Today is 5th November, otherwise known as Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night. Fires are used to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes, whose name for the last 400 years has been associated with a plot to kill the King.
Traditionally, even after the introduction of Christianity to Great Britain, bonfires would be held at this time of year, as a continuation of the Pagan traditions. It was the end of their year and the fires, along with some other dubious activities, would ensure good crops for the coming year. After 1605 the two traditions merged and gave the Pagan tradition a more respectable meaning.
In 1605 Guy Fawkes, along with other Catholic Plotters attempted to blow up Parliament, with the new King, James the First. The Catholics had hoped this new King they would bring a change in their fortunes and they would be able to practise their faith unhindered. That was not the case; James introduced even harsher laws than those under ‘Good Queen Bess’. So certain people decided he must go.
This plot had tragic consequences on my own family.
By 1901 all of the branches of my family lived in a Black Country village called Rowley Regis. All,
except for one branch, had lived there for centuries.
There was Rowley Village itself, perched on top of a Basalt outcrop, its church visible for miles. The rest of the area was made up of 20 plus Hamlets.
I am fiercely proud of my Ancestry and the people who came from Rowley Regis. They were the hardest working, most interesting people you could ever meet and even today you will still hear older people talking in the dialect unique to this area, which is almost pure Anglo Saxon. My step father being one of them. For example ‘ Yo bay gooin dahn there am ya? Meaning ‘You’re not going down there are you?’
Farming was the main occupation back in the time of The Gunpowder Plot but the soil was poor and living was hard. This was before the Industrial Revolution and the discovery of the mineral wealth in the hills and the 30-foot seam of coal that ran through the area.
I shouldn’t have started this, as I could go on forever about the Nail Shops in the back yards, women working alongside men, stripped to the waist. What a fuss that made when the Nail Industry declined and many went to work in Doulton’s new Sanitary Ware Pottery. Mr Doulton was horrified to find the women working in that state and is recorded has having found the Rowley women ‘most troublesome’!
I think there is a strong streak of those women in me, although I haven’t yet resorted to working topless.
Then of course there was the drunken Organist and Choirmaster in my Ruston line. I really do think I shall have to write a book one day.
Anyway back to 1605. The plotters made a complete hash of everything, the plot failed and they went on the run. This was the undoing of Thomas Smart, a member of my family.
As a child I was told one of my family had been hanged but as with childhood memories, some of the facts seem to have been distorted over the years. I had assumes it was a Harper, who supposedly came from Scotland originally and I think I made the assumption he was part of the Army supporting the Royalists in The Civil War.
It was only quite recently that I spoke to one of my older cousins, who had a clearer memory of what had been passed down, verbally, from our grandparents, who were born in the 1880’s.
It was actually a member of the Smart family, my father’s father’s mother was Mary Smart and her father Thomas was a Blacksmith. His father another Thomas, born 1779, was a farmer at Oakham, one of the Hamlets of Rowley.
The family legend was that a Smart had been hanged for a part in The Gunpowder Plot.
As this tales has been passed down by word of mouth and knowing how little the families moved from Rowley, I thought there was a possibility there was some truth in the tale but was still a bit sceptical.
It came as quite a shock, when I did a Google on the Smart name and The Gunpowder Plot to find there is quite a bit of evidence to indicate the family tale was true.
The Wolverhampton website seems quite proud that the trial of Thomas Smart and John Holyhead were carried out there.
When I first looked into this, one of the articles I found said that Thomas had not wanted to shelter the traitors but had been forced to because of that the Judge was asked to be lenient with the sentence.
He wasn’t. I can’t find that article now, which is a shame. That also ties in with the second part of the tale, that there had been some talk that he may have escaped the death sentence.
The Judge was specially brought in from Ludlow for the trial.
This is just one of a number of references I found but I hope to go to Stafford Record Office to find out more one day.
Two farmers, Thomas Smart and John Holyhead of Rowley Regis, were hanged in High Green, now Queen Square, in January 1606, for sheltering some of the Gunpowder Plotters who had fled to the midlands. The pair played no part in the original plot but nevertheless suffered the traitor's death of hanging, drawing and quartering on butcher's blocks set up in the square a few days before the execution of Guy Fawkes and several other plotters in London.
I haven’t traced back my family to the actual Thomas who was executed but as this tale has been passed down for so long and back in the early 1800’s there was only one Smart family in Rowley Regis, I have no reason to doubt the poor man was one of my ancestors.
As for the rest of the week, well just busy as usual. Thursday was a day trip with school to Coughton Court, in Warwickshire, by sheer coincidence the home of one of the Gunpowder Plotters. It was a sunny day but chilly and one of the little dears managed to fall backwards into a pond! She wasn’t hurt and thankfully her coat was fairly waterproof.
There are some beautiful pictures to look at above from the trip.
The picture at the top page is from next-door’s fireworks last night. We were invited round but Harper was a bit upset, so we joined in from our side of the fence with nuts and a glass of wine. I have never seen so many fireworks, they were going off all around us, we sat on the patio and had about an hour and a half’s free display.
I must get off to The Farmer’s Market now, Mike’s working all day, so I’m going to see if I can buy myself a nice Farmer.