To unpick the records of who fought whom, their status, who switched sides and who was informing on who becomes difficult. The best book to help with this we’ve found is R N Dore, The Civil Wars in Cheshire.
‘Those who took commissions served in the committees alongside those who did not. Indeed it is often difficult to tell from the records whether a man was a soldier or a civilian. At the beginning of the war Hyde of Norbury, Ralph Arderne, Thomas Marbury, all apparently raised companies of foot or troops of horse. But later in the war they are never referred to by military titles and appear on the committees as civilians. When or why they gave their commissions up we do not know, but presumably it was not for anything so striking as bad relations with the commander-in-chief, as it seems to have been in the case of young George Booth, whose resignation was noted but appears to have been withdrawn later. This interchangeability does not mean that the usual jealousy and mistrust between soldiers and civilians in war time was altogether avoided. In Cheshire it seems chiefly to have been concentrated against Brereton, a squire of no more than 3,000 acres who had never been granted one of those major-generalships reserved originally for the parliamentary nobility, but who had become by 1645 the effective commander of one of the largest local armies in the country. The Self-Denying Ordinance provided a splendid opportunity for getting rid of him and, using the prestige of old Sir George Booth of Dunham Massey, prominent committee men like Philip Mainwaring of Peover and Stanley of Alderley gathered in large numbers of backwoodsmen, who never otherwise appeared, to present a petition to replace him by a professional soldier. This meant that in all but purely military operations the committee would be restored to full control, but this kind of watered-down command and the removal of an officer so vigorous as Brereton was of course the opposite of what the promoters of the Self-Denying Ordinance intended and, despite the protests of the committee, Brereton was eventually restored to his command’.
‘This dispute linked with others, regional, personal and ideological. Although old Sir George seems to have tried to keep up good relations with Brereton (his former son-in-law), his grandson and heir, young George, and his second son, John, were almost open in their opposition. Probably they felt that Brereton owed his early rise entirely to the support of their family, and resented his attempt to dominate them all the more because he had now married a wealthy Staffordshire heiress and was using her relatives to gain the same kind of control in yet another county. In 1645 practically the whole family, including its womenfolk, suspected him of suppressing the writs for a new county election to replace the royalist Peter Venables, because young George Booth would have been the sole nominee and would have broken his monopoly of parliamentary contacts’.
R N Dore, the Civil Wars in Cheshire pg. 60-61
Peter Venables (1604 – 1669) Royalist.
Peter was not only a Baron but a Politician and held the position of High Sheriff of Cheshire in 1633. In November 1640, Venables was elected Member of Parliament for Cheshire. He was a Royalist so he supported the King in the Civil War. He was suspended from Parliament and fined for his part in the battle of Middlewich. In 1661, Venables was elected MP for Cheshire and held the seat until his death in 1669 at the age of 64.
Sir Thomas Fairfax (1612-1671) Parliamentarian
Sir Thomas Fairfax came from Denton, North Yorkshire, the son of Lord Fairfax, he was knighted by Charles I in 1639, but when the Civil War commenced in 1642, he and his father joined the Parliament forces, Sir Thomas played an important part in the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644.
The new model army was formed by Parliament in 1645, and Sir Thomas Fairfax was made commander in chief of the cavalry. He made the new model army into a disciplined fighting force and in June the army inflicted a serious defeat of the Royalists at Naseby. He was opposed to the execution of Charles I and retired to North Yorkshire where he died in 1671.
John, 1st Lord Byron (1599 – 1652) Royalist
John Byron was a son of Sir John Byron, Jr., owner of Newstead Abbey. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and succeeded his father when 26 years old.
He was elected as MP for Nottingham in 1624 and 1626, knighted in 1626 and was then elected as knight of the shire (MP) for Nottinghamshire in 1628. He served as High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire for 1634 and then as Lieutenant of the Tower of London, from December 1641 to February 1642.
When the Civil War started, he joined King Charles I at York and served the Royalists’ cause throughout the Civil Wars and afterwards. After Byron distinguished himself at the First Battle of Newbury, King Charles created him Lord Byron in October 1643 and made him commander of the Royalist forces in Lancashire and Cheshire. However he was defeated at the Battle of Nantwich in 1644 and forced to withdraw to Chester.
