Crisp Road and its grisly connections

Oliver Cromwell

This day in London’s history: on 30 January 1649 Charles I was beheaded, following the Rump Parliament declaring him guilty of treason. On 30 January 1661 Oliver Cromwell, the man behind the the Rump Parliament and the execution, was ceremonially executed himself. He had, however, been dead for over two years. Still, he proved to be tough even in death; during the mock execution, it took several blows to sever his head.

There were rumours that Cromwell’s ghost haunted the area of Red Lion Square, supposedly the hiding place for his body the night before his posthumous decapitation. In any event, his head remained on a spike above Westminster Hall for nearly 25 years, until a storm broke the spike and hurled Cromwell’s head to the ground. It was then bandied about amongst collectors of such grisly items, and finally buried at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge.

On the other side of the Charles I coin, but also somewhat grisly, is the story of one of his biggest fans and supporters, Sir Nicholas Crisp (or Crispe). Crisp, who gives his name to Crisp Road in Hammersmith, was apparently a remarkable man; Samuel Johnson said of him that he was “a man of loyalty that deserves perpetual remembrance”.

Crisp was a native of Hammersmith in West London, and a dedicated Royalist: he spent over £100,000 in the cause of Charles I. He managed to escape too dire a fate at the hands of Cromwell, but was severely fined for the mere fact of his existence.

Brandenburgh House
Brandenburgh House

Crisp built Grand House, later known as Brandenburgh House (later the home of Caroline of Brunswick, consort of George IV). He also paid for the east window in St Mildred’s church in Bread Street (the church was destroyed during the Second World War). The window was divided into five parts, depicting the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, Elizabeth I, the 1625 plague and the Crisp family with their coat of arms.

Another of the Crisp memorials for his king was a bust of Charles I in the Hammersmith parish church of St Paul’s; the bust sits atop a black and white marble column and is marked by an inscription which reads: “This effigy was erected by the special appointment of Sir Nicholas Crispe, Knight and Baronet, in a grateful commemoration of that glorious martyr, King Charles the First, of blessed memory.”

Not being content with this token of loyalty, Crisp also directed that his heart be placed in an urn under the effigy of his king. The heart was to be refreshed annually with a glass of wine; this service was performed for around a century until the heart became too much decayed.

And what then? Let us hope that a century of wine provided enough alcohol for the spirit of Sir Nicholas.

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.

Fire, whores, and Wall Street

This day in London history: on 4 January 1698 Whitehall Palace burned down, in a fire that raged for 17 hours. The event was noted, somewhat casually, by the diarist John Evelyn who wrote, the following day, “Whitehall burnt, nothing but walls and ruins left.”

The Duchess of Portsmouth

It was not the first time the palace had been struck by flames: in 1691 a fire broke out in the apartments of the Duchess of Portsmouth, one of Charles II’s mistresses. The Duchess, born Louise Renée de Penancoët de Kérouaille of French nobility, was Catholic and was not popular with the English – in particular one of Charles’s other mistresses, Nell Gwynne.

Nell referred to her rival in the king’s affections as Squintabella and said Louise’s underclothes were not clean. On one occasion, when booed by people mistaking her for Louise, Nell said, “Pray, good people, be civil – I am the Protestant whore.”

Nell Gwynne

Along those lines, Nell is also said to have witnessed a fight between her coachman and another man who referred to her as a whore. She broke up the fight, saying, “I am a whore. Find something else to fight about.”

The palace gave its name to the street Whitehall, now considered the seat of British government. The only surviving part of the palace – the Banqueting Hall – was where Charles I was beheaded. Oliver Cromwell lived at the palace, as did Charles II, following the the Restoration when he was invited to take the throne. Like his father, he also died at the palace, but of natural causes, rather than decapitation.

The execution of Charles I

Also on this day in London history, 56 years earlier, King Charles I had entered the House of Commons to arrest five Members of Parliament for high treason. The men he sought (John Hampden, Arthur Haselrig, Denzil Holles, John Pym and William Strode) had been tipped off and already fled.

The king was defied (politely) by the Speaker of the House, William Lenthall, who said, “May it please your majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this house is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here; and humbly beg your majesty’s pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this is to what your majesty is pleased to demand of me.”

Lenthall’s reply was, basically, reminding the king of the parliamentary privilege. Since then, no monarch has entered the House of Commons.

Wall Street
New York Stock Exchange in Wall Street

And now for something completely different: also on this day in history: January 4, 1865, the New York Stock Exchange opened its first permanent headquarters at 10-12 Broad near Wall Street. Wall Street, apparently takes its name from, surprisingly, a wall, built in 1653 when New York was New Amsterdam. Britain and The Netherlands were at war at the time and the city dwellers were expecting an attack from New England.

