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Dec 1642-1st Siege

The Sieges of Bradford - December 1642 - 1st Siege.

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Engraving of Bradford church hung with wool sacks to protect the tower. Royalist artillery can be seem firing top right

In November Lord Fairfax and Sir Thomas Fairfax arrived in Bradford an commenced recruiting and training an army from the area. Many Bradford and other local men responded enthusiastically to the call.

At the end of November the Fairfaxes and their force left the town and headed for Tadcaster where they set up their base their base of operations. This was ideally positioned to threaten York and was in between the 2 Parliamentarian strongholds of the West Riding and Hull. The departure of the army left Bradford once again vulnerable as many of the local men of fighting age were now gone and all the trained soldiers and officers. 

The Royalist army in the north under the command of the Earl of Newcastle captured Pontefract and this effectively gave them control of the West Riding. Newcastle was then able to exact large sums of money from those hostile to the King to finance the Royalist cause in the north.

In Leeds there was more sympathy to the Royalists, or “Malignants” as they were known by the Parliamentarians, and it fell to Newcastle’s army with little resistance. The Royalist army then turned their attentions to Bradford.

Sir William Savile and a much larger force than had made the first attack headed to Bradford.

This second attack is referred to as the First Siege and was recorded by an anonymous author at the time and published in a pamphlet called The Rider on the White Horse.

Many Parliamentarian supporters in Bradford had left the town as they were very frightened of what was to come. Sturdier Puritan hearts remained and were determined to resist no matter what. They invited others in the area of a like mind to join them.

Sir William Savile

On the 17th December 1642 Sir William Savile sent messengers demanding the Bradford people contribute large sums to the Royalist army and threatened to burn the town if they did not. The messengers were imprisoned and the demands ignored. This was a brave gesture of defiance as the town had no trained soldiers or officers left to defend it. Bradford was a relatively poor town and certainly could not afford to pay soldiers to defend it for a long period.

The other local towns and villages were aware of the situation but considered that the stand made by the people of Bradford was hopeless and doomed to failure. At first they refused all pleas for help. On the  night of the 16/17th December many local people fled Bradford leaving it even more vulnerable but those that remained were determined to resist and “ Conquer or Die “ became the motto.

During the night Captain John Hodgson, a trained officer, had arrived from Colley near Halifax to take command. Hearing of the plight of the town this brave and resolute man moved at once to offer his services and was able to organise reinforcements.

On the morning of the 18th December, the Sabbath, at about 9.00 a.m. Saville and his “popish army” advanced to take the Town.

In the pamphlet The Rider of the White Horse an anonymous author describes the events in some detail.

The Royalists were deployed in two bodies. The advanced units were commanded by Colonel Evers, eldest son of Lord Evers, and consisted of 3 troops of cavalry, 2 companies of dragoons, 100 infantry, 20 pioneers to construct fortifications and trenches, and 2  cannon. The artillery was commanded by Major Carew, an Englishman of Dutch birth. The rear units were under the command of Sir Francis Howard and consisted of his own and Capt. Hilyard's troops of cavalry, 6 companies of Colonel Eddrington's dragoons, and 100 infantry. Colonel Goring ( later Lord Goring ) is reported to have accompanied the force and in addition a relative of the  Earl of Newport was said to have been present.

 The defenders had men armed with 40 muskets and calivers   ( small muskets ) and about 30  armed fowling pieces ( muskets used more for shooting birds ). These were positioned in strategic locations round the town with 10 or 12 of the best marksmen on the church steeple or in the church. There were also a similar number of club-men

The Royalists set up their cannon near Barkerend  about 300 yards from the church which was the key strong point in defence of the town. The people had secured it as best they could and were determined to defend it to the last. 17 times the guns fired. The author of the pamphlet claims that the church was hardly ever hit which may be just be wishful thinking but is possible as the standard of gunnery at this stage in the war was not good.

The church tower, which was hung with sacks of wool ( not bales ) as added protection, proved an excellent vantage point for the defenders and they were able to return fire from there onto the Royalist positions. One marksman on the steeple was able to shoot one of the artillery man which greatly encouraged the defenders.

The Royalists  sent out a troop of cavalry under the command of Sir John Goodricke to divert the attention of the defenders whilst they attempted to move their cannon to a better position to fire up Kirkgate directly into the town.

Goodricke’s troop rode round the perimeter of the town and reportedly robbed and woman and killed 2 unarmed men. Sentries at this point fired on the Royalists wounding several of their horses. The cavalry retreated as a party of club-men approached.

In the meantime the Royalists had moved their cannon nearer to the town and Major Carew and some infantry occupied 2 houses within 30 yards of the church unopposed other than musket fire from the church. The town’s defenders were not strong enough to prevent this.

