Cromwell House: Historical notes

Survey of London Monograph 12, Cromwell House, Highgate. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1926.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.

'Cromwell House: Historical notes', in Survey of London Monograph 12, Cromwell House, Highgate, (London, 1926) pp. 15-35. British History Online [accessed 29 February 2024]


AMONG suburban districts perhaps the two best endowed with natural beauty are Highgate and Hampstead, the sister heights which, almost within the memory of our fathers, were separated from London by long stretches of land still unattacked by the builder, and which, although he creeps up insidiously, he will never be quite able to subdue, as important tracts have now been saved for public recreation and refreshment.

In the remote past Highgate was doubtless part of the ancient forest of Middlesex. By the end of the eleventh century we find most of what we call by that name included in the Manor of Hornsey or Haringay, which belonged to the Bishops of London, and they resided there sometimes in what may have been little more than a hunting lodge. Their demesne lands were doubtless well stocked with game, for mediæval prelates (whatever the law) were often mighty hunters, and others sometimes shared in the spoils of the chase. Thus we read how Walter Marshal, 5th Earl of Pembroke, was granted 10 deer out of " Haringeye" in 1241, and 4 more in the following year. (fn. 1) Other entries of the kind might doubtless be found.

We are reminded of former conditions by the existence of Highgate Wood, once Gravel Pit Wood; Queen's Wood, once Church Yard Bottom Wood; Ken Wood or Caen Wood, so lately saved from destruction, and part of bishop's Wood, at the north-east corner of which is said to have been the Bishops' "Lodge," a stone building surrounded by a moat, destroyed long ago: the ordnance survey map indicates the site. It may be noted that all of them, except Ken Wood, belonged to the demesne land of the bishops. The greater part of the original population of Highgate was, nodoubt, dependent on those prelates; but when a demand arose for substantial houses much building appears to have taken place in the prebendal manor of Cantlowes or Kentish Town, (fn. 2) which formed the rest of the hamlet, this being almost entirely copyhold.

If we may believe Norden, (fn. 3) the first writer giving topographical details of the district, the road up Highgate Hill was not the original thoroughfare from London. The old highway by Crouch End, Muswell Hill and Friern Barnet, being sometimes impassible in winter, this road was made by agreement with the bishop, and toll for the use of it was charged by him and his successors, a gate being erected on the hill to insure payment: hence the name Highgate. The date of the construction of the present road is uncertain, but it must be at least as old as the fourteenth century.

Little, however, is known about Highgate until quite two hundred years afterwards. With improved means of communication the hamlet had then developed into an attractive suburb, if we may judge from Norden's (fn. 4) description of it:—

" Vpon the hill is most pleasant dwelling, yet not so pleasant as healthfull; for the expert inhabitants thereof report that diuers that haue long beene visited by sicknes not cureable by Physicke, have in a short time repayred their health by that sweete salutarie aire."

What he says of Middlesex in general might, we feel sure, have been applied to Highgate, namely that it was—

" Beautiful with faire and comely buildings, especially of merchants of London, who have planted their houses of recreation not in the meanest places, which also they have cunningly contrived and curiously beautified with diuers devices, neatly decked with rare invencions, enuironed with orchards of sundrie delicate fruites, gardens with delectable walks, arbers, allies, and great variety of pleasing dainties."

Already perhaps a dwelling had appeared on the slope of Highgate Hill, usually called " the Bank," which was replaced more than a generation afterwards by the present " capital messuage " known as Cromwell House. This, although there have been gradual changes, to meet the requirements of successive occupants, and although once badly damaged by fire, has preserved its original appearance to a very great extent, and is now, I think, the most interesting example of its kind to be found in greater London.

Before attempting an account of the house and of its successive inhabitants, it will be best perhaps to deal with the apocryphal tales about its supposed connection with Oliver Cromwell and his son-in-law Ireton, which first cropped up a few years before the middle of the nineteenth century, and which are still often accepted by those who have no time or desire to hunt up original documents. Lysons, (fn. 5) a sound topographer, does not mention the house at all, nor does he suggest that the Protector had anything to do with the hamlet, or with Hornsey manor to which this part of Highgate belongs. The present name, Cromwell House, has so far not been discovered as occurring in written form until 1833, and it was published for the first time in the History of Highgate by Frederick Prickett, in 1842. His attempt at accounting for it is as follows :—

" The house is supposed to have been built by the Protector about the year 1630, as a residence for General Ireton, who married his daughter and was one of the commanders in his army. It is evidently built and internally decorated in accordance with the taste of its military occupant."

This has often been repeated by writers who followed each other like a flock of sheep, although they now and then indulged in slight variations and additions, a few of which will be mentioned in due course. It is perhaps needless to point out that 1630, the date generally accepted for Cromwell's supposed experiment in house-building, was twelve years before the outbreak of the Civil War, and sixteen years before the marriage of Henry Ireton, afterwards Major-General, to the Protector's eldest daughter Bridget. That event took place at Holton near Oxford, June 15, 1646, a few days after the capitulation of the city. Ireton was at once engaged on active service, and was in the full turmoil of public affairs until he accompanied Cromwell to Ireland, where he remained, taking a formal part in the administration, until his premature death in 1651. W. S. Gibson in his Prize Essay on Highgate, published in the same year as Prickett's volume, says that Henry Ireton was elected a governor and trustee of the Cholmeley foundation (the grammar school), but that he was expelled the trust. This, however, is untrue. Cromwell's son-in-law, from the time of his marriage, was one of the leading men in the country; he died when his party was dominant, and so it continued for many years afterwards. If he had become a governor no one would have ventured to turn him out.

