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excerpt from b4kxstp1.04: rebellion & commonwealth

antiquarian speculations

“The forger had already duped a Mr Salt into buying Staffordshire scenes by Capt Eyre, who of course had never existed; and in June 1853 a Mr Peter Thompson had described in Notes & Queries what he claimed to be a series of original Wenceslas Hollar drawings of William Shakespeare’s Bankside lodgings and the original Globe Theatre. These last were inscribed with manuscript memoranda …  purporting to be in the hand of Eyre, and were available for viewing at a house in Osnaburgh Place in the New Road, St Pancras. Thompson was touting for a subscription for engravings to be made”. The Woodehouse Journal forgery mystery, Patrick Nother, Camden history review 26, (2002)

Tradition has it that during the years of civil war an African woman called Mary Woolaston supplied well water to the local guardhouses. It is said that she dwelt in a round thatched stone hut at the foot of a path leading up the valley side from the Fleet to the Upper Pond and joining the Islington brow path (ie, approximately Lloyd Baker St WC1), giving her name to Black Mary’s Hole/ Well.

That is one version of the name’s origin, Black Mary’s identity the subject of several theories. A simpler explanation could be that the well had once belonged to the nuns of the Priory of St Mary’s Clerkenwell, who wore black habits. But more provocatively, was it a site of pre-Christian worship of what became known as the Black Madonna, based on ancient goddesses such as Black Isis, Diana and Hathor and surviving as a popular Catholic cult throughout mediaeval Europe?

Accordingly, the nuns would have worshipped at a private shrine here, just as pilgrims from the C14 onwards had venerated the Black Madonna’s statue at the public shrine of Our Lady of Willesden, a few miles away to the west. The tradition of the thatched stone hut might then refer to an ancient priory building.

Even more evocative, and fanciful, is a claim by a psychic visitor in the 1980s that the Hole had anciently been a sacrificial pit: the image might be of prehistoric travellers propitiating woodland and water spirits as they descended from or set out on the forest path rising from the valley floor and connecting to the brow path above. [1]

Traffic had certainly passed this way anciently. Nearby Theobalds Rd WC1 was formerly the Kingsway, along which the Stuart kings passed on their way to indulge their passion for hunting at their royal lodge in Theobald’s (‘Tibbalds’) Park, Hertfordshire. Setting out from Westminster Palace the private road crossed the fields from St Giles’s to Clerkenwell, joining Old Street (sic) and crossing the River Lee at Old Ford (sic) into Essex. Turning north, the route travelled up the Lee Valley through Enfield to the lodge near Cheshunt.

From here there was access to a great expanse of countryside, the hunting developed by its former owner Lord Burleigh whose hospitality to the new House of Stuart had cost him the park. In 1603, James I (still just James IV of Scotland, but on the eve of his arrival at London to take up the English throne) stayed at Theobald’s as Burleigh’s guest after several weeks’ overland progress from Scotland.

Following a few days lavish entertainments he proceeded to the capital, stopping for one more night at an ancient inn in the village of Stoke Newington. It stood at the corner of Church and High streets and in celebration of its royal guest it was renamed the Three Crowns, referring to the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. After several changes, the early Victorian re-build has now reverted to the regal name. The new king had so enjoyed his stay at Theobald that he later acquired the park and lodge, laying claim also to the ancient roadway for his personal use.

Passing through guarded gates (a copper token was required for privileged access), the section of the King’s Way crossing the Red Lyon/ Grays Inn Fields (and passing the site of Camden Local Studies & Archives Centre) had in fact joined the course of a pre-Roman track, a Ridgeway, originating in the distant Upper Thames Valley at the ancient British tribal capital of the Atrebates, developed by the Romans as Silchester.

Today the route passes through West London as the A40: the Uxbridge, Holland Park, Notting Hill and Bayswater Roads and Oxford and New Oxford Streets, this last re-instated in 1840s through St Giles’s rookery.

The historic line continues along Holborn through Newgate into the City, but the prehistoric track edged north-eastwards, across drier land, passing along the similarly reinstated Clerkenwell Rd (1879) and then rediscovering itself as Old Street etc, passing ultimately to the ancient British tribal capital of the Catuvellauni, Camulodunum, developed by the Romans as Colchester.

Black Mary’s Well by the subsidiary path would have retained its spiritual significance beyond the introduction of Christianity, complementing the site of nearby St Pancras church as an originally pagan water-related shrine standing in the Fleet marsh. A rudimentary infrastructure of such tracks and pathways lies hidden beneath London’s streets, as also the green lanes, bridleways and field paths laid out in the more recent, but still distant agricultural era.

A further tradition holds that a forward observation post was built at the Brill Farm, the only record of this structure a ‘contemporary’ drawing, one of a series of ‘eyewitness’ views of the fortifications attributed to a Capt John Eyre of Oliver Cromwell’s own regiment.

Made into popular prints in the C19, they include also a view of the Northampton Fort in the Long Fields, described by the visitor Lithglow as “two divided, quadrangled bulwarks, and each of them garnished with four demi culverins of brasse, the intervening distance fortified: the two former bodies are palisaded, double ditched, and the middle division thereof barricaded with stakes a yard high, and each of them hooked with three counter-thwarting hooks of iron”.

Standing at the southern end of what is now Tavistock Square the banks were later used as the boundary with the open fields for the private grounds of Bedford House (completed at the Restoration) and not removed for more than a century. Lithgow had continued across the fields to St Giles’s to the Crabtree Fort, “placed at the two field corners” by Tottenham Court Road.

