Forest of Dean Local History

The Civil War Around the Forest of Dean


Dean Local History

Civil War 1643

Civil War 1644

Civil War 1645

Civil War 1646

Local Castles


In January 1645, after several attacks by Massey's troops on Whitecross, Wintour launched an assault on the Soilwell Roundhead garrison at Lydney. It was captured and several prisoners taken.

Massey then appeared with a strong force. Wyntour's cavalry were put to flight leaving his foot soldiers exposed. In the following battle, according to Corbet, the Parliamentarians killed 26 Royalist soldiers, and captured a captain and 25 men.


The Battle at Lancaut. In February 1645 Prince Maurice and his troops moved north from Evesham to fight off the Roundhead's siege of Chester.  He left John Wintour a regiment of horse, with the hope that the Lydney governor would now be in a position to drive Massey out of the Forest entirely.

Massey wasted no time and took this opportunity to blockade Whitecross at Lydney from a ring of outposts and, after a few skirmishes, the Royalists were soon contained.


Not far from Chepstow, the village of Lancaut was easy to fortify. Enclosed by a loop in the River Wye, and surrounded by steep cliffs, it was an ideal centre from where Sir John Wintour could launch offensive raids against the recently blockaded Lydney area and disrupt Colonel Massey's operations in the Forest. Its disadvantage was, that surrounded by cliffs, and described as a natural amphitheatre, there was no retreat.

The Royalists were from Prince Maurice's army and the various garrisons at Bristol, Berkeley Castle, Worcester, but were unaccustomed to working together.

The encampment came under attack by Massey's forces on February 22nd 1645.

With a frontal assault on the newly dug defences, Lancaut was stormed and Wintour's forces defeated. Around 80 men were killed. Many others, who were among those who tried to escape to the frigate anchored on the river, were drowned.

Fleeing on horse-back, Sir John, with his brother and some of his troops, was lucky to escape after swimming to a nearby ship and eventually returning to Lydney. Altogether, only 180 of John Wintour's Lydney horse and dragoons, and 100 soldiers from Chepstow made it home.

Among the prominent Royalists killed in the action was Colonel Poore, the governor of Berkeley Castle who drowned, and Colonel Vengerris who died in battle. The cavalry lost were part of a regiment that had been obtained by John Wintour from Prince Maurice. One hundred and twenty prisoners were taken, including two Lt. Colonels. A number of the scattered Royalists were drowned attempting to escape across the Wye. A few managed to escape to the west bank, some finding refuge in St Arvans. One of those, Colonel Edward Gamine, died of his wounds at Piercefield.

This encouraged Massey at the end of March to again return to harass the most fortified Royalist mansion in the Forest, Whitecross at Lydney. On that occasion he captured two of Wintour's cannon and killed a large number of the 200 defenders.

Another report to Parliament around this time appears to have erroneously mixed both of the above incidents -

Collonel Massey (notwithstanding the great oppression of the king's forces which have lately quartered about Glocestershire) hath now gained a very great victory against Sir John Winter, in the storming of a garrison in which hee hath long been nested in the forrest of Deane.

Collonel Massey first blocked them up close, and sent a summons to Sir John Winter to surrender it to him, which (hee denying) Collonel Massey sent him word, that if hee would not surrender that he would storme his house ; but Sir John Winter still refused.

This house lyes upon the river, and Sir John Winter had some barkes in which hee thought if he was put hard to it to escape, and indeed so it fell out, as you may understand by the ensuing discourse. Collonel Massey placed his men in severall stations to storme the house, and they fell on with very much valour.

Sir John Winter's men opposed them what they could, but our men fell on so furiously that they killed divers of them;whereupon Sir John Winter with some others got away by water and fled. Our men did good execution upon them that went by water; but Sir John Winter himselfe escaped, (as is conceived) for his body is not found.

The fight was very hot, both by land and also against those upon the water, and our men sunke their boates, and slew some as they were making way to escape. Thus our men still pursued their victory, killing and wounding many stout souldiers, and it pleased God to give the successe to Collonel Massey ; the particulars of which here followeth -

A list of the particulars of this great victory obtayned by Collonel Massey, in the taking of Sir John Winter's house in the forrest of Deane. Sir John Winter the governour thereof fled.

