The Two Memorials
In 1450 a group of Sussex farmers, led by Jack Cade, marched on London to air their grievances with the government. After a couple of days their protest ended in disaster, whilst Cade ended up beheaded and quartered. His name lives on today in the hamlet of Cade Street. A century later the Warbleton ironmaster, Richard Woodman, was burnt at the stake in Lewes for his failure to believe in the state-imposed religion of the day. A memorial stone stands adjacent to his former house in Warbleton churchyard.
LENGTH – 8 miles
TIME – 5 hours
START – Old Heathfield Church, School Hill, Old Heathfield, TN21 9AH.
PARKING – On street parking adjacent to Old Heathfield Church.
TOILETS – No public toilets available.
REFRESHMENTS – Pubs at Old Heathfield, Cade Street (¼ mile off route), Rushlake Green, Warbleton and Vines Cross. Village shop at Rushlake Green.
This walk contains stiles.
Heathfield originated as a swine pasture owned by the inhabitants of Bishopstone (near Seaford). By the 13th century, it had developed as a settlement in its own right and its church was constructed at this time. In the 19th century, a pottery industry had developed, including the manufacture of memorial plaques for use as gravestones. Several of these rare Harmer Terracottas (named after their maker) can be seen about the church and graveyard. Another stone bears the odd poem “A happier couple there never was wed, But much more so now that they are dead”.
Looking out to sea from here in 1450 smoke from the burning of Rye by the French fleet may have been visible in the distance. Coming on top of high taxes to pay for the war with France, this proved the final straw for many small property owners. Led by Jack Cade (using the alias John Mortimer), an Irishman living in Kent, they defeated a royal army in Kent, marched on London and entered the city unopposed.
Once in London, Cade and his followers stormed the Tower of London but failed to take the fortress. They killed the Archbishop of Canterbury and Henry’s treasurer, Sir James Fiennes, as well as the Sheriff of Kent. These first two had their heads cut off and placed on poles kissing each other. The royal troops regrouped and fought the rebels to a standstill. In an arranged truce, Cade presented a list of his demands to royal officials. The officials assured Cade that these would be met and Cade, in turn, handed over a list of his men so that each could receive a royal pardon. Most of the mob accepted the promise of pardon and slipped away. But neither the king nor Parliament had actually agreed to any of the rebel’s demands. Henry VI demanded Cade’s arrest and the rebel leader fled. The new Sheriff of Kent, Alexander Iden, pursued Cade and caught him on 12 July 1450, allegedly at this very spot. Cade was mortally injured, and he died on his way back to London. His corpse was hung, drawn and quartered, and his head placed on a pole on London Bridge. “This is the success of all rebels and this fortune changeth ever to traitors” states his epitaph.
Prominent on the horizon ahead is Punnetts Town windmill, nicknamed “cherry clack”. This octagonal smock mill is notable for having been built at Biddenden in Kent and moved here in 1856 in pieces on a large cart to replace a mill which had burnt down. It worked on its new site until damaged in 1924. The sails were removed with one being sold for only 30s and the others broken up for firewood. After World War II, the mill was gradually restored using parts from other windmills at Polegate and Staplecross.
As the iron industry collapsed, unemployment hit the Weald hard. Homeless people begun to squat on the vast, former Warbleton Common and on the wide roadside verges of the Heathfield to Battle road. In time, these illegal cottages became permanent settlements such as Cade Street and Punnetts Town. These settlements are distinguished by their lack of conventional churches, but instead possess a range of simple chapels, including this former example in Punnetts Town, now converted to a house.
Rushlake Green was sited just outside the western boundary of the 100 acre estate of Warbleton Priory with the buildings away to the south-east. This was actually the resited Priory of Hastings which moved to this inland site in 1417, as the sea eroded its original site. Roads were diverted to run around the estate and Rushlake Green seems to have developed as a planned settlement adjacent to the western gate. Barely more than a century later in 1537, the priory was gone, part of Henry VIII’s reorganisation of the English Church with its revenue confiscated for the crown. This ushered in a period where the official state religion swung quickly between catholic and protestant and those of one view were likely to be in conflict with those of the other.
