LEVELLERS DAY, MAY 17: THE STRUGGLE FOR RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY NEVER ENDS

At a historical moment when an orchestrated unethical campaign of fear and authoritarian repression threatens hard-fought for civil liberties and undermines, however flawed its practices, representative democracy, it is sobering and necessary to remember and honour the struggles of the past.

LEVELLERS DAY – Burford, Oxfordshire.

Radical history inspires today. Learning the lessons of history from the pioneers of 1649 to the challenges of today

On 17 May 1649, three soldiers were executed on Oliver Cromwell’s orders in Burford churchyard, Oxfordshire. They belonged to a movement popularly known as the Levellers, with beliefs in civil rights and religious tolerance.

During the Civil War, the Levellers fought on Parliament’s side, they had at first seen Cromwell as a liberator, but now saw him as a dictator. They were prepared to fight against him for their ideals and he was determined to crush them. Over 300 of them were captured by Cromwell’s troops and locked up in Burford church. Three were led out into the churchyard to be shot as ringleaders.

In 1975, members of the WEA Oxford Industrial Branch went to Burford to reclaim a piece of history that seemed to be missing from the school books. They held a meeting in remembrance of the Leveller soldiers. The following year, Tony Benn came and read in the church and in each succeeding year, people have come to Burford on the Saturday nearest to 17 May, debated, held a procession, listened to music and remembered the Levellers and the importance of holding on to ideals of justice and democracy.

An example of a Levellers debate

Want to read more…

SERTUC has published The Levellers Movement, an account of perhaps the first political movement to represent the ordinary people. You can download it free here The Levellers Movement. Hard copies have sold out!

Thanks to the Levellers Association, the Oxford WEA and the Oxford Trades Council for the material and images.