The Sieges of Bradford - March 1644.
19th January 1644 - The Scottish army invaded England in support of Parliament..
Sir Thomas Fairfax and his new army ( including many Bradford men, veterans from Adwalton Moor who had headed south to join Black Tom ) in Lincolnshire were ordered west to Cheshire to relieve Nantwich and his great victory over Lord Byron in January 1644 opened North Wales to the Parliamentarians.
In the West Riding there had been a period of relative calm. The Royalist governor of Yorkshire, Sir William Saville, died in office and was replaced by Colonel John Belasyse.
In January raids by Parliamentarian irregulars across the Lancashire/Yorkshire border became more frequent and the security of the West Riding again became an issue for the Royalists.
Belasyse was also faced with the considerable threat of the expected invasion of the Scots army from the north and also the Parliamentarian forces at Hull who were still holding the port. Lord Fairfax was mounting vigourous lightning sorties from Hull with cavalry which, if not of major importance, were certainly a significant irritation.
After his victory at Nantwich Sir Thomas Fairfax ordered Colonel John Lambert with a column of troops back into the West Riding. Lambert was a Yorkshireman from Malhamdale near Skipton. Amongst Lambert’s force was Captain John Hodgson who was with John Bright’s Regiment of Foote. Hodgson was a local man from Halifax and was commander of the irregulars at Bradford in Dec 1642.
Lambert’s force marched over the Pennine hills to Sowerby and on to Halifax. From there they marched to Keighley and down the Aire valley to Bradford and probably gathered further support along the way. It could well have been at this time that Lambert’s men attacked Royalist’s billeted at Baildon Hall and possibly in the village of Baildon itself. There seems to have been a significant little action here at some point in the Civil War which it is a well known part of local folk lore. It is possible that the Royalists based a small force of cavalry, possibly a troop, at Baildon which overlooked the Aire valley to the north of Bradford. Baildon is certainly well positioned to patrol this area so it would make sense.
3rd March 1644 - Lambert’s force arrived in Bradford and found the town held by a small Royalist garrison with musketeers in the church tower. The opening Parliamentarian cavalry attack was driven off but the defenders were dislodged and put to flight by a determined infantry assault. This attack was most probably from the north of the town down the valley. The 3 previous assaults had been mostly from the south and had proved difficult for the attackers. After a short pursuit the Parliamentarians withdrew back to Bradford.
The war in Yorkshire slowly began to turn in favour of the Parliamentarians
From their new base at Bradford a Parliamentary force took Tadcaster and held it. On the night of the 5/6th March they won a sharp action against Royalist cavalry south of Leeds at Hunslet. More fighting took place around Kirklees
The threat posed by Colonel Lambert and his Parliamentary force in Bradford and Lord Fairfax in Hull was now such that John Belasyse was forced to take action.
With Newcastle now away facing the threat of the Scottish army advancing south into England Belasyse had a considerably reduced force at his disposal.
He chose to move much of his army from York making Selby his base of operations. By doing this he controlled the bridge over the River Ouse and was able to secure the route between Bradford and Hull. Belasyse then received reinforcements from the now relieved garrison at Newark and advanced into the West Riding to attack Bradford.
25th March 1644 - Colonel Lambert and his defenders fought off several determined assaults by the Royalists until low on ammunition. The Parliamentarians attempted to break out of the town and took the Royalist cavalry, commanded by General George Porter, by surprise. Porter’s force was routed and fled. Lambert took advantage of this unexpected victory and returned to Bradford to resume its defence. The attack against Porter’s cavalry could also have been at Baildon Hall.
Belasyse, now deprived of much of his cavalry, abandoned the attack and withdrew to Leeds and on to Selby. Porter returned to Nottinghamshire in considerable disgrace after the poor performance of his cavalry and refused the orders of Belasyse to return for some days.
This was the last serious fighting in and around Bradford which was now firmly in the control of the Parliamentarians and the town was now able to resume some sort of normality as the war continued elsewhere in the region.
In March Sir Thomas Fairfax received a dispatch from Colonel Lambert in Bradford saying,
“We all, in these parts, exceedingly long for and desire your appearance here, which, I am confident, were enough to clear these parts, if the opportunity be not slipped.”
Soon after Sir Thomas Fairfax was ordered back to Yorkshire by his father and he rode back into the county at the head of 2000 cavalry. Lord Fairfax ventured from Hull with his force and headed for Ferrybridge. Here he met Sir Thomas and his large force.
They were joined by Colonel Lambert who had marched his army from Bradford and Sir John Meldrum and 2000 infantry from the Midlands Association.
The Civil War finally moved away from Bradford the people of the area were able to get on with rebuilding their lives and livelihoods.
In June 1644 a large Royalist force under the command of Prince Rupert marched across the Pennines via Clitheroe and stayed for 3 nights at Skipton Castle. Prince Rupert then led his men down the Wharfe valley. He spent the night in Lord Fairfax’s house at Denton Hall near Ilkley but gave orders that it should not be touched or pillaged by his men. Next day Prince Rupert headed for Knaresborough.
The prospect of such a large Royalist army with the formidable general Prince Rupert at its head within a day’s march of Bradford must have been the cause for some alarm in the town. However Prince Rupert was intent on more important matters, namely the relief of York and defeat of the Scots and Parliamentarians in the field. This venture ended in a catastrophic defeat for the Royalists at Marston Moor near York which was the beginning of the end of the Royalist hold on Yorkshire.
The Royalist resistance in the area was finally broken in 1645 when the stubborn Royalist garrison at Skipton finally capitulated and the war in the West Riding was over.