Richard Leveson (1598 – 1661) MP (1640-1642) Royalist
The Leveson Family is divided in 2 parts, the senior and the Junior, Richard Leveson belongs to the latter and was a cousin of the more notable Col Thomas Leveson (he surrendered Dudley Castle to Sir William Brereton on the 10th May 1646) Richard Leveson was captured at the fall of Shrewsbury in 1644 and transferred to Nantwich. He is described as a Royalist of ‘uncertain loyalty’ and doesn’t appear to distinguish himself in any way. He inherited property and land in Trentham, Lilleshall, Middlewich and Kent after the death of his father and elder brother. At the beginning of the Civil War he encouraged Royalist support in Staffordshire and was removed from his Parliamentary seat in 1642. We know from documents written by Richard Leveson that his salt works in Middlewich were seized and he sought after the reformation to get these and other businesses back.
Sir Peter Leycester, 1st Baronet (1614 – 1678). Royalist.
He was an English antiquarian and historian, producing one of the earliest histories of the county of Cheshire.
When the Civil War started he was appointed as one of the king’s commissioners of array for Cheshire. In 1642 he left the county to further the cause for the King. He was in Oxford in June 1646 when the city surrendered to Thomas Fairfax and was taken prisoner. Consequently he was excluded from other responsibilities and fined £778l 18s 4d, so he had time to develop his interest in antiquarian research. Among the subjects he studied was the pedigree of the Mainwaring family and he purchased a transcript of the section of the Domesday Book relating to Cheshire. His loyalty to the new government was always in question and like many others was monitored very carefully. Hence in 1655 he had a second period of imprisonment, but following the Restoration he was released and returned to the bench as a justice of the peace. He was created a baronet in 1660 as a reward for his loyalty to the royalist cause.
The family had many houses and estates, the main residence was Tabley, formerly Nether Tabley Old Hall, which Sir Peter altered and extended between 1656 and 1671. The new Tabley House, Knutsford, was built later between 1761-1768. Sir Peter also spent time in residence in his Middlewich Town House, there are documents that were written from Middlewich in regard to his court duties and properties and doubtless he continued pulling together his Cheshire Histories. His decedent Peter Leicester, who was a high Sherriff of Cheshire, renovated and enlarged the Town House in the 1750’s.
This house was later demolished and a new building dedicated to Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee erected on its foundations, Victoria Building on Lewin Street.
Sir Thomas Aston (1600-1645) Royalist
Sir Thomas Aston was born in Shropshire, the eldest son of John Aston of Aston Cheshire; he was called to the bar at Lincolns Inn in 1620 and became High Sheriff in Cheshire in 1635. He was elected M.P. for Cheshire in 1640 for the short parliament which sat for 3 weeks (13th April to 5th May 1640) and re-elected for the long parliament which ran from 1640 to 1648. He was the Royalist Commander of the Kings Forces defeated at Middlewich on 13th March 1642/3 losing 500 stands of arms, 2 cannons and numerous ammunition, powder and provisions. He escaped from this battle and fled to Chester where he was arrested for this embarrassing turn of events. He was reinstated as a Royalist commander and in this role in 1645 he was captured by a parliamentary officer Captain Stones near Barre in Walsall, Staffs. He was captured with 60 of his men and imprisoned in Stafford prison. He tried to escape but was discovered by a soldier guard and struck on the head, this plus other wounds brought on a fever and he died at Stafford on 24th March 1645.
Both the parliamentary soldiers and the royalists robbed and plundered whenever they could. In March 1642/3 after the 1st battle of Middlewich the church being broken open. The house in the town also suffered the same fate; some had their thatch fired during the battle, doors and windows destroyed, goods stolen and the inhabitants left impoverished as a result.
Sir William Brereton (1604-1661) Parliamentarian
Sir William was the son of William Brereton of Handforth. He was elected as M.P. at various times between 1628 to 1659 in 1634 he visited Holland where he took part and a keen interest in Military Matters and studied siege warfare at First Hand. On returning to England he was elected M.P. for Cheshire in April 1640 for the short Parliament and was re-elected in November for the long parliament. He took a stand against Charles I (who had decided to try to rule Parliament) by organising a petition directed against the bishops trying to rule the church. He joined the Parliament forces in Cheshire. He defeated the Royalists in the first battle of Middlewich on March 13th 1643 and therefore established his military dominance in Cheshire. Lord Byron the commander of the Royalist Army entered Cheshire in late 1643 and on the 26th December launched a ferocious attack on Sir William Brereton’s forces at the Booth Lane / Lewin Street end of town, where he was defeated by Lord Byron, several hundred men being killed or wounded from both sides.
