The Protestant Martyrs of East Grinstead

In Grinstead in Sussex suffered two men and one woman, the names of whom were Thomas Dungate, John Forman and Mother Tree, who for righteousness sake gave themselves to death and torments of the fire, patiently abiding what the furious rage of man could say or work against them; at the said town of Grinstead ending their lives the 18 July 1556’. So wrote the martyrologist John Foxe, recording for ever the sad events of that time.

Today, in the grounds of St Swithin’s Church just of the High Street where these three martyrs were burned to death at the stake, one can see three memorial stones which cover their charred remains. The inscription reads, ‘Faithful Unto Death’.

Although there is sufficient family evidence for us to be sure that Thomas Dungate resided in East Grinstead, he is believed to have been arrested at a farm which was then about a mile north of the ancient village of Crawley, Sussex. We know that from 1556 this farm was known as ‘Martyrs Farm’.

Today the New Town of Crawley envelops this old farmhouse which is still standing in what is now called ‘Martyrs Close’ off Martyrs Avenue, Langley Green. To look at that house today and remember that Dungate was hiding there for his Protestant faith when he was apprehended is a salutary reminder of the cost some have paid in their bold stand against error, endeavoring to maintain the truth of God’s word as we have it in the Bible.

Mother Tree, whose real name was Ann Tree, lived in the Parish of West Hoathly, a tiny village just to the south-west of East Grinstead. Little is known about her apart from the fact that her granddaughter was married in the time of Queen Elizabeth l to an Edmund Ellis, a resident of East Grinstead.

A brass plaque in memory of Ann Tree can be found on the south wall inside the picturesque Parish Church of West Hoathly.

Of the third martyr, John Foreman, virtually nothing is known.

The question as to why these three people died in the flame in this manner may be asked by some today when it is fashionable in some quarters to deny that there is any such thing as certainty about religious truth, or any opinions for which it is worth while to be burned. How different it seems to have been 450 years ago! Clearly there were then men and women who were certain they had found truth that was worth dying to preserve.

This truth they found in the Bible, which had recently been printed in English. Here they discovered that many of the traditional practices of the church of Rome had no foundation in the Bible. It was when they tried to withdraw from the Roman Catholic Church, especially during the reign of Mary (1553-1558) that they were fiercely persecuted.