In 1852, experts brought in by the Corporation of London, to whom Eyre’s original drawings of the fortifications had been offered for sale, exposed them as fakes. It might appear too easy to credit any and all local antiquarian forgeries to Walter Thornbury, but there are good reasons to believe that he also had had a hand in this effort, if not producing the images then at least well acquainted with their forger, likely to have been the artist James (or Peter) Thompson who lived in Albany Street NW1.

The two men were part of a network of Victorian ‘creative industry’ types who appear to have not always been too particular about the provenance of the historical artefacts they dealt with. ‘Real history’ was concerned with the deeds of kings and queens, of the dates of great battles and the glorification of empire. Local history was an antiquarian hobby, respectable enough, but not requiring quite the same attention to detail and adherence to any objective truths or ideological convention.

1.   The River of wells, Chesca Potter, Source - the Holy Wells Journal (March 1985) bath.ac.uk/lispring/sourcearchive/cntsfrst.htm

'great tumult & disorder'
“The remains of their handiwork are still to be seen through the whole length of the church, and after when these walls were manned by the Trained Bands and Soldiers they made fires in this ancient Church and cooked Victuals there, and tore up the seats and rails for firewood, and left it in a most pitiful state”. Woodhouse Journal, ca1700 (1858>)

There is no record of who was vicar when, with the king advancing on Reading, on 5 November 1642 Parliament “ordered the deserted church of Pancras to be disposed of unto lodgings for fifty Troupers”. Redeployed when the expected attack failed to materialise the troopers caused damage to the building that, according to the Woodehouse Journal, remained unrepaired for more than 50-years. The Confederates had, in fact, organised a considerable refurbishment of the building in 1679.

During a Sunday Service one year after their garrisoning there, a troop of soldiers returned to the church and violently broke down the altar rails, a petition of complaint from the parish to the House of Commons receiving only a cursory response. Two years earlier, church-wardens had been ordered to destroy all altar rails and to level chancels, and to reposition communion tables set at the east end of the church.

The Troopers visit to dilatory Pancras was during a bout of further concerted “demolishings of the monuments of superstition”, Parliament having set up a committee in May to oversee the destruction of other Romanish leftovers and Laudian innovations, such as crucifixes, pictures of the Virgin Mary, candlesticks, stone-carvings etc, while “bowing to the name of Jesus or towards the East is to be foresworn”.

Then in September, in settlement of Scottish military assistance against the threat of Irish Catholic invasion in support of Charles, a Solemn League and Covenant was agreed. While not explicitly Calvinistic, the Covenant’s terms went some way to meeting Scottish scepticism towards English Presbyterianism’s lack of rigour, but also left room for further negotiations with the Independents. Over the following year, the Presbyterians consolidated their hold over Parliament while the Independents forged their power in the ranks of the New Model Army, active in the field by April 1645.

It had become altogether an extreme decade, but one that left few accounts of events in our fields. However, an exciting narrative is to be found in a manuscript in the Heal Collection in the Camden LSAC, describing mobs of religious fanatics attacking not only St Pancras church but also the vicarage in Kentish Town, even as the citizens toiled on the construction of the metropolis’s defences.

During one of several assaults, as the vicar the Rev Christopher Goad BD and his loyal parishioners were hounded from their worship, “one Hugh Evans, calling himself an Independent Preacher (sometime a Woolstapler from Holbourne), did enter the pulpit and hold forth in most blasphemous and vile words to the amusement and pleasure of his confederates, the soldiers and base men…”

The author’s wonderfully archaic language, written in the vicar’s own suitably looping old-fashioned hand, goes on to describe how the rioters then turned their attentions from the old church to the Kentish Town vicarage, inside which allies of the vicar “did advise to discharge some haile shot out of the windowes, thinking thereby to disperse the tumultuous and vicious mob (whereupon it was grievously bruited abroad that there were four or five killed.

“Which” the account continues “hath since been found and evidently made known to be most untrue, some having been seen and spoken to only having received some small hurt on their body) but still this vile assemblage continued their onset and invasion more and more upon my house, until such time as they had made themselves forcible possessors thereof, when they mercilessly ransacked and took away divers of my goods with them and forced my people in the house and others that were with them of my parishioners to fly for their lives”.

The vicar describes the ringleaders as: “Idle, loose and profane livers, masterless men, and such as had been out in these cruell warrs. Housekeepers that have consumed their fortunes in sinful and irreligious courses and such as have neither the fear of God nor man before their eyes, and are now roving about the fields to the destruction of every honest man’s property”.

Having torn down the garden walls of the vicarage for ammunition, and only dissuaded of further ‘demolishments’ by the musket shots fired from within the house, the mob later returned to the church accompanied by armed troopers from the yellow auxiliary regiment, making “a great tumult and disorder, using vile expressions and irreverent speeches” and causing much destruction within.

The terrified vicar fled and was thenceforth forced “to depend upon the charity of the upright and Christian friends of my flock for subsistence and myself for a hiding place from their rage…” But, betrayed by a parishioner, the vicar was soon after imprisoned in the Westminster Gatehouse…

It’s all great stuff, and has at least a ring of authenticity about it. A Rev Christopher Goad BD had indeed existed at this time; and he was the vicar of St Pancras. But not our St Pancras… [rather, St Pancras Soper Lane in the City of London] The manuscript is another fake, almost certainly one of Thornbury’s, although perhaps such a work is closer to ‘faction’ than forgery. It could have been part of a rough draft of a novel, or just an innocent exercise, maybe found in his papers after his death and given a false provenance by someone who knew no better. Without accounts to show how Sir Ambrose Heal acquired the manuscript we will never know.


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