by Ron Dale

1642/47: Hertfordshire as a county was mainly Parliamentarian during the Civil War, with St. Albans as the strongest fortified area and the main recruiting base.  Some of the more affluent landowners who had received knighthoods and court appointments from Charles I were naturally Royalists, but at this time in history, in Hertfordshire they would have to keep a low profile. However, ordinary people, farmers and peasants alike, did not have much choice about which side they supported if they were unlucky enough to have troops arrive on their doorstep. Whether Royalist or Republican, troops were often underpaid and underfed and had to rely on the population for lodgings and for food and drink. They often went long periods with no pay at all. They would take crops, cattle and poultry, leaving people with nothing for themselves. Often they would force men to accompany them as soldiers, threatening death as the alternative.  The problem was exacerbated by rogues and vagabonds who grouped together, claiming to be soldiers and demanding free shelter, food and clothing. This obviously created much poverty and an extraordinary rise in the number of people requiring poor relief. This caused an increase in the local Poor Tax, creating even more widespread problems. Many soldiers became dissatisfied and grouped together as Levellers, demanding equal rights for all and distributing pamphlets and threatening mutiny.

     It was a worrying time for everyone who just wished to be left alone to work on their land as the arrival of English troops of whichever side could be as damaging as being invaded by a foreign army. Stanstead Abbotts residents were fortunate to be out of the way of the main towns such as Hertford and Ware, where troops were often billeted. There is no record of the village being badly affected by the war but of course many incidents of the brutality of troops went unrecorded and there is no reason why we should have been spared such atrocities. We know that Oliver Cromwell was around here as in November, 1647, he mustered his troops at Cockbush Field (Corkbush), Ware, in order to squash a possible revolt by the Levellers in his troops.  Cromwell had ordered seven regiments to muster at this field and when he arrived he found the mutinous Levellers wearing pieces of paper in their hats. He charged on horseback with his sword drawn and ordered the men to remove the offending pamphlets and in time peace was restored.  Three of the leaders were tried and sentenced to death at an impromptu court martial held on this riverside field.  However, only one was shot and he was chosen by the three men being forced to draw lots.  Ware has its Cromwell Road to remind us of this incident and Cockbush Avenue and Fairfax Road (after General Fairfax) are in Ware Road, Hertford.  Private Richard Arnold was the one who was executed on the spot but sadly there is no road or avenue named after him.

Cromwell charged on horseback with his sword drawn...


After the Restoration, between 1660 and 1662 many leading Parliamentarians were arrested and some were executed.  Locally, Colonel Henry Lawrence, Secretary of Cromwell’s Parliament and one of his relatives, was spared as he had voted against the execution of Charles I and he was allowed to buy the tiny manor of St. Margarets, where he later died in poverty and is buried there with several of his 13 children in the chapel of St. Mary.  We have our Lawrence Avenue nearly opposite to St. Margarets station to remind us of his existence and yet another address marking the Civil War.      

    Charles II, anxious to become popular, decided to reward those who had remained loyal to him in his exile by creating a Knighthood of the Royal Oak to be awarded along with a silver medal depicting Charles hiding in the oak tree.  In September, 1651, as a prince he had to flee and hide from the Roundhead soldiers in an oak tree at Boscobel House in Shropshire. A list was drawn up of loyal men from each county. William Dugdale listed 687 names and these are also recorded in The Baronetages, published in five volumes in 1741. At the side of each name was recorded the value of each man’s estate in £ per annum. However, Charles decided not to go ahead with the proposed reward scheme, fearing that it would create dissention and might stir up the old differences between Parliament and the Crown.  On the list for Hertfordshire were 13 names and two of these were for Stanstead Abbotts lords of the manor, Edward Bashe (sic), estate worth £1600 and  Edmund Feilde (of Rye House), estate worth £600.


Instead of the reward scheme, Charles II decided to commemorate his Restoration by choosing his own birthday, 29th May, to be celebrated each year ‘for all time’ as Oak Apple Day or Royal Oak Day. Samuel Pepys noted the order in his diary on 1st June.  People who wished to celebrate the day wore oak leaves in their caps and gilded oak apples within a sprig of oak leaves were sold on the streets.  It was a public holiday until 1859 and there are still many public houses named after the event. Our own Oak public house/restaurant is an example of this reminder of Charles II birthday. As recently as 1890, railway engines were decorated with boughs of oak leaves on this day.  It is still celebrated in some towns and the Chelsea Pensioners still parade for inspection by a member of the royal family on 29th May in memory of the birthday of Charles II.

Ron Dale, May, 2017