Story of the Martyrs’ Memorial

Author Peter Wickins has written a book on who the Martyrs were and the history of how the memorial in Bury came about.
Author Peter Wickins has written a book on who the Martyrs were and the history of how the memorial in Bury came about.
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FINDING a memorial to Protestants burnt by Queen Mary I pricked Peter Wickins’ curiosity.

The former lecturer in economic history at the University of Cape Town decided to investigate.

The resulting book, Victorian Protestantism and Bloody Mary (Arena Books, £17.99) is published on Monday. In it, he suggests the main reason for Bury St Edmunds’ Martyrs’ Memorial was not to mark the villainy of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII’s daughter, but to boost the Protestant cause when they felt challenged in Victorian times.

Mr Wickins, 87, who retired to Bury, said: “I was surprised by two things. First was that there was no obvious reason for putting up a memorial. It wasn’t a centenary or any conspicuous date.

“The other was that some of the martyrs were not burnt by Bloody Mary but by Henry VIII or Elizabeth.”

He says that though 17 names appear on the memorial, none was from Bury. While the Victorians thought Bury was a centre of Protestant resistance, Mr Wickins believes it was just a ‘safe place’ to burn them.

In 1903, Bury memorial committee raised only £100, compared to £1,000 in Lewes, and was unhappy that the town’s council only offered a site tucked behind the Norman Tower.