At the start of the First English Civil War on the 22nd August 1642 the Royalist commanders in the Yorkshire sent soldiers to Bradford to garrison the town and keep the population firmly under control. It was known that Bradford and the surrounding districts were a strong centre of Puritanism in the region and likely to be an area of support and recruitment for the war of Parliament against the King.
The brutal conduct of these soldiers antagonised the local population against the monarch even more and there was certainly no love for King Charles amongst most of the people in the area. A great number of people left Bradford in fear of being killed by the soldiers who had stated that they were only awaiting orders before putting the entire population of this “disloyal town” to the sword.
These soldiers were soon withdrawn for other duties and rejoined the main Royalist army in Yorkshire.
The inhabitants of Bradford now began to prepare for the coming hostilities as best they could should the soldiers return. They worked with great industry and enthusiasm and, although lacking in military skills and knowledge, they hurriedly reinforced the town and built defences as best they could. The roads were blocked and strong points set up with the areas of weaknesses fortified and strengthened.
The King’s spies had informed the Royalist generals of these preparations and sent a force of soldiers from Leeds to subdue the town.
In late October the people of Bradford were warned by their own spies and scouts of the coming attack and preparations were hastily made for the expected assault. Every able bodied man and boy was called for duty and armed with whatever weapons were available. These were mostly very crude farmyard implements of various kinds with some muskets and small firearms.
As the Royalist soldiers neared an urgent request was sent by the leaders of the town to Halifax, Bingley and nearby villages for men to come with all speed to help in the defence. Local men were soon arriving in Bradford with what weapons they could find to help.
The Royalist force which numbered about 800 set up camp at Undercliffe, overlooking the town. There they rested for a day preparing for the coming attack.
The next day, the 23rd October, they struck camp and advanced towards the town, halting on the crest of a hill to make their final preparations.
Joseph Lister, a young man living in Bradford at the time gives an eye witness account of the scene.
“ The next morning they struck their tents and advanced towards us, and came to the brow of the hill, where they exhibited to our view their ensigns of war, which were truly very awful and tremendous to behold; here they halted and made every preparation to attack us. They were about seven or eight hundred men, we were about three hundred; they had several cannon; we had none. “.
Bradford was defended by about 300 men, mostly untrained irregulars but by no means lacking in enthusiasm for the coming fight. These were armed with an assortment of weapons like scythes and clubs and were known as Club-men.
The Royalist’s had brought several cannon with them which they positioned on the hillside and opened fire on the town and its defenders.
The defenders were at a considerable disadvantage due to the Royalists being on higher ground and took some losses but fought off several attacks as the Royalists attempted to break into the town.
During this action the snow started to fall quite heavily with a strong wind blowing into the faces of the attackers. At this point one of the Royalist cannon exploded and soon after the Royalist force started to withdraw in some confusion.
The defenders prudently declined to pursue owing partly to the bad weather. They returned to the town and must have been highly delighted at having withstood an attack from a force more than twice their size and far better equipped.
It must be stated, however, that this was a rather abysmal effort by the Royalist force and is probably indicative of the poor training and lack of experience of the soldiers and some of the officers. This is not untypical of the early actions in this war.
For the time being at least Bradford was safe.