Monday 11 February 2008

Just who was Jack Straw?

Jack Straw’s Castle is situated at the highest point of the heath (highest point above sea level in London?) and commands amazing views across London. It has been a coaching inn, a pub, recently and briefly a family and children’s restaurant and now has been converted into apartments.

In World War II the pub was very badly damaged after being bombed by a landmine, and the present mock-castle style in fact just dates from 1962 or 1964. It is grade two listed however, the coaching inn dating from at least 1721 (when the old watering hole was re-built). Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackerary and Wilkie Collins were all known to have drunk here in the 19th century.

However, the name and crucially it’s location derives from the Peasants Revolt of 1381. Now dryly described as being 12 North End Way, Hampstead, London, NW3, this address hides the historical story of this meeting point and of Jack Straw.

Jack Straw was one of the leaders of the Peasants Revolt of 1381 – a rebellion against poll tax and restrictions on labour and wages. Wat Tyler, Jon Ball and jack Straw were the main leaders and they were incredibly successful – claims put their petition as being supported by 60,000 names.

The mass gathering of people supporting the rebellion in 1381 was of course against the young monarch Richard II just 14 years old himself.

The petition called for the abolition of serfdom, tithes and the game laws as well as the right to freely use the forests. They also called that the poll tax be abolished.

The rallying cry of the peasants was a rhyme which spread dissension across the South of England:"When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the Gentleman?"

Jack Straw is credited with addressing the massed gathering of rebels from a Hay cart on Hampstead Heath – hence the name and indeed the location. There is little to doubt the story and it has historical confirmation.

Not unsurprisingly the rebellion ended in failure in that Tyler, Straw and Ball were all captured and executed, but the Poll tax was abolished… But he also has a pub named after him – not much compensation but a story worth telling.


Anonymous said...

Good research ed... I have often wondered if this castle had some connection to the former home sec - I am greatly relieved to learn that this is not the case.

Your name sounds familiar to me - are you the same Ed Fordham who was either prez or gen-sec of University of Nottingham Student's Union - way back in the day?


Anonymous said...

There was also a popular childrens game called Jack Straws Castle. I don't know much about that though.

Shame it is no longer a pub. Yuppie flats now. Of course that what the developer wanted all along!

Anonymous said...

Do you mean this?