The Ireton whose name appears in the list attached to the school roll is John (or Sir John if we accept the title conferred by Cromwell), Lord Mayor in 1659, and brother of the general, who was elected a governor of the grammar school 14 June, 1656, was treasurer for two years ending 29 September, 1659, and whose signature appears more than once in the minute books. He was certainly living in Highgate 10 August, 1655, for on that date is the following entry in the burials register of Highgate chapel : " Still born of Mr. Alderman Ireton." His connection with the place apparently began about the time that his brother Henry died. After the Restoration he naturally got into trouble, being transported to Scilly for a time, and twice imprisoned in the Tower. Nevertheless, although in the opinion of Sir William Dolben, Recorder of London, who was consulted by the local authorities, " if he act [as governor of the grammar school]' tis at his perill of being excepted from the benefit of the Act of Oblivion," the same authority held that Ireton was still a governor, and his name continued on the list until he died in March, 1689–90.

Before leaving the invidious task of criticism it seems advisable to mention a rather important volume published in 1888. This is the History, Topography, and Antiquities of Highgate, by Mr. John H. Lloyd, who supplies some useful information, but besides accepting former mistakes, adds a few erroneous conjectures of his own. He does not claim that Cromwell House was built by the Protector for Ireton, but wrongly assumes that it was occupied by the latter. He repeats the myth about his connection with the grammar school, amplifying it by an assertion that his signature appears three times as one of the governors. He also tries to drag Cromwell and Ireton together by misinterpreting the letters on a boundary stone to which reference will again be made, and on p. 220 of his book ascribes the arms of Sprignell on a decorative plaster ceiling to Ireton although on the previous page he rightly implies that " the armorial devices on the old ceiling " are those of Sprignell.

We know precisely who were the owners of the house throughout the seventeenth century, and neither Cromwell nor his son-in-law appear on the list, nor are they mentioned in any local document of their date which has come to light. Thus it will be seen that, much as one would like to believe in the connection of Cromwell House with such famous men, there is not the slightest proof of this, nor even a likelihood that either of them was ever there at all. The facts that John Ireton, brother of the general, and other well-known Cromwellians were for a time leading personages at Highgate, that John Ireton was a friend of the Sprignell family, owners of the house, and that, as will be shown, a Sprignell married the daughter of a regicide, perhaps helped to foster the legend. We may bear in mind that the Protector's name has been applied to several houses near London which he was not connected with in any way, an indication of the force of his dominating personality, which for centuries has stirred men's minds.

A digression will, I hope, be excused on the subject of the house occupied by John Ireton, partly because of his connection with it, partly on account of its exceptional interest in other respects. This is Lauderdale House, fortunately still standing within a stone's throw of Cromwell House, but in the manor of Cantlowes and on the opposite side of the roadway.

Although little or nothing of the original structure is apparent, undoubtedly a mansion existed on this site in the time of Queen Elizabeth. In the Cantlowes Court Rolls at the Ecclesiastical Commission (fn. 6) Mr. W. McB. Marcham has found important information about it, of which the following account is in part a résumé. I will begin with John Povey, citizen and embroiderer of London, who succeeded Sir Richard Martyn in the possession of this house, and, dying there in 1599, left it to his only child Katherina, wife of Alderman Sir William Bond. A fact not mentioned in former descriptions of Highgate is that the illfated lady, generally known as Arabella Stuart, who had married William Seymour secretly in 1610, stayed there for six days beginning 15 March, 1611, whilst a prisoner of State in the keeping of the Bishop of Durham. It was then occupied by the Bonds, and the day after their arrival the bishop reported to the Privy Council that Sir William had taken special care of her and of those about her. (fn. 7) The estate was afterwards divided into thirds, but the three shares having been bought by William Geere and Sara his wife, in 1641 he sold them to Mary Countess of Home. On her death in 1648 it was inherited by her daughter Anne, wife of the second Earl (afterwards Duke) of Lauderdale; it thus acquired the name of Lauderdale House. In 1651 the Earl was taken prisoner at the battle of Worcester, and sent to the Tower of London, where he remained for 9 years. What happened to Lauderdale House may be gathered from a petition by him which appeared in the Journal of the House of Lords soon after the Restoration. It runs as follows :—

Cantlowes Court Rolls

" In 1651 Alderman Ireton, pretending that certain lands in Highgate belonged to the petitioner, who for his loyalty was deemed a delinquent, obtained a grant from the Usurper, and has ever since enjoyed the same—the petitioner prays to be restored to the messuages and lands of Highgate and any of the furniture he can discover." A short time afterwards, namely on 27 November, 1660, the Earl and Countess prayed to be put into possession of a copyhold house and land at Highgate, claimed through her mother Countess of Home, which had been taken possession of by Ireton, Alderman of London," who " would not permit Lady Lauderdaill to proceed in claiming her property, but tore up her plaint, saying ' her husband was a traitor to the state and should have no land there'." Needless to say, the petitioners were successful, and afterwards we find the Earl and Countess occupying the house which undoubtedly belonged to them by right. However, the name of Ireton again crops up, for according to a deed of 1674 the property was surrendered to Jerman Ireton of Gray's Inn by Mary, wife of John Lord Hay of Yester, afterwards 2nd Marquess of Tweeddale, and only daughter and heir of the Countess of Lauderdale.

Samuel Pepys, in his diary, gives us a glimpse of Lauderdale House on July 28, 1666. He arrived there with Lord Brouncker in a coach drawn by six horses, and found " the Earl and his lady and some Scotch people at supper; pretty odd company, though my Lord Brouncker tells me my Lord Lauderdale is a man of mighty good reason and judgment "—and " at supper there played one of their servants upon the viallin some Scotch tunes only; several and the best of their country as they seemed to esteem them—but, Lord ! the strangest ayre that ever I heard in my life, and all of one cast." Next year Lauderdale became a member of the Cabal with Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham and Ashley-Cooper as associates.

