top of page

The book is available from the Ascott Village Shop at £15

or from the Ascott Martyrs Educational Trust please email us at

 £16 including post and packing

Follow Beverley's page on Facebook

  • Facebook Social Icon

Book Review - Paul Jackson

A remarkable 28 year project

The Ascott Martyrs by Beverley McCombs

You live in New Zealand and back in the family history you know your descendants had emigrated from England in 1874. The author of this remarkable book, Beverley McCombs, was on holiday in England in 1988 searching the grave stones in Ascott under Wychwood , Oxfordshire to no avail, only to be directed to a plaque on a seat around a tree on the village green, and yes there was her great grandmother’s name!
This seat was erected to celebrate the centenary of the ‘Ascott Martyrs’, the sixteen women of Ascott who were sent to prison in 1873 for the part they played in the founding of the Agricultural Workers Union when they were sent ‘over the hills to glory’

Twenty years later and many revisits to the UK, an inspired Beverley who had had no idea of the Martyrs has extensively researched the lives of these women, the court case, the Oxford Jail and the legacy. She then wonders what to do with all this information so off she goes to study how to write a book.

The result, after another 8 years is a very comprehensive analysis of the Martyrs’ lives which by today’s standards were appalling. Large families lived in hovels exploited by the landlord farmers. The influential Church of England were on the side of the gentry and it was vicars as local magistrates who sent the woman and babies to prison. The Duke of Marlborough organised fellow farmers to hold firm against the fast rising and newly formed Agricultural Workers Union but at the end of the day after a massive media and political backlash, picketing was allowed and magistrates were no longer religious officials.

The book tells the story so well that one cannot help but be grateful to the 16 women who became Martyrs to a cause that even today makes our lives more agreeable. Take time to read what life was like not so long ago.

Other Publications that may be of interest

The Revolt in The Field - Arthur Clayden     1874

From Ploughtail to Parliament  An Autobiography - Joseph Arch     1898

Over the Hills To Glory Radicalism in Banburyshire 1832 -1945 - J.R. Hodgkins

Sharpen the Sickle - Reg Groves     1948

Joseph Arch - Pamela Horn     1971

Rural Discontent in 19th Century - J P D Dunbabin     1974

Poor Labouring Men - Alun Howkins     1985

Riding to Jerusalem - Elspeth Sandys     1996

(Fictional based on Ascott Martyrs Events by a former

resident of the village now living in New Zealand)


The Ascott Martyrs

Why did the rural establishment imprison sixteen women and two babies in 1873?

Recently published by former Trustee, Paul Jackson, and edited by Keith Laybourn, this book contains a collection of ten essays written by local historians and academics setting the Martyrs’ story in a wider historical context. The contributors examine a variety of topics including a detailed account, based on contemporary sources, of the events of the spring and early summer of 1873. Working conditions in agriculture for both men and women are examined and the rise of the agricultural trade unions with their close links with the non-conformist churches, especially the Primitive Methodists. The legal context of the women’s imprisonment is reviewed, and the subsequent changes to the law whose application had led to their imprisonment. Emigration, which reached 25% in some villages at this time, is well-featured. The complex issue of the appointment of Church of England clergymen, some landholders themselves, as magistrates is also addressed.


Copies of the book are available to purchase on Amazon and from Jaffe & Neale booksellers in Chipping Norton. Price £14.99

bottom of page