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Kith & kin, song & dance, cake & cricket:
Ascott Martyrs 150th Anniversary Celebrations

It’s hard to believe now, but the sun shone throughout June’s programme of events marking the 150th anniversary of the Chipping Norton Incident that made Martyrs of 16 women from Ascott under Wychwood who were sent to prison in 1873.

 

Although the celebrations were centred around 20th June (the day in 1873 when the village celebrated the safe return home of the Martyrs) the programme began in April to coincide with the start of the strike, with displays in Burford, Chipping Norton, Witney and Wychwood (Milton) libraries, and the window of Chipping Norton Museum. These introduced the Martyrs and their story to a wider audience. Regular posts to our growing Facebook audience told the story as it unfolded 150 years ago and put us in touch with a number of descendants. A programme of talks given to groups across Oxfordshire (and beyond) spread the word further

The Celebrations in Ascott began with a ‘gathering of the clans’ for a local/family history afternoon at the Tiddy Hall on Saturday 17th June. It was amazing to see so many people enjoying old photographs of Ascott from the Wychwood Local History Society’s Archive. Performances by Charlbury Finstock Morris, included some of the dances traditional to Ascott, and the Wychwayz Border Morris transported us back in time and added colour, music and an air of festivity to the occasion. The appearance of a group of women waving sticks provided an uncanny echo of the Martyrs’ story. Reginald Tiddy would certainly have smiled.

Volunteers from the Oxfordshire Family History Society were on hand during the afternoon to help people with their queries. They also provided a reminder that Oxfordshire’s libraries, including the Wychwoods Library in Milton, provide free access to sites such as Ancestry and Find My Past, for anyone wanting to discover their family tree.

 

The Martyrs’ story is about kith and kin, and the afternoon’s star attraction was definitely the amazing Martyrs’ Family Tree. At 11m in length and containing more than 2,700 names, the Tree is probably one of the longest ever printed and is certainly the only one we know of that is based on a group of people brought together by a single incident. In creating the Tree it soon became obvious that all the women involved were related to each other, if not by blood then by marriage. The population profile of Ascott has certainly changed a lot since then!

 

The prospect of learning more about Ascott, their Martyr ancestors and the potential to meet relatives, albeit it distant, and compare trees, drew people from as far away as Cornwall, Newcastle, Kent, Hampshire, Worcestershire, London, Birmingham, as well as from across west Oxfordshire. We were delighted that Beverley McCombs was able to make the long journey (although not the 96 days it took her forebears to make the arduous sea voyage) from New Zealand to join us to represent the overseas branches of the Martyrs’ Tree. Many of those descendants are now proudly wearing their distinctive blue Martyrs’ badge.

On Saturday 24th June a capacity crowd was treated to a memorable performance of Three Acres and a Cow in the Tiddy Hall. Part ‘TED talk’, part folk club sing-a-long, the show was complimented by special performances of their ‘Martyrs’ Songs’ by the Sea Green Singers, Turning Signs and Ascott’s own Mark Pidgeon, who we also thank for his generous advice and expertise. A raffle on the night raised £75 for the North Oxfordshire Food Bank.

On Sunday 25th June we were blessed with yet another a beautiful sunny afternoon for the ‘Martyrs’ v ‘Establishment’ cricket match.  Establishment captain Mr Andrew Weaver won the toss and elected to bat. The Establishment got off to a strong start, but the Martyrs were jubilant as they soon subsided to 86/6 in the face of accurate bowling and good fielding.  But their batters remained determined and were eventually 104 all out from 32 overs.
The Martyrs opened strongly defying the best the Establishment bowlers could pitch at them.  Though the Martyrs lost a few batters at 63/3 they remained undaunted, and broke the Establishment hearts. Several catches were dropped by fielders, as the Martyrs sauntered to victory.  It was left to 12 year old Eddie Russell to joyfully whack the winning run in the 29th over at 108/4.  
The beautiful glass trophy was lifted by the Martyrs, looking resplendent with blue ribbons on their shirts! As the sun set players and spectators alike feasted on BBQ, cake and cider - rounding off a memorable afternoon.  
 

Those who preferred to spend the afternoon in a more leisurely fashion strolled along the Blue Ribbon Trail (the striking agricultural labourers wore blue ribbons in their hats) to explore the village as it was in 1873. Copies of the Trail are still available in the Church for a small donation to parish funds.  Although the barbecue and beer on the cricket field proved popular, many sought shelter from the sun to admire the Martyrs’ commemorative textile and enjoy a refreshing cup of tea and slice of cake in the Church where many of the Martyrs and their families were baptised, married and eventually buried.

 

A huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who supported the celebrations and especially to Les Timms for her incredible work on the family tree and the Ascott under Wychwood Cricket Club who embraced the suggestion of a cricket match with great enthusiasm. Also to our Trustees and supporters, Cynthia Bryan, Paula Nielsen-Tickner, Andrew Weaver and Sue Richards, who beavered behind the scenes doing everything from making tea to posting on Facebook, producing exhibition labels, type-setting trails, stringing up bunting and organising car parking, never have so many cars been so neatly parked in such a small space!

The story hasn’t ended yet. Follow our posts on Facebook to discover what happened to the Martyrs and their families after the village celebration, and to learn more about life in Ascott after 1873.

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