The Great Deddington Skirmish

Geoffrey Hindley

Research for my new book, “England in the Age of Caxton”, has led me down some brackish backwaters of our local history. During the 15th century ‘law and order’ in England was by no means what it might have been. The occasional battles known as ‘The Wars of the Roses’, caused far less disturbance than the strong-arm activities of a hundred local “Mr. Bigs”. Most places had at least one local war – Deddington’s was against John Aston of Somerton.

Aston was a prosperous gentleman thanks largely, it appears, to active lawyers backed up by active bully boys. Early in 1430 a group of exasperated neighbours, led by John Somerton of Deddington, also ‘gentilmen’, hit back. Somerton’s party was recruited largely from his fellow townsmen - Richard Baynard, carpenter; Thomas Schlatter, a slater; Richard Wodeford, tailor; John Cook, bell maker; Richard Smyth, blacksmith; John Smyth, another carpenter and William Spicer, husbandman. ‘Arrayed in manner of war’, they proceeded to break ‘the close and houses of the said John Aston at Somerton, assaulted him and took away goods to the value of £20, and beat and wounded his servants and so threatened them that they dared not go about his business for fear of death and mayhem. ‘ The Aston nuisance was abated for the time being but, in March that year, he brought a summons against the ‘malefactora’.

One reputation at least survived the trial. Fifteen years later the name of John Somerton heads the list of Deddington men who set up the Holy Trinity Guild which provided the town with its first school. The medieval syllabus did not include a course in Civics. Even if it had, one doubts whether John Somerton, gentleman, would have been called in to advise.

Originally published in the Deddington News September 1976, p.9