Ossulstone (deceased)

The pecking order of what passed for local government in the olde days, was topped by the Counties or shires, followed by the Hundreds and, in the basement, parishes. There were some bespoke arrangements, the City of London being one. The pic above is of a Medieval 'Moot Court'. 

If you read my last post, you will know that the City of London was girdled by the River and Middlesex, and that the latter was eventually subsumed by the Great Wen as it sprawled across the surrounding countryside.

So what happened to the Middlesex Hundreds?

Firstly, a bit more on Hundreds. No one seems very sure what they were originally based on. Possibly, it referred to a hundred Hides, a Hide being the area of land needed to support an ordinary family or, later, several of them. Alternatively it could have been related to an obligation to provide one hundred armed men when required. In the northern counties settled by the Danes, the equivalent of the Hundreds was ‘Wapentakes’ To me, this lends some support to the idea that they were a basis for organising armed levies. 

As time passed, the Hundreds increasingly dealt with local and quotidian legal and administrative matters. At the root of this was a system of collective responsibility called the ‘Frankpledge’ which covered covered every common man in the area. (Yes, not women).. Has Old Goatbreath been grazing more than his fair share on the Common? Is Old Mother Thatcher a scold? It could all be sorted out in the Hundred Court, or ‘Moot’. 

Middlesex comprised six Hundreds, each based on a group of parishes. Going clockwise around the edge of London and over the corpse of Middlesex, you have Spellthorne, Isleworth, Elthorne, Gore and Edmonton. In the middle and covering the inner and later more urban area around old London you have Ossulstone.

These names mostly survive in some form. But Ossulstone? This was in fact the largest of them and the one most comprehensively steamrollered by London. By the 1700’s it had already been split into five divisions to make life easer. These had names you will recognise, Kensington, Westminster, Holborn, Tower and Finsbury.

The name came from ‘Oswald’s Stone’. But who was Oswald, and what was the stone? One theory was that it was the Roman marker for the junction of their roads heading North and West. These are now Edgware Road and Oxford Street. I thought that was around Marble Arch, but a very old map shows the stone roughly where Park Lane is joined by South Street i.e. further south and next to the BMW showrooms where, presumably, you good then buy a nice chariot. 

It has been suggested that the stone was the veritable Omphalos of Ossulstone, where the Hundred had their ‘Moot’ or Court. It is appealing to think of every man in inner north London meeting around Speakers Corner as a ‘Moot’ to decide who is to blame for everything.

Speakers Corner. A 21st c Moot? 

The Hundred’s boundaries seem to have been important. There haven’t been that many battles within London but on the edges of the Ossulstone Hundred there were several. Some fifty years before Bill the Conq. turned up there was a scuffle between King Edmund Ironside and the Danes at Brentford. This was a home win. A bigger slugfest was the Battle of Barnet, fought on a foggy day on the Great North Road during the Wars of the Roses. This was a win for the Yorkists and saw the death of ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’. A stone still marks the spot.

The Death of Warwick at Barnet 

Later, in the Civil War, another Battle of Brentford was fought at a convenient location on the High Street, adjacent to the what is now the Canal dock. A Ford across the Brent gave the place its strategic importance. Some strange cosplay re-enactments suggest that some middle aged blokes haven’t forgotten that one! If they want to fire the imagination though, they need to work on the backdrop. 

The Battle of Brentford. As imagined by an artist

Re-enactment of the Battle of Brentford

The Ossulstone Estate 

 Much later, the Ossulstone Hundred Court moved to Holborn (I think perhaps to Conway Hall) before disappearing altogether late in Queen Victoria's reign. Nobody gave the old stone much thought. It was buried in 1819, only to be dug up again a few years later and left propped against Marble Arch. A few decades later in a fit of fascination with anything antiquarian it was suggested that maybe, just maybe, it could be important. So it was promptly stolen or lost, never to be seen again. Now, there seems to very little to remember Ossulstone by.

There is the odd building or short street on the outskirts. More significantly, there is Ossulston Street between Euston Station and the British Library and a synonymous Estate. Which came first, I know not, but the Estate was one of the first high density municipal housing schemes in the Country.

The story goes that it was inspired in part by the ‘Karl Marx Hof’ scheme in Vienna. I am not sure how keen our Karl would have been on the social concept though. The Architect, a Mr Topham Forrest insisted that:

“It is an essential of this idea that the superior flats should be segregated from the shops and working-class flats. Each class of property should have its own entrance and the entrances should be as remote from one another as possible”. It is now a listed but substantially remodelled building. Some have no doubt been sold off. Plus ca change.

More entertainingly, Ossulstone appears as the setting for a table top role playing game, the ‘Dee Sanction’ which involves “Covert Enochian Intelligence”. Set in chaotic Elizabethan times, creatures from dark tales emerge from dark spaces to do dark deeds to those who imprisoned them.

And a Baron! Stand up Peter Grey Bennett, a distant descendant of Mary Tudor and the 10th Earl and 11th Baron Ossulston. As far as I can see (i.e. not far) he appears to have been raised in the USA and, although a member of the House of Lords, has never bothered to vote there.

Barons Ossulton

The family gaff was actually Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, promoted as ‘Britain’s most haunted’. Local connections a bit thin then. I tell you this just in case you ever thought that the English Aristocracy was somehow grounded in the real sod of the land and was relevant to anything. It baffles me but Pete, mate, if you are out there, by all means put me right. 


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