Banbury’s ties to the Levellers movement are in the spotlight once again in a new account published by the Southern & Eastern Region of the TUC.
The 70-page pamphlet entitled ‘The Levellers Movement: an account of perhaps the first political movement to represent the ordinary people’ gives a wide-ranging account of the activities of the 17th century political movement that rose to prominence during the English Civil War.
The Levellers agitated within the Parliamentarian regiments, in print, in society and in the courts, for a radical democracy based on rights, equality and religious freedom.
Banbury boasts strong historic links to the movement.
The town was an important base for the Parliamentary forces though a Royalist garrison was based at Banbury Castle.
The garrison was later beaten and the castle partly destroyed by Cromwell’s New Model Army, using gunpowder, which had been a profitable cottage industry for the royalists.
However a lack of pay fermented discontented in the Parliamentary ranks and in mid-May 1649 about 400 troops mutinied under the leadership of their captain and prominent Leveller William Thompson, who issued amanifesto entitled England’s Standard Advanced.
The troops set off for Salisbury to speak with members of other regiments about their political demands.
It became known as the Banbury Mutiny but was crushed easily. Captain Thompson escaped but died soon after in a skirmish near Wellingborough.
Some of the dissenting soldiers were imprisoned for a short time in Burford Church where their graffiti remains to this day. Three of the alleged ringleaders were shot, ending the influence of the Levellers in the New Model Army.
Since 1975 Burford has held a Levellers’ Day to commemorate the three men. The event includes live music, parades and guest speakers. A plaque to the men was unveiled by MP Tony Benn in 1979.
Now the new pamphlet by Peta Steel and sponsored by several British unions comes as SERTUC launches a withering attack on the current state of British democracy and raises concerns over the Conservative government’s intention to further limit strike action by some trade union bodies and provisions to abolish the Human Rights Act.
Megan Dobney, TUC Regional Secretary for London, the South East and the East of England said: “Nearly 400 years ago the Levellers not only dared to think that a ‘better world was possible’, they thought it was their duty to make it happen.
“And, following the example of the Levellers, in every community today, we should be asking what is politics for, and how do we make it work for us? Implementing the politics of hope; educating, agitating and organising for the common good, making politics work for the many, and not the few.”