, and cattle-maiming.The first threshing machine was destroyed on Saturday night, 28 August 1830, and by the third week of October more than 100 threshing machines had been destroyed in East Kent.