On Sunday 12th November, the day after our Land Justice Network Leicester gathering, a group of us will be trespassing onto the lands of Boughton House, the location of the slaughter of 50 commoners, 410 years ago. We will take the train from Leicester to Kettering, one stop down on the London line, and walk into the grounds owned now by the Duke of Buccleugh, one of the largest retainers of private land in the UK, for a cheese-themed picnic, in honour of Captain Pouch and the commoners that lost their lives in the battle against enclosure.
If you are interested in staying overnight, and trespassing with us, please bring sleeping bags and roll mats to indoor camp at this address: Graceworks, Wycliffe URC, The Common, Evington, Leicester LE5 6EA. And for the walk, remember sturdy shoes and water, and some choice cheeses!
This picnic will be a gentle walk in the country, with no intention of public fanfare and confrontation with the landowners (perfectly feasible due to the acreage of the property). It will be a first foray into direct action, a nice little practice for what the group has planned next.
Also, please register your interest with Nick Hayes so he can tell you when and where to meet, firstname.lastname@example.org
Historical Context, or, why cheese?
Across the Midlands in 1607, large numbers of commoners were gathering to tear up the fence posts that had enclosed so much of their commons in recent years. 14 years earlier, the Tudor dynasty had relaxed the enclosure laws, and common land had been swallowed into private ownership, never to return.
In Kettering, Sir Thomas Tresham was the pantomime villain landlord, widely reviled. By 1597, he was grazing over six hundred sheep in the parish and had been prosecuted in the star chamber for this but to no avail, because a decade later, the whole parish was fenced off for sheep, with no lettings to commoners for their grazing needs. In 1599, he bought another swathe of land from his neighbouring cousin, also Thomas Tresham, which allowed him to destroy five more tenant farms, and enclose the land for his sheep. With poor harvests and a growing population served by ever diminishing commons, the Midlands was a hotbed of discontent, and in 1607, led by the mystic figure of Captain Pouch, peaceful protests of up to 5000 people occurred in Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, pulling up fences and routing hedgerows. Captain Pouch, aka John Reynolds, was the charismatic leader of this disorder, picking the sites of disorder strategically, to make the most political impact. A tinker by trade, uneducated, he carried with him a leather pouch in which he claimed was a special substance that gave him and his followers the protection of God and the Crown. By the time of the Newton Revolt, Reynolds was already in custody, and the 1000 locals that met in Rockingham Forest were leaderless, and this time armed, prepared to die for their beliefs.
James 1st commanded the Montagus, another wealthy family of the area, to suppress these people by whatever means necessary, They had trouble drumming up a militia from the local population, but when they did, they met the rebels on June 8th, 1607. After twice reading the royal proclamation commanding the people to disband, the troops charged on horseback, murdering 50 to 60 people, and injuring many more. Most of the survivors were pardoned, provided they signed their names on a list, now kept in Boughton House. Several of the ringleaders were hanged, and with them, John Reynolds, was hanged drawn and quartered. After his death, the contents of his pouch were revealed to be nothing more than a lump of locally made green cheese.
In some ways, the revolt was a success. Just two months after the uprising, King James ordered a royal inquiry into the state of enclosure, which lead to several landlords being prosecuted by the star chamber, and fined. However, none of the land was returned to common grazing, and these fines amounted to nothing more than a tax on enclosure for a paltry few of the landlords guilty of land grabbing. England was given its scapegoats, and the system of enclosure was, if anything, reinforced. The Tresham’s power faded into obscurity over the next century, whilst the Montagus thrived, Boughton Hall becoming, through marriage, the English seat of the Dukes of Buccleuch, one of the most prominent land owning dynasties of the UK.