By Alan Roberts
Hinckley played a prominent part in the Civil War. Its proximity to several rival garrisons - the royalist garrisons at Ashby de la Zouch and Leicester, the Parliamentarians at Tamworth and Coventry, and parties of troops or brigands occupying several fortified houses in Warwickshire ensured frequent visits by the warring parties. The local townsfolk were forced to decide whether to directly declare their allegiances or to attempt to remain neutral, risking payment of levies, ransoms, and fines to both sides.
The Civil War years were a particularly unsettled time for the clergy in and around Hinckley. At the start of the war, Leicester was in the hands of the parliamentarians who controlled the county committee. Parsons suspected of having royalist sympathies, those abiding by the old Anglican religion with its Prayer Book, rituals, and ceremonies, faced sequestration, often being ejected from their livings and replaced with 'intruder ministers'. Ejected incumbents in this south-west corner of the county were commonly accused of observing ceremonies, neglecting their parishioners, drunkenness, frequenting alehouses, and in some cases visiting the king's garrisons, despite this being a capital offence. A few were charged with actively supporting the king's forces, some having actually taken up residence at Ashby.
The clergy with parliamentary leanings also made easy targets as hostages for ransom. Thomas Cleveland, the vicar of Hinckley suffered sequestration by the Leicester County Committee on 14th November 1645, confessing that at the outbreak of the war he sat with Lufton as commissioner of array to take contributions from the Leicestershire clergy and that he himself gave 4 pounds.
However his original support for the king's cause appears to have been forgiven after his compounding through the payment of a fine, and there is no further mention of his involvement, unlike some of his malignant neighbors accused of visiting royalist garrisons or preaching against parliament.
The town was visited by both parliamentary and royalists troops from the rival garrisons. A claim for damages from quartering and plunder submitted to the Warwick County Committee in 1646 lists several incursions by troops from the parliamentary garrisons at Tamworth, Coventry, and Astley House in Warwickshire. Troops from the Tamworth garrison under the command of Major Fox and Captain Hunt are charged with billeting ninety men and horse in the town for one night, for which the townspeople claimed 4 pounds 10 shillings.
The Coventry garrison was particularly active in the town. According to the claims from Hinckley Bond, around Easter, 1643 George Nix, a soldier from the Coventry garrison took a pistol worth 4s from Richard Cooper. A soldier under the command of Captain Flower of Coventry took two bridles and saddles worth 15s. Robert Bloode claimed 2s 8d for 'dyett and Beere' taken by Coventry soldiers and there was a further claim from the townspeople for 8 pounds .0 shillings.10d for the quartering of 127 men under Colonel Purefoy and Captain Bosseville of Coventry for a day and a night. In Hinckley Borough, four of Colonel Purefoy's soldiers allegedly took two saddles and bridles worth 6s from George Warren. Some of Captain Ottaway's soldiers from Coventry are accused of taking a white mare worth 2 pounds from Thomas Davenport. The inhabitants further claimed 9 pounds 10 shillings for the free quartering of 211 men and 72 horses under the command of Colonel Purefoy, Bosseville, and other parliamentary commanders.
The Astley garrison were also accused of taking hostages for ransom. Thomas Keene of Hinckley Bond claimed that he was imprisoned at Astley House and had to pay a fine of 4 pounds to Abraham Crewe for his release, and a further 1 pound to sergeant Hunt. The inhabitants attested that Lieutenant Hunt of Astley received 5 pounds ransom from Matthew Pone the constable of Hinckley Borough and took a horse worth 3 pounds from Robert Paule, the elder. [P.R.O. SP 28/161]
A Skirmish or 'Great Victory' for Parliament at Hinckley, March 1644.
Parliamentary soldiers were not the only unwelcome visitors. The most troublesome royalist garrison in this part of the county, a thorn in the side of Parliament, was Hastings stronghold at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, described in a parliamentary newsletter, the Perfect Diurnal of November 14th, 1644 as a nest of malignants, rogues and thieves. From here Hastings led raiding parties to collect levies and plunder, earning him a fearsome reputation as a 'Rob-carrier'. One particularly dramatic account of one of these incursions by Lord Hastings men from is described in a series of letters sent to Parliament from Hinckley.
