30 January marks two executions in history: one genuine and one ceremonial. On 30 January 1649 Charles I was beheaded, following the Rump Parliament declaring him guilty of treason. On 30 January 1661 the remains of Oliver Cromwell, the man behind the the Rump Parliament and the king’s execution, were exhumed from Westminster Abbey and ceremonially executed.
There’s already a post on streets with Cromwell connections, but I’m working to an ongoing challenge to find ever-more tenuous connections between historical figures or events and London streets, and there’s a Cromwell association I missed before. It is tenuous, so bear with me.
The City Livery Companies of London play an important role in the city’s history and street names, and one of them, the The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, was granted livery in 1656 by Oliver Cromwell. The coat of arms of the Company includes three needles, which probably give its name to Threadneedle Street – originally known as ‘three needle’ street, according to John Stow.
The Bank of England is known as the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, but the nickname comes not from the institution’s age but from the sad story of a bereaved sister. Another tidbit of information about the street is that it is where Sir Thomas Hariot, who introduced the potato to England, died.
16 December in London’s history: Jane Austen was born on this day in 1775. One of the most widely-read authors in English history, Austen spent her early life in Hampshire, moving to Bath and later Southampton with her family.
Austen did, however, visit London on occasion to visit her brother Henry, who was also her literary agent. One of the places she would have stayed was Henry’s residence in Hans Place, Knightsbridge. Hans Place was named after Hans Sloane, who founded the British Museum and also brought cocoa to England.
Also on this day in London’s history, Oliver Cromwell was appointed as appointed as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. There are many London associations with Cromwell, including Whitehall and Long Acre, where he lived; Cripplegate, where he was married; Tyburn, where his body underwent a mock execution on the 12th anniversary of the beheading of Charles I; and Red Lion Square, where his remains were reputed have been interred briefly before that mock execution.
Other Cromwell connections include Horseferry Road, where he is supposed to have taken the ferry; and Fleet Street, where the pickpocket Moll Cutpurse targeted Cromwell supporters.
Today’s post follows on from yours truly having read and enjoyed Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovich’s delightful and quirky novel. One area that features heavily in the book is Covent Garden, in particular Long Acre, so let’s take a brief look at them. Covent Garden (or the convent garden) was an area of seven acres of land that once belonged to the Abbots of Westminster and may have been used for both of the seemingly at odds purposes of kitchen garden and burial place.
The first purpose seems obvious from the name; the second was presumed following the 19th-century discovery of human bones. Part of the Abbots’ land was Long Acre; this, like Bow Street, was named for its shape, which was long and narrow. It was originally called The Elms, Elm Close, and then The Seven Acres, and an avenue of tall elms was reported to have stood on the line taken by the current road.
Building began on Long Acre in the early 17th century, and, like the Covent Garden area in general, the street became a fashionable place to live. One of its residents was Oliver Cromwell, who lived there from 1637 to 1643.
The aristocrat and writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who was baptised at St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, also lived there; according to a newspaper of 1731, “A few days ago the Right Hon. the Lady Mary Wortley Montague set out from her house in Covent Garden for the Bath”.
Long Acre was also key to some important industries: it was once a centre for coach makers, one of whose customers in 1668 was Samuel Pepys, and it was later the home of Merryweather & Sons, builders of steam fire engines and steam tram engines. St Martin’s Hall, a theatre with an entrance in Long Acre, is where Charles Dickens made his first appearance as a public speaker; he appeared on behalf of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for children.
More recently, the first television broadcast in Great Britain was made from Long Acre on 30 September 1929. It was a triumphant moment for John Logie Baird, after experimenting with a television set that consisted of projection lamps in an old biscuit tin and a motor in a tea chest.
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.
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.
This day in London history: on 16 December 1653, following the lack of success of the Barebones Parliament, Oliver Cromwell became the Lord Protector of England, Wales, and Scotland. The decision was made by the new Protectoral government at a meeting Cromwell did not attend). Centuries after Cromwell’s death (in 1658, probably of septicaemia following a urinary infection), opinion is still divided as to whether he was a hero or a villain.
In any event, over two years after his death (on the 12th anniversary of the beheading of Charles I), the bodies of Cromwell and two other men were disinterred from Westminster Abbey, taken to Tyburn where they were ceremonially hanged and decapitated, and their heads displayed on poles above Westminster Hall.
One line of thought is that the bodies had been left overnight in Red Lion Square in Holborn before being taken to Tyburn, and that later the bodies were taken back there and secretly buried. This would appear not to be true, but there was a rumour that the spirits of the three men haunted the area for many years.
Red Lion Square takes its name from the Red Lyon tavern, “in olden times the most important hostelry in Holborn”, which gave its name to the square and the nearby street.The square was one of the first licensed developments outside the City, when London was still rapidly spreading west. It was developed by the speculator Nicholas Barbon, the son of Praisegod Barebone.
Barbon was, in his own way, as much of an eccentric as his father. He started off with a career in medicine, having studied in Holland and been admitted to the College of Physicians in 1664, and later became involved in financial matters.
Barbon wrote two treatises on money and was the originator of fire insurance in Britain; he was also a persuasive man who radiated charm and arrogance in equal measure, depending on his objective. A contemporary referred to him as a “rogue, knave and damned”. He became, after the Great Fire, one of the most active and influential builders in London. He did get it wrong sometimes: not all of his buildings stayed up, but even ones that didn’t collapse could cause excitement and Red Lion Square was no exception.
Red Lyon Fields, as it was known prior to the 17th century, was purchased by Barbon for speculative development and building commenced in the late 1680s. However, lawyers in the area (the “gentlemen of Graies Inn”) were unamused at the thought of their rural surroundings being spoiled, and they began a campaign against the development and its workmen.
This campaign, or riots, if you prefer, began in 1684 and the legal men had the upper hand at first: despite the bricks being hurled at them by workmen they were able to take two hostages. Barbon was not the sort to take that kind of thing lightly, and returned the following day with hundreds of workmen, shouting threats and promising not to be intimidated. The excitement eventually died down when the square proved that it was attractive, and it became a commercial success.
Even in death, Barbon proved that he was not a man who could easily be daunted – his will directed that none of his debts was to be paid.
Red Lion Square also had its fair share of famous residents, and the most delightfully eccentric of them all was Jonas Hanway (1712-1786), explorer and philanthropist, who lived and died there. Among other things, Hanway was known for instituting the Foundling Hospital. Samuel Johnson said of Hanway that he “gained some reputation by travelling abroad, but lost it by travelling at home”. In any event, Hanway’s reputation lives on mainly because he was instrumental in introducing that great British accessory – the umbrella – to the men of the UK.
Although long used by ladies in the UK, and a status symbol in China in the 11th century BC, the umbrella was considered effeminate and unseemly for British men. They were originally viewed as a sunshade rather than protection against the rain. It was not until Hanway, incurring the wrath of cab drivers and the amusement of small boys and passersby, persevered in his use of the umbrella that they became associated with rain.
For years after his death, however, it was still considered unmanly to use them – as late as 1818 the Duke of Wellington banned his troops from using them. Towards the end of the 19th century the curved steel frame rib, which allowed the umbrella to be furled, made the use of them more widespread.
The umbrella more recently was made even more famous by the Barbadian singer Rihanna, who had an award-winning song in 2007 entitled simply ‘Umbrella.
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 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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
Originally 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.