Since the publication of Hobsbawm and Rudé's Captain Swing our understanding of the role(s) of covert protests in Hanoverian rural England has advanced considerably. Whilst we now know much about the dramatic practices of incendiarism and animal maiming and the voices of resistance in seemingly straightforward acquisitive acts, one major gap remains. Despite the fact that almost thirty years have passed since E. P. Thompson brought to our attention that under the notorious ‘Black Act’ the malicious cutting of trees was a capital offence, no subsequent research has been published. This paper seeks to address this major lacuna by systematically analysing the practices and patterns of malicious attacks on plants (‘plant maiming’) in the context of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century southern England. It is shown that not only did plant maiming take many different forms, attacking every conceivable type of flora, but also that it was universally understood and practised. In some communities plant maiming was the protestors' weapon of choice. As a social practice it therefore embodied wider community beliefs regarding the defence of plebeian livelihoods and identities.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Urban Studies