Slaine in the fight on the enemie's - 2 Serjant Majors, party. 4 Captaines. Collonel Gammon. Divers other officers -under Lieutenant Collonel Winter, captaines also. Sir John's brother. 120 Taken prisoners. 1 Serjant Major. Taken besides. 70 Slaine besides, whereof divers  60 Horses from the enemy. captaines and other officers. 200 Pistols and carbines. 60 Drowned, as they were flying 300 Armes by water. Besides store of powder and Taken Prisoners, ammunition, 2 Lieutenant Collonels.


The Rise of the Clubmen at Hereford. The Clubmen were local associations of war-weary countrymen, a type of Home Guard, who took up arms and banded together in an attempt to resist both Royalists and Parliamentarians and keep the war out of their regions. Clubman uprisings tended to occur in areas that had suffered badly from plundering, free quartering of troops, and other depredations of war.  In Herefordshire feelings were high, mainly from the acts of Royalist soldiers, probably some of the Anglo-Irish Mynne had brought over, and whose discipline became lax after Mynne's death at Redmarley in August 1644, and were now being described as bandits.
The movement spread through the counties on the Welsh border during the winter of 1644-5. They displayed banners, on which were inscribed, " If you offer to plunder, or take our cattle, Rest assured we will give you battle."
The Royalist governor of Hereford, Sir Barnabas Scudamore,
had attempted to raise levies and seize fodder from an already ravaged county. The Clubmen, as these countrymen became known, some of them led by their parish constables and minor gentry, openly resisted.
12,000 appeared before the city of Hereford on 19th March 1645, reinforced by others from Gloucestershire, Worcester and Radnor. It seems that many were well armed and well horsed.
Their demands were,
the release of the prisoners, compensation for the families of those killed, and that all Royalist soldiers should leave the county.
Scudamore, worried that they might join up with the Parliamentarians, conceded to some of their demands.
Not all of the Clubmen were happy with Scudamore's concessions and around 2000 remained at Ledbury. On the 29th March, Prince Rupert detached his cavalry and 1000 men against them.
Most of the Clubmen fled, but around 200 remained and some fired on the Royalists. They were soon disarmed and arrested. At least three of the leaders were later hanged.
One account later claimed that Rupert's troops then "plundered everie parish and howse poor as well as others leavinge neyther clothes or provision".
Hereford remained in Royalist hands until December 17, 1645.


On April 2nd Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice entered the Forest of Dean to plunder the countryside.

In April 1645 Prince Rupert ordered an incursion into the Forest of Dean to clear the blockade by Massey of Sir John Wintour's garrisons. On April 4th the Royalists launched a full scale invasion of the Forest of Dean. Four days later the County Committee was reporting ' a great oppression, cruel plunders and continual marches and inroads of the enemy lying near and heavy upon us on every side; our County was so extremely exhausted and miserably destroyed that it was even ready to give up the ghost.'

Massey had to withdraw from all his garrisons west of Newnham and the large Royalist army could now relieve the blockade of Wintour's mansion and works at Lydney.

Prince Rupert's troops began to lay waste and plunder many communities in the Forest who, he claimed, were mostly 'notorious rebels' having long subsisted under Massey's protection.

Massey, and the the Parliamentarians from Gloucester were not in a position to raise the number of troops needed to successfully engage more than 2000 Royalist cavalrymen, three troops of foot soldiers, and a number of Raglan's Welsh soldiers, now causing havoc all over the area. He had written in vain to Sir William Brereton and Sir William Waller with a request for 1000 cavalry.


This warrant was intercepted after being sent out by Royalists Sir Barnard Astley and Sir Marmaduke Langdale from their encampment at Ross on Wye to the inhabitants of Littledean on April 14th 1645.

Whereas we have received orders from his Highnesse Prince Rupert, for the reducing of this Countie to their just obedience to his Majestic; and desiring the avoyding of bloudshed, and to stop and put by all those necessities and calamities which accompany war.

