About John Simson Plaque (HT)
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In Market Alley, which runs between Martin’s newsagents and Greggs, you will find on the brick wall, a plaque to commemorate the death of the tragic martyr John Simson.
It was 1555. Queen Mary was passionately engaged in the throes of re-establishing Roman Catholicism to England, a fierce attempt to overturn her father King Henry VIII and brother Edward VI’s Protestant reigns. Her five-year reign of terror as sovereign of England saw the Papist queen execute approximately 280 Protestants for their refusal to accept the Catholic faith. It was the ghastly nature of her religious crusade that earned her the name of ‘Bloody Mary’. Defiance was met with certain death, by a harrowing burning at the stake.
John Simson and John Ardeley were simple labourers working in the small village of Great Wigborough of Winstree Hundred, south of Colchester. The clergy having noted their refusal to conform, informed Queen Mary. On 25th May they were found guilty at trial, charged with stubbornness and vainglory. At their defence, both poor men humbly offered their goods and lands to the Queen in exchange for a life free from Popery, but alas, their hearts blood was not enough to secure their lives.
On June 10th, following the example of many devout Protestants of Mary’s era, they were burnt at the stake. These gruesome public burnings didn’t take part in home towns for fear of rioting, so, as Ardley was led to his death in Rayleigh High Street, Simson was martyred in or near Rochford Square. It was not the practice to strangle heretics first, as was usual in this method of capital punishment at that time. Simson’s hands were chained behind him to the stake, and he endured the most agonising punishment; the flames crawling up his body to his head, slowly roasting him to death.
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