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From On the Fiddle 16 (Levellers Fan Club magazine)

 

On Saturday 15th May of this year hundreds of people descended on the sleepy Oxfordshire town of Burford. Some came in Seventeenth century costume, some riding bizarre creations in sea-green papermache, some were old communists, most at least old Labour, Anarchists or Greens. Children from the Woodcraft folk mingled with Jugglers, Musicians, Politicians and the odd Vicar. They had all gathered to celebrate Levellers Day.

This was the 350th Anniversary of the execution of the three Leveller soldiers who were shot as an example to the 340 who had rebelled and taken part in the famous mutiny during the Civil War. Oliver Cromwell had them all imprisoned in Burford Church overnight and carried out his brutal sentence the following morning. Cornet Thompson, Corporal Church and Private Perkins were martyrs who died wanting a new democracy, a truly representative and accountable Parliament and even more fundamental perhaps was their demand for the payment of arrears in wages. They refused to continue on their way to fight in Ireland.

The three executed Levellers are buried, unmarked, at Burford Church and it is in the adjoining church garden that we all came to hear the speakers of the day. These were: Eithne MacNulty who is a member of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, Maike Mansfield QC and Tony Benn MP. After some gloriously impassioned, intelligent and witty speeches it was soon time for me to dig out the old Freeborn John song and sing to the throng. I was joined by Justin Sullivan from New Model Army and Bradford and Messieurs. Chadwick and Friend combined with myself and the guitarist Martin Pannett to produce a wonderfully shambolic version of Burford Stomp.

As the sun slid behind the church for a well earned rest we handed over the torch to Velvet Fist the Women's acappella group from North London. They are a very musical and powerful set of singers and were appearing for their second consecutive year. We loved them.

This crowded walled garden is as pleasant a place to spend a Saturday afternoon in England as has been created. This was also the 25th anniversary of the Levellers Day celebrations themselves and if anyone should find themselves wondering why hundreds come to remember a part of English history not even taught in schools, it is perhaps that the Levellers ideas are still relevant today. Much is clearly unresolved in Northern Ireland, whilst across Britain the Home Secretary is out to remove the right of an accused person to be tried by a jury of their peers and as Tony Benn pointed out, the Prime Minister wages war in Kosovo and Serbia by Royal Prerogative he need not consult a Parliament at all.

Politics aside, whatever people's reasons for attending Levellers Day (and each year the attendance is increasing) the feeling is not one of indignant outrage but of being amongst friends, some of whom died 350 years ago.

If you are interested in helping to organise future Levellers Day at Burford you can e-mail: levellers@Btinternet.com

 

 
1998-2004 Stefanie Fröhlke
Last update 20 Jul 1999