Not long ago I wrote a piece for the ‘Western Mail’ in a series about heroes and villains. We were asked to name our villain (mine was disease) but also nominate a hero. Mine was a fairly anonymous guy from 18th-century Bath called ‘Mr Ribright’. He owned a little electrical shop and, to deter a nuisance caller, electrified the door-knocker of his shop. A victory for the little man, which resonates with my own uncontrollable hatred of the ‘excuse me, we’re in the area…’ brigade who constantly seem to haunt my street and my house. Rant over.
But, putting together a lecture for my level 2 undergrads this week on popular politics in the early modern period, I think I may have found a new hero – another unlikely character but, in his own way, one who also kicked against the system.
The story begins in 1607 in the Midlands. Annoyed at the enclosure of common lands in the area, a growing number of people begin to organise themselves into a protest group. At their head is an unlikely leader – a tinker called John Reynolds. Reynolds has a USP – a small leather pouch. In it, he tells the protesters, is something secret and so powerful that it will keep the protesters from all harm. Reynolds changes at this point from mild-mannered tinker to early-modern superhero with a name to match; ‘Captain Pouch’. Insisting that he had authority from the King and God to support their cause, Pouch and his protesters descended on various towns and villages aroud Leicestershire and Warwickshire.
Ultimately the protests were suppressed and Captain Pouch was captured. It is at this point that, for me, his legend is secured. No doubt burning with curiosity to establish exactly what is the magical element of Captain Pouch’s pouch, the authorities open it. Inside is…a piece of cheese!