In 1644 he joined forces with Sir Thomas Fairfax and routed Lord Byron’s forces at Nantwich. Following a prolonged stay in London he returned to Cheshire and focused his attention on the siege at Chester. Lord Byron was Governor at Chester until 1646 when he surrendered both castle and city, in February of that year.
The spy network…
Throughout all his military career Sir William Brereton had a vast network of informers, spies and special intelligence to communicate with his senior officers he wrote letters in code, (if they were of a sensitive nature). He despatched men on horseback to the area where the Royalist army was thought to be, to ascertain the strength and battle readiness of the forces he had to confront, if the intelligence returned, this information was then relayed to the military officer to whom it concerned, the spies used were often women, in ale houses and inns picking up information from Junior officers and common soldiers. The ‘messengers’ covered a larger area of responsibility, they delivered the coded messages and returned with the coded reply, or delivered domestic messages to homes where, for example wives, children and their belongings were under threat, this often applied to officers only.
On the 23rd of March 1644/5 whilst staying at Middlewich with forces (allegedly at Newton Manor) Sir William Brereton wrote to the “committee of both Kingdoms” “that the Scottish forces had joined them, commanded by Lt Gen Lesley and Cols Rossiter and Bethell. He writes in a partial code as follows – The Scottish forces are a considerable body no less then –
T W O T H O U S A N D M U S Q U E T E E RS
9 vii xvi 9 ii xvi xii, 3, 4, 6 x xi xii 3 iii xii v 9 v v 6 3
F I V E T E E N E H U N D R E T H H O R S E
Xv 5 xii v 9 v v vi v ii xii vi x 6 v 9 ii ii xvi 6 3 v
“well armed and choice men as are to be found in any army”
“Our greatest want still is of FOOT (xv, xvi, xvi, 9) which I could supply in these parts if I was furnished with MUSQUETS (xi, xii, 3, iii, xii, v, 9, 3) or rather FIRELOCKES (xv, 5, 6, v, 8, xvi, 7, 2, v, 3) one thousands of either”
A simple substitution code such as this only works for a limited time, the number of written ‘keys’ to solve the code was probably with every senior officer in the army and renders it open to being seen by the enemy, but Sir William did not have much choice.
As well as his code for letters and other important correspondence, he had a series of numbers for places and counties that featured in his military active career during the civil war.
Tarvin – 71 Sir William Brereton – 318
London – 112 Col Rugelly – 128
Chester – 120 Prince Rupert – 49
Shrewsbury – 10 Sir George Booth – 154
Stafford – 18 Col Ellis – 89
Shropshire – 92 Money – 177
Scotland – 158 Army – 172
Lancashire – 107 House of Lords – 161
Cheshire – 289
Staffordshire – 94
Sir William Breretons code, taken from Brereton’s Letter Books Vols 1 & 2
K – 2
U – xii
B – i
L – 8
V – xiii
C – 7
M – vi
W – vii
D – x
N – vi
X – xvii
E – v
O – xvi
Y – xxiv
F – xv
P – xxi
Z – 12
G – xx
Q – viii
H – ii
R – 6
I – 5
S – 3
J – 10
T – 9
What happened to the people of Middlewich?
It was a turbulent and often tragic time for Middlewich. The English Civil War had taken place and in 1643 Middlewich had to endure a huge battle which heavily damaged the Church and surrounding houses and shops. With houses and agricultural land damaged it was a slow recovery for the Town, with food shortages hard to replace.
Following the Second Battle of Middlewich in the Civil War 1643 Middlewich and its habitants were in a poor state. The two battles were endured within a few months of each other, their valuables stolen, the church damaged and plate stolen. Many houses required repairs and over 200 soldiers lay dead, with a considerable number wounded, it is little wonder that the health and welfare of the citizens made them unable to resist the second occurrence of the plague. During the months following the second battle, the number of houses was approximately 300; the population of Middlewich, Newton & Kinderton in 1643 was around 450 and out of this number 213 people died during the second outbreak of the plague, an attempt was made to curtail the spread of the disease. The inhabitants, as they became infected were taken out of their homes and placed in wooden cabins erected in a field at Newton. This field was rented by Robert Cranage of Middlewich, but because of the positioning of the cabins on this field he was unable to use it and therefore profit from it. The rent for 1647 had been £7 for the year which had been paid to the owner Mr William Yates. After the cabins were erected Robert Cranage only got 1 ½ loads of Hay from the field and lost 40/- for grass on which the cabins were erected and 10/- worth of timber for the construction. The instructions for the cabins had been given by the overseers of the poor and constables of Middlewich and Newton. Robert Cranage took his case for compensation to the Quarter sessions; the J.P’s at the time were the Baron of Kinderton and Colonel Croxton.