Leaving Rushlake Green, a much more modern memorial can be seen. This is a kissing gate, erected in memory of Ian Price who was killed near the spot whilst repairing power lines after the October 1987 hurricane.
Marklye ironworks operated between about 1545 and 1650. The banks of the pond and its overflow can easily be seen from the footpath on this walk. Among the first of its ironmasters was a man called Richard Woodman, who lived in the nearby Warbleton village. However his tenure of the works was set to be very short-lived.
Richard Woodman was a churchwarden at Warbleton church, where he had provided a fine, iron door to one of the tower rooms. He was a protestant, and unusually for the time, literate and hence able to read the bible for himself. The vicar, George Fairbank, in contrast, had quickly changed his beliefs to those of a catholic in line with the state as Queen Mary came to the throne. Conflict between the two was inevitable once Woodman had begun to publicly criticise Fairbank’s sermons “for turning head to tail” and preaching “clean contrary to that which he had before taught”. However, Fairbank had the state on his side. Woodman was arrested and imprisoned in London where he was “examined” as to his beliefs on no fewer than 32 occasions before being set free on 18 December 1555 as they could find no heresy and his arrest appeared to be illegal. Woodman left the country. And yet, visible in the churchyard, is his memorial stating “Close by in the meadow behind stood the Abode of Richard Woodman farmer and ironmaster burnt at Lewes 22 June 1557”.
Woodman’s downfall was, in effect, his business interests. After a time he returned to Warbleton and lived quietly in his house immediately south of the churchyard. However, his presence was betrayed to the authorities by his brother, who coveted his wealth. What happened next is described in Woodman’s own words “A little girl, one of my children, came running in, and cried, ‘Mother, mother, yonder cometh twenty men!’ I, suspecting straightway that I was betrayed, stirred out of my bed, and whipt on my hose, thinking to have gone out of the doors. My wife, being amazed at the child’s words, looked out at the door, and they were hard by. Then she clapped to the door, and barred it fast, and they bade open the doors, or else they would break them in pieces. There was a place in my house that was never found, into which place I went. And as soon as I was in, my wife opened the door, whereby they asked for me; and she said I was not at home. Now when they could not find me, one of them went to him that gave them word that I was at home, and said, ‘We cannot find him.’ Then he asked them whether they had sought over a window that was in the hall for that same place where I was hid. Then they began to search anew. Then I had no shift, but set my shoulders to the boards that were nailed to the rafters to keep out the rain, and brake them in pieces, which made a great noise; and they that were in the other chamber, seeking for the way into it, heard the noise, and looked out of a window, and spied me, and made an outcry. But yet I got out, and leaped down, having no shoes on. So I took down a lane (the path this route follows) that was full of sharp cinders, and they came running after, with a great cry, with their swords drawn, crying, ‘Strike him, strike him!’ which words made me look back, and there was never a one nigh me by a hundred foot: and that was but one, for all the rest were a great way behind. And I turned about hastily to go my way, and stepped upon a sharp cinder, with one foot; I stepped into a great miry hole, and fell down withal; and ere ever I could arise and get away, he was come in with me.”
After a show trial, Woodman was burnt alive at the stake at Lewes with nine other martyrs in an effort to scare the population from following in his footsteps. However, others in the area also suffered. Whilst a total of 17 people were burnt at Lewes, a further 4 were burnt at Mayfield to the north of here. These combined totals included 5 people from Mayfield, Margery Morris and James Morris her son of Cade Street and George Stevens, another from Warbleton. These events are commemorated as an integral part of the massive bonfire night celebrations in Lewes every year.
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The self-guided walk descriptions are provided to help you navigate your way, however we recommend that you plan your route prior to walking the route and that you carry an Ordnance Survey map of the area being walked and follow your position on the map as you proceed.
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