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 Downton Parish
 1831-1835
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The Dirty Thirties

In the mid 1830's Wiltshire was in the grip of a severe economic depression that was worse than the one to come 100 years later.
50 to 100 parish men were permanently out of work.
Crops were poor from 1828-1830. In 1830, riots swept Southeast England. Labourers protested the introduction of new threshing machines, which jeopardized their livelihood. They fired ricks, smashed the machines and sent threatening letters to farmers. They invented a Captain Swing as their leader, and he became a figure of fear to the landed gentry.
On 21st of November 1830 riots started in Wiltshire. Along with many other farms in the county, machines in Downton, Whiteparish and West Dean were destroyed. The harsh government response saw 153 men tried and deported to Australia. Their protests crushed, the remaining labourers were thoroughly demoralized.
In 1835, Samuel Payne, Assistant overseer of Downton Parish describes the parish labourers thus:

    'Prior to the winter of 1831 the superfluous labourers of this Parish were generally employed on the Roads or in the Gravel Pits in congregated masses of from 50 to 100, the few industrious Labourers being thus brought into contact with the indolent, dishonest and profligate, the former soon assumed the character of the latter, and theft rioting drunkenness became the result, passers by accosted with the most obscene language, and their general behaviour was of the most violent and daring description.
    In consequence of which the Churchwardens & overseers finding it absolutely impossible to conduct Parochial affairs under such circumstances´┐Ż'

In response, the parish decided to put labourers to work for individual tax payers during the times of the year when they were unemployed, and pay their wages out of taxes.

1832 -Cholera struck the parish.
1833 -from January 27 to May 18, sixteen children died. Paupers were put to work on the roads. 3911 pounds paid in poor relief.
1834 -3243 pounds paid in poor relief.
1835 -3771 pounds paid in poor relief.

To parish officials, it began to look as if no end was in sight. Something had to be done.