A complete list of subsequent owners and occupants is available but no other names of mark occur until the nineteenth century. From 1843 Lauderdale House was for some years occupied by Richard Bethell, who reached the woolsack and became Lord Westbury. Later Mr. James Yates, F.R.S., lived there, and gave garden parties, to distinguished people, not yet altogether forgotten. The last private owner was Sir Sidney Waterlow. We must not cross the road without mentioning the cherished tradition, of modern date and supported by no evidence, that Nell Gwyn once lived at this mansion, and induced Charles II. to acknowledge her infant son by threatening to throw it out of window unless he gave it a title. Just thirty-five years ago, when the building had lately come under the charge of the London County Council, and ran some risk of destruction, the present writer formed one of a deputation before that august body, to plead for its preservation. Hoping to melt the hearts of his audience our spokesman, Philip Webb, an admirable architect but not a historian, brought in the supposed episode about "Pretty Nell and the merrie monarch," with the unhappy effect that a puritanical Councillor, in reply, indignantly advocated its immediate destruction "on account of the disgraceful associations connected with it." Perhaps it was he who wrote an anonymous letter using the same argument, which was published in the Pall Mall Gazette soon afterwards. Fortunately, in spite of this setback, our efforts were crowned with success, and Lauderdale House is now dedicated to the mental and bodily refreshment of those frequenting the beautiful grounds attached to it.

I will now deal with the early records of Cromwell House and the property with which it is or has been connected, but before doing so I should express my thanks to Mr. W. McB. Marcham, who has already been mentioned, for his great assistance. Much of what follows, indeed everything about the estate which is taken from the Public Record Office Court Rolls and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Court Rolls, was found by him, and copied for the purposes of this volume. One could not have had a better guide, for he and his brother, Mr. F. Marcham, who has also helped us, are the leading authorities on the district.

Cromwell House was copyhold of the manor of Hornsey, and therefore its former owners can be traced in the Court rolls of that manor. The series earlier than the year 1603 is incomplete, and the first entry concerning the estate—that is, the house preceding the present mansion, with the land then attached to it—is in 1604, to the following effect (fn. 8) :—

Public Record Office—Court Rolls 191/4

"George Crowther on 27th April present surrendered a messuage in Highgate, with barns, stables, yards, orchards, garden and other appurtenances, in the tenure of George Crowther, and all that part or parcel of the customary garden as now divided, now in the tenure of the aforesaid George Crowther and 4 closes of land lying together containing 16 acres in the tenure of aforesaid George Crowther, and also a hawte of wood now converted to pasture, containing 7 acres, to George Kempe of Tottenham and John Kempe, gentleman, son of the same George, which George Crowther had of the surrender of Henry Turke 16th April, 28 Elizabeth [1586] provided that if George Crowther pay to George Kempe £50 on 21 April 1605, at the house of the rector of Tottenham in which George Kempe now dwells, then this surrender shall be void . . . ."

This mortgage or conditional surrender was redeemed, and on 1 May 1605, the above George Crowther, gentleman, surrendered to Robert Sprignell of London, gentleman, the house and land as described above, "except a garden plot, part of the premises called the kitchen garden, lying above the upper yard leading to the closes above mentioned towards the north-west, and upon the garden in the occupation of Robert Harrington, clerk, towards the east; and also the hovel being in the garden aforesaid above excepted, and lying at the upper end of the cowhouse . . . . with a fence of pale round about from the other premises now enclosed and separated." It may be noted in passing that the Robert Harrington here referred to as occupant of a garden adjoining part of the Cromwell House estate was the rector of Hornsey, son of Sir John Harrington of Exton.

Before proceeding I venture to carry back the Sprignell family for one generation, as it plays an important part in our narrative; a pedigree will be given elsewhere. The father of the abovenamed Robert Sprignell was Richard, in his day a respected citizen and barber surgeon of London, who describes himself as dwelling in the parish of "St. Mighell at Quearne," and is mentioned more than once in Young's Annals of the Barber Surgeons' Company. He was a warden in 1584, 1587 and 1591 and was excused from serving as Master on July 5, 1599, when he presented "a drinckeinge cupp made of a nutte and garnished with silver & guilte," which unfortunately does not appear in the list of plate now belonging to the company. In his will dated 12 February 1602–3, and proved 27 February 1603–4, he complains very much of having been inveigled into a marriage with his then wife Frances, and his remarks on the subject are so naive that they appear to be worth quoting as follows:—

" And now to satisfy the world concerning my last marriage, forasmuch as the said marriage between me and Frances my wife (with whom or any other I did never purpose to marrie nor had any entent to have married) was effected and compassed by her through her many and earnest solicitations and alurements, and by subtil devises and practises, used therein at sundrie times, but then especially when I was with her at her lodginge, where uppon the sodaine (in some sorte) she enforced me thereunto, not permitting me to send for or to use the advise of any friend being of my familiar or old acquaintance. Yet, notwithstandinge because she shall find that I would better her estate which was verie meane and poore when I married her, my meaninge is that if my said wife Frances shall and do within fourteen days next after my death and decease, make, seale and deliver as her act and deede in law unto my executors of this my last will and testament, a good, sure, lawful and sufficient and absolute release and discharge in law of and for all her title of dower or thirdes, and of all such interest, right, title, claime, demande, parte and portion, as she may, might would or should have a claime by the custome of London or by any other means whatsoever of in or to my goods and chattels real and personall, moveable and immoveable, utensils, jewells, plate and debts. Then I do will, require and charge my sonne, being the executor of this my last will and testament, that (according to the true intent and meaning of a covenant comprised in one pair of Indentures bearing date the 9th day of Feb. 45 Eliz., made between me the said Richard Sprignell and Frances now my wife on the one parte, & Robert Sprignell my only sonne & child on the other parte) he the said Robert Sprignell his executors administrators or assigns shall paie or cause to be paied unto the said Frances or to her assigns the sum of one hundred poundes of lawful money of England, or the annual or yearly sum of twenty pounds of like money (whether of them she shall be pleased to accept or take) either of which I the said Richard Sprignell (for causes best known to myself) do hold & esteeme to be a sufficient advancement & staie of living for the said Frances.

" To— Potter, clerk of the parish church of Saint Mighell at Quearne where I now dwell, 10s & 20s to the poor of the said parish." (fn. 9)

He was buried at the church of St. Bartholomew-the-less, 6 Dec. 1603.