The marksmen in the steeple aimed principally at the buff coated officers in an attempt to remove them from the coming battle and demoralise the Royalist soldiers.

At noon  much needed help and reinforcements arrived in the shape of large numbers of club-men and musketeers from Halifax and Bingley and the surrounding villages. More musketeers were positioned in the church and the club-men in the lanes leading into the town.

The musketeers in the church and lanes kept the Royalists in the two houses under constant fire and those in the steeple cut off reinforcements. The large church windows and the smallness of those of the houses gave a decided  advantage to the Royalists however.

The cannon was clearly a serious menace and danger to the town and its defenders and Captain Hodgson decided something must be done to neutralise this. An assault was made upon the 2 houses by club-men who broke down the doors and killed some of the Royalists within. Others fled to an adjacent field and were followed by the club-men and a fierce hand to hand fight developed.

The author comments on the cowardice of the Royalist soldiers but this may be just propaganda. He does however comment on the bravery of the Royalist officers who were targeted by the club-men for special attention.

It is thought that the famous Colonel Goring was unhorsed and attacked by some of the club-men but he was rescued by several of his troopers who leapt over a hedge to his assistance. The Royalist musketeers regrouped behind the hedges and fired on the club-men driving them back into the town.

The Royalists started to withdraw back to Leeds and were followed by 50 club-men and musketeers as far as Bradford Moor and then withdrew back to the town as they were fearful of being surrounded and attacked by the Royalist cavalry. The whole battle had lasted approximately 8 hours.

Joseph Lister comments that that during the battle a gallant Royalist Officer who commanded 4 companies of infantry had run down the field under the cover of the hedge with the intention of rushing the church with some of his men. They were seen by the defenders in the steeple and 2 of them attacked the officer as he came out of a house leading to the church. The defenders struck this officer down and the story goes that he begged for Quarter ( Mercy ). The defenders were poor country boys and not trained soldiers. They did not know the meaning of Quarter or the rules of war. One, Ralph Atkinson, shouted that he would give him “ Bradford Quarter “ and killed him. This officer may have been a relative or even a son of the Earl of Newport. The remaining attackers were driven off. Ralph Atkinson later admitted the deed and also that he had taken valuables and gold from the body which he later greatly regretted.

The next day a messenger for the Royalists arrived to request the body of this officer be returned to them. It seems he was clearly an important man and of some significance. The body was handed over. It may have been Sir John Harper who is amongst the Royalists thought to have been killed

The incident of Bradford Quarter – No Mercy -  became well known in the region at the time and was clearly something that rankled the Royalists who did not forget it. There may have been others who killed in a similar manner.

The pamphlet goes on to give an account of casualties.

"There was slain in this engagement, Sir John Harper (as one Saville, taken at Halifax, confesseth), Captain Wray, in whose pocket were found great store of gold, and a commission directed to Major Williams, which makes us think he was the man; and Captain Binns, whom they carried to Leeds, scarce dead, and buried two days after, and more common soldiers than we shall ever hear of. Of ours, I cannot hear that two perished in the fight.

Sir John Goodricke got a bastinado ( severe beating ), and had his horse killed with a scythe, and about one hundred common soldiers were wounded, as we were informed from Leeds, where they were billeted.

Of ours, about twelve persons wounded, all curable except one or two.

There were also taken prisoners, Sergeant-Major Carew, twenty-six common soldiers, ten horses, one hundred and eighty pounds of gun powder, and about forty muskets."

The pamphlet also mentions the exploits of an unnamed "hearty Roundhead" in this encounter. This man, being deserted by his comrades and surrounded by three of the Royalist cavalry, "discharged his musket upon one, struck down another's horse with the butt end of it, broke a third's sword beating it back to his throat, and put them all to flight."

With the exception of  the musketeers, the defenders were armed with uncouth and unmilitary weapons, such as clubs, scythes, spits, flails, halberds, and sickles on long poles; and were completely undisciplined. Their Puritan fervour, fighting spirit and bravery seem, however, to have carried that day.

The Royalists for their part also appeared to be lacking experience and training and in particular in the handling of their artillery. It is stated that, although they positioned one cannon quite near the church, they were able to do it little harm. It was however a sturdy building and protected by sacks of wool hung from the tower to absorb some of the impact of the shot.

This battle was first of any size in the Civil War in Yorkshire and is referred to by Sir Thomas Fairfax as such.

Bradford had been saved again and continued to enthusiastically support the Fairfaxes and Parliament in their struggle for supremacy in the region.


To contact David W Fell click on  the shovel.

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