“Ipswich for the Cup, but first a word about the ladies…”

I am never one to refuse the chance of making a gratuitous reference to my beloved Ipswich Town, but this is about the history of women’s football in England generally, so the Ipswich bit – having occurred in the 1950s – will have to wait until the end.

Like most people, I don’t know much about women’s football, although I watch some international matches and Arsenal Ladies beating whoever-it-is in the FA Cup Final every year. In 2007, however, I saw a fascinating BBC documentary about  the history of women’s football. Focusing on the famous Dick Kerr’s Ladies team, it showed rare, flickering black-and-white images of women’s football in the early part of the 20th century. I had known nothing about this: proper football matches played between proper teams. Some of the matches had been watched by massive crowds. On Boxing Day 1920, Dick Kerr’s Ladies beat St. Helen’s Ladies 4-0. The attendance was 53,000.

That date, 1920, is significant. Only a year later the FA decided to ban women from playing football on Football League grounds. “The game,” they pronounced was “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” The decline in the women’s game was dramatic and it never fully recovered, although it has been revived in the 21st century, thanks to interest in the United States and other parts of the world.

In Britain, people still talk of women’s football as something that is novel and a little bit odd. However, references to women playing football appear to go back a long way. Sir Philip Sidney mentions women playing footie in one of his poems, A Dialogue Between Two Shepherds (c.1580), and, yes, girls, it looks as if they tucked their skirts into their knickers back in Tudor times too:

“A tyme there is for all, my mother often sayes,

When she, with skirts tuckt very hy, with girles at football playes.”

In 1894, the Hampshire Telegraph & Sussex Chronicle heralded the developments in the women’s  game: “Female football teams will shortly contest in public. Women played football in this country centuries ago. Mr. Pepys complains of the nuisance in the Strand, when milkmaids kicked the ball about on May-day, as was their immemorial privilege [my italics].” Sadly the newspaper ruins everything by adding the inevitable comment: “It was not an edifying practice even then.”

The 1880s and 1890s saw some interest in women’s football, but newspaper reports were generally negative describing matches between teams made up of the “softer sex” and indulging in the usual rhetoric about scratching and unnatural aggression. Even attendance at football matches played by men was under scrutiny, for example, this writer in the Derby Mercury, 15th March 1893, believed: “”Women undoubtedly lose their influence over and attraction for men when they dispossess themselves of their womanly attributes; and girls who constantly attend football matches, and think nothing of seeing their own and other people’s brothers and cousins maimed, most assuredly do so.”

Women’s football, despite being popular as a spectator sport, came in for criticism in the press right from the start. The organised women’s game began in 1895 with a North vs. South match. The North, predictably, won 7-1. The usually liberal Ipswich Journal writing about the match stated that “it seems as if we have reached the climax of fin de siècle enormities when we read of the formation of a British Ladies’ Football Club…” and it was patronisingly described in the Times (25th March 1895):

“A match, under Association rules, between teams of ladies was played at Nightingale-lane, Hornsey,  on Saturday… Great curiosity was aroused and the ground was thronged by 7,000 people. The football was of a very harmless nature, and its novelty soon grew irksome to many of the spectators.”

The same newspaper continued in the same vein in May 1920 for its report on the England vs France women’s international, introducing (for the times, at least) a sexual frisson with a rather fanciful preamble about a boy (a young Sepp Blatter, perhaps) spying on some schoolgirls playing football in a cathedral close (!):

“The fortunate youth who penetrated these mysteries was all unconscious of attending the birth of the new woman  – he was much too intent on the spectacle. Was he not enjoying one of the few privileges of which Woman does not apparently propose to deprive his sex  – that of watching her insist on doing what a Man does better?”

The Times does go on to briefly describe the actual international match at Stamford Bridge, which France won 2-0. The writer is even good enough to admit that the players “exhibited enough skill to disappoint those who had come to laugh,” but is more enthused by the French women’s short light blue jumpers.