Wee do therefore desire, that without delay or excuse, all men betwixt the age of 16 yeares and 60, doe come in and appear before us at Clowerwale (Clearwell) Mine the 16 of this month of April. And that they bring in all their Armes with them, promising hereby that we will take such course, and give them full satisfaction for the securitie of their persons, Liberties, and Estates.

And of this we expect a cheerfall performance in you in all your observances, in his Majesties service, assuring all such as shall continue in their rebellious obstinacie, that they must expect all the miseries and ruines that war can effect : but we hope better things of the Country. And that you will be more sensible of your duties to His Majesty, and your owne dangers, now when you see you have a time wherein you make us

Your loving friends    Marm Langdale,   Barnard Astley          Dated from Rosse this 14th day of April 1645


Warrants similar to the above would have been sent to most of the communities in the Forest. One can safely assume, that with the advance warning, our ancestors would have wasted no time in retreating to hiding places in the forest and mines taking their arms and moveable assets with them. They did not have the ability that some city dwellers had of banding together to resist the interlopers.

During this period many atrocities were inflicted on the inhabitants of Dean. Able-bodied men avoided being pressed into service by running away and taking their arms into the woods and mines. In one confrontation at either Naas or High Meadow, when 60 prisoners were taken, the Royalist leader, Marmaduke Langdale was shot in the arm.

The much disliked Royalist Sir Thomas Lunsford with his army of around 2000 cavalry men and 1,500 foot soldiers, swept through the area taking many local men who he pressed into military service. On one occasion he took back to Monmouth 3,000 head of cattle, and on a visit to Brockweir commandeered leather worth £2000. At Lancaut he seized so much wheat that he was unable to find enough boats to transport it.

Massey wrote to him on the subject of his pillage but was reminded in a reply by Lunsford that Massey himself had dealt similarly with Monmouth. The parliamentary commander was also taunted with words to the effect 'if you wish to reclaim it -come and get it.'

'They have plundered much about Mansil-hope, Ruardean, Staunton, and the adjacent parts about the Forrest of Deane, and have murdered divers men, women and children - particularly at Longhope, they took away some Gentlemen's children & the like at other townes, & carried them away either to be redeemed by their parents or starve; for some of those children have died under their hands.' - Perfect Occurrences April 12th. 1645. [To this period we refer to a tradition still preserved, according to Rev. Nichols, of an outrage at Drybrook, where a householder was struck down and his eyes knocked out, for refusing to give up a flitch of bacon to a foraging party.]

Having stripped the Forest bare of any visible assets, and fired and raised to the ground many homes, Prince Rupert's forces moved up into Herefordshire on April 9th 1645.

Sir John Wintour could now see that with the withdrawal of the Royalists his position in the Forest was untenable.

Massey took advantage of the situation to return to Lydney and storm one of Whitecross's outworks. He captured two guns and a number of prisoners.

Wintour now began to set fire to his property rather than let it fall into the hands of his arch-enemy. He then withdrew to Chepstow Castle.


The Highmeadow Barbecue.  Following Wintour's defeat at Lancaut in February 1645, his brother-in-law, Benedict Hall was forced in great haste to abandon the luxuries of his Highmeadow mansion near Coleford, and flee.

The Halls had amassed thousands of acres around the Dean area and owned  land and forges in neighbouring Monmouthshire and Herefordshire.

His wife had already left for Royalist-held Bristol at the end of August 1944, and Benedict Hall now abandoned his home, first seeking refuge at Raglan, and afterwards in the city of Hereford.They not only left behind all the furniture, but also a number of their cherished possessions.

If a Royalist "delinquent" wished to recover his estate he had to apply to the Committee for Compounding with Delinquents based in London. In 1643 Parliament had set up the Committee for Compounding with Delinquents which allowed Royalists, whose estates had been sequestrated, to compound for their estates. It meant the payment of a fine to recover their assets. They also had to make a pledge not to take up arms against Parliament again.

The size of the fine paid depended on the worth of the estate and how great their support for the Royalist cause had been.

Benedict Hall's wife, Anne, sister of Sir John Wintour, had compounded with the Parliamentary committee at Monmouth during the short Roundhead occupation in October 1644.

