Magna Carta birthday party is held in the town dungeon
STOCKPORT Heritage Trust did not allow the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, England’s Great Charter, to go by without a practical demonstration of ‘charter making’ in the town’s historic medieval dungeon.
Dressed in Medieval attire, Heritage Trust members invited children to sign miniature ‘charters’ of their own, just like King John, and like him they promised in writing to be good, and to do what they are told by legally constituted authority (their parents).
These mini charters, a creation of trust secretary Coral Dranfield, were witnessed and signed with real quill pens dipped in black ink, and sealed with hot wax stamped with a King John silver penny.
The silver pennies were also on sale at 20p each. There’s inflation for you.
They actually cost the trust 40p each so they were a steal and there was a brisk trade. In 1215 an artisan might work all day for just one of those, and it was these freeborn liberties that the Great Charter aimed to protect.
Sir Robert de Stokeport, lord of the manor and Baron of Stockport paid a fleeting visit from the early 13th century and was asked what he thought about the ‘new’ Charter.
Speaking indistinctly through his helmet visor he growled that he didn’t think much of giving rights to peasants. ‘Villeins ye are and villeins ye shall remain’ he grunted (meaning peasants shouldn’t be allowed out of the village unsupervised). But he was all in favour of rights for barons over the arbitrary powers of King John.
Indeed, Stockport castle had already been held in a rebellion against King John’s father, Henry the 2nd by Sir Robert’s predecessor Geoffrey de Costentin, who lost his lands in forfeit. It was then just a wooden tower and palisade on an earthen mound heaped up over Castle Yard and soon fell to a siege.
Sir Robert, however, was thinking of rebuilding it in stone on a grander scale, on the rocky spur which jutted above the ford in the river across to Lancashire and charging people coming to the market to sell their goods.
Suddenly seeing the heap of silver pennies in a wooden bowl he scooped them all up in a mailed fist, asked when the ‘dungeon tolls’ would next be operating, turned on his heel and clanking off into the misty drizzle outside.
More stories on heritage in Stockport Heritage Magazine on sale at local newsagents, bookshops, museums and heritage centres or at www.stockport heritagemagazine.co.uk.