As would appear from the above extract the bulk of Richard Sprignell's property went to Robert, his executor and only son by a former marriage, who, as we have seen, bought the Highgate estate from George Crowther in 1605, and to whom we will now revert. This Robert Sprignell, who was born in 1560, married, 5 July 1588, Susan, daughter of John Daniell of Tollesbury, Essex (Harl. MS. 1551 says of "Pelden Hall, Essex"), but she was then described as of Thorndon in the same county. He was a landowner in Great and Little Maldon, had the manors of Copmanthorpe and Temple Copmanthorpe, Yorkshire, and houses in Whitefriars, Fleet Street. He died 25 July, 1624, at Highgate (fn. 10), bequeathing to his " beloved wife—during her natural life" all his " dwelling house or tenement with the appurtenances, as yards, backsides, gardens, Palefield and four other fields adjoining, all which are copyhold lands lying and being in the parish of Harringay alias Hornsey in the county of Middlesex, the which tenement with the appurtenances" [he] "bought of one John Crowther, citizen and vintner of London, deceased." In his will (fn. 11) he gave directions to be buried " at the chappell of Highegate somewhat nere my pewe there where I would have a remembrance made of me fastened to the colome next adjoining in this or the like form. First I would have the shape of a terrestiall globe made and painted artificially and thereon the proportion and figure of a man carved or painted, standing with one foot upon the said globe yelding his body and leaning on a cross of wood made in the form of such a crosse as our saviour Christ died on, under which I would have a fair table hung whereon I would have these or the like words painted in large and fair letters:

' The world while I lived I loathd, now have I left for aye, Christ was my hope and faith, in him my only stay.' "

The inscription put up to his memory in Highgate Chapel did not apparently contain these artless lines. The arms of Sprignell impaling those of Daniell were on the tablet. The chapel disappeared in 1833–4 and according to the Gentleman's Magazine, April, 1834, " this old monument of Springnell [sic] 1624, having been partly wood and plaster, was destroyed on being taken down." (fn. 12)

Robert Sprignell's widow, who was also his executrix, died in August 1627, when their only son Richard came into possession of the estate.

Her will (fn. 13), dated 29 January, 1626–7, and proved in the following September, has a few clauses which are worthy of mention as they throw light on their family and on the habits of the time. To her son Richard she leaves an agate, and to his wife Ann her best cloak. To her daughter Mrs. Anne Berry [Bury] a pair of golden bracelets and a ring with 5 diamonds in it. To each of Mrs. Berry's children £10. To her daughter Katherine, who was wife of Alderman Richard Chambers, a black camlet suit, a watch and her wedding ring. To each of her children £10. To her daughter Frances a camlet suit, a camlet petticoat, two silver porringers, a silver sugar-box and all her linen.

She leaves a rent of £6 for 21 years from two tenements in Wentworth Street, London, to provide 6/8 apiece to 6 poor folks in Hygate, 20/ to the preacher of Hygate for making a sermon every Whitsun Tuesday, and £3 to buy cloth for the said 6 poor people at Michaelmas. A debt of £400 due from the executors of Viscount St. Albans to be divided between her son and 4 daughters.

Richard Sprignell, the son mentioned above, was born c. 1602, being "aged 22 and more" at his father's death. He was a B.A., of Brasenose College, Oxford, having matriculated there 28 January 1619–20. He became a Captain of Train-Bands in 1634, an indication that he took some interest in military matters, and his name first appeared as a governor of the Highgate grammar school in 1639. He was seised of the manors of Great and Little Maldon, Essex, and of Copmanthorpe, Yorkshire, and married Anne, daughter of Gideon Delaune, apothecary to Anne of Denmark, James I.'s consort. Delaune's career was so remarkable that a few words about it will not, I think, appear superfluous. He was of foreign extraction, having been born at Rheims about the year 1565, and became by far the most prominent member of the Guild of Apothecaries; he has sometimes been called its founder. Although an alien, he obtained the freedom of the City at the King's request, and was elected Master of the Apothecaries after a contest in 1628, and again in 1636. His house abutted on their hall in Water Lane, where his bust and portrait may still be seen. In The Present State of London, first published in 1681, Thomas Delaune says of him: "Amongst many worthy members of this [the Apothecaries'] Company I may not forget Gideon De Laune—to whom I have the honour to be nearly related. He lived piously to the age of 97 years, and worth (notwithstanding his many acts of publick and private piety) as many thousand pounds as he was years, having 37 children by one wife and about 60 grandchildren at his funeral. His famous pill is in request to this day, notwithstanding the swarm of pretenders to universal pill-making."

Doubtless Gideon's pills were very efficacious, but his claims to such high distinction as a patriarch are exaggerated by a too partial kinsman. By his wife Judith, daughter of Henry Chamberlaine of London, he had seventeen children, few of whom grew up; his grandchildren were less than thirty in number.

P.R.O. Court Rolls 191/10

To revert to Richard Sprignell, husband of Anne Delaune, who was created a baronet in 1641. It is clear that to him we owe the present building called Cromwell House. Apart from internal evidence one knows within a little the date of its erection because, 9 March 1638–9, he settled on himself and Anne his wife the "capital messuage lately erected, and 19 acres of pasture, late of George Crowther and now in the tenure of Richard Sprignell." It may be borne in mind that the house bought of Crowther in 1605 was merely called a messuage. In the previous year the lord of the manor had granted to Richard Sprignell from the waste " a parcel of land lying before the doors of his messuage in Highgate, containing 62 feet in length and 15 in breadth, together with the brick wall thereon. This parcel of land was the existing fore-court, and it seems reasonable to suppose that it was enclosed with a brick wall when the house was rebuilt. The settlement and the grant seem to prove conclusively that the structure dates from 1637–8, there or thereabouts, but it may be a little earlier. The plaster ceiling, however, with the arms of Sprignell in the centre, could not have been finished until 1639, in which year Richard Sprignell obtained a grant of arms. The fact of his being or having been a Captain of Train-Bands, probably accounts for the admirable carvings of armed men on the newels of the staircase.


