The Ambridge Socialist Supplement: E.P Thompson & the moral economy of poaching

In Uncategorized on August 28, 2016 by kmflett

EP Thompson and poaching


EP Thompson’s Whigs and Hunters is a book primarily about the battle between Government and others, mostly well to do, over who had the right to hunt game, particularly deer, in Royal Forests. The book focused on the 1723 Black Act which made such activity a capital offence.

Thompson made clear however in the Making of the English Working Class that the idea of what was a crime under the criminal law and what the ‘freeborn Englishman’, essentially the working poor, believed to be a crime were rather different.

He noted that some matters officially regarded as crimes were ‘actively condoned by whole communities-coining, poaching, the evasion of taxes (the window tax and tithes) or excise or the press-gang’ (The Liberty Tree).

The priority of offences in rural areas was also indicated by Thompson, quoting  the Lib-Lab MP George Howell(1833-1910):

Methodism was a ‘shocking offence in those days in many villages, especially Dorset and other West Counties. Indeed, next to poaching, it was the gravest of all offences’.

For Thompson this fed into a wider moral economy. This was the principle that the poor should not be ground into the dust and into total poverty. Rather there were social obligations that the wealthy and those who made the law had to make sure that staples like bread were both available and at a reasonable price. These principles rested in common law and were from time to time enforced by magistrates.

Were the Grundy’s ever to appear in Court for poaching one hopes that an enlightened magistrate, having regard to history, would simply admonish them.

Link to the current issue of the Ambridge Socialist


3 Responses to “The Ambridge Socialist Supplement: E.P Thompson & the moral economy of poaching”

  1. If you had had the misfortune to be reared a Methodist you would be in favour of criminalising Methodism. Some Methodists used to drink Ribena instead of wine for Holy Communiion – what do you and your alcohol-loving mates think of that??

  2. Quite so. Thompson called Methodism psychic masturbation

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