Barry Reay – The Last Rising of the Agricultural Labourers

Rural Life and Protest in Nineteenth-Century England


The Hernhill Rising of 1838 was the last battle fought on English soil, the last revolt against the New Poor Law, and England’s last millenarian rising. The bloody ‘Battle of Bosenden Wood’, fought in a corner of rural Kent, was the culmination of a revolt led by the self-styled ‘Sir William Courtenay’. It was also, despite the greater fame of the 1830 Swing Riots, the last rising of the agricultural labourers.

Barry Reay provides us with the first comprehensive and scholarly analysis of the abortive rising, its background, and its social context, based on intensive research, particularly in local archives. He presents a unique case-study of popular mobilization in nineteenth-century England, giving us a vivid portrait of the day-to-day existence of the farm labourer and the life of the hamlet. Dr. Reay explores the wider context of agrarian relations, rural reform, protest and control through the fascinating story of The Last Rising of the Agricultural Labourers.

List of Plates
List of Figures
List of Maps
List of Tables

1. Structures
2. Labouring Life
3. Conflict and Discontents

4. The Rising
5. Courtenay
6. The Rioters

7. Repercussions
8. Epilogue

9. Rural Life and Protest in Nineteenth-Century England

'a new and welcome departure in English rural historiography.', THES

'brilliantly adopts Cobb's advocacy of the micro-study to underpin a superb examination of the 1838 Battle of Bosenden Wood', Labour History Review

'It is hard to imagine a better book on the subject than this', TLS

'a genuine tour de force of anthropological history', Southern History

'It has taken an historian of the seventeenth century to break the mould. The result is an English Montaillou.', Rural History

'a superb book.… Reay's investigative strategies and his methodology provide a model from which any practitioner of social history or social science might learn much.', Labour History

'Let there be no mistake. This is an important work.', Journal of Peasant Studies

'A distinguished local study, The Last Rising is also far more than that. It shows how a close examination of one brief event may illuminate a long epoch of dissension.', History

'This is a gem of a study. The thoroughness of his approach and the rewards it brings reminds one most of E.P. Thompson's … Whigs and Hunters. It makes one wish more social historians would be heretical and move from their "period".', Economic History Review
Barry Reay holds the Keith Sinclair Chair in History at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He has published extensively in early modern and modern social and cultural history and is the author or editor of eleven books, including Microhistories: Demography, Society, and Culture in Rural England, 1800-1930 (1996), Popular Cultures in England, 1550-1750 (1998), and Rural Englands: Labouring Lives in the Nineteenth Century (2004).