For all his lands in the counties of Gloucester, Hereford, and Monmouth, the payment was to be £200, per annum, and for his personals £500. His lands in Newland and thereabouts were worth £1,000 per annum. They took into account that Benedict Hall had ridden to Gloucester siege with 6 armed servants; provisioned Lydney, Goodrich, Highnam and other places, and bribed the Parliament cannoneer at Coleford with £40.  He had harboured, the Royalist commander Sir Jacob Astley in 1643, and attempted to send him, using two of his soldiers, to Monmouth.

When Parliamentarian Colonel Sir Richard Walwyn and his troopers arrived at Highmeadow, as well as an undischarged domestic staff, they found that Hall had been preparing for the expected arrival of Prince Rupert and his cavaliers and had hoarded a large quantity of food and provisions.

After occupying Highmeadow, Colonel Massey and Sir Richard Walwyn had taken a reconnoitering ride up to the Buckstone near Staunton village, with its panoramic views of the Forest of Dean, Monmouth and South Wales.

On their return, they came upon an unusual scene. Huge fires blazed everywhere. Soldiers out of their armour and with sleeves rolled up, were roasting great joints of freshly butchered beef and lamb, and hundreds of unsaddled horses were munching on generous quantities of corn.


Benedict's wife, Anne Hall died in 1676 at an English Benedictine Congregation convent in Cambray, France, where her daughter Catherine was Abbess. The  Benedictine Convent at Cambray was founded for English ladies in 1623.

Benedict Hall, held a solid, continuous block of land from Redbrook and High Meadow through Lydbrook and Ruardean. When Benedict’s descendant, the 4th Viscount Gage, sold the High Meadow estate to the Crown Commissioners of Woods in 1817, it then covered 4,257 acres, and included several farms, woodlands, mills and ironworks.


Lydney's St. Mary's Church is mentioned in 13th century documents and was built in the Early English style. It was not the town's first church. 'Lindenee' is refered to in Glastonbury's records as early as 852AD.

According to Jack Bell's 1966 book, it was badly damaged and the vicarage destroyed during the Civil War.

The church tower was used as an observation post by the Roundheads who were keeping a watch on Sir John Wintour's garrison at White Cross, all river traffic, and the road to Royalist held Chepstow.

Its vicar from 1641 was Morgan Godwin, an ally of Wintour. He apparently left his post, after Wintour's disappearance in 1645, to join the Royalist forces.

Massey was able to rescue some spoils from the flames at Lydney. He captured eight large guns from the earthworks defending the mansion, as well as some beef, corn and horses.

By this time Sir John Wintour had had enough soldiering and ceased to be the Royalist Commander of the Forest. His mansion at Lydney was seriously damaged, his furnaces, coal stock and forges had gone up in flames. He now received very little local income and had spent a fortune during the war. Hearing that Massey with reinforcements were on their way, on May 8th 1645, he set fire to the family home and withdrew his garrison.

After staying as Governor at Chepstow for a short time he then went to visit the King at Oxford.

Charles sent him with letters to the Queen at St Germains in France. In one of those he wrote: "This bearer. Sir John Winter, as thy knowledge of him makes it needlesse to recommend him to thee, soo I should injure him if I did not beare him the true witnesse of having served me with as much fidelity and courage as any, not without much good successe: though some crosse accydents of late hath made him (not without reason) desire to wait upon thee, it being needful that I should give him this testimony, least his journey to thee be misinterpreted."

On the 29th September, 1645 the House of Commons confiscated Wyntour's estate. It then bestowed it upon his victorious opponent, Massey. It also ordered that Wyntour should be proscribed as an enemy and traitor to the Commonwealth and be killed without mercy wherever he should be found.

After the Restoration the grant of the Dean Forest originally made by Charles I, to John Wyntour, was restored.

He died in 1676 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Charles, and it was his widow who later sold the manor and their Lydney assets to the Bathhurst family.


