This was the day after a very special memorial service held in Ely on the anniversary weekend of a day of remembrance for the five Littleport Martyrs hung 200 years before for their part in what had been a fenland wide uprising. These were spontaneous protests at the starvation and privatisation everyone who relied on work from the land was suffering after the end of the Napoleonic wars.
A riot started in Littleport and became a determined if unruly march on Ely. It ended in arrests and a trial in Ely; a public execution on on June 28, and a burial on Saturday June 29 1816.
None of them had done anything that would warrant execution. They had been driven to the end of their tethers, and after a rampage along with many others, 82 were arrested. 19 were condemned, then sentences commuted to prison or transportation to Van Diemen’s Land now Australia.
Many people from Littleport including Littleport Rotary walked in procession from the old Ely Goal, now a museum, where the men were held. Ably guided by Deborah Curtis-Watson throughout the morning, first stop was Ely Cathedral green to listen to the Commoners Choir. Distinguished members of Littleport parish council past and present and other community activists of all political parties and persuasions were present to remember and pay tribute. Members of the 363MCC formed and named in honour of the Littleport Rioters provided a guard of honour.
Today’s Littleport people then continued in a slow walk, with the women of the Littleport Riot Morris Side who danced along with them, to St Mary’s Churchyard, where the 363MCC had parked their bikes, for a short service. Littleport’s Kathryn Buck gave a heart- wrenching performance of ‘When I am laid in earth’ by Purcell and those a ending sang Jerusalem together after a short prayer by Rev David Newton behind the closed back door in the open air service.
Flowers were laid under the Littleport men’s head stone that is placed high up on the church wall. Their mass grave is unmarked.
Descendants of John Dennis (of the same name) William Beamiss the elder, Isaac Harley and Thomas South, all carried banners with their martyred forebears’ names on. Mark Robinson carried his for George Crow.
The 363MCC will be a ending various rallies and meettings this year and are looking forward to next year’s Crowning Around charity fund-raiser on May 6th at the Crown Inn, Littleport.