So why did the FA ban women in 1921? My guess it was part of a wider move to put women back in the home after the First World War. In the same year, Bath City Ladies had played in a match in Manchester to raise money for ex-servicemen, but ex-servicemen needed jobs and women were required to return to more traditional roles. It was time for society to re-invent what was considered to be appropriate behaviour for a woman. In 2008, the FA apologised for the ban and the statement that football was “unsuitable” for women.

So, to go back to the title of this piece. It’s taken from an article written by Dingle Foot, former MP for Ipswich, and published in the Times in 1978. He was writing about his memories of Sir Alf Ramsay’s great team, of course, but was also looking forward to the FA Cup Final that Ipswich Town were about to play – and win – against Arsenal. In the article, he recalled a revival of the women’s game in Suffolk when he was the local MP:

“… the rise of Ipswich did not end there. The girls began to play. They attracted immense attention. At their first match they refused to obey the referee as they played for another ladies team from rural Suffolk.” They appealed to their Member of Parliament. All he could come up with was a Kiplingesque poem:

It’s goodbye to Jacky Milburn and salute the rising sun

McGarry’s come to put the Town back in Division One

But compared with Ipswich Ladies even Portman Road must fail

For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

The girls have sacked their manager for all the world to see

‘Twas he who sinned against the light: he backed the referee

No ode will now be written to Mr. Nightingale

For the female of the species is much rougher than the male.

So here by Orwell’s flowing tide Britannia’s flag unfurls

To show in Wolsey’s ancient town that girls will still be girls

Down with the ref, up with the chicks, oh great Minerva, hail

The Ipswich ladies footballers submit to no mere male.

Two days after this poem appeared in the local paper, Dingle Foot received a letter from the captain of the Ipswich ladies’ team assuring him of their full support in the election. He held his seat. “No doubt,” he wrote, “this was due to the Ipswich ladies. In the end the girls always win.”


“Gypsy blood” – an eviction of travellers at Blaxhall in Suffolk

George Ewart Evans was born in South Wales in 1909 but moved to Suffolk and wrote several fascinating books about East Anglian folklore, including Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay (1956) and The Horse in the Furrow (1960). In his books about the folklore of the horse and the horseman in Suffolk, he drew heavily on the local knowledge that he obtained by talking to the people of his village, Blaxhall, where folk culture appears to have remained alive right through the twentieth century and beyond. The local pub, the Ship, has long been a centre for traditonal folk song which deservedly received the attention of another scholar’s Ph.D. thesis (published as The Fellowship of Song : Popular Singing Traditions in East Suffolk by Ginette Dunn ca. 1980).

Evans believed that the strange combination of mysticism, folklore and practicality that imbued the role of the Suffolk horseman (think “horse whisperer,” if it helps) came from the gypsies who travelled around East Anglia. In fact, there were several families in Blaxhall who were descended from gypsies who had settled in the area and some local folkloric and musical traditions may have come to the area with the gypsies and thus from other parts of the British Isles and other travelling people.

The first official record of the presence of gypsies in Britain was made in 1505, but oral tradition suggests that they were present in East Anglia following the Black Death of 1348-9. Presumably, they were attracted by the opportunities to work after many villages in Suffolk had been completely depopulated by the plague. Many gypsies travelled around East Anglia working on the land, the Fens being the most favoured area as agricultural labour was more readily available. There are many examples of a generally happy co-existence between the gypsies and local people, for example, descriptions  – probably romanticized – of massive gypsy weddings are common in local literature. The East Anglian Magazine often featured letters and articles of recollections about gypsy life right up until the 1970s. George Borrow and John Heigham Steggall also wrote (perhaps fancifully) about the subject in the nineteenth century.

A gypsy family camping on wasteland in Ipswich, date unknown.