14th cent. stone crosses at lydney,aylburton & clearwell


14th cent. stone crosses at Lydney,Aylburton & clearwell


It is believed that our 14th century market crosses, possibly designed by the same craftsman, were vandalised by some puritanical  Roundheads during their visits to Lydney when attacking Whitecross.The two wood engravings from Ancient Stone Crosses of England, and published in the 19th century, show what then remained of the crosses at Lydney and nearby Aylburton. The author speculated that the original structures would have included an octagonal shaft supporting a cross and were dismantled during the Civil War. The third engraving, "Stone Cross, Clearwell", was drawn by H. Powell, and engraved by J. Greig in the early 1800s. That cross appears to have suffered the same fate.
The Lydney cross was restored by the children of the Rev. William Hiley Bathurst of Lydney Park in 1879, and that at Clearwell by Caroline Wyndham, Countess Dunraven of Clearwell Court, (today's Castle) in 1866.

Edward Massey was not always successful. After occupying Ledbury in April 1645 he suffered a massive defeat when Prince Rupert with 6000 men, having marched in overnight, managed to camp within half a mile of the town without the Parliamentarians being aware of their presence.

On 22nd April 1645 the Royalists had quickly encircled Ledbury. Massey's troops fought from behind hastily erected barricades but were soon overwhelmed. During the battle, and the retreat by the Parliamentarians, around 120 were killed, five senior officers taken, and 200 foot soldiers captured.

This was not, however, the complete victory that Prince Rupert had been hoping for. Almost all the Roundhead cavalry, and half its foot soldiers, managed to escape.


This painting by Charles Landseer shows Cromwell reading one of the incriminating letters found in Charles's cabinet at Naseby  Wikipedia


June 11th. Massey was promoted to Major General and was now a part of Fairfax's New Model Army. He was replaced as Governor of Gloucester. Fairfax sent a regiment of horse to blockade Lucas at Berkeley Castle.


The Battle of Naseby June 14th 1645. After a battle with the New Model Army, the main Royalist military force was destroyed at Naseby in Northamptonshire. The King lost 500 officers from his veteran infantry, all his heavy artillery, and many arms.

A bonus for Cromwell was the capture of the King's personal baggage, which included correspondence showing his intention to seek the support of the Irish Catholic Confederation through the Cessation Treaty, and help from other Catholic nations in Europe. When those letters were published by Parliament many of the King's supporters turned away from him.

A week after the battle, on June 21st, 4,000 Royalist prisoners from Naseby and 50 captured standards were paraded through London.

King Charles now lacked the resources to ever create an army of such quality again, and after the battle it only remained for the Parliamentarian armies to wipe out the last pockets of Royalist resistance in the Western counties.

On August 20th Fairfax's army began the siege of Bristol which was then garrisoned by Prince Rupert. After the city was stormed on September 10th it was surrendered the following day.

Upset by the loss of Bristol, on September 14th, Charles went through Monmouth to Hereford again from where he wrote an angry despatch to Rupert recommending him to seek his subsistence 'somewhere beyond the sea'.

Parliament's Scottish allies reached Mitcheldean around that time and advanced on Hereford to besiege the city, but moved away on September 3rd.

Berkeley Castle was stormed and taken by Colonel Rainsborough for Parliament on September 23rd and Hereford was taken on December 17, 1645.

From  Gloucester, Governor Morgan had captured Berkeley Castle. He now turned his attention to Wales, where Chepstow, Monmouth and Raglan were still in Royalist hands.

His passage was barred by the Foresters of Dean still smarting from Prince Rupert's excesses. They 'had made turnpikes in the avenues and passes into the countrey, and suffered none to enter without their leave'.

Those 'turnpikes' were beams of fir about one foot in circumference and ten or twelve feet long, armed at every six inches with ashen staves about 4ft long and tipped with iron spikes; so that in every position they presented a formidable obstacle to either horse or foot. Fortunately men of Dean had been so sickened by Royalist cruelties that they offered no opposition to the forces of four hundred cavalry and three hundred infantry that Morgan brought from Bristol and Gloucester, and reinforced by a party under Robert Kyrle.

Chepstow bridge was damaged and impassable and it is believed the force crossed the Wye at Tintern.The 1,300 man Parliamentarian army then advanced on Chepstow. It took the town on October 21st and besieged the Castle.

