15 Mar 2015

Rev John Ball of Colchester - England's original anarcho-syndicalist

John Ball trained as a priest in Colchester, but he's never been mentioned once during my children's combined 18+ years of schooling here. Colchester history mentioned in the classroom is all oysters, the Romans, Boudicca, the civil war siege and the Romans. As Melvyn Bragg explains, John Ball was so subversive he's been virtually airbrushed out of history.

The Hedgerow Priest, John Ball, preaches to the peasant army at Blackheath 1381 - "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?" - woodcut illustration from Anarchy - A Graphic Guide*.

John Ball was England's original anarcho-syndicalist and communist. So it's good to hear via Tim Oxton that
As part of the Essex Book Festival, the folksinger and academic Dr. Adrian May presents “The Ballad of Brian Bird and John Ball, Colchester’s Reverend Rebels”, at 19h00 on Saturday 28th March at The Minories, Colchester. Tickets are available from the Mercury Theatre, tel. 01206.573948.This will be repeated on Wednesday 22nd April at 7:30 pm in St Mary’s Church, Peldon. John Ball, probably the greatest ever Colcestrian, is believed to have been born at Peldon.
John Ball was one of the two principal leaders of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and was arguably the greatest ever Colcestrian, having been the priest in charge of St James the Great Church on East Hill before he was sacked from that job for preaching seditious sermons. He then became a hedge priest and was thus able to organise the Essex peasants for their march on London.
After his retirement as vicar of Edwardstone (where he pioneered the use of jazz in Anglican church services), Brian Bird lived in Colchester, where he was active in the Labour Party. His book “Rebel Before His Time”, published in 1987, is a standard source of information about John Ball and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Brian also wrote “Skiffle: the Story of Folk-Song with a Jazz Beat”, published in 1958.
*That quote in full: 
When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty. 
John Ball does get a good cameo role in The Once and Future King, which is where I first heard of him.

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