The Hampden Street Campaign
The Rt. Hon. Chris Smith MP,
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport,
2-4 Cockspur Street,
LONDON SW1Y 5DH.
1st March 2000.
Dear Secretary of State,
I am charged by the Executive Committee of this Society to make the following requests to you:
1. That you will arrange for the name of Downing Street to be changed to that of Hampden Street.
2. That you will arrange for a commemorative plaque to be placed on the wall of No. 10 Hampden Street to mark the fact that it was once the London home of John Hampden the Patriot.
This Society was set up in 1992 to honour the name of John Hampden, one of the 17th century’s greatest, yet sadly neglected, statesmen. I enclose some details about Hampden and the Society, and I would refer you to the article by Dr John Adair in The House magazine of 11 July 1994, but briefly he was a wealthy Buckinghamshire landowner who stood out against the tyrannical policies of King Charles I. Hampden’s opposition to the illegal Ship Money tax made him the most famous man in the country, and he became right-hand man to John Pym, leader of the opposition to the King in the Long Parliament.
Hampden’s activities led to him being one of the Five Members whom the King tried to arrest for treason in 1642, and he was one of the leading lights in both Parliament and the Parliamentary Army during the Civil War. Had he not been killed early on in that conflict, the course of history might well have been very different. The execution of Charles I might never have occurred, we would have heard little of Hampden’s cousin Oliver Cromwell, and the constitutional settlement of 1688, which secured the future of Parliament, might have taken place much earlier.
Downing Street stands on the site of the Hampdens’ London home, which was built by Sir Thomas Knyvet in the 1580s and inherited by John Hampden’s mother in 1622, when her son was 28. At this time Hampden was an MP and would almost certainly have lived here when in London. I quote from an article in issue no. 6 of our newsletter, ‘The Patriot‘, based on information from Christopher Jones’s book:
George Downing was a Parliamentarian who became a Member of Parliament and acquired the post of Ambassador to The Hague under Cromwell, where he spied on the exiled Stuarts. He appears to have been a most unpleasant character, changing sides just before the Restoration and treacherously delivering some of his former comrades-in-arms to execution. He was awarded a baronetcy for this.
During the Civil War he had acquired an interest in land and buildings to the west of Whitehall, but at the Restoration he was told that the properties had been taken back by the Crown.
He petitioned the King that the properties be restored to him on the grounds, unsupported by any evidence, that they had come to him in lieu of a debt. In 1664 the King reluctantly granted him the lease of the site and the buildings on it, with permission to build, despite the fact that Elizabeth Hampden was still living there and paying a rent of £90 per year.
Her grandsons put up a fight as their lease still had 20 years to run, and Downing’s attempts to get possession failed. Elizabeth died in 1665, but Downing doesn’t appear to have gained possession until 1671. He then proceeded to pull down Hampden House and the surrounding buildings, and construct the world-famous street that bears his name.
Members of this Society believe that it is a disgrace that, for over 300 years, the official residence of the Head of Government of the United Kingdom should be named after a man so despicable as George Downing – a turncoat and hypocrite. In contrast, all of his contemporaries praised John Hampden’s character and capabilities. The Earl of Clarendon, a Royalist, wrote, ‘… his reputation for honesty was universal, and his affections seemed so publicly guided that no corrupt or private ends could bias them’. And later, ‘… he was a very wise man, and of great parts, and possessed with the most absolute faculties to govern the people, of any man I knew’.
In the 1,000 days since the last General Election, your Government has taken a radical look at many entrenched attitudes that have prevailed in our public life for so long. Renaming Downing Street after a man known in his time as ‘Patriae Pater – The Father of the People’ would emphasise to the world that Britain’s ability to evolve new democratic institutions whilst defending its citizens’ ancient rights has deep historical roots and would be a most appropriate way of marking the new Millennium.
The John Hampden Society.