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Part 6

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The Business of Yorkshire - Part 6.

1st July 1643 - On his arrival in Bradford early in the morning Sir Thomas found a truly desperate situation. Most of the Lancashire infantry had fled the town. The Parliamentarians lacked the forces and supplies to withstand a long siege and there was no possibility of reinforcement from Hull.

The Royalists were on the point of completely encircling the town and holding positions close to the perimeter defences from which they launched numerous assaults threatening to break through. These attacks were repelled by resolute resistance but it was clear that the Royalists superiority in numbers would eventually prevail.

At this extremely low point for the Fairfaxes a messenger arrived from Hull to inform them that Sir John Hotham and his son had been arrested and the port was now firmly back under the control of Parliament. Now the Fairfaxes had an objective and a place of refuge, although this was 60 miles away.

It was decided that Lord Fairfax and the bulk of his army would break out that night and head for Leeds and then on to Hull. Sir Thomas was to stay with 800 infantry and 60 cavalry to cover his father’s withdrawal.

2nd July 1643 -  Lord Fairfax was able to reach Leeds in the early hours of the morning.

Newcastle offered a cease fire to negotiate a surrender of the town. Sir Thomas agreed, hoping to arrive at some agreement to spare the inhabitants further suffering.

Negotiations continued throughout the day and into the evening but Sir Thomas became convinced that this was merely a delaying tactic by Newcastle whilst he repositioned his forces for a final assault to take the town.

At 11.00 p.m. that night it became clear that this was the case and the Royalists mounted 2 concerted attacks from both sides of the town which were only repulsed after very hard fighting.

The defenders now had only one barrel of gunpowder left and it was obvious that Bradford would fall the next day.

Sir Thomas rightly concluded that there was no alternative but to abandon the town. His position was now hopeless and it was unthinkable that he should be captured as he was the outstanding Parliamentarian commander in the North.

He hastily made plans for his force to break out of Bradford before dawn and follow his father to Hull.

The infantry, commanded by Colonel Rogers, was to set off through the narrow lanes and attack Royalist dragoons encamped close by and then head for Leeds as best they could.

Sir Thomas, his wife Anne, their daughter Mary who was 5 years old, her nursemaid and his 50 surviving cavalry would break out by a more open route on horseback and head for Leeds. Lady Anne Fairfax was to ride double with a trooper by the name of William Hill as her personal escort. Mary Fairfax was carried by her nursemaid who rode with the infant on the saddle in front of her.

3rd July 1643 - In the early hours both infantry and cavalry attempted to break through the Royalist lines.

The bulk of the infantry were beaten back but 80 men managed to reach temporary safety at Leeds mounted on horses liberated from the Royalist dragoon encampment.

Sir Thomas and his troopers were soon spotted by a force of about 300 Royalist cavalry on a hill overlooking the town. He and  12 of his men charged them and he was able to break through with Sir Henry Fowles, Major General Gifford and 3 troopers. His wife, Anne and her escort, trooper William Hill, were captured and taken prisoner.  The other troopers were killed, including Captain Mudd, or captured.

This was witnessed by Sir Thomas from the hill side some distance away but he was powerless to intervene. He remained for a while overlooking the town observing this disaster until he was convinced that there was nothing he could do and reluctantly resumed his dash to Leeds. During the break out and fight he had broken a stirrup and lost both his pistols.

It is not clear what happened to the nursemaid and Mary but they certainly escaped the town and were with Sir Thomas later in the day.

Lady Fairfax was treated with great kindness and consideration by Newcastle who, several days later, provided her with a lady in waiting, a cavalry escort and his own carriage to deliver her to her husband in Hull.

The inhabitants of Bradford were now at the mercy of the Earl of Newcastle and his army. The early hours were a period of fear and dread and none expected to live any longer than it took the Royalist soldiers to occupy the town.

There had been rumours circulating for some time that Newcastle had ordered his men to kill all the people in the town in retribution for the slaughter of his own officers and soldiers who had been taken prisoner at the time of the Royalist’s last attempt to take Bradford in December 1642. There is no evidence that Newcastle ever gave such an order although, in the circumstances of the time, it could have been a possibility for a vengeful man.

Legend has it that during that night Newcastle had a dream where he was visited by a lady in white who stood by his bed and pleaded with him to take mercy of the town and its people.

When the Royalists entered the town on the morning of the 3rd July they encountered some light resistance which was quickly dealt with but no wholesale killing took place as had been feared by the inhabitants. The Royalist soldiers seemed more concerned with plunder grabbing food, drink and everything of value that they could and retired to their encampments around the town to share ill gotten gains and sell their booty to the highest bidder.

The people of Bradford were left with nothing but they were alive and no doubt thankful for that. Many left Bradford and took refuge in the towns and villages in the surrounding area.

For the remainder of 1643 Bradford was left to recover as best it could and get on with its business in an area of Royalist dominance.

With the West Riding now firmly under his control Newcastle withdrew most of his soldiers from the town although there was a garrison at nearby Leeds.


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