The dark secret of an English field – a visit to Amersham Part 2

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An Amersham barley field with a sinister secret? copyright Carole Tyrrell

The late afternoon sun shone down on us as we crossed the huge field of barley towards the Amersham Martyrs monument. We would never have known that it was there except for a knowledgeable member of our party who led the way. Butterflies were still fluttering about; a large white and the first meadow brown of the summer accompanied us we followed the path though the rustling crop.

amershammartyrs

The Amersham memorial is a tall, grey, granite obelisk behind a tall hedge which faces out towards the village and church below. It’s surrounded by tall box hedges and the field. It’s a reminder of past religious differences.

The memorial is to commemorate the six Martyrs, local men. who were burned at the stake in 1521. Their crime was wanting to read the Bible in English, amongst other ambitions, and their cruel deaths were meant to deter others. The six were burned high above Amersham so that the flames and smoke would be visible to all in the village below as a warning. The daughter of one of the Martyrs and the children of another were forced to light their fires.

The inscription on the monument reads –

“In the shallow of depression at a spot 100 yards left of this monument seven Protestants, six men and one woman were burned to death at the stake. They died for the principles of religious liberty,
for the right to read and interpret the Holy Scriptures and to worship God according to their consciences as revealed through God’s Holy Word. Their names shall live for ever”

The list of Martyrs is then displayed.

On the left hand side of the memorial are displayed the names of 4 more Martyrs who were burned, or, as in one case, strangled elsewhere.

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The names of the Amersham men killed elsewhere. copyright Carole Tyrrell

The monument was erected in 1931 by The Protestant Alliance who still exist today.

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The Protestant Alliance who erected the monument. copyright Carole Tyrrell

They maintain two other Martyr monuments: Smithfield erected in 1870 and Norwich which was erected in 1994.
Suburbia lies behind the memorial area and I wondered if there had ever been any echoes of these brutal killings. Suddenly the field which had seemed so idyllic on that hot summer’s day seemed to have long shadows and I wondered to myself if I would like to be here alone on a dark, cold night.

Robert MacFarlane recently wrote an article on the eeriness of the English countryside for The Guardian Books section and it seemed to express this mood and feeling completely. Despite its rural charms, the English countryside has its own atmosphere, a ‘folk-horror’ and who hasn’t had that unsettling feeling of dread when in the midst of a dark wood or on a lonely road late at night. I once went exploring in the midst of the Wiltshire landscape near Salisbury and wandered up to a Stone Age hillfort. We had a map and instructions for the return journey but I got lost. I couldn’t explain it but the countryside around it looked different when we were on the other side of the fort. Eventually we found our way back to the road and got home but we heard later that other visitors to the site had also got lost. I’ve visited the fort again since and never had that experience again. To read the article follow this link:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/10/eeriness-english-countryside-robert-macfarlane

For further reading: http://www.amersham.org.uk/martyrsmemorial/index.htm

Our visit to Amersham was fascinating and proves that you can never predict what jewels you might find in a country church and what secrets you might uncover.

©texts and photos Carole Tyrrell

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