I grew up in Geddington, in the heart of lush green Northamptonshire. As a child, I heard the rumour that ‘something to do with levellers? had happened in the tiny village of Newton, just to the east.
For most of us, this remained hearsay, but John Padwick, a local man, has revealed far more of the story. In June, 400 years since the event, a group of villagers and a regiment of the Sealed Knot came together to commemorate what truly happened in June 1607, the Newton rebellion.
The Midlands Revolt was a peasants’ revolt against enclosure. Tresham, the local landowner in Newton, was enclosing more land than he had a right to, something that was happening across Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire: there had already been large scale protests. Led by the self styled Captain Pouch (actually a tinker called John Reynolds), a thousand congregated in Newton. But the ruthless landowners? militia killed 50 to 60 of them, and imprisoned many in the picturesque St Faith?s Church which now sits a little way out of the village.
I sat in a field in the village last Sunday afternoon with a (plastic) glass of ?Captain Pouch? beer brewed specially for the occasion by a local brewery as events of 400 years ago were played out on the wooden stage specially built for the event.
The Ouse Wash Molly Dancers worked with schoolchildren on some traditional dances, and had devised a new piece, the ?Many Headed Monster? representing displaced peasants forced to live in Rockingham forest. Molly Dancing (never make the error of suggesting it?s a kind of morris dancing!), is a local dance with disguised dancers – if they were not paid afterwards, they would plough up gardens and destroy property! The peasant uprising started around May Day, and the stamping feet and bright colours worn by the children set the scene.
As the peasants on stage showed their anger at being displaced and their fear of rogues and beggars in the forests, they started to believe that Captain Pouch could help them. The final denouement was made even more impressive, as the Sealed Knot mingled with the actors, and a militia of Sealed Knot musketeers shocked spectators by firing their muskets. As the white smoke billowed across the stage and the audience assembled in front, the sound of gunfire echoed off the surrounding cottages, Captain Pouch was killed (with lashings of bright blood, which pleased the watching children!).
The pageant ended with a sobering thought: no one knows exactly where the battle was fought, or where those killed were buried. And the list of those who had to apologise and swear obedience, contains many local surnames. The play brought it home that these were people fighting an injustice, and that their deaths were unjust ? in fact James I passed laws penalising landlords like Tresham.
Official records say 50 to 60 were killed, but it could well have been more. And it?s thanks to one local man?s passion that these deaths will not be forgotten. Any profits for the pageant will go to creating a memorial for those killed, and to mark the events in Newton. And I for one, won?t forget the Newton Rebels whenever I walk though that delightful rural landscape, so sleepy and quiet now after 400 years.