In Highworth the riots broke out on the 24th November 1830. A mob of about 40 to 50 gathered at Highworth workhouse, where they broke windows and took the parish waggon. Moving on from there they went to the farms of Mr George Moore Edwards, Mr Thomas Smith of Common Farm, and Mr Wyld, the magistrate, breaking machines as they went. The same mob was at Maggot's Mill where a thrashing machine was broken. At about nine o'clock they arrived at the farm of Mr. William Henry Richards moving at around midnight to the farm of Mr. William Smith at Highworth where they broke more machines.
The following day, Thursday, 25th November, 1830 early in the morning, Lieutenant Cally, at the head of the Swindon troop, marched into Highworth. Around midday nearly 200 farmers, on horseback, also arrived at Highworth. They were headed by the magistrates Mr.Thomas Cally and Mr. H. N. Goddard. Mr Cally read the Riot Act and then the whole body of horsemen proceeded to Hannington, Cricklade, Stratton and Sevenhampton where there had been disturbances. They succeeded in taking many of the ringleaders of the various mobs that had been active in the area. The prisoners were escorted to Swindon where they were fully committed by the Magistrates.
Some of those indicted got off completely or had only short sentences of around a year but the following Highworthians were transported to New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land:
William Legg aged 28 farm labourer, sailed on the Eleanor in February 1831 for New South Wales.
The Eliza sailed in February 1831 for Van Dieman's Land (modern Tasmania) carrying George Ball aged 23 ploughman, Robert Barrett aged 26 groom and kitchen gardener, Joseph Edgington aged 38, William Kibblewhite aged 20 ploughman, and Robert Willoughby aged 28 carpenter and joiner.
The Proteus sailed in April 1831 for Van Dieman's Land carrying John Legg aged 18, ploughman, Thomas Legg aged 21 farm labourer and butcher, and Jeremiah New aged 16, farm labourer. Poor Jeremiah was to die only seven weeks after his arrival.
The high unemployment led to a drift away from the land towards the industrial towns. Emigration from Highworth occurred, some going only as far as Swindon but others moved as far afield as America, Canada and Australia, many of the poor being encouraged to migrate to the United States, their expenses during 1830-34 being paid for out of the Poor Rate. At its peak up to a hundred people left the town every year.
At the time of the first census taken in 1801 Highworth was the most important township in north-east Wiltshire with a population of 2000, larger than Swindon, Wootton Bassett or Cricklade. In common with the rest of England the population continued to grow, peaking at 4000 in 1841. The opening of the Wilts and Berks Canal, which by-passed Highworth, in 1810, and the advent of the Great Western Railway works at Swindon in 1843, leading to the growth of the town in the 19th century, contributed to Highworth ' s decline.
A slight upturn in the economy took place with the opening of the Oriental Fibre Mat and Matting Company in the early 1870's and the arrival of the branch railway in 1883. However, the population continued to fall and by the 1920's stood at around 2000.
Expansion in the form of council housing began in the 1920's. Planned housing expansion on the north and east side of Highworth from the 1960's on has meant that the town has grown tenfold and its population has doubled since 1960 to 8,347.
It was during the development of the Biddel Springs housing estate that the town lost its healing well, famous for its curative properties for eyes and sprains. The wall which once contained the well is thought to have been of Roman origin. Now the only remaining evidence is a manhole cover and street sign reading Biddel Springs 1-11.
The area around Highworth was of great importance in the training of members of the British resistance movement during the second World War. Known as the Auxiliary Units, some thousands of male civilians, more than a hundred army officers and six hundred other ranks were to train at nearby Coleshill House. Hannington Hall became the first Headquarters of the female Auxiliary Units 'Special Duties Section - the 'Secret Sweeties'. They all reported to the Highworth Post Office, then located at No. 23 High Street, where they were met by Mrs Stranks, the postmistress, who telephoned through for a car to collect them. It must have been one of the best-kept secrets of the war as no one in Highworth or the surrounding area, at the time, knew of the use to which Coleshill House and Hannington Hall were being put.
Highworth centre retains its great historical attraction. The houses are mostly built of stone from local quarries with a sprinkling of elegant Georgian brick properties all centred around the church. John Betjeman, the one time poet laureate, wrote that 'Highworth is extraordinary because it has more beautiful buildings than ugly ones', and 'I have never seen Highworth given due praise in guide books for what it is one of the most charming and unassuming country towns in the west of England', a description which we cannot better today.
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