From what precedes, it appears that in his younger years Sir Richard was an active man of affairs; he was also a man of fine taste, to judge from the building of the house; but latterly he lost his reason, being certified on 26 November, 1658, as having been a lunatic, without lucid intervals since 1 November, 1652. (fn. 14) This, however, must have been an exaggeration, for a will (fn. 15) was signed by him as late as 13 August, 1656, his wife Anne being appointed executrix. It may be added that John Ireton was mentioned therein as a trustee. The testator, described as of Highgate, was buried there on 19 January 1658–9; his wife followed him to the grave 9 May, 1661.

Their eldest son, Sir Robert Sprignell, second baronet, born about 1634, married Anne, daughter of Sir Michael Livesey, Bart., of Eastchurch, Kent, who, on the outbreak of the Civil War, took an active part on the side of Parliament, and who, according to the Dictionary of National Biography, at the battle of Cheriton Down "deliberately ran away "—a proof that military prowess was not his forte. He signed King Charles's death warrant and at the Restoration escaped to the Low Countries. Sir Robert appears to have lived chiefly, if not altogether, at Copmanthorpe. He had no children, and, after his mother's death, he disposed of the Highgate property, selling Cromwell House with its garden to George Hill of Clifford's Inn in 1664, and 19 acres of land, which had been attached thereto, in the same year to Robert Young, citizen and scrivener of London. (fn. 16)

P.R.O. Court Rolls 191/4

In addition to Cromwell House and the 19 acres, Sir Richard Sprignell owned in Hornsey land which was afterwards included in the Haringay House estate, as well as a field containing 3 acres called Hornsey Lane Field, and a house on The Bank adjoining Cromwell House. This was on land which, like Cromwell House or rather its predecessor, had belonged to George Crowther, but it seems to have been excepted in the surrender of the latter to Robert Sprignell in 1605 (see page 21). Mr. Marcham finds that, while what may be called for convenience the Cromwell House estate had been acquired by Crowther from Henry Turke, he had bought the adjoining property from the sons of William Rowliffe. On the death of George Crowther it passed to William Crowther, citizen and skinner of London and, in 1612, to James Cole of London, merchant, and Louisa his wife. An interesting relic of the ownership of James Cole survives in a boundary stone, already mentioned on p. 18, which is built into an early 17th century wall between the gardens of Lyndale House and Kurrajong to the north of Cromwell House. Mr. Lloyd, (fn. 17) describes it as bearing on the south face the initials " I. C.," and in this he is right, but he wrongly interprets them as relating to Ireton and Cromwell, and he adds a small "o" above, still apparent, which is no more than a blister in the stone. This stone is now dilapidated, but a photograph, taken by Mr. Yates of our Committee, undoubtedly shows the lettering. We must bear in mind that it is usual to substitute I for J in 17th century inscriptions. The name intended is, therefore, James Cole.

P.R.O. Court Rolls 191/8

P.R.O. Court Rolls 191/10

P.R.O. Court Rolls 191/11

Eccles. Com. Court Rolls 1663

On the other face of the stone, which runs right through the wall, is the date "a.d. 1614." It is, of course, in the garden of Kurrajong. The property is described in Cole's admission as " a cottage and garden in Highgate with a garden plot attached containing ½ rod." As previously mentioned, according to the surrender of the Cromwell House property in 1605, this was separated from "the other premises" by a paling. It appears almost certain that 1614 marks the date when James Cole replaced the paling by a brick wall. In 1629 he bequeathed his property in the following words: "As touching my cottage or tenement and garden plot with the appurtenances in Highgate I do as I can confirm unto Louisa my wife, and immediately after her decease I give all the same unto Abraham Bushe, my sister's son." In 1631 the reversion of the property appears to have been acquired by William Geere of London, who in 1633 also obtained from Louisa, Cole's widow, who had become the wife of Adam Vandardoort, a lease of it for 21 years. On 31 March, 1638, at the same time as Richard Sprignell had his grant of land before Cromwell House, William Geere also acquired from the Lord of the Manor " a parcel of waste lying next that part of his house which is contiguous to the messuage of Richard Sprignell, Esq., containing from the further part of the buildings of the messuage of the said William 12 feet, and to the other end of the messuage of the said William 9 feet from the outer part of the said building. This William (or Captain) Geere was the man who in 1641 sold Lauderdale House to the Countess of Home, the Earl of Lauderdale's mother-in-law, and he figures in the discussions about the forfeiture of the earl's property under the Commonwealth. He surrendered the house adjoining Cromwell House to Sir Richard Sprignell also in 1640. From him it passed to his son Sir Robert, whose representatives sold it in 1663 to Philip Jemmatt, citizen and brewer of London. It was then described as "a messuage in Highgate in the tenure of Edward Cason, merchant, lying next the capital messuage late Richard Sprignell's, Bart. In this document, three years after the Restoration, "John Ireton, esq.," is mentioned as one of the executors of Sir Richard Sprignell's will.

I will add that the two eighteenth century houses adjoining Cromwell House to the north-west, named respectively Ireton House and Lyndale House, although now divided, evidently form part of one building which stands on James Cole's property. (fn. 18) Kurrajong, to the north, is more modern. Both Prickett and Lloyd err in placing Arundel House (where the great Francis Bacon died) next to Cromwell House on this side. Court Rolls prove that it was in the St. Pancras part of Highgate, the entries relating to it being all in those which belong to the manor of Cantelowes. Old Hall in South Grove probably stands on part of the site.

