Bradford in the Civil War


Bradford and the English Civil War 1642-45

Stuart H Downey Clayton History Group


           The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts between Parliamentarians and Royalists over, the manner of England's government. Charles 1st believed in the divine right of kings, which was to rule and make laws without the consent of Parliament or Church..This was totally unacceptable to Cromwell and Parliament so the civil war began.

           In 1642 Bradford was situated in a valley astride the Bradford Beck, with a population of about 2500, it was small market town. The population involved themselves in the manufacture of woollen cloth and small scale farming. The land surrounding the town was mostly of poor quality used for the raising of sheep. In the area of Kirkgate were gardens for livestock and growing vegetables. The beck was similar to a small river and was crossed by three bridges. A church stood where the Cathedral stands today.

          Bradford had a strong Puritan population who were on occasions in dispute with the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, so it was not surprising that the people supported the Parliamentary cause. This is not to say they were a threat to to the Royalists, but were suspected of providing recruits to the Parliamentary Army. For this reason Bradford was likely to be attacked.

         On the 22nd August 1642 the Royalists sent soldiers to Bradford to keep the people in check. The soldiers were brutal which further alienated the Royalists. Many people left the town in fear.

         Those who remained began to prepare for further hostilities. The roads were blocked and strong points set up.

         The Royalist commanders were aware of these preparations and prepared to send a larger force to subdue the town.

          In late October the people of Bradford were warned of an attack . Every able bodied man and boy was called for duty, armed with muskets, small firearms and farmyard implements of various kinds.

         An urgent request was sent by the leaders to nearby villages for help, the Royalist force which numbered about 800, set up camp at Undercliffe

       On the 23rd October, they struck camp and advanced towards town. The Royalist’s had brought several cannon with them and opened fire on the town and its defenders who were at a disadvantage due to the cannon being on higher ground and suffered some losses. Several attacks were repelled.

       During the 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 cannons exploded and soon after the Royalist force started to withdraw in some confusion.

       The defenders declined to pursue owing to the bad weather. They returned to the town and were highly delighted at having withstood an attack from a force more than twice their size and far better equipped. It was the case however that the Royalists were untrained and lacked experience.

       For the time being at least Bradford was safe.

        In November of 1642 Sir Thomas Fairfax a parliamentary general arrived in Bradford and 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 Sir Thomas headed for his headquarters in Tadcaster with his recruits. This departure left Bradford once again vulnerable as many of the local men of fighting age were now gone with the soldiers and officers.

        The Royalist army under the command of the Earl of Newcastle who had captured much of the West Riding now turned his attention to Bradford.

           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. “Conquer or Die” became their motto.

          On the 17th December 1642 Sir William Savile ( Royalist Commander) sent messengers demanding the Bradford people contribute large sums to the Royalist army and threatened to burn the town if they did not, the demands were ignored. This was a brave gesture of defiance as the town had no trained soldiers to defend it.

          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.

           During the night Captain John Hodgson, a trained officer, had arrived from Coley near Halifax, 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 Saville and his army advanced to take the Town.The defenders had men armed with 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.

          The Royalists set up their cannon near Barkerend about 300 yards from the church.

          The church tower, which was hung with sacks of wool as added protection, proved an excellent vantage point for the defenders and they were able to return fire from there onto the Royalist positions, the church was rarely hit as the standard of gunnery at this stage in the war was not good.

          At noon much needed help arrived in the shape of large numbers of club-men and musketeers from the surrounding villages. More musketeers were positioned in the church and the club-men in the lanes leading into the town. The people had secured the town as best they could and were determined to defend it to the last.

        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,

        Goodricke’s troops rode round the perimeter of the town and reportedly robbed a woman and killed two 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 were able to fire at Kirkgate and Ivegate. 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.

         The cannon was clearly a serious menace and danger to the town and Captain Hodgson decided something must be done to neutralise this. An assault was made upon the Royalist lines and a fierce hand to hand fight developed.

         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 and fired on the club-men driving them back into the town.

         A Royalist Officer and his men had run down the field with the intention of rushing the church, they were seen by the defenders in the steeple and two of them attacked the officer. 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 the “ Bradford Quarter “ and killed him. 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 Royalists started to withdraw and were followed by 50 club-men and musketeers as far as Bradford Moor who then withdrew as they were fearful of being surrounded and attacked by the Royalist cavalry. The whole battle had lasted approximately 8 hours.

        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

 July 1643 2nd Siege of Bradford

         The Earl of Newcastle set up his headquarters at Bolling Hall. The besieged townspeople again converted the church into a fortress, and hung, wool sacks on the side of the steeple that faced the enemy's lines. The cannons were positioned close to the steeple and gave it many a sad shake. When the shots cut the cords holding the woolsacks the assailants loudly cheered. The store of ammunition of the defenders consisted of about twenty five barrels of powder and was consumed at the beginning of the siege , they had not one match for their muskets other than what was made of twisted cord dipped in oil. The next day being the Sunday the Earl of Newcastle sent a messenger to offer conditions; which Fairfax agreed to accept to save the inhabitants further suffering. He sent two captains to negotiate with Newcastle and there was a cease fire during that time.

         The negotiations lasted most of the day but the Royalists took advantage of it to move their cannon and placed them in a better position, enabling them to fire directly into the heart of the town. Fairfax, suspecting that Newcastle planned to surprise him, sent commissioners to obtain the Earl’s answer.

          They did not return till 11.00 p.m. and then with only a curt reply.

           The people left in Bradford were very afraid of what was to become of them as it had been rumoured that Newcastle had given orders that the town’s people were to be put to the sword in retribution for the killing of some of his own men during the 1st Siege.

          There is no evidence however that Newcastle gave such an order. Legend has it that during this night at his headquarters at Bolling Hall, he had a dream in which a lady appeared begging him TO PITY POOR BRADFORD and to spare the people of the town.

          The next morning the soldiers of the Earl entered the town and pillaged it. Some light resistance was dealt with but there was no wholesale slaughter as had been feared.

          The soldiers emptied sacks of grain into the streets, and filled them with any thing they found that was more valuable. The Royalists, had emptied the town of what was worth carrying away, it seems, too, that they were not content with this, one man was sent by his employer to by a cow from the Royalists. He returned to town with the cow. That same after noon the cow was stolen again

The town was left under the control of the Royalists for the rest of the year. The main Royalist army moved on elsewhere but a small garrison remained in occupation. The war moved on the other parts of Yorkshire and the north of England and the town resumed some semblance of normality, or as much as it could be expected with a hostile occupying force in control.