Today in London’s rebel past: barricades in the City of London

On the night of January 5-6th, 1642, barricades were built in parts of the City of London, most notably in Cheapside…

… in preparation for a rumoured royalist massacre of Londoners, as tensions mounted between the king and his supporters, and parliamentarian opponents, who had overwhelming backing from both the City aldermen and the general London populace. These tensions were shortly to break out into the English Civil War.

King Charles had, the previous day, tried and failed to arrest five MPs in Parliament, among the most prominent leaders in the movement to restrict his influence and push forward a reforming agenda both politically and in terms of religion. The MPs had fled to the City, hiding out in Coleman Street near Moorgate, then a hotbed of political radicalism and religious dissidence…

Londoners feared the king would send soldiers to march on the City from Westminster to put down his enemies. “Amid uproar and wild rumours of civil war, the London trained bands (voluntary City militia) were mobilised in support of Parliament.” Local women were also boiling scalding water to pour on the heads of the cavaliers from the upstairs of the narrow-packed City houses.

The attack never came. The king realised he had very likely lost this round, and was soon to flee London and mobilise support further afield… The Civil War was now inevitable. Throughout the conflict London would be a stronghold of parliamentarian support; in deed, as the war pushed on, the City population became more radical, and support for independent religious sects and democratic, even proto-communist, ideas, would take strong root there…

[Interestingly, 5th January saw later barricades, in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1968: after the Royal Ulster Constabulary raided the Bogside area of the city damaging property and beating residents. In response, residents erect barricades and establish Free Derry.]

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