Da Costa

Eccl. Com. C.R. 1669

To return to Cromwell House. we are told that in August, 1666, it was "now or late in the tenure of Richard Lucy, Esq." On 16 February, 1668–9, George Hill of Clifford's Inn, gentleman, and Joan his wife, surrendered to Sir Thomas Hooke, Bart., of Lincoln's Inn, this "messuage and two orchards, and a parcel of land lying before the said messuage containing 62 feet by 15 feet, enclosed by a wall, late of Sir Robert Sprignell, Bart., and Anne his wife, and after of Robert Yarway. Sir Thomas Hooke (created a baronet in 1662), who is thus mentioned, was son of Thomas Hooke of Bristol, (fn. 19) and is described in Cokayne's Complete Baronetage as of Hanchford in Reigate, an estate which he inherited and afterwards sold. From the Hearth Tax it appears that in 1675 Cromwell House contained 26 hearths. (fn. 20) On 24 September of that year Sir Thomas Hooke surrendered it to Alvares Da Costa of London. (fn. 21) The Da Costas belonged to a rather remarkable race of Portuguese Jews which had various ramifications. Some were buried in the Jewish burial ground, Mile End Road, their date going back at least as far as the year 1710. Among them was Emanuel Mendes Da Costa (1717– 1791), a man of high scientific attainments, whose career was marred by poverty and misconduct. Elected F.R.S. at the age of thirty, he got into financial difficulties, and, after resigning his fellowship and becoming Clerk of the Royal Society, he was prosecuted for fraud and passed some years in prison. Towards the end of his life he resumed writing with success ; some of his MSS. are in the British Museum. In the Kensington church register the marriage of Isaac Da Costa to "Lady Elizabeth Annesley Weaver, widow," 15 July, 1780, is recorded. Mrs. Brydges Williams, widow, whose admiration for Disraeli resulted in her leaving him a substantial sum, although a gentile on her mother's side and by faith a christian, was daughter of Abraham Mendez or Mendes Da Costa of Bath, who died in 1782.

The branch of Da Costas which established itself at Highgate owned Cromwell House for 74 years. They continued during three generations. The first of them, Alvares already mentioned, must, I think, be identical with the Portuguese Jewish merchant who had frequent dealings with the East India Company for at any rate more than 20 years. Generally under the name of "Alvaro" Da Costa he bought at the Company's Courts of Sales from 1674 to 1695. There are, besides, several references to him in the Court Minutes of that period with regard to permission for shipping out foreign gold, piece goods purchased at the Courts of Sales, and diamonds. In 1680 he got into trouble with the Court for having traded clandestinely. Nevertheless he was made a freeman of the Company, 11 March, 1684–5; and there are numerous entries of the purchase and sale of stock by him. For this information I am indebted to Miss L. M. Anstey. It should be mentioned that in 1705 Alvares Da Costa bought back the 19 acres of land which had belonged to the Cromwell House estate and had been sold separately by Sir Robert Sprignell.

Anthony Da Costa, who inherited (fn. 22) the house from his father in 1716, owned it for 32 years, but in 1742 he sold "18 acres of pasture and a barn thereon," retaining only one acre which adjoined his garden. He mentions in his will (fn. 23) that he had given large portions to his four daughters, and would in like manner have provided for the rest of his family, had it not been for "that pernicious scheme to the nation in the South Sea, in the year 1720, which ruined so many honourable and honest families, amongst whom I was a very great sufferer." His only son, Abraham Da Costa, who succeeded him in 1747, was "deprived of the use of his limbs by the palsey " and remained unmarried. In the will (fn. 24) of his mother (widow of Anthony), drawn up in the year of her husband's death, he is described as "weak and unable to provide for himself."

A tangible mark of the ownership of Cromwell House by this family is the room above the archway on the south side (evidently an addition to the original structure) with its prettily designed monogram over the mantelpiece. About this monogram Mr. Lloyd again goes astray in his History of Highgate, for, although it requires no expert to see at a glance that the letters are A.D.C., in his opinion it "looks like and most probably is I.C. (Ireton, Cromwell)." The monogram must have been placed there when the room was built by Alvares Da Costa or his son Anthony. The Da Costas also added the north wing, containing two well-designed doorways facing the garden on the north side, which still remain. The upper storey was removed during the occupation of the house as a Convalescent Home for Sick Children. There is also still a good piece of staircase on that side dating from the early years of the 18th century.

We have seen that Abraham Da Costa was an invalid. I have not traced him after 11 August, 1749, when he sold Cromwell House to Sir John Thompson, knight and alderman of London, (fn. 25) who died within a few months of his purchase. The property remained in the possession of Sir John's widow, Dame Catharine Thompson, until her death in 1766, when it was bought by Thomas Saunders, Esqre., of Highgate. (fn. 26) A small piece of land was added in 1770, when Philip Norman of St. Martin's Lane, goldsmith (no relation to the present writer), surrendered to Thomas Saunders "part of a field in the tenure of Albo Wells, lying at the south-east corner of the said field, containing from east to west 120 feet, abutting east on land going down to a tile kiln, south on the land of Mr. Lucy and west on an orchard of Thomas Saunders." On 30 July, 1789, Thomas Saunders surrendered the Cromwell House estate to Samuel Provey of Highgate, whose executors sold it in 1797 to George Ranking, of Highgate and Cheapside, merchant. From him it passed in 1811 to William Higgins of Mill Hill, afterwards of Highgate. As may be gathered from what precedes, Mr. Marcham has helped with a mass of information from original documents relating to Cromwell House and the land at various times attached to it. Up to the date of Higgins's purchase this has been freely utilised, but from that time onwards his details are so numerous, and some of them are of so technical a character, that it seems best to print a selection of them in an appendix, with a few earlier notes not yet referred to. These will be illustrated by maps showing the extent of Robert Sprignell's original purchase and of the property at later periods. The present writer will thus be freed to carry on something of a continous narrative, the authorities for successive owners being what Mr. Marcham has got together from various documents, and the abstract of title kindly supplied by the present owners.

In 1821 William Higgins sold the house for £3,500 to Richard Cumberlege Ware of Highgate. A map attached to a deed enrolled on Close Roll 10959 (No. 12) shows the extent of the property from 1823 to 1835. The next owner of Cromwell House was Thomas Hurst (10. Dec., 1823), printseller and publisher, who also owned Winchester Hall at the corner of Hornsey Lane, but unfortunately he became bankrupt, and in 1833 the former was conveyed to Richard Nixon. On the Court Roll of that year the building is mentioned as that "commonly known by the name of Cromwell House," which is the first allusion, so far discovered, to the name. Nixon was followed by Thomas Bedggood (1841), who died in 1865, the property being settled on his four daughters. One of them was Jane Russell, and on June 12, 1868, the Bishop of London, Lord of the Manor of Hornsey, enfranchised it to the trustees, namely W. A. Russell, M.D., of St. Albans, T. R. White, and C.J.S. Russell. The first named was husband of Jane, and, her sisters having died or ceased to share in the trust, there was a further settlement in her favour for life, and afterwards on her children. The trust came to an end, as far as this property was concerned, in 1924.

