Battle of NORTH WALSHAM

North Walsham played an important role in the ‘Peasants Revolt’ of 1381. The history is fascinating. The site of the final show down with the authorities is full of atmosphere and is easily reached on the town’s circular walk – a walk that can take you back over 6 centuries.

Our town has a proud tradition of opposing injustice.

Was there a Battle?

We simply don’t know. The evidence from the period is contradictory. Some sources point to an encounter between the rebels and Despenser’s troops, others suggest that the rebellion melted away in the face of such superior forces.

How far should a ‘perhaps’ or a ‘possibly’ be allowed to underpin a local story such as this? Surely the most acceptable approach is to present the evidence clearly and accurately and allow the readers to make up their own minds.

Poll Tax Returns

Following a visit to the National Archive Centre in Kew and after considerable assistance from Dr John Alban, I have uploaded a good number of the names and occupations of North Walsham residents from the poll tax records of 1379 and 1381. The increase in payment demanded between 1379 and 1381 is stark, particularly considering what it must have represented in terms of sacrifice. The figures given as an example on the relevant page above represent a graphic explanation for the cause of the unrest.

The position of the Crosses was considered by R Cozens Hardy in Norfolk Archaeology (Vol 25 p.327). Cozens Hardy – an authority on Norfolk Crosses reported that the 3 battlefield crosses were all medieval in origin and that the ‘Cross (rems of) ‘ and Stump Cross, shown on the map above, had not been moved. However, the Cross at Tollgate Farm was moved ‘from an original site said to be 1/4 of a mile to the west, beside a trackway’. This would put the cross close to the 1381 Battlefield Sign shown on the above map and provide an obtuse triangular shape for the Battlefield Site with the main road serving as the base.

Despite various references to manoevrings by both Despenser and Litster, the evidence would suggest that the rebels barricaded themselves in defence of North Walsham, anticipating an attack from the south, as Despenser moved up from Norwich gathering his reinforcements en route.

Location

Sources of Evidence

In chronological order:

The Court Rolls of the time (from the Norfolk Record Office)

The accounts of the 14th Century Chroniclers (The Anonimalle, Knighton’s, Walsingham’s, Capgave’s and Froissart’s) (please refer to the page above)

The Norfolk Antiquarians of the 18th and 19th Century; e.g. Norris, Rye

Modern Researchers such as Herbert Eiden (Joint Action Against Bad Lordship 1998) please see Participants Page

Modern historical commentaries: e.g. Dan Jones (Summer of Blood), Juliet Barker (England, arise)

The majority of the above suggest that there was a Battle of North Walsham albeit a very one sided ‘Battle’. I am in the process of analysing and evaluating all of the evidence. There are likely to be other sources.

There are a 4 key facets: The movements and activities of the rebels and the Bishop’s force prior to the confrontation, the Battle itself, the Location of the Battle and the Aftermath.