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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Norfolk

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Myths and Legends
A tale of two Ketts

20th-Century Kett

It was a long time before Kett's legend was rehabilitated - Kett might be seen as a local hero in Norfolk today, but his image as a traitorous rebel persisted into the 20th Century.

It was with the rising socialist and labour movements of the 20th Century that Kett's rebellion came to be seen in a more favourable light. Kett's legend was reclaimed by those who saw him as a forerunner to popular politics, and as a defender of the rights of the "common people". (Whether this is any more accurate, however, is debatable. Essentially the rebellion was conservative, and sought to preserve an older way of life - by no means was it a "class war".)

The 400th anniversary of the rebellion, in 1949, saw extensive celebrations in the area. One senior Labour councillor in particular, Frederick Henderson, wished to mark the anniversary properly with a commemorative ceremony and statue. He asked Norwich City Council to make a new appraisement of the revolt and the men involved in it, to overcome the stigma attached to it over the years.


Commemorative plaque
Plaque commemorating Kett's rebellion erected in 1949
© Grace Bowers
After some discussion, the council erected a stone plaque in memorial to Kett at the entrance to Norwich Castle, and its inscription shows clearly how Kett's legend has been revised. Part of it reads:

"this memorial was placed here…in reparation and honour to a notable and courageous leader in the long struggle of the common people of England to escape from a servile life into the freedom of just conditions".

There was renewed interest in the story, with newspaper articles and an exhibition at the castle, and Kett became something of a local hero.

And Kett's memory continues to be celebrated. In 1999 there were further celebrations for the 450th anniversary of the rebellion, including a week-long festival in Wymondham, which involved special exhibitions, plays, and re-enactments.

In another twist, the campaign group The Land is Ours marked this anniversary by occupying the site of a former hospital in Drayton, Norwich, invoking the legend of Kett's rebellion to draw attention to current issues surrounding access to land – even today Kett's legend has a life of its own.

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