Magazine article History Today

Making a Drama out of a Crisis

Magazine article History Today

Making a Drama out of a Crisis

Article excerpt

* Remarkable events which took place a century ago in the Norfolk village of Roydon are the subject of a new play which testifies to the continuing significance of a successful village uprising against a greedy landowner.

The events of 1893 were sparked off by the lord of the manor, John Tudor Frere, who due to financial problems started to fence off the last remaining areas of common land in the village, one by one.

One of three open commons had already been closed to grazing when in early August that year the lord's agent, Todd, announced that animals found on Brewers' Green or Feezin Hills would be impounded.

To the dismay and anger of villagers the threat was carried out a week later when horses and geese belonging to villagers were impounded - before being taken to Diss market on August 18th, for auction.

Fearing trouble, the police escorted the animals from Roydon, but determined villagers got the upper-hand at Diss market. |In the melee halters were slipped; the ponies escaped through the screaming onlookers and the geese fluttered away when the pig net was surreptitiously loosened', it was reported.

The conflict came to a head on the night of September 7th, when villagers, who had earlier been drinking in the local pub, tried to burn a life-size effigy of Frere's agent, Todd.

Though the police managed to stop the conflagration angry villagers marched off to the agent's house armed with sticks. In the ensuing fight a police sergeant's jaw was broken, a constable's helmet was smashed and another officer suffered facial injuries.

At Norwich Crown Court the villagers won a moral victory as the three men convicted of releasing the geese in Diss market were merely bound over, thus confirming the commoner's rights. The six ringleaders of the second incident, meanwhile, suffered only a few weeks' imprisonment.

For Norfolk historian, Eric Pursehouse, the villagers had also made substantial political gains. They had not only resisted the attempts at enclosure in Roydon, and no attempts have been made to close the common since, but also prevented further enclosure on a national level.

|The events also gained national notoriety and perhaps Roydon may share some credit for an Act passed in 1893 forbidding the enclosure of commons except with the approval of the Board of Agriculture,' Pursehouse states.

One hundred years later local author Basil Abbott has written a play, called The Roydon Riots, which is being staged this month in the village community centre with a cast which includes relatives of the rioters. …

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