This concludes our record of the owners of Cromwell House and its predecessor from 1605, onwards until that year, and it should be added that down to 1824 all were owner occupiers. The last private owner who lived there was Richard Cumberlege Ware, 1821–24. In the deed of 1833 Mr. Rougemont is mentioned as occupying it, and his name appears in the Rate Books for 1838, while that of William Addison is in the Rate Books for 1840 and Court Rolls for 1841. He immediately preceded rather an important personage, to whose period of occupation, and to that of his widow, it will be necessary to devote one or two pages.

This was the Rev. Gérard van de Linde, whose only son, Gérard, became a prosperous accountant and published Reminiscences in 1917. From these we learn that the father was of Dutch family, born at Rotterdam and educated at the University of Leyden; when or where he was ordained does not appear. He visited England in early manhood, apparently intending to go to the Cape, but he stayed on in London and became completely anglicised. Nevertheless he retained absolute mastery over his mother tongue. He published a volume of poems in Dutch entitled Gedichten van den Schoolmeester, by "Gerrit van de Linde Janszoon," his full Dutch name, which, in his son's words, "is known throughout the whole of Holland from the palace to the cottage." A complimentary notice of it from an unknown writer appeared in the London Echo of 12 September, 1895, and was reproduced in the Accountant of 21 September " following. In it these poems are compared with the verses of the Rev. R. H. Barham, and he is spoken of as "the Dutch Ingoldsby." His son calls him "Poet Laureate of Holland," and says he was "a personal friend of the old King and Queen there." He also wrote educational books in English. He married a lady of an old French family, by name Caroline Marie Eve Montennis. In 1840 they were living at Stoke Newington, and in 1843 he took a lease of Cromwell House, and established there a school for boys which apparently at once achieved success. In the Reminiscences not much space is devoted to Highgate and the various topographical notes on it are mostly repetitions of the usual misstatements; indeed as regards Cromwell House the writer plunges even more deeply into error, for he says that it was built as a residence for Ireton "about the year 1620," that is when he was only 9 years old. Mr. van de Linde, who was born in 1840, spent his boyhood at the house, and his account of what he himself remembers is naturally of value. The following remarks by him I leave those who are describing the architectutre to deal with:—"There was a subterranean passage from this house to the Mansion House, which cropped up in our cellar. where one day our page accidentally moved the trap-door leading down to it. As he nearly broke his leg my father had it bricked up, much to the consternation of local antiquaries." There are references in other books to the "subterranean passage." (fn. 27) The author tells us how the boys played cricket in a large field by Maiden Lane, and rounders in a playground at the back of the house, and how below that was a fruit orchard, where they had allotments "under the supervision of M. de la Hylais, who was a splendid gardener himself and stimulated us to vie with each other as to who should have the best garden," for which a prize was given. A memento of that time, still probably belonging to the family, is a water-colour of the staircase by Henry Mogford, with figures of Mrs. van de Linde and her child, the writer of these Reminiscences. The Rev. Gérard van de Linde died at Cromwell House, 27 January 1858, and was buried in Hornsey Churchyard. Shortly afterwards his widow sold the lease of the school and all its belongings to the Rev. Henry Stretton, giving it up on Michaelmas day of that same year.

Under the Stretton regime the school was carried on for years with success, but on January 3, 1865, there was a fire there, so serious that the whole building narrowly escaped destruction. According to the Highgate Parish Magazine of the following month the sum of over £2,300 was paid by the Insurance Company as compensation, and a further sum was being discussed. A newspaper illustration shows the roof almost entirely destroyed. In fact the top storey was burnt out, and the lower part of the building was greatly damaged by the weight of water thrown into it, which broke through the decorative plaster ceilings on the first floor. According to a clause in the lease it was necessary, if possible, to restore these ceilings in detail. Mr. Thomas Harris was the architect employed in the renewal, and his assistant, Mr. Isaac Jones, who made measured drawings of them, one of which I bought and gave to the Committee for reproduction in this book (plate 17), wrote me more than one interesting letter on the subject. It should be added that, although in this historical account reference to the architecture of the house is barely touched on, as it will be treated elsewhere by architectural experts, the question of armorial bearings is so mixed up with its history that the shields of arms forming parts of the internal decorations must here be mentioned in some detail.

As to Mr. Jones's painstaking and on the whole successful efforts to imitate the original ceilings, it is best to quote his own words. He wrote as follows :—"Fire and water did their work only too effectively, but there was plenty of material for making the drawings for the restoration —I can vouch for the accuracy of the designs." The ceilings are in fact rather good copies, although the plaster is quite different from that used by seventeenth century craftsmen. In the centre of the chief room on the first floor are the Sprignell Arms, which should be, Gules, two gimel bars and in chief a leopard gold. Crest, a demi-lion gold, holding a battle-axe silver, with handle gold. In the restoration, the architect not having made a special study of heraldry, placed only one gimel bar on the shield and omitted the battle-axe. The Rev. John Stretton (son of the Rev. Henry Stretton), who is now living at Cambridge and was a boy when the fire occurred, says, " I watched the men at work preparing the new castings for the great room with much interest."

Stretton impaling Cope

Above the engaged pilasters of the overmantel of a front room on the ground floor are two cartouches or shields with arms. These arms were formerly thought to relate to the families of Radcliffe and Cope, neither of which was then known to have been connected with Cromwell House; but the Rev. John Stretton, and Mrs. Cope, of Finchampstead Place, Berks, who married his first cousin, his own mother having been a Cope, have both pointed out that they are the arms of Stretton impaling Cope. They are thus blazoned: silver, a bend engrailed sable for Stretton; impaling silver, a cheveron azure, between 3 roses gules with stalks and leaves vert, with three fleurs de lis gold upon the cheveron for Cope. Crest, a demi eagle silver holding a laurel branch for Stretton, the motto being "In Arcta Via Spes Mea."