The reality may have been a little harsher. The Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, volume I, (1888-9) tells us that “between 1513 and 1523 some “Gypsions” were entertained by the Earl of Surrey at Tendring Hall, in Suffolk (Works of H. Howard, Earl of Surrey, ed. Nott, London, 1815, vol i. Appendix, p.5). On October 7, 1555, the Privy Council Register of Queen Mary records at Greenwich a letter to the Earl of Sussex and Sir John Shelton, Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk, returning again to them the passports and licences of ‘suche as name themselves Egiptians of wch company they had some in prison requiring them to examyne ye truth of their pretended Licenses, and being eftsons punished according to the Statute to give order forthwith for their transportaticon [sic] out of the Realm.’ ”

The following January, a further letter to Mr. Sulliarde, Sheriffe of Norfolk & Suffolk, instructing him to “proceed” with the 5 or 6 “Egiptians” he had apprehended. They should be sent out of the Realm with charge not to return upon “pain of execution.”

“About 1650 Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676) says, in his Pleas of the  Crown  (1778, i. 671): “I have not known these statutes much put into execution, only about twenty years since at the Assizes at Bury [St. Edmunds, in Suffolk] about thirteen were condemned and executed for this offence, namely for being Gypsies.’ (p. 24, Early Annals of the Gypsies in England by H T Crofton.)

The last known gypsies to be executed (for the “crime” of being gypsies) in Britain were, in fact, put to death in Suffolk in the 1650s.

The travelling families that settled in Blaxhall seemed to be well-integrated into village life by the time that George Ewart Evans made his study of the area. However, there was still a consciousness of differences between those villagers who were “local” and those who had “gypsy blood,” as he described in Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay:  “To say that a man has gipsy blood in him is to put him down as unreliable, And finally to place him beyond the pale of the true village community.”

Even Evans’s use of language seems strikingly hostile to the present day reader, he uses the expression “the accusation of gypsy blood,” for example,  although he was in fact sympathetic. When he was interviewing people in Blaxhall they would recall the gypsy origins of some of the families in the village:  “Oh, his grandfather (or great-grandfather) married a travelling woman. The Picketts and the Taylors and the Becketts were the names you used to meet most among the travellers. I believe it was a Pickett he married. They were nice folk but they had a different line o’ life entirely to us.”

Despite the apparent integration, however, events took a sour turn in around 1900:  “About 50 years ago…  the travellers were turned off their usual pitch on the Common. The reason given for this action was that their horses and donkeys roamed about at night and broke into and spoiled the villagers’ common yards. But they also worried the farmers by poaching, and by surreptitiously letting their horses on to the pastures late at night, retrieving them early in the morning before any of the farm people were about. …

“The Parish Council, on which two or three of the most influential farmer’s served, [my italics] was the chief agent in banishing the travellers. Robert Savage was himself a member of the Parish Council for 52 years and recalled the occasion: ‘All the village didn’t want the travellers to be moved off the Common. And I came in for a few shots at the Ship, mostly from people who were hinting that I was running in with the farmers in having the travellers turned off. But at the next Council meeting when the chairman asked, “Is there any other business?” I got up and said: “Yes, there’s more parish business done at the Ship than there’s done here!” And I told ’em my mind.  Nobody said nawthen to me after that.’

“The eviction was accompanied by a kind of ceremony – a ceremony of ejection – that many of the old villagers remember vividly. The body of men, who emphasized that they had nothing against the travellers – ‘The people wor all right: it wor the horses and donkeys!’ marched from the Ship Inn in a column headed by a trumpet and mouth-organ. This military seeming demonstration, however, met with no resistance; for the travellers had already had word. By the time the column arrived their horses and donkeys were harnessed ready to pull their caravans and carts on to the road. This they did, and the police are waiting on the high road to compel them to move on to another parish.”

Presumably, there are many people in East Anglia who have gypsies or other travelling people amongst their ancestors. Not only that, they have made a largely unacknowledged contribution to the traditions, language and culture of the region.

The Norwich Strangers: 16th century refugees

This is World Refugee Week and so I am going to write about some refugees who came to Norwich (and elsewhere) in the 16th & 17th centuries from the Netherlands, fleeing persecution.

