'Levelling up' democracy in Burford

Radical history event celebrates Levellers

Reading time: 4 min

If you are interested in what real levelling up means then go to Burford, Oxfordshire this Saturday (May 18) for an annual event celebrating the roots of democracy, suffrage and equality.

Levellers Day commemorates the spirit and values of the Levellers, a group of radical thinkers within the Parliamentarian forces during, and after, the English Civil War. The Levellers wanted equality for all, a level society and are considered by some to be the first socialists.

The group organised a mutiny within the New Model Army over Oliver Cromwell’s failure to pay soldiers agreed wages, as well as calling for political change. Around 340 of the Leveller mutineers were surrounded and held in St John the Baptist Church.

On May 17, 1649, three of the Levellers’ leaders were taken from the church and executed in the graveyard, and are now commemorated by a plaque dedicated to Cornet Thompson, Corporal Perkins and Private Church on the church wall unveiled by Tony Been in 1979.

This year’s event has music, speakers and a march of banners through the centre of the village. It also has a history walk through the village for the first time.

The procession is followed by a Levellers’ Day debate in the main hall, whose theme this year is “Democracy Under Threat”.

The debate is being chaired by Unite regional organiser Tabusam Ahmed. Tabusam has been campaigning with Barts NHS Trust workers, and sees links between them and the Levellers.

Tabusam said,“Barts workers have not been given Covid bonus payments they were promised and have been denied pay. One of the reasons the Levellers mutinied over 350 years ago was that they were not paid what they were promised by the government of the time.”

Tabusam, who is attending Levellers Day for the first time, is looking forward to being involved and finding out more after being invited to chair the debate by TUC LESE Regional Secretary, Sam Gurney.

“I’ve been reading up on the history of the Levellers and found it really interesting, particularly in the way that some of the things they were calling for at the time, such as equality and fair pay, are issues Unite is still fighting for today.”

Levellers Day has been an annual celebration of the fight for justice since 1975, and is jointly organised by the TUC London East and South East (TUC LESE) and the Oxford International Brigades Memorial Committee.

More details can be found on the Levellers Day website here.

By Keith Hatch