David Grocott

Postgraduate Research Student
Department of History
 David Grocott


Ask me about
  • 19th and 20th century medievalism
  • 19th century working-class historical awareness
  • 'The Peasants' Revolt' of 1381
  • John Ball
  • The history of Colchester


My research looks at the way in which the radical Left in nineteenth and twentieth century England appropriated early 19th century elitist medievalism and, having gained entry to the field, used it as a proxy environment in which to contest and assert a new mythologised English nationalism from below. Ultimately of course the route of 19th Century English working-class medievalism ended with William Morris, A Dream of John Ball and the idea that a golden thread the connected modern socialist principles of Marx to an explicitly English, Saxon, preindustrial (indeed often pre 11th century) egalitarianism. This however represented the apotheosis of 19th century working-class medievalism, transmuting earlier physical force Chartism and revolutionary ideology into a more politicised vision of what could be. Often this vision was personified in admiration - and even cult like worship - of 14th century radical priest John Ball. Earlier in the 19th century John Ball's role as a fountainhead of egalitarian ideology was hardly mentioned in working class writing and instead there were other plebeian readings of what it meant to be medieval; of what it meant to be truly English. Often these were more martial, more heavily coloured by the radical aftermath of the French revolution and focused less on a nascent socialist manifesto than towards physical force renderings of the medieval. Writing in the 1880s William Morris may have obsessed over John Ball as a medieval English proto-Marx whose words built solid philosophical foundations for social transformation but in the first half of the century Ball hardly got a look in. For the first five decades of the 19th century working-class renderings of the Peasants' Revolt were far more likely to fixate on Wat Tyler, England's Thor who reacted to the Poll Tax not with metaphysical rhetoric but with a fatal swing of the hammer towards a tax collector's head. By charting the evolution of this plebeian medievalism from lionising direct action to championing a 14th century philosophical manifesto we can see the manner in which working-class historic consciousness, self-identity and politics evolved through the 19th century from revolutionary intentions towards a coherent socialist position at the turn of the twentieth century.


  • Archaeology (BA Hons) Durham University (1998)

  • Museum Communications (MA) London Metropolitan University (2009)

Research and professional activities


Medievalism and the Radical Imagination Mythologisation, nationalism, and the evolution of English revolutionary thought 1830 1945

My proposal is to investigate how different groups within the British left manipulated the memory of medieval peasant leader John Ball. By so doing, it will shine new light on the development of radical, liberal and socialist ideology. A particular focus is on the way in which a mythologised Ball that inflected the development of oppositional thought in the English context can be contrasted with other appropriations, especially in Ireland where Ball was differently interpreted. Scholars have exp

Supervisor: Professor Peter Gurney



Colchester Campus