This wasn’t the only problem for the overseers and constables for Middlewich and Newton, when the plague began they obtained the services of 2 nurses Ellen Davenham and Margaret Walker from Manchester at the rate of 7/- per week. When the sickness began to abate in 1648/9 and the nurses asked for their back pay, the pay was not forthcoming and the nurses took their case to the quarter sessions. They were eventually paid but with clipped coinage so the now very indignant nurses took their case again to Chester Quarter Sessions, Col Croxton J.P. was then given the sole responsibility to settle this case once and for all, this he did.
The Middlewich and Newton overseers were not the only ones guilty of treating shabbily with whose help they had relied on during the outbreak there are several petitions and litigations on record.
By 1655, there were signs of recovery. According to the church record accounts (transcribed by Benjamin Vawdrey)
‘Repairing of the church begins’. This included ‘Repair of the Church Walls, casting the great bell, repair of the roof and glassing the windows’. By 1658 the church raised funds of £50, ‘granted and increases of maintenance of the minister of Middlewich, Oyle, colours, varnish and workmanship to colour the font stone’, and in 1689 the church ‘Received three pieces of plate, one silver salver, one large bowle both the gift of Francis Leveson Esq and one lesser silver bowle two pewter flaggons’, etc. These were great signs of the town recovering from years of violence and sickness and the amount of money raised illustrates a township re-building itself very quickly, probably due in the main to the Salt Industry trade, which prospered and grew at this time.
- R N Dore, The Civil Wars in Cheshire. 1966
- As written out from records by P. Cowper, Battle of Middlewich Civil War AD 1642, record kept by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies
- Middlewich 900-1900 Allan Earl
- The Siege, Civil War Account, copy kept by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies
- The note-books of Benjamin Vawdrey, by permission of Peter Moore-Dutton
- Cheshire Notes and queries : an edited version of the news print of the time, copy kept by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies
- Cheshire 1630 – 1660 J S Morrill
- Cheshire History Aut 1986 ‘Squatters in the Civil War’ copy kept by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies
- Thomas Malbons memorials of the Civil War 1889 edited by James Hall, copy kept by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies
- Original news print documents DMD-B-21 accounts of the Civil War (CRO) Cheshire Archives and local studies
- Ormerod – History of Cheshire
- Sir William Breretons Letter Books Vol 1 and 2
A big thank you to Allan Earl for all his help and research into the Civil War of Middlewich. A great deal of his time was spent on research, cross checking references and getting everything in order.
St Michael and All Angels Church and their volunteers and guides
Jan Hutson and her valuable typing skills
Cheshire Archives and Local Studies
Anna Bates, Collections Manager and Assistant Administrator, The Tabley House Collection, University of Manchester for her help and additional information.
Permissions for paintings:
University of Manchester, The Tabley House Collection.
Grosvenor Museum, Chester.
Manchester Art Gallery, UK/Bridgeman Images
Want to find out more?
iddlewich will host a unique series of Talks in the autumn, at the Wych Centre
12 September 2015 a Professor Malcolm Wanklyn – The Civil War in Cheshire and the Battles at Middlewich
3 October 2015 – Bob Burgess – the Battle of Rowton Heath (1645)
14 November 2015 – Julian Humphrys – the Battle of Nantwich (1644)
5 December 2015 – Richard Ward – the Battle of Winwick (1648)
Each of the talks will start at 2.30pm, doors open at 2pm.
Ticket Prices are £7.50, £25 discounted price for booking all four talks, refreshments included.
All proceeds go towards the cost of a ‘battlefield marker’ or Interpretation Board marking the spot where so many people died during the Civil War.
Tickets are available from Middlewich Town Council, Town Hall, Victoria Building, Lewin Street, Middlewich CW10 9AS. Telephone: 01606 833434. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.