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 September 24th 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...being at the place where they should suffer, after they had made their prayer, and were at the stake ready to abide the force of the rare, 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 their memorial now stands.

The other two Mayfield martyrs, William Maynard and Thomasina Wood, (lied 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 F. M. Bell Irving one can read ~ 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.

And she was not long coming. Just one year later, in 1558, the protestant Elizabeth I came to the throne of England. But by then, during three years (1555-1557) of Mary’s reign (1553-1558), 36 men and women of Sussex died at the stake, being some of the total of 288 martyrs throughout the British Isles.

Why were they persecuted? The answer is that these men and women of Sussex recently having the Bible in their own language for the first time, tested the doctrine and practices of the Medieval Church against what they read. Sadly they found all too often that there were serious discrepancies.

For them, salvation in the Medieval Church was by an endless round of sacraments and ‘good works’. Forgiveness for their sin was dispensed by the priest through the Mass, auricular confession and indulgences, without payment. But on reading the Bible these Sussex folk found that here it was taught that salvation was by faith alone in the fully completed and once offered sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross. For them the recreation of this in the Mass became an abomination; forgiveness for their sins was through their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ without the need for any human mediator in the form of a priest. It was for their rejection of the church’s teaching they were persecuted unto death.

Although many years have passed since they died maintaining that the Bible alone must be our sole basis for the truth we need to remember that the Roman Catholic Church today still holds to and practices the doctrines that these Martyrs rejected.

You can see a Memorial to the Mayfield Martyrs in
the grounds of the United Reformed Church, Mayfield.


When the Sussex sheriff, Edward Gage, broke into the home of Brighton brewer Deryk Carver one dark evening at the end of October 1554, he found exactly what he was looking for. There, in an upstairs room of the brewery in Black Lion Street he discovered about a dozen men engaged "in prayer, saying the Service in English as set forth in the time of Edward VP’. He apprehended them all, sending three of them immediately to London. One of these was a 25 year old farmer from Godstone in Surrey, John Launder. He had travelled down to Brighton, known in those days as Brighthelmstone, on account of his father’s business and a friend, Thomas Iveson, a carpenter, also of Godstone, had come with him.

The reason for the arrest of Launder and those with him was that they were caught by Gage reading together Carver’s English translation of the Bible and Psalter. Things had changed following the death of the Protestant King Edward VI in 1553. Now with Queen Mary on the Throne of England, the Bible in English which had first been granted by Henry VIII in 1538, read and loved during the reign of Edward was now forbidden. In fact, in 1554 this was taken to the extreme of issuing a mandate ordering that any Bible verses that had been painted on the walls or otherwise exhibited in the churches should be "razed, abolished and extinguished".

In London, Launder was held in the infamous Newgate prison, where today stands the Old Bailey. When called to be ‘examined’ by Bishop Bonner he made a bold confession before that austere judge. He admitted that on their arrival in Brighthelmstone he and Iveson had sought out Carver, understanding that ‘he was a man that favoured the gospel’. As far as the Christian faith was concerned he believed that "there are only two Sacraments, Baptism and The Supper of our Lord". The Roman Catholic teaching then, as now, is that there are seven sacraments. Furthermore he maintained that in the Lord’s Supper there is not contained the natural body and blood of Christ in substance, but that "when he doth receive the material bread and wine… he doth receive Christ’s body and blood by faith". In short Launder denied the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation.

He maintained that the mass is abominable and directly against God’s word. For Launder, as for those arrested with him, the only sure foundation for the Christian faith and its practice must be always and only the Bible. His attitude towards auricular confession to a priest was entirely in accord with the Bible, that "this is not necessary, but that every person ought to acknowledge and confess his sins only to God".

One of Launder’s fellow prisoners in Newgate, Robert Smith wrote to his wife, Anne Smith, "there are also condemned this Monday, Dirick Carver, Thomas Iveson and John Launder. My brother Iveson sendeth you a token, to your Mother a token and to Katherine a token, three pence. John Launder sendeth you a piece of Spanish money. Pray to God to have mercy on His people"

John Launder was taken from London to the ancient, picturesque village of Steyning in Sussex, where on 23rd July 1555 he suffered martyrdom. The place of burning is believed to be the small Chantry Green close to the Parish Church.

A Memorial to John Launder can be seen on the bank besides the steps of the car park between the library and museum in Steyning, West Sussex.



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