The Protestant Martyr of Warbleton

It was a tense moment for young Miss Woodman who lived in the old farmhouse at Warbleton, East Sussex. Although still a child she was only too aware that the men accompanied by the Sheriff now approaching her home meant danger for her father. She ran indoors shouting, “Mother, Mother, yonder cometh twenty men!” Hearing her cry her father Richard Woodman, a wealthy farmer and ironmaster jumped up from his bed where he had been sitting and rushed into hissecret hiding place under the eaves of his house.

Here on many previous searches he had escaped arrest. On this occasion however, when the search party failed to find him, his own brother told them of the hiding place. Warned by his faithful wife, Richard tore away some of the roof above him and leaped to the ground. Although strong and young, running without shoes on a cinder path, he hurt his foot and was soon overtaken by one known as ‘Parker the Wild’. So now Woodman, who had previously avoided arrest by fleeing to Flanders and France was apprehended.

Now why was there such determination to arrest this man? What was his crime?

Richard Woodman lived during the early years of the Reformation. After many years of Spiritual darkness the people of Europe were beginning to read the Bible for themselves in their own language. They saw that much of what the priests had taught them was corrupt and they rejected it. The Church of England had set forth the new Reformed Doctrine in the Prayer Book of Edward Vl and Woodman’s vicar, Fairbanke had taught this doctrine. But with the death of Edward and the accession of Mary to the Throne of England, Fairbanke ‘turned head to tail and preached clean contrary’ to what he had previously taught. For this Woodman publickly reproved him and it was for this that Woodman was arrested.

From jail Woodman wrote to a friend, “I am sometimes wearing belts, otherwhile shackles, sitting in stocks, sometimes bound with cords that all my body had been swollen, overcome for the pain…”. During some 32 ‘trials’ when he was questioned about his Protestant faith, he proved himself a real Bible student, powerfully arguing from Scripture the reasons why he rejected the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church including Baptismal Regeneration, the Real Presence and the seven Sacraments. But in spite of some of his accusers acknowledging the strength of his arguments, Woodman was finally condemned on 16 July 1557 and taken to Lewes. The basement cell in which he was kept with nine other Protestants can be seen in the Town Hall together with the stone steps up which they walked to the stake. Six days later, on 22 July 1557 Woodman was burned alive outside the Star Inn, Lewes in an Auto da Fé.

The grill at the top of the steps

The place of the burning

The steps up which the Martyrs walked

The tablet on the front wall of the Town Hall (formerly the Star Inn)

An engraving of the Auto da Fé Photo: Woodman’s cottage taken by Mr Reeves of Lewes about the 1880s