Battles, Explosions, Skulls and An Attempted Assassination
Local author Gillian Clegg gives us a glimpse of Chiswick's colourful history
On 12 November the Royalists had marched on Brentford where they were halted by Parliamentary regiments. Fierce fighting took place but the Royalist army won through. Learning of the battle at Brentford, the Earl of Essex, leader of the Parliamentary Army, summoned his forces and marched to Turnham Green. Throughout the night regular soldiers and the Trained Bands of Londoners (an early form of the Territorial Army) poured out of London to Chiswick, along with `cartloads of victuals'. It is claimed that by 8am 24,000 Parliamentarian soldiers faced the Royalists who had arrived from Brentford.
The Parliamentarians sheltered behind hedges and in ditches, firing their muskets when the Royalist cavalry approached. But the ground wasn't suitable for horse soldiers and the Royalist foot soldiers were outnumbered two to one. In the evening the Royalists gave up and retreated back to Kingston. King Charles would never again come so close to regaining his capital.
SKULLS AT STRAND-ON-THE-GREEN During the 19th and early 20th centuries the Thames was systematically dredged to keep the waterway clear for large boats. Dredging unearthed many archaeological finds, including, curiously, a large number of human skulls - just skulls, no skeletons. According to a report in the Archaeological Journal 1929 over a hundred came from the river opposite Strand-on-the-Green. There was no indication of the age of the skulls at Strand or how long they had been in the river and unfortunately they all disappeared (probably carried off by collectors). This is a pity since skulls can now be dated by radiocarbon. It is tempting to think the skulls belonged to victims of one of the battles that took place here - the clash between King Edmund Ironside and Canute in 1016 at Brentford or the Civil War battles of Brentford and Turnham Green. However, archaeologists now think the skulls were probably older, dating to around 600 BC. They base this on the fact that other skulls found in the river have been dated and most were found to be from the Iron Age (c.650BC-AD 43). It is thought that river burial was a common practice during this period since very few Iron Age burials have been found on land. Iron Age people believed in river gods and threw objects like helmets, swords and shields into the river as offerings to their gods. Maybe they sacrificed people as well.
V2 EXPLOSION IN WORLD WAR II By the autumn of 1944, the Allies had foiled the German doodle-bug attacks and on 6th September, Home Secretary Herbert Morrison, proclaimed that Germany had lost the battle for London. Two days later the Germans launched their most insidious weapon yet - the V2 rocket. And the first one to land in Britain exploded in Chiswick.
At 18.44 on the evening of 8 September, with no warning, the V2 came down in the middle of Staveley Road, leaving a crater 20ft deep and 40ft wide. It landed opposite No 5 which had to be demolished, along with 10 other houses. Fifteen needed extensive rebuilding and 658 others were damaged. Three people were killed and 24 injured. Because of its speed, radar was unable to detect the V2s and people had no chance of taking cover since their approach could neither be seen nor heard.
The Government suppressed the news about the arrival of the V2s, perhaps in an attempt to mislead the Germans, or perhaps because it didn't want to dampen public relief and euphoria over news of Allied successes in Europe. The Government claimed that the explosion had been caused by a gas main. It was November before the public was informed about the new weapon.
WILLIAM III (ATTEMPTED ASSASINATION ) Many people were disaffected when the Catholic James II was ousted from the throne of England in 1688 and replaced by William and Mary. One such was a Scot called George Barclay. In 1698 he hatched a plot to assassinate King William. With help from 40 conspirators (who hid in the cellars of two local pubs) he planned to waylay the King's coach as the King returned to Kensington, via Chiswick, from his weekly hunting expedition to Richmond Park. The spot Barclay selected was Turnham Green Lane (now Wellesley Road) which was apparently a `quagmire' through which the Royal coach had to be tugged along at walking pace. The King's escort was to be detached and the King slain. However, someone who was in the know informed the authorities and the King put off his trip. Most of the conspirators were caught, although Barclay escaped abroad.
Written by Gillian Clegg and reproduced with kind the permission of Open Chiswick.
August 18, 2007