London during the English Civil War (January 1642 – April 1646)
As Parliament prepared for war against the King, in July 1642 London provided 10,000 volunteers towards the army, which was under the command of the Earl of Essex, and in September a further two regiments of foot and four of horse. The number of the City’s regiments was increased to six, each named after a colour, under the command of the highly-experienced officer Sir Philip Skippon. Three additional regiments were formed in the suburbs of Westminster, Southwark, and Tower Hamlets. Each was commanded by a colonel.
A series of committees was set up by Parliament to oversee various needs and they met in the halls of the City’s livery companies. One of those was the Committee for the Advance of Money, which based itself at the hall of the Haberdashers’ liver company. In August 1642 an ordinance was passed to raise loans from the citizens of the City at eight percent interest. In November those with property were requested to contribute five percent of the value of their property and 20 percent of their wealth in cash, plate, or jewellery. A local committee was set up in each ward to administer the contributions. It was not a popular obligation, especially amongst those who did not support the Parliamentary cause. Those who did not pay were referred to the Committee for Compounding Delinquents, which sat at Goldsmiths’ Hall.
Charles had departed owing large amounts to London’s livery companies and in the early stages they therefore supported Parliament. They could provide recruits from amongst their members for the trained bands that formed Parliament’s fighting force in the early stages of the war. The livery companies quickly raised £100,000, as well as a levy on strangers and aliens residing in London. A force of 8,000 well-trained and well-drilled men was raised. When it was reported that Prince Rupert and a Royalist army was marching on London the town went on high alert, with practicing and marching. Royalist sympathisers were for a time imprisoned. In November Parliament passed an ordinance allowing London’s apprentices to enrol as soldiers without breaking their indentures.
The City’s Common Council sent petitions to both the King and Parliament advocating peace. But in November 1642 a Gravesend boat was swept up the Thames on the tide and apprehended by the pinnacle guarding the river. A letter was discovered aboard detailing lists of men expected from Holland and Denmark to join the King’s army. Mayor Isaac Pennington ordered copies to be made and read in every church on Sunday. The letter may have been an invention by the mayor but, nevertheless, the effect was to galvanise support for Parliament. In December the radical theologian Jeremiah Burroughs, lecturer at Stepney church, presented to Parliament his The Glorious Name of God. He wrote in favour of “those that are called Roundheads”, an end to negotiations, and military action against the King, yet despite his radical ideas he still did not argue for the abolition of the monarchy.
Prince Rupert marched the Royalist troops along the Thames Valley and they held the important Kingston Bridge for five days during clashes in November 1642. There was a minor battle at Brentford and the Royalists sacked the town. Fearing the Royalist army’s progress towards London, over 20,000 men from the six London regiments assembled at Chelsea. Skippon encouraged his men with the words: “Come my boys, my brave boys, let us pray heartily and fight heartily”. Both sides faced each other at Turnham Green but the Royalists decided not to challenge the larger force of Londoners and retreated to Oxford. Although the war advanced towards London several times, particularly during 1643, it was to never come as close again.
Parliamentary fears of resistance from those loyal to the King when faced with the Royalist advance proved unfounded. A decision was therefore made to march the London regiments to Gloucester, which was being besieged by Royalists, leaving just one regiment in the capital. The London regiments later took part in action in other parts of the country, including the Tower Hamlets regiment at the Battle of Cropredy Bridge near Banbury in June 1644.
Despite the success in repulsing the Royalist army, Parliament decided to further protect London and its suburbs. In February 1643 the Common Council ordered the creation of a defence system covering London, Westminster, Southwark and the surrounding suburbs, confirmed by Parliament the following month. It was probably an addition to defences already made in the previous year. There is some doubt regarding the form of the defence and its exact route but it seems most likely to have been a series of forts linked by a trench, which became known as the Lines of Communication. The Court of Common Council’s instructions for the east side of London were:
That a small Fort conteyning one bulwarke and halfe and a battery in the rear of the flanke to be made at Gravel lane [the modern Wapping Lane] end. A hornworke with two flankers to be placed at Whitechapell windmills. One redoubt with two flankers betwixt Whitechapell Church and Shoreditch. Two redoubts with flankers neere Shoreditch Church with battery.
Every available person, including women and children, shopkeepers, artisans, merchants, and fishwives of Billingsgate joined in the creation of the defences. The members of Livery Companies, the Inns of Court, Parliament and parishes, including their families and servants all willingly joined in the work. It was carried out in a holiday spirit, with workers marching with buckets and spades across the fields surrounding the city, accompanied by the sound of drums.
By the following year there were 18 miles of trenches around London connecting 24 forts and redoubts at such locations as St. James’s Park, Hyde Park, St. Giles, Bloomsbury, Islington, Shoreditch and Whitechapel. On the south side of the river there were forts at Rotherhithe, Southwark, St. George’s Fields and Vauxhall. Entry into London was restricted to just several roads.