Heritage: Revolutionary violence at North Ockendon

North Ockendon was the scene of a family feud over ownership of North Ockendon Hall. Picture: Paul B

North Ockendon was the scene of a family feud over ownership of North Ockendon Hall. Picture: Paul Bennett - Credit: Archant

Prof Ged Martin tells how brazen forgeries were “excogitated” in a plan to take fraudulent possession of a Havering mansion

If Sir Gabriel Poyntz hadn’t made such complicated rules in 1605, North Ockendon Hall might not have been wrecked by soldiers in 1648.

Sir Gabriel divided his property between his daughter Katherine and his son Thomas. In 1595, Katherine had married James Morris, an Ongar landowner.

Sir Gabriel wanted North Ockendon Hall to pass to Katherine’s male descendants, but by the 1640s, three Morris sons and a grandson had died. The property passed to Thomas’s daughter Audrey. She was married to Sir Adam Littleton, whose family were powerful lawyers.

When Audrey died in 1648, son William Littleton moved into the Hall. But another member of the Morris family claimed the property.

John Morris, a cousin, produced documents which claimed to prove Sir Gabriel had actually sold his property to Katherine and James Morris when they married in 1595.

Therefore, John Morris insisted, James had owned North Ockendon Hall outright. As his uncle’s heir, John insisted he’d inherited the property. There was only one problem with the claim – all the documents James produced were barefaced forgeries. (The forger was called Isabel Smith – an unusual occupation for a woman.)

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In 1647, the House of Lords rejected his case outright. How could Sir Gabriel have handed over North Ockendon Hall in 1595, when he was still deciding who would inherit it ten years later?

James Morris claimed the alleged 1595 sale had been ratified by an act of Parliament passed in 1601. After searching the records, officials reported that no such act existed.

The forged documents listed property that Sir Gabriel only acquired later, and some he never owned at all. The Littletons denounced the forgeries as “the boldest and grossest that were ever set on foot or excogitated in any Age”.

James Morris was heavily fined, but retaliated by accusing his opponents of corruption. Although England’s Civil War had ended in 1646, the country remained unstable. Parliament couldn’t afford to pay off its Army.

Refusing to go home without their wages, the soldiers became a radical force in politics.

In 1648, now fearing the military more than the monarchy, moderate Roundheads tried to strike a deal with the defeated Charles I.

On December 6 1648, a radical Army officer, Colonel Pride, seized control of Westminster, and barred moderate MPs from taking their seats. After “Pride’s Purge”, what was left of the House of Commons was rudely called the “Rump” – the sitting part.

During December, the extremists decided to put the King on trial, aiming to execute “Charles Stuart That Man of Blood” for causing the Civil War. England was now on the verge of anarchy. John Morris saw his chance.

In the paranoid atmosphere, he easily persuaded discontented soldiers quartered at Barking that he’d been wronged, and deserved their support. At 3am on December 31 1648, firing pistols and brandishing swords, twenty troopers took violent possession of North Ockendon Hall. William Littleton promptly appealed to the local Roundhead boss, magistrate Carew Harvey Mildmay.

Presumably assembling his own force, Mildmay hurried the nine miles from his Collier Row home. That same day, he arrested ten soldiers still occupying the Hall.

John Morris had some local support. One of the intruders was a North Ockendon farm labourer, John Wilmore.

In July 1649, Wilmore was tried on token charges, including the theft of a hat worth seven shillings (35p) and “twoe pistolls”. The soldiers were probably released.

John Morris had a genuine claim to inherit his uncle’s Ongar estate. Unfortunately, the House of Lords had banned him from ever giving evidence again in any court case. When two relatives challenged him, he could not fight back – and so he lost Ongar too.

Charles I was executed on January 30 1649.

North Ockendon Hall survived almost 300 years. In January 1944, it was wrecked once again, this time by Nazi bombs. It had to be demolished.