‘By a Flash and a Scare’ by John E. Archer

 ‘By a Flash and a Scare’ by John E. Archer

 ‘By a Flash and a Scare’ Arson, Animal Maiming, and Poaching in East Anglia 1815-1870 by John E. Archer

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ing riots, Tolpuddle, and the New Poor Law riots have long attracted the attention of historians, but here John E. Archer focuses on the persistent war waged in the countryside during the 1800s, analysing the prevailing climate of unrest, discontent, and desperation.


In this detailed and scholarly study, based on intensive research among the local records of Norfolk and Suffolk, Dr Archer identifies and examines the three most serious crimes of protest in the countryside — arson, animal maiming and poaching. He shows how rural society in East Anglia was shaped by terror and oppression in equal measure. Social crime and covert protest were an integral part of the ordinary life of the rural poor. They did not protest infrequently, they protested all the time.

Incendiary attacks were repeatedly the meeting points for large displays of collective protest and celebration, were expressions of grievance, and marked a stage in the development of the rural war. Animal maiming was a retrospective individualistic response to some personal harm and was intended to show that the powerless were indeed capable of striking back. The majority of country people never accepted the game laws. No armies of keepers, no statute book of laws, no mantraps, and certainly no titled gentleman, could dissuade them from their belief that poaching was not a crime. These actions, along with anonymous and threatening letters, were the constant reminders and realities for the landed classes to remain on their guard.

‘By a Flash and a Scare’ dispels any lingering notions of a ‘green and pleasant land’, and makes an important contribution to our understanding of life in the nineteenth century countryside.

John E. Archer is an honorary research fellow at Edge Hill University. He has published widely on 19th century protest and crime. He is currently working on the history of violence in the north west of England.


“This must surely be the final nail in the coffin of romantic impressions of English rural history, and a sizzling nail it is, red-hot from the forge. …this extremely fine work will make uncomfortable reading for those historians who have tried to minimize social tension in the countryside.”
K.D.M. Snell, Times Higher Education Supplement

“The extent of Archer’s analysis is breath-taking; we learn in detail where, when and how arson occurred. He is a persuasive historian, and,…has an eye for the simple as well as complex explanation.”
David J.V. Jones, T.L.S.

“Archer dispels any nominal notion of rural bliss and proletarian acquiescence in Norfolk and Suffolk.”
Roger Wells



1. An Introduction to Rural Protest
The Categorization of Rural Crime
Crime in the Countryside
2. The Farm Labourer: Work and Wages
3. The Labouring Community and the Relief of Poverty: ‘A Class Which Has Something to Lose’
4. Incendiarism: Annual Survey 1815-1834
Incendiarism: A New Expression of Grievance
Annual Summary — 1815-1819
The 1820s
The Swing Years 1830-1833
5. Incendiarism: Annual Survey 1835-1870
1835-1841: The Introduction of the New Poor Law
The 1840s
The Mid-century Depression 1849-1852
The Era of High Farming 1853-1870
6. Incendiarism: An Analysis
The Location and Timing of Incendiary Attacks
Prices, Wages, and Unemployment
Mechanization and Incendiarism
Incendiarism and the Poor Laws
Incendiarism and Rural Crime
Victims of Incendiarism
Protection and Detection
Why Incendiarism?
7. The Myth and Reality of the Incendiary
The Myth
The Reality
8. Animal Maiming: ‘A Fiendish Outrage’?
9. The Poaching War: ‘The Great Attraction’
The Poacher
Policing and Detection
Protest and Poaching
10. Conclusion



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