Tony Benn to unveil peasants’ plaque in Highbury

Former Cabinet member Tony Benn will unveil a plaque commemorating one of the most important events in Islington’s history - the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

Mr Benn will join Islington Council leader Catherine West at the Highbury Barn Tavern, in Highbury Park, on Saturday to help mark the spot where Wat Tyler and Jack Straw held their final major rally in June 1381.

Opposition to Richard II’s unpopular poll tax started in Essex and Kent, but soon spread to London, with villagers marching on the city and storming the Tower of London.

Several officials were beheaded by the peasants, including Sir Robert Hales, the Lord Treasurer, who was in charge of collecting tax. Hales was Prior of St John of Jerusalem in Clerkenwell, which was burnt to the ground by the rebels. An estimated 20,000 insurgents then converged at Highbury and destroyed Highbury Manor, Hales’ fine residence.

The revolt was ultimately crushed and the leaders executed, but for many years afterwards, the ruins of Highbury Manor were known as ‘Jack Straw’s Castle’.

Although the revolt failed to achieve its stated aims, it did succeed in showing the nobles that the peasants were dissatisfied and that they were capable of wreaking havoc - and Islington residents have voted to commemorate the event with the first People’s Plaque.

Mr Benn said: “The Peasants’ Revolt was one of the early examples of a long series of public campaigns to secure freedom and democracy in Britain and can be loosely compared to the Arab Spring which is now transforming the politics of the Middle East. In recalling its importance we are celebrating a great moment in our long political history.”

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Over 3,000 members of the public voted earlier this year on which five major Islington figures, organisations or events they wanted to see recognised with an Islington People’s Plaque.

Cllr Catherine West, said: “The Peasants’ Revolt is a famous part of British history but isn’t always recognised as a part of Islington’s history, which is why residents wanted to see it acknowledged.

“Times are obviously very different now, but the gap between the rich and poor is still something that we’re very aware of today in Islington and are working to change through the Islington Fairness Commission.

“It’s important that we acknowledge the events, people and organisations that have made their mark on Islington – whether hundreds of years ago or in more recent times.”

The Peasants’ Revolt is the first of the new green plaques to be unveiled and will be followed later this year by plaques for John Wright, founder of the Angel Puppet Theatre, author Douglas Adams, suffragette Edith Garrud and local boat club pioneer, Crystal Hale.

Everyone is welcome to attend the plaque unveiling at 2pm on Saturday.