The York Road: Enfield Chase and the Gunpowder Treason Plot

dust jacket

The following post is the eigthteenth of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana recently obtained for research purposes. Coaching Days & Coaching Ways by W. Outram Tristram, first published in 1888, is replete with commentary about travel and roads and social history told in an entertaining manner, along with a great many fabulous illustrations. A great find for anyone seriously interested in English history!

The Gunpowder Treason Plot

The conspirators

The conspirators

In 1605, a group of English Catholics, led by Robert Catesby, met at a house called White Webbs near Enfield Chase, to plot to assassinate James I and put his daughter Elizabeth on the throne, who, although only nine years old, was to be the Catholic head of state. An anonymous letter galvanized the authorities into action. Guy Fawkes was found in the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder on October 26, 1605. The other conspirators fled, but were captured, although Catesby was killed in a shootout. The other men, including a Jesuit priest called Father Garnet, were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. There was speculation that the priest, although he undoubtedly knew of the plot, was innocent because of his vow to the confidentiality of the confessional. Our illustrious author, however, seems to think that Father Garnet was in it up to his eyeballs.

For here, at this lonely house, then in the middle of Enfield Chase, nearly all the actors in the dark catastrophe, imminent at Westminster, at one time or another gathered. Over and over again the ten miles between Enfield Wash and London must have rung to the sound of their horses’ hoofs, as they rode fiercely between White Webbs and London. That Catesby was here ten days before the mediated explosion is evident from Winter’s confession:

“Then was the parliament anew prorogued until the fifth of November, so as we all went down until some ten days before, when Mr. Catesby came up with Mr. Fawkes to an house by Enfield Chase called White Webbs, whither I came to them, and Mr. Catesby willed me to inquire whether the young prince came to the parliament: I tolde him I heard that his grace thought not to be there. ‘Then must we have our horses,’ said Mr. Catesby, ‘beyond the water, and provision of more company to surprise the prince, and leave the duke alone.’”

That a more important factor in the deadly design—if the latest judgment of posterity is to be believed even that Catesby himself was frequently at the old house in Enfield Chase is shown in the examination of James Johnson: that is to say in the examination of Guy Fawkes.

It was stated by him that the place had been taken of Dr. Huicke by his master, Mr. Meaze, of Berkshire, for his sister, Mrs. Perkins (alias Mrs. Ann Vaux); that Mrs. Vaux had spent a month there and mass had been said by a priest whose name deponent did not know.

Father Henry Garnet

Father Henry Garnet

And as Mr. Meaze, of Berkshire, was none other than Henry Garnet, the Provincial of the English Jesuits, the importance of the testimony becomes apparent. And the fact gives birth to a fancy. It is interesting to me to think that Mr. Meaze, of Berkshire, with his candid blue eyes, his fair curling hair, his polished, courteous manners, his form tending to an embonpoint by no means suggestive of asceticism; it is interesting to me, I say, to think that Mr. Meaze of Berkshire, may have been a well-known and respected figure about Enfield Wash. That he may have been recognized as Father Garnet, for the first time as he stood absolutely under the beam on that May morning—”the morrow of the Invention of the Cross”—on the great scaffold at the west of end of old St. Paul’s; that he may have been recognized there by some Enfield yeoman, who had ridden in from Enfield to see the show, little expecting to see in the last victim, in the most distinguished of all the victims perhaps, to a justly outraged justice, the courteous, handsome stranger, who he had so admired and respected down in his quiet Enfield home!

Father Garnet at the gallows

Father Garnet at the gallows

Guy Fawkes Day

Apparently, all that remains of Guy Fawkes Day is an occasional bonfire and the burning of effigies of disliked celebrities, and fireworks. In some places it gets lumped together with Halloween. But it no longer has much to do with religion and politics as it originally did.

Guy Fawkes interrogated by James I

Guy Fawkes interrogated by James I


 Index to all the posts in this series

1: The Bath Road: The (True) Legend of the Berkshire Lady

2: The Bath Road: Littlecote and Wild William Darrell

3: The Bath Road: Lacock Abbey

4: The Bath Road: The Bear Inn at Devizes and the “Pictorial Chronicler of the Regency”

5: The Exeter Road: Flying Machines, Muddy Roads and Well-Mannered Highwaymen

6: The Exeter Road: A Foolish Coachman, a Dreadful Snowstorm and a Romance

7: The Exeter Road in 1823: A Myriad of Changes in Fifty Years

8: The Exeter Road: Basingstoke, Andover and Salisbury and the Events They Witnessed

9: The Exeter Road: The Weyhill Fair, Amesbury Abbey and the Extraordinary Duchess of Queensberry

10: The Exeter Road: Stonehenge, Dorchester and the Sad Story of the Monmouth Uprising

11: The Portsmouth Road: Royal Road or Road of Assassination?

12: The Brighton Road: “The Most Nearly Perfect, and Certainly the Most Fashionable of All”

13: The Dover Road: “Rich crowds of historical figures”

14: The Dover Road: Blackheath and Dartford

15: The Dover Road: Rochester and Charles Dickens

16: The Dover Road: William Clements, Gentleman Coachman

17: The York Road: Hadley Green, Barnet

18: The York Road: Enfield Chase and the Gunpowder Treason Plot

19: The York Road: The Stamford Regent Faces the Peril of a Flood

20: The York Road: The Inns at Stilton

21: The Holyhead Road: The Gunpowder Treason Plot

22: The Holyhead Road: Three Notable Coaching Accidents

23: The Holyhead Road: Old Lal the Legless Man and His Extraordinary Flying Machine

24: The Holyhead Road: The Coachmen “More Celebrated Even Than the Most Celebrated of Their Rivals” (Part I)

25: The Holyhead Road: The Coachmen “More Celebrated Even Than the Most Celebrated of Their Rivals” (Part II)

26: Flying Machines and Waggons and What It Was Like To Travel in Them

27: “A few words on Coaching Inns” and Conclusion

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