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Hide and Seek in Moorgate

I’ve had an interest in the English Civil War for some time, but have never really got to grips with it, that is until this Christmas when I received a really good book on the subject.

As far as actual battles go, London, or to be exact it’s suburbs only had two. The Battle of Brentford on the 12th November 1642 and the Battle of Turnham Green the following day, Brentford ending in a Royalist victory while Turnham Green saw the Parliamentarians victorious. The City of London itself was a Parliamentarian stronghold, although in the finest traditions of market forces some merchants and manufacturers made a tidy profit in supplying the Royalist forces at the same time. Although there are no battle sites within central London, there is a location which is crucial to the lead up to the conflict, situated in Coleman Street in Moorgate.

In the 1640s during the reign of Charles I, Coleman Street was something of a Puritan stronghold with many meetings of the Puritans and members of Parliament taking place at St Stephen’s Church which stood in the street.

Coleman Street

St Stephen’s

In 1641 the relationship between the House of Commons and the King had become increasingly fraught. The king believed that Puritans, in league with Members of the House of Commons, had encouraged the Scots to invade England in the recent Bishops’ Wars, and that they were intent on turning the people against him. Charles made accusations of treason against them in the House of Lords. Parliament sat to consider the Kings accusations and decided that he had breached House Privilege, in other words he was interfering in parliamentary business. This inflamed the king who the following day marched on parliament.

On the 5th January 1642 Charles I along with about 400 armed men entered the House of Commons intent on arresting five members of the House. Arthur Haselrig John Hampden, Denzil Holles, John Pym and William Strode.

Arthur Haselrig

John Hampden

Denzil Holles

John Pym

William Strode

The five MP’s had taken their seats as usual, but a message was relayed to them that the King was on his way to arrest them. Managing to exit the chamber before the Kings arrival they took a boat along the River Thames to London Bridge and from there made their way to Coleman Street where they were given shelter by the Puritans in St Stephen’s Church where they managed to stay out of the Kings clutches for the next five days despite the church and surrounding buildings in the Coleman Street area being searched.

The king issued a proclamation ordering the City of London to surrender the fugitives, and marched in person to the Guildhall (adjacent to Coleman Street) to demand that City officers hand them over. However, the City officials declared their support for parliament, as did the regiments of the Inns of Court (The centres of the Legal profession). Returning to Whitehall empty handed, the king drove through a London that was in uproar. Rumours spread that the king’s supporters were going to attack the City, and volunteers poured in to offer their services in its defence. Barricades were built and cannon deployed, and there was soon a six thousand strong rabble ready to repulse any attack.

Charles’ attempt to coerce parliament by force had failed, and his act had in the eyes of many at the time revealed him to be a tyrant. This was the final act in the run-up to the first English Civil War, on the 10th January, Charles left the capital. It would be seven years before he would return to London. The MP’s came out of their hiding place in Coleman Street and returned to the House of Commons by barge with crowds of cheering citizens lining the route.

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