Thursday, 11 January 2018

The Hanging of William Winterbourne

On 11 January 2018, Keith Jerrome and Ray Parkes, both of UNITE the Union, represented the Reading Trades Union Council at the annual gathering at the grave of William Winterbourne in St Mary's Churchyard, Kintbury.

Winterbourne was sentenced to death for his part in the 'Captain Swing Riots', a series of uprisings by agricultural workers in Berkshire and beyond against the increased use of threshing machines which was threatening the workers' livelihoods. The people of West Berkshire raised petitions of up to 15,000 signatures against the death sentences handed out to Winterbourne and his co-accused. Through representations to judges, the Home Secretary (Lord Melbourne) and the newly crowned King William IV, two of the accused were spared death, having their sentences commuted to transportation, but Winterbourne, referred to as the 'Captain', was hanged.

The Vicar of Kintbury, the Rev. Fulwar Fowle, was so affected by his visits to the prisoners that he brought back the body of  Winterbourne to St Mary's Church where he was buried in the name of his mother (Smith).

Kay Gough (MERL) and Rev. Mark Wilson (St Mary's)
at the grave of William Smith (aka Winterbourne)
Led by Kay Gough of the Museum of English Rural Life and the Rev. Mark Wilson of St Mary's, the commemoration of Winterbourne's judicial murder began at 12 noon, the time on 11 January 1831 when he was hanged on the walls of Reading Gaol. Other attendees included the MERL Players, trades unionists and Kintbury Villagers.

Following the event, gatherers took refreshments at the Dundas Arms, renamed from The Red Lion in favour of Charles Dundas MP who sat on the Judicial Commission that sentenced Winterbourne to death. Dundas had threshing machines from his own farm smashed in the name of 'Captain Swing' in November 1830.

This event was one in a series being organised or supported by 'Reading Labour 100', a joint initiative by the Reading Trades Union Council and Reading & District Labour Party to commemorate the establishment in 1918 of the 'Reading Trades Union Council and Labour Party' (now RDLP).