The year is 1605
Whispers in dark corners. A whiff of treason in the air. Rebels, traitors, terrorists. They met in secret. The plot had to be well formulated and highly confidential. The risks were severe. To fail meant the punishment of a slow, drawn out, gallows death. Each man felt his own mortality hanging in the balance. November 5th. That was the date that had been fixed upon. The day they would lay explosives beneath the Houses of Parliament… with the aim of causing mass destruction to both the building, and the status quo!
Coaching inns and secret plots
Located at the crossroads of the well travelled coaching routes between London and Birmingham, and Oxford and Leicester, Dunchurch has always been an important staging post. In the seventeenth century there were reputedly 27 coaching inns in Dunchurch to cater for weary travellers. Two of these inns still remain to this day – the ‘Dun Cow’ and the ‘Green Man’. The village of Dunchurch is, famously, the place where the Gunpowder Plotters stayed whilst formulating their plans. The place where they lodged was, at the time, called the ‘Red Lion inn’, and is now a private residence called ‘Guy Fawkes House’. The plotters stayed at this inn whilst they awaited news of their ring-leader Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up the houses of Parliament. As soon as they learnt that the plan had failed they scarpered…
Guy Fawkes was not so lucky. He was caught at the scene the day before the intended explosion and locked away awaiting trial. The trial was a formality, the prosecution already knew that he had no defence to speak of and was in very hot water. On 31st January 1606, standing at the gallows, having been found guilty of possession of explosives and intent to use them to cause harm, conspiring against Parliament, intent to cause damage to state buildings, and plotting to kill statesmen, he flung himself off the ledge to his death. He was desperate to avoid the traditional method of execution for traitors in seventeenth century England, which was to be hung, drawn and quartered. However after he had leapt to his death, breaking his neck on impact, the King’s guards still had his body ‘quartered’ and his remains sent to the “four corners of the kingdom” as a warning to all rebels never to rise up against Parliament.
Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The date of the planned explosion, 5th November, is remembered to the present day with ‘celebratory’ bonfires and fireworks. Often a rag-doll ‘Guy’ figure is placed on the bonfire as a symbol of this famous rebel. In fact the tale of ‘Guy Fawkes’, the activist who attempted to blow up the houses of Parliament, is so famous in history and culture hundreds of years on that he could arguably be described as a martyr – either that or a stark warning to citizens seeking to change the status quo.
A place of charm and character
The village of Dunchurch is well worth a visit. It is quaint and picturesque with one of the local pubs (the ‘Dun Cow’) displaying memorabilia and paintings depicting the story of Guy Fawkes. The village is steeped in history with many of the buildings dating back to Tudor times, and some being thatched cottages. Walk in the footsteps of the Plotters and try to imagine the world as they would have known it, seeing it through their eyes – perhaps they were terrorists? Or maybe just freedom fighters…?
After absorbing the fascinating history of Dunchurch, you could explore slightly further afield and enjoy the traditional ‘chocolate box’ village of Ashby-St-Ledgers. Rumour has it that a large part of the plotting took place in this small but pretty Northamptonshire village. The band of plotters are said to have been led by Robert Catesby who owned the manor house here. The conspirators meetings apparently took place in the gatehouse to the manor house which can still be seen today from the road – another connection to the famous Gunpowder plot and certainly worth a visit.