Cromwell, the Civil War, and Whitewebbs Park

Joe Studman offers a unique take on the plans by Tottenham Hotspur to build a women’s football academy on part of Whitewebbs Park

Whitewebbs Park and (inset) Samuel Cooper's portrait of Oliver Cromwell
Whitewebbs Park and (inset) Samuel Cooper’s portrait of Oliver Cromwell

I was recently re-reading David Pam’s excellent paper The Rude Multitude and was wondering what the people of Enfield might do if a similar situation arose today.

David’s paper refers to the troubled times after the Civil War when Cromwell’s parliament sold off a large portion of Enfield Chase. The Chase had, until the execution of Charles I, been in the ownership of The Duchy of Lancaster (in practice The Crown) and the new purchasers were senior commanders from The New Model Army who made payment for these estates though back pay owed and regular soldiers bonds bought at a discount. 

The main losers in this deal were the good folk of Enfield who saw the removal of their common rights, that they had enjoyed since time immemorial, of pasturing their cattle and collecting loose timber for fuel. 

After their appeals were rejected by state commissioners the commoners took matters into their own hands and in May 1659 a party moved on to Enfield Chase, pulled down hedges and fences around the new enclosures, and drove their cattle on to the growing corn. 

The government response was to demand local magistrates to take legal action against this “rude multitude” but the instruction was ignored. The new tenants then hired mercenaries to terrorise the locals, resulting in a pitch battle on 10th July between a small armed infantry and local commoners armed with pitchforks. The villagers won when they overpowered the soldiers, while reloading their muskets, although there was a loss of two villagers’ lives in the process. 

Can you imagine what might be the response today if, just for instance, a certain party erected a fence around, say, 18% of Whitewebbs Park, perhaps where the old golf course is? Today there is a marvelous savanna reminiscent of the how the Chase would have looked three hundred years ago. Would the good folk of Enfield, knowing that this estate had been purchased by Middlesex County Council for the benefit of local people, feel that their common rights had been abused?

I can’t imagine for one minute that they would feel justified in tearing down those fences and herding those wonderful red poll cattle and sheep from Forty Hall Farm on to the enclosed land, but the cows in particular do seem to have roaming rights. Indeed, such actions would be unlawful and wrong. Deary me, no! We shouldn’t even think of such a thing. 

Fortunately, we live in enlightened times, and have a council that has our best interests at heart and wouldn’t allow such an enclosure in the first place! They wouldn’t… would they? They couldn’t… could they?