Did you know that ten of the seventeen Sussex residents burnt at the stake in Lewes as part of Queen Mary's religious persecutions were from the Sussex High Weald? and that the seventeen burning crosses carried around Lewes on bonfire night commemorate those martyrs?
One of those martyrs was a Wealden Ironmaster from Warbleton called Richard Woodman. He was born in the early 1520s, although the exact date is not known as parish registers were only first recorded in 1538. It is believed he came from Buxted where he may have learnt his trade as Ironmaster from Ralph Hogge who produced the first cannon in England cast in one piece.
It is known that Richard Woodman was an Ironmaster in the Warbleton area although it is disputed between experts exactly which ironworks he ran. The Wealden Iron Research Group website states however that
'three "Frenchmen in Richard Wodmans Worke" paid tax in the Subsidy Roll of 1549 in the Hundred of Foxearle in the Rape of Hastings. This is probably either Warbleton Priory Forge or Furnace.'
Woodman's life in terms of his radical protestant views is well documented. Foxe's Book of Martyrs (the most popular, and polemical, Elizabethan book after the Bible) contains his own vigorous and lengthy account of his persecution. He first came to notice early in the reign of Mary Tudor, when England had swung its national religion back to Rome. Woodman, described as 'of the age of thirty years and somewhat more' stood up during a service in Warbleton church and denounced his vicar, called Fairbank, for reversing his self-proclaimed protestant faith, 'turning head to tail' as Woodman put it. He was arrested and came before Bonner, the Bishop of London.
Constantly harrassed and arrested numerous times, he refused to leave Warbleton and fled the country with some 400 other protestant exiles. He was finally condemned to death in 1557 and on the 22 June 1557, along with nine other people from Warbleton, Mayfield, Rotherfield and Heathfield, he was burnt at the stake in front of the Star Inn in Lewes.
There are a number of bonfire night celebrations being held across the High Weald between late September and late November. More details can be found on our Events Calendar.
Discover more about the history of Lewes bonfire celebrations and the Sussex protestant martyrs.