Book review: The Ascott Martyrs by Beverley McCombs

Page 9 Ascott MartyrsIf you lived in New Zealand and knew your family had emigrated there from England in 1874, you might want to find out more. Beverley McCombs was that person and came to Ascott under Wychwood in 1988 to dig a little deeper. Finding no traces of her family in the graveyard, she was directed to a plaque on the seat around the tree on the village green, where she discovered 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.’
Inspired to find out more about her great grandmother and the martyrs, the author spent the next 28 years, including a number of further trips to the UK, researching the lives of these women, the court case, the spell in Oxford Jail and their legacy. Her studies provided the inspiration for her book The Ascott Martyrs which gives a revealing insight into the appalling living standards of the day. Large families lived in hovels exploited by the landlord farmers. The influential Church of England was 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 newspaper and political backlash, picketing was allowed and magistrates’ benches were no longer dominated by church appointees.
The book tells the story in such a convincing way, that one cannot help but be grateful to the 16 women who became martyrs to a cause that even today makes our lives more comfortable and agreeable. It is an enjoyable and enlightening read and is available for £15 from the Ascott Village shop or £20, including post and packaging, from the Ascott Martyrs Educational Trust. Call 01993 831967 to order a copy.
The trust are looking for part-time research volunteers; is this appeals to you, give Paul Jackson a call on the number above.

April – May 2017