Petersham

by Nick

I’ve spent the scattered moments I’ve had for writing in the last week or so trying to make sense of what Henry Walker did during the 1660s. I am not sure I have really succeeded, but here is where I have got to.

1660 marked a sharp turning point in Walker’s career. After spending the 1640s as a mouthpiece for Independent and army grandees, and the 1650s as a state-approved journalist, Charles II’s return to London in May 1660 resulted – as it did for many – in Walker trimming his sails to fit the change of wind. In early August – George Thomason acquired his copy on 6 August – Walker published what would be his last pamphlet: the in no way portentously titled Serious observations lately made, touching his Majesty Charles the Second.

The pamphlet had Walker’s usual gimmick of translating an English phrase into Hebrew and then back into a different English phrase. In this case “King Charles Stuart” was transformed into “the King hath prepared a refreshing, hee hath crushed it out of the rock by degrees”. The reference is to Psalm 78, in which God brings forth water from the rocks but the ungrateful Israelites keep sinning. The metaphor is not exactly subtle: Charles II is a latter-day Moses, leading England safely through the wilderness. The pamphlet goes on to compare the thirty-year old Charles to other great thirty-year olds from history such as Joseph, David and even Jesus (a tough act to follow, then). All of which was presumably an attempt by Walker to draw a line under his support for Cromwell and the Council of State, and hence to save his skin.

Walker’s fate after that is not at all clear. A “Henricus Walker” was ordained priest in June 1660 by the Bishop of Salisbury – I am not at all convinced this was him, given that he had been ordained as a deacon already in the late 1630s, but it is impossible to know. Various Henry Walkers turn up in parishes in and around Middlesex in the early 1660s:

– a Henricus Walker was made curate and preacher of Hanwell in Ealing in April 1661.

– a Henricus Walker was made curate of Hounslow chapel, serving Heston and Isleworth, in August 1662 and was still there in 1664.

Then on 11 June 1667, a Henry Walker – and this time it is definitely our Henry – was presented to be curate of Petersham chapel near Richmond, by a Mr Twetty of Kingston. This must be Thomas Twitty, who had been made vicar of Kingston in 1662. Shortly afterwards, though, Walker had to pay a call on Elizabeth Tollemache – otherwise known as the Countess of Dysart – who asserted that the living was hers to give rather than Twitty’s. She confirmed his appointment and Walker began preaching there on 16 June.

The connection to Elizabeth Tollemache is really intriguing. She was the daughter of William Murray, gentleman of the bedchamber to Charles I who carried messages between Charles and the Scots in 1640. in 1648 she married Sir Lionel Tollemache, and together they supported the Sealed Knot during the 1650s. However, she also seems to have been on good terms with Cromwell (to such an extent that she was alleged to have been his mistress while he was in Scotland). Walker himself was one of Cromwell’s associates – attending his deathbed in 1658, or at least claiming he did. It is just possible that Walker and Elizabeth had known in each other in the 1650s, and that this may have made his hurried visit in June 1667 slightly easier than it would otherwise have been. But again, as with all of Walker’s life in the 1660s, there is no real evidence, only the suggestion of connections.

Walker’s handwriting in the Petersham parish register starts at this point, and stops in early 1674. I have only recently found and looked at the original registers and the fact that they contain another physical trace of Walker’s presence – to add the handwritten note I’ve found in the book he donated to the Ironmongers’ Company in 1681, and his signature in their apprentice book in 1629 – has been incredibly exciting. More on that next week.