Former councillor remembers last man to be burned at stake

DM1519614a.jpg Former councillor George Cockman places a flower on a memorial in Church Street, Steyning to the last man to be burnt at the stake in Steyning in 1555. He is pictured beside Chantry Green where it happened. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-150727-190344008
DM1519614a.jpg Former councillor George Cockman places a flower on a memorial in Church Street, Steyning to the last man to be burnt at the stake in Steyning in 1555. He is pictured beside Chantry Green where it happened. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-150727-190344008
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A FORMER councillor has paid homage to the last man to be burnt at the stake in Steyning by placing a flower on a memorial in the town.

George Cockman explained that July 23 marks the anniversary of the martyrdom of John Launder, who was burnt at the stake set up on the edge of Chantry Green and Church Street in 1555.

Mr Cockman, a Horsham district councillor for 20 years and former deputy head teacher at Steyning Grammar School, said: “A few years ago, I was teaching history to a year eight class in one of the rooms of the old building which overlooks Church Street.

“We came to the story of Launder which caught their imaginations, not least because the final stages of the story had taken place so close to the old room in which we were studying.

“As the anniversary took place on the last day of term, we arranged an event to which we invited both Roman Catholic and Protestant members of Steyning. The event was recorded for BBC local news that evening.

“Since that time, I have tried to mark the day by placing a flower on a memorial which has been set up by the Sussex Martyrs Memorial Trust.

“I come from a protestant tradition, but my annual pilgrimage is more to the extraordinary courage of John Launder, and secondly to the cause of the individual against the corporate authority of the state, church, board of directors and senior management team where people cling together around a power base supporting each other’s ignorance, prejudice and stupidity.

“It happened in 1555, it happens today. It may take a few decades, or a few centuries before there is a general recognition that the individual was right and the authorities corrupted by contemporary power. I shall continue to pay homage to John Launder for his inspiring courage and his refreshingly clear stand against the ignorance and stupidity of the powerful.”

Mr Cockman said Launder was apprehended with two fellow protestants for praying in English in a house which also contained English texts of the Bible. The three were given the opportunity to recant and thus save themselves from excruciating death by burning. Each steadfastly refused and used the opportunity to proclaim the value of the English Bible and the protestant faith.

Launder was brought to Steyning, to the house that was then a prison, in the High Street, opposite the end of Church Street. The next day he was taken past the grammar school to the stake on Chantry Green.