Friday, 28 August 2009

Captain Pouch and the Newton Rebellion

Feeling a bit more perky, and with the weather looking up too, I got in the car yesterday and went wandering. First, to Groby Pool, in a vain attempt to track down a Redstart (did see some lovely Spotted Flycatchers, though), but then on into the depths of previously unexplored Northamptonshire.

My target was Brixworth, a village containing what has been called the finest seventh century church north of the Alps.

It's to my great shame that I've never actually been there before, not even back in my university days when I was studying Anglo-Saxon history (the Mercian church was even my specialist subject), but it was worth the wait. More of that tomorrow, though, because on the way back, I couldn't resist a detour to a favourite, and rather less celebrated, historic site.

Newton is a tiny village between Kettering and Corby, situated down a dead-end lane. Its church, St Faith's (pictured above), is in a rather isolated position, down a small track in the middle of horse paddocks, with what's left of Rockingham Forest close by on all sides. Red Kites and Rooks fly overhead, and far away you can hear the traffic dashing past on the dual carriageways, but there's precious little sign of life otherwise.

The church is, in fact, a field studies centre, but the fact it's there at all is down to the efforts of the late JL Carr, novelist and Kettering headmaster, who battled to save it from demolition. That he did was partly because he was aware of Newton's hidden history.

For a few days, in the late spring of 1607, it was the centre of a peasants' rebellion that caused James I considerable concern, and resulted in the deaths of at least 40 villagers. The uprising was led by the mysterious figure of Captain Pouch, and the participants described themselves as levellers and diggers, names that would crop up again later in the turbulent 17th century.

Carr mentioned what happened in passing in one of his novels (The Battle Of Pollock's Crossing - superb, and usually overshadowed by his best-known work, A Month In The Country), and for years I'd assumed that he'd invented it. Only fairly recently did I find out that it was all true, and begin to research what happened.

I've also been writing a pamphlet-length sequence of poems, to accompany photographs by Tom Bailey, on the story of Captain Pouch, the Newton Rebellion, and the final, tragic slaughter at Goosepastures. Both Tom and I still have work to do, and I've been working fairly hard at revising some of the poems this week, but we're hoping that we'll be able to find a publisher at some stage.

But regardless of that, it's a fascinating and very tragic episode in English history. It's impossible not to feel for Pouch and his brave followers, latest in a long line of peasants willing to assert their rights in the face of arbitary rule by monarchs and aristocrats (their story reminds me of that of the villagers of Peatling Magna, not 20 miles away, who in 1265 arrested the king's marshal for "going against the commonwealth of the realm", just days after Simon DeMontfort and his forces had been bloodily scattered at Evesham). You even feel a little for Sir Edward Montagu, forced to suppress the rebels even though he had considerable sympathy for their cause. His family did take the Parliamentary side in the Civil Wars, but rather too late to avert the catastrophe that engulfed Newton and other similar communities.


Coastcard said...

Glad to hear you are feeling better, Matt.

I don't know if you are up for this, but I would like to nominate you for a Kreativ Blogger Award. To see what this entails, please see my blog here.


Matt Merritt said...

Thanks very much, Caroline. I'm very flattered!

aliqot said...

I was at Newton today, and found your post via google.

Have you published the book you mention?

Matt Merritt said...

Sadly not yet - me and Tom Bailey, the photographer involved, have it all ready to go, but we're still looking for a publisher.