Its garrison of 64, with their 17 guns and 30 horses, surrendered after little more than a show of resistance. The parliamentarians now found that they had seized vast quantities of arms and ammunition with seventeen artillery pieces and huge stores of provisions.

The seat of government for the County was now established at Chepstow and the castle placed under the command of Colonel Thomas Hughes of Moynes Court.

After its capture Sir Trevor Williams decided to switch sides to Parliament and he now helped raise a further force of 1,500 men in Monmouthshire and Glamorgan. 

The town of Monmouth was now their next target. When Colonel Kyrle made his way there, it was already under siege by Governor Morgan with 1,500 of his own men, plus 1,500 Monmouthshire Clubmen led by Sir Trevor Williams of Llangibby, near Caerleon.

Sir Trevor Williams (1623–1692) had served as a Royalist commissioner of array for Monmouthshire at the start of the civil war and, as part of Lord Herbert's Welsh army, was captured by Parliamentarian troops at Highnam in 1643. He soon became disillusioned with the Royalist war effort and by 1645 was leading the Clubman movement in Monmouthshire.

These bands of farmers and countrymen called themselves " Clubmen," They displayed banners, on which were inscribed, " If you offer to plunder, or take our cattle, Rest assured we will give you battle." Distinguishing themselves by wearing white ribbands, they were bands of local defence vigilantes who tried to protect their localities against the excesses of the armies of both sides in the war. Initially they came together spontaneously in response to the actions of soldiers in their localities. As the war went on Clubmen in some areas were organised by the local gentry and churchmen and were a force which both sides in the war had to take into account when planning a campaign or placing garrisons in some areas.

The town surrendered without any fierce resistance, but the castle held out another three days until they discovered that miners from the Forest of Dean had been brought in and mined the walls in six places.

The Mercurius Verdicus on 25th October 1645 reported: 'Colonel Morgan with the assistance of the county clubmen came against the town with a considerable number of horse and foot; and after the enemy perceived that we had an intention to storme them, they fled out of the towne into the castle, after which the townsmen, considering with themselves, that if we entered by force after summons, they should be left to the violence of the soldiers, they let fall the drawbridge, by which meanes our men entered the towne, and the enemy stood on their guard in the castle. Then we sent for pyoneers to Deane and other parts, which came in very freely, and the next day being Thursday, we began to undermine in several places, which the enemy perceiving, sent out for a parley, which was consented unto, and hostages given on both sides. At which it was agreed, the officers should march away with their owne armes, and the common souldiers without.' 

The Royalists did make an effort to recover their loss. Troops from Raglan now established themselves on Monmow bridge and for a few days it seemed likely they might recapture the town, but on November 3rd, Colonel Kyrle brought up some reinforcements and drove off the attacking force. He pursued them to within two miles of Hereford and attacked the Royalist quarters there, capturing eight prisoners and ten horses.

Thereupon, Sir Trevor "Williams, seeing the danger he was in (Raglan Castle being within seven miles of it), and the malignants gathering together and giving out words that the town would be their own by the morning, sent a post to the Governor of Gloucester to acquaint him, and also to the Forest of Dean for present supply, upon which Lieut.-Col. Kyrle and Capt. Gainsford came at 12 o'clock that night with 200 men, and before 12 o'clock next day with 500 more, who guarded the town till the Governor had sent 200 commanded men of Gloucester for the keeping thereof. The garrison of Monmouth being put in a posture of defence, and the malignants' design prevented, proclamation was made by Sir Trevor WiUiams and Lieut.-Col. Kyrle that upon Monday following, those people that were suspected to be against the Parliament, should depart the town upon pain of death, whereupon divers families of malignants were put out. Extract from a pamphlet, entitled "A Full Relation of the Desperate Design of the Malignants for the betraying of Monmouth".

On December 12th 1645 Colonel Birch left Ledbury and marched his Parliamentarian army through the deep snow towards Hereford. After only a short running battle through the streets of the City, it was all over. The garrison soon surrendered while their leaders fled to safety across the frozen river to their last remaining haven, Goodrich Castle.

