FEATURE: Songs and pub crawl to commemorate Sudbury’s links to Peasants’ Revolt
Most of us have heard of the Peasants’ Revolt ... the rebellion against crippling taxes that ended with horrific bloodshed on both sides.
We probably know less about the key role our region played in the momentous events of June 1381.
But a group of enthusiasts is aiming to remedy that and persuade others to share their fascination.
They point out that although the revolt happened more than 600 years ago it changed the course of English history, marking the beginning of the end of the feudal system.
“We want to stimulate interest and debate,” says Eddie Bone who is spearheading the project.
The rebellion was led by Wat Tyler, who is believed to have been from Essex.
Thousands of men and women from Suffolk and Norfolk joined counterparts from Essex and Kent to march on London.
They hoped to reason with 14 year-old King Richard II but their protest descended into murderous chaos.
On June 15 the king agreed to meet them but Tyler was hacked down after allegedly spitting in front of the monarch.
The fatal blow was delivered by John Cavendish, from the Suffolk village of the same name.
He was the son of Sir John Cavendish, King Richard’s Chief Justice, who was killed after being pursued by rebels to Bury St Edmunds.
Another high profile casualty was John de Cambridge, prior of Bury abbey, who fled the town but was caught and beheaded on Cavenham Heath between Bury and Newmarket.
Meanwhile thousands of other rebels, tricked by the king into thinking they had been pardoned, were slaughtered in Billericay.
Eddie Bone, who moved to Suffolk last year, says calling it the Peasants’ Revolt is misleading because those involved included all kinds of tradespeople.
Some landowners also supported the protest. “It’s also more accurately known as the Great Rising,” he says.
“They were taxpayers, working people fed up with being taxed to the hilt and not prepared to endure it any longer.”
He and his fellow enthusiasts are planning a series of events to tell the story of the rising including street performances around the area.
Next week, they will spotlight Simon Theobald whose skull is preserved in Sudbury’s St Gregory’s Church.
The man known as Simon of Sudbury, whose head was chopped off by the rebels, was Archbishop of Canterbury but also Lord Chancellor of England.
In that role he imposed the final round of poll taxes that tipped the population into violent action.
The question is, was he a victim or a villain? That is what Eddie and friends want people to think about.
Eddie, a nurse at Colchester Hospital, has always been interested in history, was shown Simon’s skull soon after moving to Sudbury last year.
He approached St Gregory’s priest-in-charge the Rev Canon Cheryl Colins and suggested putting up a display in the church.
Eddie’s enthusiasm rubbed off on musician Jonny Day and artist Michelle Ranson – fellow regulars at the Brewery Tap in Sudbury,
Steve Sims, who owns the pub and Sudbury’s Mauldon’s Brewery, got involved by producing a commemorative ale called Bishop’s Head.
Canon Collins is also supporting the venture. She will speak at a debate at St Gregory’s on June 15 and has written a special prayer in remembrance of Simon.
But before that the story will be told in words and music at the Brewery Tap on Saturday April 21 at 7.30pm.
It will feature the debut performance of Jonny Day’s concept folk album The Great Rising.
Michelle, who also teaches art, has produced all the images for the events.
Other Sudbury pubs are joining in by displaying banners about the Peasants’ Revolt as part of a heritage pub crawl lasting until April 29.
When customers buy a drink each publican will stamp their entry forms which then go into a £100 prize draw.
Later on the banners are destined to go on exhibition at St Gregory’s.
A guided walk, which can be booked through Sudbury Tourist Office, takes place on the morning of April 21.
Artist Michelle has produced 16 images telling the story of the rising, following the style of old paintings.
She teaches at Bury’s Olive Academy for children who have difficulty learning in mainstream schools.
Musician, singer and songwriter Jonny, who grew up in Glemsford, hopes to make music his full-time career.
He became so absorbed in the project he gave up his bar job to concentrate on writing and recording his album.
“Making the album was challenging but fun,” says Jonny who plays numerous instruments including guitar and banjo.
Eddie says; “This area has a rich history that can be sung about and can stimulate people to think about fairness and equality.
“That’s something to celebrate and reflect on.”
Simon Theobald’s head was brought back to Sudbury but his body is buried in Canterbury. Despite his tax-raising role he was a benefactor and highly thought of in his home town and beyond.
Performances of Jonny’s music with narration are planned in towns including Bury, Haverhilll and Newmarket in the summer.
A crowd-funding page to raise £5,000 for the project is at www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/simonofsudbury