The Protestant Martyrs of Mayfield
Mayfield, once an important centre of the iron industry, was long ago described as ‘the sweetest village in England’. Set upon a hilly ridge it has splendid views across the countryside. But even this delightful village has known times of testing and sorrow. No less than six brave Christians from this village were burned at the stake for refusing to renounce their Protestant beliefs based on the Bible, and return to the Roman Catholic Church. Four of them suffered in Mayfield itself, being burned to death on 24 September 1556; the other two died in Lewes the following year.
It is recorded that four men (the names of two unknown), “John Hart, Thomas Ravensdale, a shoemaker and a currier (leather worker) …being at a place where they should suffer, after they made their prayer and were at the stake ready to abide the force of the fire, they constantly and joyfully yielded their lives to the testimony of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ”. The place of their martyrdom is said to have been about ten yards from the main road through Mayfield, close to where the memorial now stands.
The other two Mayfield martyrs, William Maynard and Thomasina Wood, died at the stake together with eight other Sussex men and women on 22 June 1557 outside the Star Inn at the top of Cliffe Hill. Maynard is said to have been a member of an ancient family at Mayfield and Thomasina a native of Mayfield, a maid in his service.
In an excellent book on Mayfield by Miss E M Bell Irving one can read a quotation from ‘The Register of Martyrs’ published in 1559 which deals with this event in rhyme:
When William Maynard, his maid and man,
Margery Morris and her son,
Dennis Burgess, Stevens and Woodman,
Groves wife and Ashdon’s to death were done,
When one fire at Lewes brought them to death
We wished for our Elizabeth.