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Incidents from Tilebury's History

Dr Harriet Longstepp

1 November

Tilebury's music

Chatter all this month has been about our fine and outstanding musicians, both the fine voice of Jimmy Keegen and some people also appear to enjoy the rather more raucous sounds of Cold Shoulder. I understand that both sets of musicians played a part in the recent reelection of our esteemed editor.

That reminded me that Tilebury has another famous musician - or at least there is a well known story about a musician playing in the market square. The musician is recorded variously as the Red Man, or Redman the Singer or in some cases the Dancing Redman. Of course all the children's picture books have pictures of a capering young man in a large red cloak. Some tunes have been said even to have been invented by Redman including the common tune to which the children's rhyme about Flying Sophie (the one which was carved upon the sculpture in the Jenns park before it was recently vandalised) is usually sung.

However, the earliest reference to Redman and the only one which is in any way contemporaneous suggests something rather different. A flute is said to have been concealed in Redman's flounced sleeves and a rasp-stick in Redman's bustle. That of course would suggest that Redman was actually a woman.

That in turn may explain her (and I am assuming it was a her) treatment. She was accused of amoral behaviour and corrupting the youth. No-one suggests what her conduct was and in later versions his/her crime became gradually more romantic until between the world wars, two hundred years after the events, Redman was widely described as a secret agent-provocateur for a gang who helped innocent peasants to escape from aristocratic prisons.

Anyway, the Redman is said to have escaped capture for her unknown amoral misbehaviour by greeting her assailants with a merry tune played on a long pipe. The song proceeded as usual until the sheriff was within a few steps and then, playing a note which required all the pipe's finger holes to be blocked she blew a fine powder out of the pipe into his face.

The sheriff was temporarily blinded by the powder and collapsed in a fit of coughing. When he recovered himself the Redman was gone. Behind her she left only a lady's bonnet on which a hundred bells were sewn. The sheriff is said to have symbollically hanged the bonnet on the gallows. The bonnet was left swinging on the gibbet for a whole week and whenever the wind blew the bells rang. The villagers claimed they played a tune so rapturous that no-one could hear it without crying out in joy and singing a happy song.

As often seems the case, the villagers retained a soft spot for the Redman which was directly contrary to the judicial view against her. Nonetheless, I am sure we are all well aware that keeping within the law is very important.

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