The first letter, dated 5th March 1644, relates that Hastings himself (unflatteringly described as 'that noble or rather notable thief'), leading a small force from Belvoir-Worton house, 'coursed about the country as far as Dunton and Lutterworth and took near upon a hundred of the clergymen and others, and carried them prisoners' threatening to hang all them that should take the Parliaments Covenant. Another version relates that on the night of March 4th, 1644 Hastings men were abroad at a town in our county called Hinckley; and had brought in thither 26 honest countrymen from several towns intending to take them to Ashby de la Zouch, together with fourscore kine, oxen and horse from the country people and a minister named Mr Warner whom they much abused and threatened to hang. All these prisoners were herded into Hinckley church and asked 'in a jeering manner', 'Where are the Round-heads your brethren at Leicester? Why come they not to redeem you?'
Hearing of this Colonel Grey with 120 foot soldiers and thirty troopers at Bagworth House hastened to Hinckley: about eight o'clock that night they fell most valiantly on them in their quarters undiscovered, took the enemies scouts and without much resistance took the outworks and a piece of ordnance, and there performed their work also with so good success, that they presently entered the town, killed one of the enemies captains named Manwaring, and four or five more of their soldiers, wounded nine or ten of them very sorely presently routed them all, took two of their lieutenants, one quartermaster, one ensign, forty-five prisoners, and one hundred and forty horse, with their arms, released all their countrymen, rescued all the cattle and restored them to the right owners; and so returned home safe, with this victory and booty the next day being Shrove Tuesday. It was pointed out that 'None of Leicester men were slain in this defeat; only four wounded, whereof one was casually hurt by Colonel Grey because he forgot their word in the flight which was 'God prosper us, the enemy's word being, 'For the king!' This was judged all the more remarkable because the enemy was thought to have been 'between four and five hundred strong', while parliamentarians had 'not above two hundred at the most'
A printed pamphlet transcribing a letter from Lieutenant Colonel Henry Grey, of the Leicester garrison, to Lord Grey of Groby, dated 6th March 1644, tells much the same story. Grey relates that after drawing forth Major Bingley, Captain Hacker, and Captain Bodle's troops, he marched towards Hinckley believing the royalists would quarter there that night. At about 7 o'clock the parliamentarians arrived to find 'all passages into the town blocked up'. About a mile from the town they captured one of Hastings scouts 'who affirmed them to be three hundred horse and fifty dragoons'. The parliamentarians entered the town at the Barwell end, the dragoons alighting by the mills where they left their horses with a small guard and advanced 'with the forlorn hope of thirty horse commanded by captain Fitzgarret, to force the passage, which after some resistance was effected'. Grey, leading a body of a hundred and twenty men 'charged up to the cross' and after one-quarter of an hour's fight' beat them out of the town. A second charge with dragoons firing shots, caused the Cavaliers to 'wheel off' and flee. Among the royalist casualties was Colonel Nevels trumpeter with his silver trumpet. Greys forces also released 'two ministers, prisoners, and thirty countrymen took from Cosby and Leire'. [Nichols III, Part ii, Appendix, pg 33]
These accounts clearly show that Hinckley experienced some lively incidents from both sides. No doubt the inhabitants of the town were as relieved as any when Ashby finally surrendered, as Vicars records, 'great mercy and mighty preservation of the peace and tranquility of all those adjacent parts about it'. [Nichols, pg 66]
Documentary and MSS Sources: Notebooks of Richard Symonds, Harleian MSS, 911, 986. John Nichols, Antiquities of the County of Leicester, Vol. III, Part ii, Appendix, pp 17-69. (here cited as Nichols). P.R.O. Calendars of the Committee for Compounding P.R.O. Commonwealth Exchequer Papers: claims for free quarter and horses submitted to the Warwick County Committee, SP 28/161
Copyright Alan Roberts, April 2004
Life in the 17th Century