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Digital book

The Ascott Martyrs

Sixteen women from Ascott-under-Wychwood who were sent over the hills to glory

Beverley McCombs


Out of print
Soft cover. 138 pages. Includes biographies of the sixteen women and an index of names


The remarkable story of sixteen women living in the Oxfordshire village of Ascott-under-Wychwood. In the spring of 1873, they tried to prevent two youths working in place of their menfolk, who were on strike for better wages. The women, two of whom had babies, were arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned with hard labour.

Newspaper coverage about the treatment of these women and forthcoming questions in the House of Commons brought increased publicity for the fledgling National Agricultural Labourers’ Union. It exposed for public scrutiny the exploitation of agricultural labourers – ‘the white slaves of England’ – the ineffectiveness of the Trades Union Act, and shortcomings of the legal system. Resultant reforms were far-reaching.  The women were later celebrated as martyrs and several emigrated to New Zealand.

About the author

Beverley McCombs

From childhood in rural New Zealand, Beverley McCombs had heard about her great-grandfather, Eli Pratley, who was born far away in a place called Ascott-under-Wychwood. Beverley was curious to know more about his life in England and why he had emigrated to New Zealand in 1874. By chance on a visit to the Oxfordshire village of Ascott-under-Wychwood in 1988 she came across the memorial to sixteen women who had been to prison. A sociology graduate, Beverley was immediately intrigued by the story, especially as three of the women had the surname Pratley. She was determined to discover more about these women.

Oxfordshire book tour

Beverley McCombs recently returned from a successful author's tour in Oxfordshire, England, the location for her book, The Ascott Martyrs. Beverley generated considerable local interest and was featured in the local paper, the Oxford Mail: ‘Sixteen women who caused a riot in Chipping Norton and won approval from Queen Victoria’.