I was going to write about the ecstatic conclusion to our TV vigil on Saturday November 7th. All day we were glued to CNN, willing the number 253 to change like trying to make the clock hands move with your mind. As it got dark outside, John King rushed into the camera. They were calling Pennsylvania for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. History was happening. Van Jones broke down saying what this moment meant to him. Crowds burst into the streets in cities across America. On Black Lives Matter Plaza, outside the White House, a woman waved a placard GAME OVER FASCIST CLOWN. Except it isn’t. Yet. Since then Trump has done everything the pessimists said he would. Bill Maher sees ‘a slow motion coup.’ Others fear a civil war. I don’t think there will be a civil war. Duty goes deep in America. Even if John Voigt says that overturning the result is ‘the biggest fight since the Civil War’ or that the enemy is Satan. But with all those guns and militias there will be a lot of bloodshed. All because ‘losing is difficult, for me very difficult.’ What do you call a man like that?
King Charles I’s judges called him ‘The Man of Blood’ in 1649, when he was on trial for his life for making war on his subjects. That wasn’t quite fair. Charles did much to cause the Civil War. But it was also beyond his power to stop it happening. Or anyone’s perhaps. It was only a century since the Reformation. All the tensions in this new country that Queen Elizabeth I and the Cecils had finessed, defused, kept the lid or crushed in the Sixteenth Century boiled over in Charles’s reign. A genius might have avoided the Civil War. Might have. Charles lacked the temperament. His advisors lacked the talent. Between 1642 and 1660, the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland were a Monarchy, a Parliamentary Republic, a military dictatorship challenged by (and violently suppressing) proto-communists, a Parliamentary Republic and a Monarchy again. Religiously they went from very High Church to very Low Church (a lot believed this was the End of the World and Christ would soon return) and back to not-quite-so High Church. There would be another fifty years of bubbling lava and bloodletting before the calm in 1714. But there was never another Civil War. A national nightmare and a learning experience.
One of the signatories to King Charles’s death warrant lived in Brighton. The Sussex MP Anthony Stapley (1590 – 1655) bought Patcham Place before the Civil War. He was a Colonel at the siege of Chichester in 1642, and was made Governor after it was captured from the Royalists. He sat on the Parliamentary Council of State from 1649 to 1652. When Cromwell was declared Lord Protector in 1653 he Stapley was named one of Cromwell’s Council of Thirteen. He also sat in the Supreme Assembly. And in 1649 Stapley had sat as one of the judges in the Trial of King Charles I. He signed the Death Warrant. A serious Roundhead.
Luckily for Stapley he died in 1655 five years before King Charles II’s Restoration, or he might not have died in his bed at Patcham. Or perhaps he might have. His sons Anthony and John became Royalists in the 1650s. They were involved in a plot to restore the exiled King in 1658. The plot failed and John was brought before Cromwell, who forgave him, because he respected his father. Sadly John Stapley also gave evidence, and Dr John Hewitt, one of King Charles I’s former chaplains was beheaded. When the King returned in 1660, John Stapley was made a baronet. Technically Patcham should’ve been forfeited as property of a traitor, but Sir John Stapley Baronet of Patcham kept his father’s estate and died there in 1701.
We took Maisie for a walk at Patcham Place the other day. Oddly neither of us had been there before, tho we’ve driven past it loads, at the end of the London Road going North out of Brighton, in the armpit of the A23 and A27. It’s a beautiful place, strangely tranquil, despite being open to road on two sides. It was almost empty when we were there, and it still feels like a garden, sheltered by Coney Wood on the Green Ridge, the first spur of the Downs. There’s a railway tunnel under the Ridge. It comes out at the end of the wood from a battlemented arch, like a tower house in the trees. The date on the stonework looked like 1802. That can’t be right, surely? So maybe it was 1852.
In 1764 Patcham Place was bought by Major John Paine, who extended and remodelled the house around the Tudor core. The house survives, exactly as it is in this old print.
The garden footprint is also still the same. In 1926 Brighton Council bought the house from the last member of the Payne family to live there. The house was a Youth Hostel and is now offices. The garden was turned into a cricket pitch. And so it has been ever since, with football pitches in the winter.
Towards the road there’s a dead tree – an oak? – that has overgrown an old iron railing. The railing must’ve been set around it when it was a sapling. It’s totally engulfed now, invisible on one side. Like Anthony Stapley’s Tudor house. It’s there but buried deep inside. The trunk is about about five feet across. Tree experts will know how long ago it must’ve been planted. Old garden railings don’t often survive – they’re replaced when they wear out or the garden is remodelled. How old must this one be?
Going round the back of the house, we saw this graffiti on the old outbuildings. Beware the wrath of God. Beware the wrath of Gaia.
Gaia, the name of the Greek Earth goddess, was rediscovered in 1979. The British ecologist Dr James Lovelock published Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. His concept of Gaia, the Earth as a self-regulating ecosystem is now standard. A comfortable thought. Less comfortable is his belief published in 2006 that humanity will be almost extinct by the year 2100, when only the poles will be habitable. Angry and vengeful Gaia. The present has a lot in common with the mid-Seventeenth Century. Like plague, Dad reminded me today. Yes, and the widespread belief that we’re living in the Last Days. A strange mental link to have with the past. Their minds to our minds.
I couldn’t read what the top line of graffiti on the right says. It begins Theez been th……. Fire Vs Fire.’ That could be straight out of the Seventeenth Century. They sorted things out eventually though. They survived. We’re an optimistic species, on the whole. Maisie was very happy, playing with her football.