From their creation in 1573, it was intended the trained bands should be recruited from the ranks of artisans and minor gentry or their sons, men the state felt it could trust to own and train with the latest weapons. This appears to have been the case with the Tower Hamlets Trained Bands.
Many of the men had trades which were common to each of the companies (coopers, tailors, smiths, brewers, victuallers, shoemakers, skinners, butchers, etc), but there were some that reflected the nature of the employment within the locality. The maritime companies of Whitechapel, Limehouse, and Wapping, for example, included men who were chandlers, pulleymakers, ropemakers, sawyers, and nailmakers; the clothmaking centres of Shoreditch and Spitalfields produced large numbers of silkthrusters, weavers, and spinners; the areas of pasture land in Bethnal Green and Hackney provided market gardeners, husbandmen, and several yeomen. There were also those from across the Hamlets who were involved in more specialised occupations – pewterers, gunsmiths, a cabinetmaker, a spectacle maker, and even a gentleman from Ratcliffe, Cleere Garter, who served in the ranks. Many of them were married with children and aged in their thirties and forties by the time of the Civil War, probably older on average than the soldiers who served in regular regiments of foot.
The regiment’s company commanders included three brewers (Colonel Francis Zachary, Sergeant-Major Abraham Woodroffe, and Captain Leonard Leonards), a tallow chandler (Captain Thomas Cutlett), and a schoolmaster (Captain Thomas Salmon). All of the senior officers and many of the more junior ones (from lieutenants to sergeants) were important figures within their own parishes and held local office as select vestrymen, overseers of the poor, parish constables, or scavengers. The regiment in the field appears to have been a microcosm of the society from which its officers and men were drawn.
The London Trained Bands were amongst the largest regiments of foot raised by either side during the Civil War. In September 1643, at a muster of all of the available Trained Band and Auxiliary regiments at Finsbury Fields, each had a strength of at least 1,000 officers and men and one, the Westminster Liberty Regiment, numbered over 2,000. However, when called upon to fight, many decided their homes and livelihoods were more deserving of their attention, and numbers fell significantly. When the muster of the Tower Hamlets Trained Bands was taken at Guildford in April 1644, the regiment numbered 91 officers and 780 men. Some 424 men, over one-third of those who marched through Finsbury Fields just five months earlier, did not join the colours. Instead, they remained at home, risking the censure of their neighbours and a heavy fine (anything from five to 20 shillings), up to 10 days imprisonment, or even closure of their business premises.
Some almost certainly paid for a substitute to serve in their place. The East Smithfield and St Katharine’s Company muster roll includes at least two men, William Abraham and John Chelsey, described in the parish registers as labourers, men who were unlikely to have the means to be assessed as worthy for service in the trained bands. In spite of their reduced numbers, however, the Hamleteers who fought with Sir William Waller in the Oxford campaign played a key role in preserving his army from destruction.
The officers and men of the Tower Hamlets Trained Bands may have been of a radical inclination. The eastern suburbs of London had a reputation for fervent Puritanism. The first Calvinistic or Particular Baptist church in England was formed in Wapping in 1633 and an Independent gathered church, ministered by William Greenhill, flourished in Mile End from the 1640s onwards. Other notable radicals in the area included Thomas Edwards, author of Gangraena and guest lecturer at St Botolph without Aldgate throughout the period of the personal rule of Charles I, and Calybute Downing, vicar of Hackney, who preached a sermon at the Artillery Garden in 1640 upholding the legality of taking up arms against the King.
The area was also noted for its resistance to central authority. The jurisdiction of the City of London did not run to the suburbs and liberties and large numbers of tradesmen, including many Dutch and Flemish immigrants fleeing religious persecution, set up or moved their businesses here to avoid the burdens of high City rents and compulsory apprenticeship through the City Livery Companies.
The trophies (flags) of each of the regiment’s seven companies provide a further indication of a radical frame of mind. Alone of the London Trained Bands, they contained a defiant religious motto – Jehova Providebit (God Will Provide) on a field of red, a colour which in heraldic terms signified justice or a noble and worthy anger in the defence of religion or the oppressed.