John Ball was born in Peldon. He trained as a priest at St Mary’s Abbey in York before returning to Colchester to become a parochial chaplain at St James the Great Church on East Hill. His sole text was the popular jingle of the period ‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’ He preached for social justice, for social equality, and, as a consequence, soon lost his job at St James! He began to preach in churchyards, catching churchgoers as they left after services. He preached in English rather than Latin, much to the horror of the Church. Eventually, he became such a nuisance that he was excommunicated and, thereafter, imprisoned. John Ball was the inspiration for the Peasants’ Revolt. His sympathy for the poorest in Society and his enthusiasm and ability to communicate allowed him, with the help of Wat Tyler, to create an underground movement referred to as ‘The Great Society’. The aim was to create the Great Revolt. The Great Revolt began on 30th May 1381. John Ball was in prison in Maidstone at the time but was released by some of Wat Tyler’s men. He travelled with them to Blackheath, on the edge of London, to speak to the huge crowd of peasants intent on marching to London to confront the King. Soon afterwards, he was rearrested, tried and convicted. He was executed; hung, drawn and quartered, on 15th June 1351.
A plaque to commemorate John Ball was unveiled in July 2017 by the Right Reverend Roger Morris Bishop of Colchester and Baroness Chakrabarti CBE. The unveiling took place on John Ball Day, which coincides with the date of John Ball’s execution in 1381. This event attracted a sizeable crowd and prior to the unveiling, a recording of the new John Ball Motet by Lizzie Gutteridge was played.
After the unveiling, a choir performed “Who will be the Lady”. This was followed by a performance by Dorian Kelly, who took on the role of John Ball – whilst making a rallying speech to the people of Colchester. See the accompanying video. Its well worth watching.