Gloucestershire and the Peasants’ Revolt

Walking between Climperwell and Caudle Green,
You walk through prehistory
As well as the spring-source of the River Frome;
And then at Grid reference SO 928117,
Latitude 51.80389980, Longitude -2.10581700
(400m metres south-west of Groveridge House,
Near Brimpsfield),
You pass an old Roman site,
On top of which stood a deserted medieval village,
Through which drivers now speed on their oblivious way;
But to the east of the road lies most of the settlement,
Earthworks about half a metre in height.

Excavations have found stone walls and rubble;
Field walking found 12th-13th century medieval pottery
(As well as Roman materials);
A holloway ran parallel to today’s road
(Containing tofts – building and croft platforms),
Other trackways, field patterns, lynchets,
And enclosures can be descried
With earthworks to the east indicating a sheepcote.

The field evidence is obvious,
But the documentary evidence is more of toponymy:
The fields are first named Manless Town as late as 1622;
The area has also been named Haywick; Munley Towne;
Old Mondley; Longlorn Town and Keywich –
No taxation records have been found.

A century later we have this survey’s definition:
‘A patch of Plumb Hey within the ruins of Old Mondley formerly a Market Town and a Roman Station was Sacked
and Burnt in the Wars of King John’;

Samuel Rudder called it a hamlet in 1779 –
‘If a place can be called so with no house in it’;
He wrote of ‘Haywick’ as the original name,
With a weekly market
‘Until all men were killed in the reign of Edward the Third,
And all the women and children departed,
Since when it became known as Manless Town’;

Another survey toward the end of the 18th century
(A ‘Survey of Lands in Brimpsfield’)
Speaks of ‘Longlorn Town, which was destroyed in the reign of King John, then and still traces of Foundations to be seen and it has since that time been called Manless Town’;

More prosaically, but just as tellingly, we can wonder
Whether the overlaying sheepcote on the eastern side
Might not indicate the turfing out of the peasantry,
And a manorial switch from arable to pastoral farming:
Sheep and the lucrative medieval wool trade.

But if we wander up here in a winter dusk,
Perhaps we might hear the voices of the peasantry,
And follow in their footsteps,
To what was once a hamlet of houses, gardens, yards,
And ditches, with ridge and furrowed open fields,
And quarries, enclosures, streets, paddocks,
And footpaths to Brimpsfield Church,
And Sir John Giffard’s Brimpsfield Castle –
A testament to King Edward the Second’s order that
‘Not one stone should henceforth stand upon the other’,
After Sir John dared to rebel.

Did the locals care?

Pasture and turbary,
Estovers and piscary;
Pannage and housebote,
Shack and ploughbote.

     ‘It is the custom in England … for the nobility to have great power over the common people, who are serfs. This means that they are bound by law and custom to plough the field of their masters, harvest the corn, gather it into barns, and thrash and winnow the grain; they must also mow and carry home the hay, cut and collect wood, and perform all manner of tasks of this kind.’

     ‘Let the reeve be all the time with the serfs in the lord’s fields … because serfs neglect their work and it is necessary to guard against their fraud … the reeve must oversee all work … if the serfs do not work well, let them be punished.’

     ‘What sayest thou, ploughman?
How do you do your work?’

     ‘Oh, my lord, I work very hard; I go out at dawn, driving the cattle to the field and I yoke them to the plow. Nor is the weather so bad in winter that I dare to stay at home for fear of my lord: but when the oxen are yoked, and the ploughshare and coulter attached to the plough, I must plough one whole field a day, or more.’

     ‘Have you any assistant?’

     ‘I have a boy to drive the oxen with a goad, and he too is hoarse with cold and shouting.’

     ‘What more do you in a day?’

     ‘Certainly, I do more. I must fill the manger of the oxen with hay, and water them and carry out the dung.’

     ‘Indeed. That is a great labour.’

     ‘Even so. It is a great labour, for I am not free.’

     I’d like to think the village became deserted because everyone got so fed up that they marched off to join the Peasants’ Revolt …

     ‘The rebels petitioned the king that all preserves of water, parks, and woods should be made common to all: so that throughout the kingdom the poor as well as the rich should be free to take game in water, fish ponds, woods and forests as well as to hunt hares in the fields – and to do these and many other things without impediment.’

“The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.”

     ‘You wretches, detestable on land and sea; you who seek equality with lords are unworthy to live. Give this message to your colleagues. Rustics you were and rustics you are still: you will remain in bondage not as before but incomparably harsher. For as long as we live we will strive to suppress you , and your misery will be an example in the eyes of posterity . However, we will spare your lives if you remain faithful. Choose now which you want to follow.’

Let’s imagine that this deserted medieval village near Brimpsfield was home to a community of Lollards (the word possibly comes from an old Dutch word meaning “to mutter”). Lollards rejected papal authority and various beliefs about the sacraments, transubstantiation, confession and the elevation of saints. They also placed an emphasis upon preaching rather than liturgy; they objected to the wealth and what they saw as the greed of the Church. The Lollards emphasised the importance of individual interpretation of scripture rather than priestly ceremony: this had radical freethinking implications.
Archbishop Courtenay of Canterbury (who succeeded Archbishop Sudbury, murdered in the Peasants’ Revolt) decided to extirpate this movement by banishing followers of John Wycliffe or forcing them to recant. The movement was linked in the eyes of many to the Peasants’ Revolt: hence its persecution.
It was strongest in the west of England and the heresy continued here, as it were, underground. Professor Christopher Hill saw a direct link between the Lollards and William Tyndale over a century later. He argued that the cloth trade with its links with London and the continent helped foster the spread of heterodox opinions. Gloucestershire was unusual, he said, for its Lollard survival; it was a key county in the continuity of belief stretching from the Middle Ages to the Tudor Reformation. The Wycliffite innovation of translating parts of the Bible into the vernacular would reach its destiny through this county.
Wouldn’t it be nice to imagine a link between this Gloucestershire radicalism of the fourteenth century and the Diggers of Slimbridge in the seventeenth century?
There’s no point in fetishising documentary evidence: imagine and re-create with guerilla memorialisation.


Truth is stranger than …
First time as tragedy, second time …

The day after posting the above, it was stated that the reason why the heir to the throne did not attend his mother’s birthday celebrations in London was because he was attending a village fete at …. Brimpsfield.