In this, the final instalment of this 10-month Olympic Borough Folk Olympics tour, Ruairidh Anderson visits Newham to explore the tale of the Stratford Martyrs.
“Today, speaking out against the church can bring the reward of a bestselling book and a series on the BBC, but in the 1500s the work of Richard Dawkins would have been met with more than just a warm reception”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘For Sweetest Lord’.
The Stratford Martyrs
On the 27th of July 2012, thousands descended upon the Borough of Newham to watch a flame ignite the hopes and dreams of Olympic athletes from all over the globe. But it wasn’t that long ago that thousands of people also came to this very Borough to watch a flame have a very different kind of affect.
In June 1556, eleven men and two women had their summer plans rather rudely interrupted by being burnt to death in Stratford. Had they plotted treason? Committed mass murder or had a kind word to say about the Scottish? No. Their crimes were much worse. Failure to attend church, despising the Catholic ceremony and speaking out against the Catholic Mass. Of course today you’d get a best selling book and a series on the BBC, but in those days the work of Richard Dawkins would have been given much more than just a warm reception.
Bloody Mary was on the throne and on top of her to do list was the execution of anyone found guilty of heresy. These Stratford martyrs was split into two groups and offered the chance to recant. Each being lied to that the others had already given in. But it was no use. Not only did these Stratford Martyrs face their fate courageously, they kissed the stake and embraced it heartily, before being trust up and ignited. But Mary wasn’t completely without compassion. One of the women was pregnant so she was generously allowed to walk into the flames unbound.
Today the Stratford martyrs are best remembered, thanks to the monument found at St John’s Church in Stratford. But despite their lives melting away in a fiery furnace, their names; Adlington, Bowyer, Derifall, still stick to the streets of Newham literally. You can find them on a many road names today.