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Rage Against The Machine

Helen Castor and her guests look back to 1830 and the late 1940s and the historical forerunners of two of today's most pressing issues - housing and technological change.

Helen Castor and her guests take us back to moments in the past when social and economic change conspired to produce the historical forerunners of two of today's most pressing issues - technological change and housing.

Tom Holland visits a fruit-packing factory in Kent where, today, much of the work is done by robots. Their introduction hasn't threatened any jobs yet but, half an hour away, are the villages where, in 1830, rural farmworkers raged against new threshing machines they feared would take away much-needed work in the winter months. Professor Carl Griffin from the University of Sussex explains how the mythical Captain Swing shook the government of the day and terrified landowners in a series of machine-wrecking riots that swept South East England, Wiltshire and East Anglia.

Britain's housing issues have kick-started a boom in a type of home that came to the rescue in the dark days after World War Two, when prefabs offered accommodation for those who were bombed or living in slums. Thanks to a certain Swedish company, we all know about flat-packed furniture but, back in the late 1940s, it was Swedish flat-packed houses that were causing a stir. Architectural writer Jonathan Glancey gives us the low-down on a house that changed lives and is, in some places, still standing.

Producer: Nick Patrick
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

Available now

28 minutes

Helen Castor

Helen is in the chair for this edition of BBC Radio 4’s popular history magazine programme.

She’s joined by:

Professor Karen Sayer from Leeds Trinity University

Professor Ted Vallance from the University of Roehampton

Have the Romantics ruined our view of the countryside?

Professor Peter Robinson from the University of Reading discusses with Helen whether the poetry, prose and paintings of rural Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has left a false impression of what country living is like today.

Captain Swing

With the British fruit industry in Kent leading the field in using robots and so-called artificial intelligence to pack produce, Tom Holland heads to a village where in 1830 the arrival of new technology was met with violent protest which included arson and machine-breaking.

Tom meets the Historical Geographer Professor Carl Griffin in Elham near Canterbury.

BBC History

National Archives

British Agricultural History Society

Top Town History

Making History Listener Simon Parker is back again from the village of Linkinhorne in Cornwall and faces Ross Nelson from Egham in the Borough of Runnymede in Surrey.

To suggest a town or a story for our team to look into email

Swedish Prefabs

Architectural critic and historian Jonathan Glancey visits a small 1940’s housing development on the edge of the Suffolk village of Wickham Market to investigate a unique moment in British house-building: the arrival of timber-framed flat-pack housing from Sweden. Jonathan’s visit comes at the end of a national project led by The Prefab Museum to celebrate and record prefab buildings.

Preston in Hertfordshire

My 1940

Contact The Prefab Museum

Making History is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4