Barebones Parliament, lawyers, idlers, and fetters

This day in London history: on 12 December 1653, the unrest in Britain that followed the execution of Charles I for treason continued. This unrest was particularly evident in the English Parliament as the replacement to the Rump Parliament – the Barebones Parliament – came to an end.

The Houses of Parliament. Photo from the UK Parliament.

The Rump Parliament had not served the purpose that Oliver Cromwell had intended; the members were distrustful of the army and their main concern was to create legislation that would ensure the survival of the Parliament.

Cromwell lost patience after learning that Parliament was attempting to stay in session despite an agreement to dissolve. He attended a sitting of Parliament and lambasted the Rump Members. “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” he declared.

Barebone’s Parliament was then established: 144 Members of Parliament who not elected, but selected by Cromwell’s officers for their religious fervour. This group still didn’t satisfy Cromwell, and on 12 December 1653, while the more pious of the Members were at a prayer meeting, a group of army supporters, led by the general John Lambert, gathered together to vote to dissolve Barebone’s Parliament. A few days later, Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector of the realm.

Engraving of Praisegod Barebone

Barebone’s Parliament takes its name from a man who rejoiced in the name of Praisegod Barebone, the Parliamentary nominee for the City of London. He was a fierce anti-royalist, supporter of Cromwell, anabaptist, leather seller, politician, Freeman of the Leathersellers’ Company in 1623, and was minister for a baptist congregation.

Barebone’s fierce anti-royalist stance meant that pamphlets of strong opinion and language usually flew around from and in answer to him. He certainly incurred the disapproval of the local lads: Pepys, in his diary, makes more than one mention of the fact that “the boys had last night broke Barebone’s window”.

Barebone had two, possibly apocryphal, brothers, called Christ-came-into-the-world-to-save Barebone and If-Christ-had-not-died-thou-hadst-been-damned Barebone (abbreviated to just Damned Barebone). Presumably if these brothers did exist, they were older than Praisegod, whose parents must by then have been exhausted by the naming of children.

EAS_3968In addition to all his interests and achievements, Barebone was also once a resident of Fetter Lane, the derivation of which name is up for grabs. Take your pick from just some of the options, which include faitor, fewter, felter, faitour, and even fetter are some of the options.

The Old French word ‘faitor’ meant a lawyer, and by the 14th century the reputation of that august profession had fallen so far into disrepute that the word was synonymous with idlers. Alternatively, it appears that the lane became a spot where people in various stages of inebriation would congregate, passing on cheery greetings and advice to passersby.

As the historian John Stow puts it, the lane was “so called of Fewters (or idle people) lying there, as in a way leading to gardens, but the same is now of latter years on both sides built through with many fair houses”.

Or the name could have derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane.

There is also the theory that the name could have come from the ‘faitours’ – fortune tellers who were prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times.

As well as the idlers, the area did have workers in the form of the armorers whose workshops were located there. and the name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters).

In 1988 a statue of John Wilkes, a journalist and member of the notorious Hellfire Club, was erected at the location where Fetter Lane joins New Fetter Lane. In 2011 the Rolls Building, a new court of the High Court of Justice principally for commercial and property cases, was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

A Rump, a regicide, and two palaces

This day in London history: Pride’s Purge occurred on 6 December 1648. At the height of the second English Civil War, Colonel Thomas Pride, a supporter of Oliver Cromwell, led an attack on those Members of Parliament considered unlikely to support the army’s goal of punishing Charles I.Pride and his solders stood outside the entrance of Parliament, arresting and excluding more than half of the 460 Members. Following this coup a further 86 Members left in protest and the depleted gathering of around 200 became known as the Rump Parliament.

A small but determined band among the Rump drove through an Act that  established a court to try the king for high treason. Despite Charles I disputing the authority of the court, and widespread opposition to the trial, a verdict of guilty was declared. The death warrant was signed by a minority of less than half of the commissioners of the High Court originally established by the Rump, and later that month Charles I was beheaded outside the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall.

Banqueting house
The Banqueting House

The palace gave its name to the street and area of Whitehall, long known as the seat of the English government. The Banqueting House, designed by Inigo Jones, is the only survivor of the original palace, which burned down in 1698. At the time, the palace was the largest in Europe, with over 1,500 rooms, outstripping even the Vatican and Versailles.

20131109-115052.jpgOriginally the official London residence of monarchs had been the Palace of Westminster and what later became the Palace of Whitehall was York Place, from the archbishop of York, and archbishops resided there for centuries. When Cardinal Wolsey became archbishop, he extended the palace to such a grand extent that, when he was deposed, Henry VIII took it over as his own residence and renamed it Whitehall after the colour of the building.

The name York Place lives on in  a small alley nearby, once called Of Alley.