Government sources learned of the plot by intercepting letters addressed to a ‘Master West’ and delivered to Mr. Staple’s Southwark Coffee House in Bartholomew Lane, half-a-mile from St Paul’s. When questioned by the authorities, Leonard Staples, the coffee house’s proprietor explained that he accepted the delivery of the letters, which Holmes ‘constantly called for and paid for’. He claimed never to have seen Mr West, the addressee. This is hardly surprising, as Mr West was an alias employed by Holmes. Another of Holmes’s identities was “Peter Harvie”, a supposed linen weaver, whose letters (actually from the Countess of Argyll) were addressed to a cider seller in Bow Churchyard and passed on to the Netherlands in a similar manner. Holmes job was to collect these letters and then sent them on to other agents of Argyll and Monmouth in the Low Countries. The correspondence was written using a simple cipher, with letters and words substituted for numbers. These ciphers were further disguised through pseudonyms: ‘brand’ stood for Scotland, ‘birch’ England, and there were disguised references to dubious ‘parcels of goods’ which were hoped would ‘please the merchants’.
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