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle

Norwich has always been multi-cultural. In the early mediaeval period, for example, it had a large French quarter, known as the “French Borough.” Following the Norman invasion, the new rulers had tried successive measures to quell the local populace, including building the hugely dominant castle – it looms over the city centre now and must have been an extremely strong symbol of power when it was first built in the late 11th century. Even so, the Normans still had problems suppressing the locals and so they decided to bring in an influx of French settlers (a policy that was similar, albeit on a smaller scale, to the plantation of Ulster in Ireland at a later date). The French Borough was situated where the Forum is now and, up to the 13th century, when its prosperity declined, it was one of the wealthiest parts of the city.

 The arrival of the “Strangers” from the Low Countries (roughly Holland and Belgium) in the 16th century was the result of the persecution of Dutch Calvinists by the Catholic Spanish rulers of that region of Europe. The Duke of Alva ruthlessly pursued them as heretics and many of them were raped, murdered or burnt at the stake. There were two main reasons why these refugees were broadly welcomed: under Elizabeth I, England was a Protestant country and it had not long been the case that Mary I had persecuted “heretics” in a similar manner. There are several monuments to this in East Anglia, for example at Bury St Edmunds.

Memorial to Protestant martyrs in Bury St. Edmunds

The Martyrs' Memorial, Bury St. Edmunds

 The second reason was that, with their skills in weaving, the new immigrants were of immense economic value. The asylum seekers had first settled in Sandwich, Kent, in 1565, and the City of Norwich elders invited them to the city because of their renowned skills in textile weaving. Much of the prosperity of Norfolk after this period can be traced to this influx of refugees.

 The arrival of the Strangers was described by W. Moens in his book The Walloons & their Church at Norwich (1888):

 Invited by the Duke of Norfolk and the Corporation of Norwich, the strangers on obtaining letters patent from the Crown, came to Norwich in 1665 from Sandwich, where they first settled, and soon increasing in numbers restored to the city, by the manufacture of their various fabrics, that prosperity which had been lost by the ravages caused by the mortality from the black death at the close of the 14th century.

 In 1566 an accord was made by the Duchess of Parma with those of the reformed religion in the Netherlands, who, on attaching their signatures to the terms before the magistrates of the various towns, were allowed to attend the Services of their own ministers. Many returned from England to the Low Countries on this concession, but in the following year faith was broken with them, and the unscrupulous severity of the Duke of Alva’s rule caused a flight of all who could escape the vigilance of the authorities. … The details of the conditions under which foreigners were formerly allowed to settle in this country and to follow their trades are interesting and very different from the custom of the present day, when they are on the same footing as natives, but from their frugal habits are able to (and do) work at rates, which in many eases bring misery and ruin to whole districts…. The old custom of hostage, revived by the grant of 1576 to William Tipper, compelled to reside with appointed hosts who received payment for their entertainment and who supervised and received a percentage on their purchases and sales. The Corporation of Norwich purchased this right in 1578 for the sum of £70 13s. 4d., but did not exercise it against the strangers. The strangers paid double subsidies or taxes on the value of their personal property; they paid their own ministers, by whom they had to be furnished with a voucher before permission to reside in the city was granted to them, all their names being registered; they had to pay all the expenses of their churches and the entire support of their poor besides twenty pence in the pound on their rentals, towards the pay of the parish clergy. … As in the present time in London, where the old jealousy against foreigners seems to be reviving, there was always a party in the Corporation of Norwich opposed to the strangers, but the manifest benefits derived by the city from their manufactures and trade always induced a large majority of the Council to watch over and protect them.

 The strangers at Norwich from the first were placed under a strict and special rule; a book of orders was drawn up by the Corporation and settled by a committee of the Privy Council, From time to time these articles were varied, but it was not long before they were allowed in a measure to fall into abeyance, on account of the prosperity brought to the city by the successful trade of the strangers.