Birch's arch-enemy, Sir Henry Lingen, was one of those who managed to escape over the river to Goodrich.

Sir Thomas Morgan 1604-79, the son and heir of Lewis Morgan of Llangattock, Monmouthshire, was 16 and could only speak Welsh when he first became a soldier.

He was promoted to major after distinguishing himself at the battle of Nantwich in January 1644. The following year saw him promoted to colonel of dragoons on the recommendation of Lord Fairfax.

In June 1645, he succeeded Edward Massie as governor of Gloucester and managed to gain the respect and co-operation of Massie's unruly troops, and also won support from the citizens of Gloucester.

He soon became active in reducing the Royalist strongholds. Assisting Colonel Rainsborough at the siege of Berkeley Castle in September 1645, he captured Chepstow and Monmouth during October.

In December 1645 he collaborated with Colonel Birch and Sir John Bridges in a surprise attack resulting in the seizure of Hereford.

As commander of all parliamentary forces in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Monmouthshire, he laid siege to, and negotiated, the surrender of Raglan Castle.

Ross-on-Wye, Wilton Castle, and the capturing of Hereford

Wilton Castle on the outskirts of Ross on Wye, was first erected in the 12th century. It was rebuilt in the next century using a distinct red sandstone. Later converted into a fortified residence, by the 16th century a large mansion house had been built in its grounds.

Its owner at the time of the Civil War was Sir John Bridges. In 1642, only 19 years old and a professional soldier, he commanded a regiment in Ireland, a part of an army of around 20,000 sent by King Charles after the massacre of Protestants there.

Suffering some losses, he returned to Hereford in 1645 to recruit more troops for his regiment. During John Bridges's absence, Wilton Castle, because of its strategic position near Ross's Wilton Bridge, had been occupied by the Royalists and captured and garrisoned briefly by the Roundheads in July 1644.

Back home in 1645 he now found himself under real pressure to join the Royalists holding Hereford and Goodrich.

The governor of Hereford, Sir Barnabas Scudamore, was his uncle, and Sir Henry Lingen, the governor at Goodrich Castle.They tried to persuade him to join the Royalists.

Wishing to remain neutral, his refusal was the cause of a bitter quarrel between them. 

The angry pair sent him notice that his mansion at Wilton would be burned down, and they were as good as their word. 

According to tradition, one Sunday morning, they collected together their forces at Goodrich, and attacked Wilton while all the family were at church. They reduced the building to 'a blackened and wasted pile.'

Little did those two Hereford Royalists know that the flames at Wilton Castle would in the end help lead to the loss of the city of Hereford.

Sir John Bridges quickly sought refuge with the Parliamentarians at Gloucester and wanted revenge. After spending two months there, and making several trips to Hereford in disguise, he concocted a plan. He then made his way to London and presented the Committees of both Kingdoms with a strategy for the taking of Hereford.

In December 1645 he collaborated with Colonel John Birch and Thomas Morgan, the governor ot the Gloucester garrison, to take the city by trickery.

Birch obtained a commission from Parliament to attack Hereford and on December 6th he set out with a force of just 1800 cavalry and foot. He knew that he would have to take the city, that he had never visited before, by surprise.

Assistance came from Sir John Bridges whose Wilton Castle home had been destroyed by Scudamore. He knew of two Royalist officers, Captains Alderne and Howarth, who had served with the Hereford garrison, but had left after quarrelling with the governor, and could add valuable advice about the city's defences.

With the incentive of a £100 bribe for each of them, Birch requested information about the number of guards and their placements, which houses were near the gates, any carriages allowed easy access, and the location of hollow ground nearby where a body of men could stay under cover.

Their reply was that the number of men under arms in the garrison, horse and foot, was about 1500. That over-night their guard was diligently kept until the gates were opened in the morning; but once the town's mayor had gone the soldiers went to get their morning's draught, and often left only about ten on guard.

Their officers usually drank and gamed all night, and were slow to rise the next day. 'that every morning sundry carts came in loaden with wood and strawe; and that at this time, the frost still very strong, the governor sent out warrants to the constables in the country to send him so many men every morneing to breake the ice on the mote and river ; and that there was a hollow ground behind the Priory on the other side a small hill neere the city and about two a musket shott from the Priory, where 1000 men might bee drawne into batalia.'     

