Bridle Lane and Sir Harbottle Grimston

Sir Harbottle
Sir Harbottle Grimston

This day in London history: on 27 January 1603 was born a Master of the Rolls (the second most senior judge in England and Wales after the Lord Chief Justice), who rejoiced in the name of Sir Harbottle Grimston (the second). Grimston, who died of apoplexy in 1685, is indirectly related to the derivation of the name of Bridle Lane in London’s Soho district.

Despite the equestrian sound of this name, it has nothing to do with horses. It was known as Bridall Lane in 1692 and was associated with the family of John Brydall, a law writer who may have published over 30 treatises. (There is some uncertainty as his father, also John, was another writer of law treatises.) John the younger entered Oxford as a commoner, later joined Lincoln’s Inn, and afterwards became secretary to Sir Harbottle.

Bridle Lane cropAccording to the august source of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Brydall’s legal expertise covered a wide range of topics, such as “the laws and customs of London, the rights and privileges of the nobility and gentry, conveyancing, bastardy, and lunacy”.

But back to Sir Harbottle; his second wife was Anne Meautys, a widow and daughter of Nathaniel Bacon; Nathaniel was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon who was, in turn, the half-brother of Sir Francis Bacon. That, without benefit of a degree in genealogy, would suggest that Anne was Francis Bacon’s half great-niece.

Sir Harbottle was was a Member of Parliament for both the Long and Short Parliaments of Charles I’s reign. Sir H became a great defender of the privileges of the House of Commons following Charles I’s unsuccessful attempt in 1642 to arrest five members and made a fiery speech defending those rights. He spoke of “the drooping Spirits of men groaning under the burthen of tyrannicall oppression inflicted on them unjustly and maliciously by unmercifull and wicked men that have usurped to themselves places and offices of power and authority both in State and Church”. It was Parliament’s duty to cheer and comfort these drooping spirits, he maintained.

Despite preserving the rights of Parliament against the monarchy and being supportive of the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, Sir H remained, overall, a Royalist. He was one of the members arrested during Pride’s Purge and was imprisoned for a time, but was later released and was also a member of the Rump Parliament. Sir H became Speaker of the House of Commons in the Convention Parliament and, in that capacity, visited the exiled Charles II and was supportive of him upon his return.

Bridle Lane is close to Golden Square, the site of one of London’s plague pits.

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