 Norwich was not free from xenophobia. As early as 1144, the death of a boy had led to accusations made towards local Jews of ritual murder and sparked anti-Semitic rioting. Despite the undoubted benefits that immigration had brought to the city – many of its finest buildings, for example – there was still some resentment. In 1567 the mayor of Norwich, Thomas Whall, made inflammatory statements, which sound all too familiar today, that the Walloons had “sucked the living away from the English” and greater restrictions were placed upon them. Interestingly, though, when the 16th century equivalent of the BNP tried to foment attacks on the refugees in 1570, it was the ring-leaders of the anti-Stranger faction who were executed.

 In 1578, Queen Elizabeth I made a state visit to Norwich, which appears to have been a specific attempt to demonstrate her support for the Strangers. The Dutch community presented her with a pageant and a silver-gilt cup worth £50. Although there were further difficulties and conflicts between their community and the established population of Norwich, it was probably the beginning of their assimilation and, as with most influxes of immigrants and refugees, they gradually disappeared as a separate entity. In 1633-4, the Norwich rate book listed many names which were probably Dutch or Flemish in origin, such as Vanrockenham, Vartingoose, Verbeake, Vertegans, Vinke, Dehem, Dehage. By 1830, the Norwich poll book includes very few: possibly only Adrian Decleve (goldsmith) and  John De Vear (draper).

 To this day, the people of Norfolk have profited from the labour of migrants and, even fairly recently, there have been nasty incidents such as the attacks on Portuguese people in Thetford following England’s defeat by Portugal in the 2004 European football tournament. Other foreign workers have been exploited and abused by gangmasters. Overall, however, the story of the Strangers in Norwich was a very successful one and indeed there are many historical examples of refugees, not only helping the economy but also of adding to the cultural variety and vibrancy of the communities in which they settled.

The Dutch Church, formerly AUstin Friars in Norwich

Austin Friars, which became the Dutch Church in Norwich

Shakespeare and Suffolk

This isn’t really a blog as it’s taken from an article written by Emma Cullum. First published in the East Anglian Magazine, April 1964:


So few facts are known about the first 28 years of William Shakespeare’s life, that some very doubtful legends have gathered round them. The borough of Stratford-on-Avon, swelling with pilgrim-tourists, has not unnaturally claimed as much as possible of the poet-dramatist. A close study of the early plays indicates that Shakespeare was travelling around England when he was much younger than is suggested in the hitherto generally accepted accounts.
Why are the Wars of the Roses the theme of the first plays attributed to Shakespeare? If, as is at present urged, Shakespeare attended Stratford Grammar School from the age of 11 to 16; was then buried in this small provincial town until he was 24 or 25 and wrote the plays as a poor hireling, he would have had small opportunity to acquire interest in or a knowledge of history. We know that English history was not included in the curriculum of Stratford Grammar School and there is no evidence that copies of the chronicles which he uses were available there.
The reasons advanced for the choice of the subject are the patriotic fervour consequent on the victory over the Armada in 1588 and the expedition of the Earl of Essex to Normandy in 1592. Yet Henry VI tells not of England’s glory but of its disintegration and the loss of overseas possessions.
In the 1580s, the Earl of Oxford gathered round him a group of poets, playwrights and men of letters. He had houses in London, a manor at Lavenham, a favourite ‘country muses’ at Wivenhoe and his ancestral castle at Hedingham. If Shakespeare was present at one of his literary house-parties, he might well have had occasion to contrast the castle of Hedingham with the neighbouring castle at Clare.
Even to-day, Hedingham castle stands triumphant. Clare castle is a sombre warning to those who, like its former owners, the Mortimers, aspire to power and are laid low. In Shakespeare’s time the new ruins must have been even more awe-inspiring. The three parts of Henry VI and the sequel, Richard III, unfold the story of the claims of the Plantagenet-Mortimers to the throne and their eventual downfall. The Duke of Clarence, son of Edward III, and Edmond Mortimer, their bones brought home from foreign lands, are both buried in the nearby Priory of Clare.
It is significant that although Shakespeare drew his material from the chronicles of Halle and Holinshed, he gave the story of the Wars of the Roses a different slant. He tells it as it would have been related by a member of the East Anglian De Vere family, Earls of Oxford. The De Veres first upheld the Lancastrian cause and then protected and advanced to the throne, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond. Although the Earl of Oxford, who appears in the play, has only a minor role, he is one of the very few who is consistently praised in a drama in which most of the characters appear as weak or evil:
‘Oxford that did ever fence the right . . .’ It is improbable that the early plays  of Shakespeare which we know, the fragments thought to be his and some pieces of his which are no doubt lost, were the work of a single author composing in seclusion. The plays ‘grew in action’. One man made a draft; another revised it; actors improvised. There were few theatres in our sense. Performances took place for various occasions and before widely different audiences—the Queen and her nobles; the law students of the Inns of Court; a crowd of burgesses or ‘country bumpkins’ in a market place. Shakespeare showed great skill in adapting his plays and introducing passages to please the different localities through which a group of touring players passed: his introduction of ‘the men of Bury’, for example, and of the grievance of the enclosure of the common lands of Long Melford. Since there was no scenery, the actors no doubt made the fullest possible use of the background against which a piece happened to be performed— the garden of a stately home, a castle wall, the balcony of an inn yard. It is tempting to think that the tremendous scenes of Henry VI part II, which are set in Bury St. Edmunds, were originally played in the buildings of the Abbey, where the nobles really had gathered 150 years before. Through the still magnificent gateway, Henry VI and his peers must have ridden to that fatal parliament, which Shakespeare so vividly describes; and in an inner chamber the Duke of Gloucester was foully murdered. It is claimed that the early plays are full of the images of the Warwickshire countryside and reflect the life of sixteenth century Stratford and its neighbourhood. Such a general claim might be made on behalf of almost any county in the southern half of England. What is more striking is how many phrases and turns of speech, occurring in the plays, are still alive in Suffolk today:
‘Lards the lean earth as he walks along . . .’ (Henry IV). (To lard is to sweat heavily, as a horse does.)
‘Your sauciness will jet upon my love . . .’ (Comedy of Errors.)
(This line has long puzzled scholars. A ‘jet’—a peculiarly Suffolk word—is a scoop with a long handle for clearing ponds and ditches. I take the phrase to mean ‘diminish’. The word also appears in Titus Andronicus.)
‘I’d rather be a canker in the hedge than a rose in his grace.’ (Much Ado.)
(The ‘canker’ is the Suffolk word for a rose hip.)
‘I know a hawk from a handsaw.’   (Hamlet.)
(‘Handsaw’ or ‘Harnser’ is still the Suffolk word for a heron.)
‘I doubt he will be dead.’   (King John.)
‘Now they are clapper clawing one another.’ (Troilus and Cressida.)
(This was a game of pulling off caps, played by boys at school.)
‘We will draw cuts for the senior.’ (Comedy of Errors.)
(Drawing lots by pieces of cut straw held in the
‘Sowle the Porter of the Roman Gates by the ears.’ (Coriolanus.)
(To pull, especially a dog tugging at a pig’s ear.)
‘In a twink she won me to her love.’ (Taming of the Shrew.)
“Twere not amiss to keep our door hatched.” (Pericles.)
An expression I have not heard out of Suffolk is a ‘tizzicking’ cough (Troilus and Cressida).
‘Finnick’ is used here of giving oneself airs. In Lear there occurs ‘a finical rogue’.
The old lady down the road (who is one of my main sources of dialect) once said: ‘tomorrow’ll be enough to flee yar.’ ‘Flee’ of course is Suffolk for ‘skin’ but Hamlet speaks of ‘flaw’, referring to the wind, probably the same derivation.
In his delightful book The Suffolk Dialect of the 20th Century (Norman Adlard 1960), Mr. A. O. D. Clayton gives further examples.
It may be that such expressions once existed in other counties also and that they have survived in Suffolk because it has been less subjected to the destructive effects of so-called modern civilisation.
Shakespeare spoke for all England but at least such metaphors as
‘With russet yeas and honest kersey noes . . .’ (L.L.L.) and Prince Hal’s description of Falstaff as ‘that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly’ sprang from our own part of the countryside.