It is quite clear that these arms were put up by the Rev. Henry Stretton, who married a Miss Cope, during his tenure of Cromwell House; the date of the cartouches is, however, less evident. On this point it is desirable to give an extract from a letter written by the Rev. John Stretton. After mentioning the similarity of the arms to those his father used on note paper while he was conducting the school from 1858 to 1866, he adds :—"Probably either the original design [of the cartouches on the overmantel] contained other arms, or possibly no arms at all. I think that in all likelihood arms were there before the fire of January 3rd, 1865, but were so defaced or destroyed by the effects of fire and water that it was impossible to copy them. The then landlord of the house had a clause in the lease enabling him to insist that an exact restoration in detail must be made. As nobody then knew or could conjecture with any certainty whose arms they were [perhaps] a compromise was suggested and carried out that my father should put the Stretton and Cope arms." This seems to be a reasonable explanation. As to the motto, it was chosen by the Rev. H. Stretton; it had not been used by the family before.

Considering the extent of the fire it is a wonder that so much that was inflammable escaped intact. The house having been thoroughly repaired was again occupied as a school by the Rev. H. Stretton until Michaelmas 1866, when he sought and obtained the headmastership of St. Alban's Grammar School, to which he transferred most of his pupils. He died at Eastville, Lincolnshire, in 1890, much respected for his learning and piety, and known as the author of various useful works. Our thanks are due to his son and to Mrs. Cope for the information kindly supplied by them.

When the school came to an end Highgate, always renowned for the health of its inhabitants, although easily accessible, was still quite out of London. Cromwell House also, having been so lately used as a school, could easily be adapted for the purpose to which it was soon afterwards applied. In 1868 it was taken on a long lease as a Convalescent Home, by the Governors of that admirable institution, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, and this was fortunate, as it came into the hands of enlightened people who did their best to preserve its architectural features intact. In 1917, at the request of the authorities of the Hospital, the present writer compiled a pamphlet entitled Cromwell House, Highgate, its History and Associations. It was written against time with the limited information then available and naturally contains a few "errors and omissions," but he claims that the misstatements connecting it with the Protector and his son-in-law Henry Ireton, which had been copied so often that almost every one believed them, were refuted once for all. This pamphlet was illustrated from photographs taken by our member Mr. H. W. Fincham, and owed its publication to the generosity of Mr. John Murray and others connected with the Hospital. By their kind permission it has been utilised, where this seemed desirable, for the present volume. By the time of its issue the Governors were beginning to feel that in spite of the attractions of Highgate, the day was approaching when it would be best, if opportunity offered, to take their Convalescent Home farther from London. It happened that the situation was admirably suited for the Mothercraft Training Society, and in 1924, having bought both the remainder of the long lease and the freehold, and having made the building suitable for its new purpose without important architectural change, they are now happily installed therein. It is a great relief that the priceless fittings have not gone astray into the possession of some plutocrat, and that, after a long interval, the owners of Cromwell House are once again its occupants. That the Society may flourish for centuries in the home it has selected must be earnestly desired by all those who love fine architecture and soul awakening memories of the past.


  • 1. Close Roll No. 52.
  • 2. Cantlowes or Kentish Town was part of the great parish of St. Pancras which contained three other prebendal manors.
  • 3. Speculum Britanniæ, Middlesex, 1593, by John Norden, p. 22.
  • 4. Speculum Britanniæ, Middlesex, 1593, by john Norden, p. 22.
  • 5. Environs of London, 1795.
  • 6. Now deposited in the Public Record Office.
  • 7. State Papers, Domestic (vol. 62. James I., No. 30.)
  • 8. The original, of course, is in Latin. These words are a translation and abridgement.
  • 9. Will dated 12 Feb. 1602–3 proved 27 Feb. 1603–4 [P.C.C.].
  • 10. Chancery I.P.M. 408/122.
  • 11. P.C.C. 92, Byrde.
  • 12. Highgate Chapel belonged to Sir Roger Cholmeley's Free School and was habitually used by the inhabitants of Highgate, their Parish Churches being distant. The Lord Chancellor, in The Attorney General v. The Earl of Mansfield and others, in 1826, decided it was not a chapel of ease. James Russell's Chancery Reports, 1829, page 532.
  • 13. P.C.C. 89 Skynner.
  • 14. P.R.O. Petty Bag. Lunacy Inq.S8 and J.P.M. Chancery, Vol. 719, No. 161.
  • 15. P.C.C. 99 Pell.
  • 16. Sir Robert Sprignell died in November, 1668. The third and last Baronet was his brother Sir William, who died unmarried and was buried at Highgate, September 8, 1691. His will was proved by his sister Judith, executrix. In the burial register of Highgate Chapel is the following entry: "Mrs. Judith Sprignell from St. Dunstan's, Stepney. February 8, 1721–22." Here ends the scanty record of the Sprignell family.
  • 17. History of Highgate, p. 219.
  • 18. In 1768 the heirs of John Killettsurrendered to William Waylett "2 messuages heretofore one messuage, and a small piece of waste formerly Chandler's." This was probably the building in question. Here must have stood James Cole's" cottage," which in its turn was "the hovel," or on the site of the hovel.
  • 19. Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Hooke and Elizabeth, baptised at Highgate Chapel, 12 July, 1670. [Register of Highgate Chapel.]
  • 20. P.R.O. Lay Subsidies 143/370 and 143/392.
  • 21. E.C. Court Rolls.
  • 22. The will of Alvares da Costa was proved 15 February, 1715–16, in P.C.C., 134, Fox.
  • 23. P.C.C. 68 Potter.
  • 24. P.C.C. 329 Glazier.
  • 25. E.C. Court Rolls 1749.
  • 26. E.C. Court Rolls 1766.
  • 27. Lloyd, in his History of Highgate, says: "From one of the vaults is an entrance to a subterranean passage which emerged on the lower ground, near to the present Archway Road."