Lauderdale House’s hidden links to Magna Carta history revealed for first time

A historic house’s connections to a landmark fight for some of our most basic human rights has been uncovered in full for the first time.

It has been revealed that Lauderdale House in Highgate has links to one of the most important articles in the Magna Carta: the right to a fair trial by a free jury.

Wealthy London merchant William Mead saved the house from ruin in the late 1670s by making improvements to the 16th century house, and some of his additions are still present today.

It became one of the earliest meeting places for the Quakers in the religious movement’s formative years. But none of this might have been possible had the outcome of Mead’s trial been different.

In a test case for the principles of the Magna Carta, Mead and fellow Quaker William Penn were acquitted of preaching unlawfully in 1670 after the judge was found to have tortured the jury members to ensure they convicted the two men.


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As a result, the most basic right to a fair trial and the guaranteed freedom of the juries became firmly established in English law.

Historian Peter Barber, a member of Lauderdale’s council, said: “It’s very exciting, and it brings the historical features of the house into an interesting context.”

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Seven years after the trial, Mead was free to buy Lauderdale House, which had been left close to collapsing by its former owner, the Earl of Lauderdale. He took it from ruin to magnificence with a number of alterations, including the installation of the grand staircase in place today.

He is also responsible for the large wooden buffet on the house’s ground floor, known today as Nell Gwynn’s bath – named after the infamous mistress of King Charles II, who used to live at the house.

Just as Mead did before them, the staff at Lauderdale House are once again trying to save the house to secure its future. For their current crowdfunding campaign, Lauderdale Transformed: The Historic Galleries, they need £125,000 by the end of the month to restore the two upper-floor galleries.

Readers are urged to share the hidden history of Lauderdale on social media with the hashtag #LauderdaleUncovered to raise awareness of the campaign.

“The house has tangible links to what people say was one of the central events in history,” Mr Barber, 66, of Crouch End, said.

“We have now got a pretty full picture of how the house was saved in the 1670s, and now of course we want to save it again.”

Donate to the campaign online or by paying at the house with cheques, cash and credit cards.

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