Evil May Day: hostility to immigrants in London, 1517

David Cameron’s decision to make a speech about immigration in the run up to local elections may be surprising to some. It is unusual for a political leader in Britain, whether a monarch or a Prime Minister, to make such an overt statement about immigration http://www.anhourago.co.uk/show.aspx?l=8377478&d=501 Nevertheless, there is a history of violent, albeit short-lived outbursts of anti-foreign feeling in Britain, usually as a result of rabble-rousing by a demagogue like Oswald Mosley.

 One example took place in London in 1517 and became known as “Evil May Day.” This sudden, and probably terrifying, riot occurred two weeks after an inflammatory sermon by a Dr. Bell, in which he appealed to “Englishmen to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal.” Attacks on foreigners began immediately, but events came to a head on the first of May when apprentices, later joined by Thames watermen and city porters (these three groups seemed always to be up for a riot) ran wild in the city of London, attacking foreigners, looting their homes and shops. In this case, the “foreigners” were mainly French, but such outbreaks of aggression took place periodically, aimed at Jews, or the Dutch or other groups who were identified as being an economic threat to the indigenous population.

Here’s a contemporary account from Hall’s Chronicle (ca. 1548) which was sympathetic to the rioters: “[The Eighth year of King Henry VIII.] In this season, the Genevese, Frenchmen and other strangers said and boasted themselves to be in such favour with the king and his council, that they set nought by the rulers of the city; and the multitude of strangers was so great about London, that the poor English artificers could scarce get any living; and, most of all, the strangers were so proud, that they disdained, mocked and oppressed the Englishmen, which was the beginning of the grudge.”  … Allegations of assaults and a murder follow before the account continues, “For, amongst others that sore grudged at these matters, there was a broker in London, called John Lincoln, which wrote a bill before Easter, desiring Doctor Sandish at his sermon at Saint Mary Spital, the Monday in Easter week, to move the mayor and aldermen to take part with the commonalty against the strangers.  The doctor answered, that it became not him to move any such thing in a sermon.” Lincoln then succeeded in persuading a Dr. Bele or Bell to give a sermon about the dangers the foreigners posed to those “born in London.”…  “Of this sermon many a light person took courage, and openly spake against strangers.  And, as the devil would, the Sunday after, at Greenwich, in the king’s gallery was Francis de Bard, which, as you heard, kept an Englishman’s wife and his goods.  And with him were Domingo, Anthony Caueler, and many more strangers; and there they, talking with Sir Thomas Palmer, knight, jested and laughed that Francis kept the Englishman’s wife, saying that if they had the Mayor’s wife of London, they would keep her.  Sir Thomas said, ‘Sirs, you have too much favour in England.’ There were divers English merchants by, and heard them laugh and were not content, in so much as one William Bolt, a mercer, said, ‘Well, you whoresome Lombards, you rejoice and laugh; by the mass, we will one day have a day at you, come when it will;’ and that saying the other merchant affirmed.” 

 The chronicle then goes on to describe the riots of the following May Day: “Then suddenly there was a common secret rumour, and no man could tell how it began, that on May day next, the city would rebel, and slay all  aliens …” The rioting involved many hundreds of people and there was considerable destruction to “foreigners’ ” property, although it was not recorded whether anyone was killed or not.

 After intervention by Sir Thomas More, the riot was quelled and hundreds were arrested. Henry VIII pardoned most of them but 13 rioters, including John Lincoln, were executed for treason. It is interesting to compare how, even in the 16th century, the authorities were aware of the dangers of allowing tensions about immigration to boil over into violence and hatred. 

I’m sure that the last thing Cameron intends is to encourage aggression or violence towards immigrants or asylum seekers, but history tells us that the smallest thing can exacerbate tensions, particularly at a time of economic hardship. Perhaps our current leaders should study a little more history.