Beds, Herts & Bucks

Campaign to rename 10 Downing Street after Bucks MP

John Hampden
Image caption John Hampden was imprisoned for defying King Charles I

Campaigners want 10 Downing Street to be renamed after a Buckinghamshire man who was a Parliamentarian in the English Civil War.

The John Hampden Society wants the prime minister's residence to be called Hampden House after the man whose statue stands in Aylesbury town centre.

The 17th Century MP represented Wendover in the first three Parliaments of the reign of Charles I.

He opposed some of the King's unpopular practices such as forced loans.

A house bearing his name used to sit on the site of 10 Downing Street.

The chairman of the John Hampden Society, Sam Hearn, explained why the Parliamentarian was so important.

Defender of liberty

"He's probably Buckinghamshire's most famous hero," he said, "very famous in his own time and certainly known throughout the English-speaking world."

Through his opposition to various demands of the Crown, Hampden became known as a defender of liberty.

In 1627, he refused to pay a forced loan demanded by King Charles I, stating that the loans were illegal and a violation of Magna Carta, and was imprisoned.

Then in 1637, the King tried to raise money by extending the ship money tax, which had traditionally been imposed on coastal towns to pay for naval defences.

When Charles I tried to levy the tax on all the counties of England, Hampden refused to pay the full amount on his land in Buckinghamshire, saying that the tax was illegal.

A test case was brought before 12 judges at the Court of Exchequer, but on 12 June 1638, the judges found for the Crown by a majority of seven to five.

Although Hampden lost the case, it was regarded as a moral victory.

In 1642, when Civil War became inevitable, Hampden was appointed to the Committee of Safety, the Parliamentary War Cabinet that was formed to direct Parliament's strategy.

He was also active in the military and was colonel of the Greencoat regiment that he raised from his Buckinghamshire estates.

"Downing Street was redeveloped in the 17th Century and they knocked down a house called Hampden House in order to do that," explained Mr Hearn.

"The house was lived in by Hampden's mother so we're just asking really for it to return to its original name."

Ten years ago, their campaign to change the name of the whole road to Hampden Street failed.

"What we're doing now is asking that 10 Downing Street be given an alternative name of Hampden House," said Mr Hearn, "what we were asking 10 years ago was for the street to be renamed but, quite rightly the authorities said that would be confusing.

"What we're looking at in the time of new politics, where Parliament is supposedly re-asserting its control over the executive, and big government is supposedly a thing of the past, [is] that we look back to our old traditions and Hampden is very much a local hero, a member of Parliament fighting for his constituents.

"We had a reply from a civil servant within 10 Downing St saying that they're not considering it so we're just going to have to fight a bit harder on this one, I think."

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