I haven’t visited nearly as many of the places that feature in my book about King Charles II and his escape into exile after the Battle of Worcester as I would have liked, but recently I discovered that one of the places where he spent the night was pretty much on my route to Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale, where I was spending a coupe of days exploring. I therefore decided to call in on Moseley Old Hall, which is now owned by the National Trust, and I’m glad I did. Charles was brought here in the early days of his escape, when the hunt for him was still hot and the region was swarming with soldiers fresh from the battle, as well as local militia, whose new purpose was to catch the king. Moseley was the home of Thomas Whitgreave, a Catholic and royalist, who was more than willing to risk his own life in giving Charles refuge. Here the king was able to get rid of his dirty clothes and disintegrating shoes, and his sore and bleeding feet were attended to. At one point he was looking out of a window when he saw the bedraggled remnants of his own defeated Scottish army wandering along the lane that ran past the house, trying to make their long way home. Later, there was a scare when Parliamentary soldiers came calling. Charles was hustled into a priest hole, which still exists today and which I was given a view of. After two nights at Moseley, Charles embarked on the next leg of his hazardous journey
Charles never forgot the courage and kindness of those who had helped him, however lowly their station in life. Elizabeth Smith, the maid who alerted the household to the arrival of the soldiers and helped Charles into the priest hole, was one of those who petitioned the king after he was returned to the throne: she wrote saying that she raised the alarm when Cromwell’s soldiers was about the towne, etc., your Majesties petitioner rubbed softly your Majesty upon the feet and leggs to wake your Majesty, and warne your Majesty thereof, and provided sweet herbes into the private place ere your Majesty went therein, and other services did do for your Majesty… Elizabeth duly received her reward!
I somehow ended up tagging on to a guided tour of the house, and I’m glad I did because the guide was knowledgeable and witty and I got a lot more out of exploring the house than I would have alone. Moreover, fans of my posts on the origins of sayings will be delighted to know that he was full of them!
There was an original old table in the house, which was basically four legs with a board laid on top. The board was turned as needed – one side was for preparing food and
had lots of knife marks etc, while the other side was smooth and used for dining – the origin of turning the tables. People who sat around such tables to discuss business held board meetings, and of course there would be a chairman of the board. We were also shown the earlier form of candles, much thinner and made of rush dipped in fat. It was in an iron holder, hanging from a bar and clipped in place in the middle. Ordinarily you lit one end; if you needed extra light you could burn the candle at both ends – but naturally it would exhaust itself much quicker!