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Memorial to Anne Tree, Thomas Dungate and John Foreman

Memorial to Anne Tree, Thomas Dungate and John Foreman

This is a guest post from Robert Warwick who has written about an event that happened in his home town in Tudor times. We are delighted to have this post – partly because we have covered Catholic persecution quite often but as yet haven’t really said much about the dreadful religious persecutions that took place under the catholic rule of Queen Mary – hopefully this post will do a bit to redress the balance.

Anne Tree, Thomas Dungate and John Foreman

On 18th July 1556 three people were burned to death in the small Sussex town of East Grinstead, between London and Brighton on the South Coast of the UK.  Their names were Anne Tree, Thomas Dungate and John Foreman.  To some they were witches, to others heretics, to many – martyrs for carrying their protestant beliefs to their deaths. Ordinary people caught up in the struggle between the protestant and catholic churches after the death of Henry VIII.

St Swithuns, East Grinstead

St Swithuns, East Grinstead

Remembered to this day

The five years of the reign of Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary, from 1553 saw countless deaths, but even today these three martyrs are remembered by many who live in East Grinstead. In the churchyard of St Swithun’s, on the High Street, there are three slabs to commemorate them.  Even today it is not at all uncommon to see small posies of flowers laid underneath their inscribed names.  The actual resting place for their ashes remain unknown, but many think that they are somewhere in the graveyard, yards away from their memorial.  Just a few years ago over one hundred people turned up at a ceremony to commemorate the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of their death.  The three of them were each tied to a stake and burned alive a few paces over the road from the church just outside the gentleman’s and lady’s outfitters, Broadley Brothers, a shop that has remained almost completely unchanged for the forty years or so I have known it.

East Grinstead High Street - today it is hard to imagine the horror that took place here

East Grinstead High Street - today it is hard to imagine the horror that took place here in 1556

East Grinstead

Today East Grinstead is the home for 24,000 or so people, many of whom have a daily commute into London.  In Tudor times things were very different.  The population of the town itself was about 300, comprising of a windmill, slaughter house, a currying house for dressing leather and a blacksmith’s forge.  Politically there were forty eight houses (or burgages) that were eligible to vote for the town’s two Members of Parliament.

Travelling in Sussex was a hazardous business, with poor roads and the constant threat of robbery.  East Grinstead was a convenient stopping off point for travellers and was a favoured location for Assizes for those judges that were too timid to venture further south.  The picture this paints is of a vibrant close knit community, small by today’s standards and certainly not immune to the political and religious upheavals of the day.  They were not the only ones to suffer.

St Swithuns churchyard - memorial stones are in the foreground

St Swithun's churchyard - memorial stones are in the foreground

Executed for heresy

In the same year Thomas Hoath, a priest was also accused of heresy and executed at the hand of the state.  John Smyth was excommunicated, his fate unknown.  But it is the story of these three ordinary people, killed in extra-ordinary times, that still manages to capture the imagination of East Grinstead townsfolk.

Although I live within a five minute walk of where the martyrs died I find it almost impossible to compare my life, and the town where I have lived most of my life, with that of the martyrs and others who lived here at the time of Mary’s reign.

All pictures by Rob Warwick

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