Birch decided to provide a man to go to the town gate, dressed in countryman's clothes, pretending to be a parish constable. He was to carry a warrant  in his hand and lead six men with spades and pickaxes.

On December 12th 1645 Birch left Ledbury and marched his army through the deep snow towards Hereford. Around four miles short of the city, he turned round. His officers then loudly told the troops that their orders had been changed because of the bad weather and that the attack was cancelled indefinitely. As expected, that news was soon passed to the city by Royalist sympathisers and its defenders were able to relax.

The following night Birch’s men, not yet made aware of his plan, left Ledbury and moved silently through the sleeping villages of Herefordshire on their way to Hereford. As a cover story they were told that a Royalist army was marching towards them, and to be silent and alert.

Arriving at Hereford just before dawn Birch revealed his plans. Dividing his forces he hid an advance party of 150 in the ruins of St Guthlac’s priory, and the remainder he secreted in a wooded hollow on Aylestone Hill.

At eight o’clock, when the city gate was first opened for the day, Birch’s constable and six men approached. Their leader distracted the guard's captain by showing him a fake warrant and announced that they were there on ice breaking duty. While the defenders were distracted the six 'labourers' pushed in through the gate and attacked the guards with their makeshift weapons, and a signal from Birch brought the advance party racing over from the priory ruins to join in. 

The attackers managed to keep the gate open for enough time to allow the main force to charge down Aylestone Hill. After only a short running battle through the streets of Hereford, it was all over. The garrison soon surrendered while their leaders fled to safety across the frozen river to their last remaining haven, Goodrich Castle.

Birch's arch-enemy, Sir Henry Lingen, was one of those who managed to escape over the river to Goodrich and it is believed that the avenging Sir John Bridges was again adding his assistance to the Roundheads at the siege of that castle the following July when all the Royalists, including Sir Henry, surrendered.

Wilton Bridge sustained some damage in July 1644 when the town of Ross-on-Wye  and Wilton Castle were occupied by Massey's army. A number of Royalists were killed and a captain with 31 soldiers and some horses, were taken.

It is also reported that thirty Royalist musketeers from Goodrich Castle, and under the command of Captain Cassie, were guarding the bridge and came under cannon fire from a party of Parliamentarian troops who had forded the river below the bridge.

His (Massey's) purposes were the same as those with which he had visited Ledbury, to raise contributions out of a hostile district, enlarge his quarters, endeavour to engage the country for the Parliament, and be ready for any opportunity that might arise in his favour.

This occupation of Ross continued about a week: the country were summoned to appear and pay their contributions; and many of the yeomanry, we are told, declared themselves for the Parliament. It is seen by the statement of Addis of Brampton Abbats, that he had at one time 8 men and 8 horses of Colonel Massey's, and at another 4 troopers with their horses quartered upon him for 4 days; and that he was plundered of a horse by Massey's soldiers. To all appearance they left Goodrich Castle untouched and the (turncoat) Kyrle's house undisturbed. It would be satisfactory to learn how he, a deserter from their cause, conducted himself when his former associates had command of Ross and the country around. His dwelling at Walford Court bad been fortified, and was secured from common attempts; and there might be a better reason for its continuing unmolested than the mere strength of its defences. The mystery of Kyrle's further intentions was not yet revealed; but he had a heart inclined to changes; and he was probably even now meditating strange things.

Rev. J Webb

previous   1646

Sources -
The Battle of Coleford 1643 by Stuart Peachey (1993)
Memorials of the Civil War by Rev. John Webb 1879
The Castles of England, Scotland and Wales, Paul Johnson, Harper & Row, New York, 1989.
The Personalities of the Forest of Dean by Rev. H G Nicholls

The contents of this page are from a number of sources, not all completely reliable. Corbet, from whom we have often quoted, was Massey's chaplain, and obviously biased, and a number of the reports from the Reverend John Webb's book are often very one sided, depending on their source.
Should you have any corrections or additions we would gratefully welcome and acknowledge any input.


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