The year is 1210 and feudalism comes to an end as the town receives its first charter

AXBRIDGE PAGEANT: When people in Axbridge (or ‘Alse Bruge’) spoke Norman French and the town was given its first charter by ‘Good’ King John – who also freed the serfs – hurray!

This is an extract from the programme for the Axbridge Pageant due we hope in 2021 written by Harry Mottram. It was originally due to be performed this month but has been put back 12 months due to Covid-19 with even a question mark over that date due to the ongoing problems of social distancingThe pageant is directed by John Bailey.

Saxon Axbridge with its mint, its fortifications and its struggles with Danes has seen the arrival of the Norman French in 1066. At first there was little change but the old social system was replaced by feudalism and over the next two centuries the town changed from Axanbrycg in Middle English to a settlement of the Middle Ages called Alse Bruge.

A medieval hunting party has been a fixture in the pageant since the 1970s with hounds and horse creating a colourful scene in the Square

We move on to the year 1210 and by now Axbridge was beginning to look like a town. A river flowed across this Square and still does – now hidden beneath the road – emerging from beside the church and flowing down past the Co-op and on down to the Levels. A bridge crossed the river while there were fish ponds where the Bank House now stands, with the town forming around the High Street when newcomers appeared speaking a strange new language: Norman French.

Chronicler: “À l’automne dix-six après la récolte, des nouvelles des Normands qui avaient vaincu le roi Harold et n’étaient pas maîtres de nos terres.”

Er… 1066 and the Normans are the new masters of Axbridge or Alse Bruge as it was called in the Domesday Book.

King John granted the town the right to hold markets and a form of self government

Let us quickly peel away the years of Norman rule to 1210 and Good King John. Robin Hood and the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest may have thought of him a derf villain (bad rogue), but here in Axbridge he’s a hero as he confirmed on the town a charter to hold a market – setting it free from Cheddar and in 1279 a second charter freed the serfs – hurray!

Axbridge grew into a prosperous trading centre, with new buildings, industries and workshops, its own Member of Parliament, a market complete with shambles and thirty-two burgesses – town officials. And it all began with those royal hunting trips.

Whole families take part in this scene as can be seen here with the Hughes’ of West Street

King John’s Hunting Lodge, a fine medieval house that is now the town’s museum. Built as a merchant’s house and shop in around 1460, the property has been a pub, a café, a saddlery and even a music shop over the centuries. We’d dearly love to say that King John stayed the night there and the event was commemorated with the effigy of the hunting-mad monarch poking out from the gables. Alas he had been dead for 250 years when the leaning timber house was built.

The role of King John is one of the star parts in the pageant – although there is no evidence he actually he actually visited Axbridge – but the pageant is a play with some artistic licence

King John’s charters ended the shackles of feudalism and establish a market and a form of self-government. Wool became one of the town’s biggest products with a guild established by the merchants to regulate the golden fleeces of the Mendip sheep farms that brought wealth to the town.
Good King John for putting the town on the map.

The pageant with a cast of 300 is now scheduled to take place from Saturday to Monday August 28-30th, 2021 – having been put back a year due to Covid-19. Please note due to the ongoing pandemic the date may have to be altered again.

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