The Lodging House
Judge Jeffreys' Lodging House temporary lodging house of the notorious 'hanging judge' in 1685. In fact, there has been a house on this site long prior to the famous Monmouth Rebellion. Number 6 High West Street has a long and chequered history and was originally owned by the Monastery at Abbotsbury as long ago as 1270, with a yearly rent of 2 shillings!
In the 1400s, the house passed through several wealthy local landowner tenants. During the reign of Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries, Abbotsbury included, the house was gifted to various courtiers, some of whom probably visited or possibly lived there. Finally, in 1550 it became the property of Lord Russell and remained in his family for about 150 years or more. It eventually passed to a cousin, Francis Russell in 1627. The house was much improved by Francis, including a new timber frontage that is still there today. Rather miraculously, the house survived at least four fires during the 16th and 17th centuries, which devastated much of the rest of the town. There is also supposed to be a secret passageway wide enough for three judges to walk side by side, which links the lodging house to the Oak Room where the rebel trials took place.
Following the bloody assizes, very little is known about the usage of the house for almost two centuries. Presumably, it remained in use as a lodging house for assize judges when they came to Dorset, but nothing of note is recorded until the 1851 census when it was the residence of one Charles Wynne, a solicitor's general clerk from London.
In the 1871 census, it appears to be owned, along with the adjoining property at number 7, by glass and china dealer Mr James Spicer, his wife, family and two servants. They are still there in both properties in 1881. The family now have three grandchildren living at the address by the name of Phelps. Ten years later, in 1891, both number 6 and number 7 High West Street were unoccupied.
The 1895 Kelly's directory shows the occupant as Beehive Clothes Store and around 1900, it became Groves Gents Outfitters.
It is unclear exactly when the house became a tearoom and later a restaurant, but it has remained as such right up to the present day, with Al Molo, its current custodians.
Incidentally, when the building was undergoing renovation work in 1928, human bones were discovered behind a wall in the courtyard. The bone’s identity remains a mystery.
The Monmouth Rebellion
Following the disastrous reign of Charles I and the English civil war, the restoration of Charles II and following his death, the crowning of his brother James II, events took a turn that would catapult Judge Jeffreys' lodging house into the history books forever!
On the evening of 11th June 1685, James, Duke of Monmouth, the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II, landed with a small military force (three ships) at Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast. Monmouth had spent the years prior to his Father's death living in exile in France and Holland. James had proved himself a good and able soldier and had been made Commander in Chief of the army by his Father. His plan was to form a rebel army, overthrow his uncle King James II, and take the throne that he believed to be rightfully his for himself.
Marching north from Lyme Regis into Devon and Somerset with his small army, he gathered supporters to his cause along the way and soon had an 'army' numbering 3000 men. By the time they reached Taunton, this had risen to nearer 6000. Sadly these men were poorly armed and badly disciplined but saw some early success, with James being declared King in the marketplace at Taunton, his uncle James was incensed by his upstart nephew and sent his Royal Regiments and militia under the command of Brigadier General John Churchill to quell the rebellion. The armies finally met at Sedgemoor in Somerset on 5th July 1685. The King's forces routed the rebel army and many fled the battleground, including the Duke of Monmouth.
The Duke was quickly captured and taken to London, where he was beheaded for treason at the Tower on 15th July 1685.
The King was furious and wanted vengeance on the Duke of Monmouth and all of the rebels who had supported him. So he dispatched his justices, including his Lord Chief Justice, George Lord Jeffreys' to the west country to exact a terrible justice on the rebels. The Kings instructions were clear. They were to show no mercy, the throne had been endangered and these supporters were to be punished severely as an example to any others who might want to usurp the King.
Judge Jeffreys' (George Lord Jeffreys' Baron Jeffreys' of Wem)
George Jeffreys was born in May 1645 near Wrexham in Wales. He attended Trinity College Cambridge but did not complete his studies, leaving to study law at the Inner Temple in 1663.
He rose through the ranks in the court of Charles II and became Solicitor General to the King's brother James, Duke of York, later James II. Jeffreys was knighted in 1677, became a Baron in 1681 and also became a member of the Privy Council, high office indeed.
He led for the prosecution in the trial for treason of William Russell, who was later executed (he was eventually pardoned). William was the younger brother of Francis Russell, owner of 6 High West Street, where Jeffreys would later lodge during the Bloody Assizes!
Following the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, Jeffreys left London in August to carry out the despot revenge of James II in the west country. They arrived first in Winchester and then moved on to Salisbury taking convicted prisoners with them like lambs to the slaughterhouse. They made their way to Dorchester from Salisbury, arriving early in September. Meanwhile, the jails of Dorset and Somerset were overflowing with prisoners awaiting trial.
The house in High West Street was, in 1683, given over to the Mayor and Aldermen of the town as a suitable house for the lodging of circuit judges. Judge Jeffreys was therefore put into these lodgings for the duration of his stay. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the Mayor to make the house comfortable, it was an old and cold building and did nothing to improve Jeffreys' health (he suffered from kidney stones) or his temper.
The trials began in the Oak Room (Antelope Hotel) on 5th September 1685 and Jeffreys, knowing the King wanted terrible punishments meted out on the rebels, did not disappoint! The law of the day demanded the death sentence for treason, with only the King able to grant a reprieve. Therefore the rebels brought before the court had little or no chance of survival. Of the 251 or so prisoners brought to trial in Dorchester, 74 were finally executed by hanging, drawing and quartering on gallows hill (Icen Way) in Dorchester. Their heads and bodies were put on display on the railings around St Peters Church. Many others were executed in Weymouth, Lyme Regis, Sherborne, Bridport, Wareham and more still in towns throughout Devon and Somerset. Those not executed were sentenced to deportation to the West Indies, where they were to be sold as slaves to work on the sugar plantations. Only one person was acquitted!
The Bloody Assizes were over. The King had demanded blood and his Judges had delivered it in spades. George Jeffreys was rewarded for his efforts with the King making him Lord Chancellor at the age of only 40.
Following the exile of James II, George Jeffreys was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He died there in 1689 at the age of 44 of kidney disease. He was originally buried in the Chapel Royal of Saint Peter ad Vincula, but his body was later removed to St Mary, Aldermanbury.