(First published in 1991 in volume 5, pp. 85-87, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)
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The Siege of Bradford
Bradford Libraries and Information Service. Bradford Libraries and Information Service, 1989. £2.95
The publication of this attractive booklet prompted me to look once again at the Civil War, and particularly at Bradford' s small part in it. Dr. Newman, whose essay forms the core of the text, lists the engagements and deals with the period expertly. He stresses the importance of the Bradford men's failure, through ignorance, to respond to a captured Royalist officer' s request for quarter. They said they would give him 'Bradford quarter' and promptly killed him. The phrase was to take on an ominous meaning. After the battle of Adwalton Moor, when the Earl of Newcastle besieged the town. the inhabitants waited in terror, the rumour being that they were all to get 'Bradford quarter'. This gave rise to the , 'Pity poor Bradford' story and the ghost of Bolling Hall. Providence plays a large part in these accounts, and when it became clear that the massacre was not to be carried out, as Joseph Lister says, 'a general joy and gladness diffused itself through every breast.'
The booklet also contains 'The Rider of the White Horse, a pamphlet printed in 1643 to celebrate 'that famous and wonderful victory at Bradford. obtained by the Club-men there … and of the taking of Leeds and Wakefield by the same men under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax'. But as Dr Newman points out Fairfax took no part in the battle for Bradford. Credit for the victory must go to the 'Home Guard', who were supported by irregulars from surrounding districts. The inclusion of a modern version of the text of the pamphlet makes for easy reading and history without tears. Illustrations are plentiful and the compilers have shown commendable restraint in not passing off the '17th Century Room set up as a Bedroom' as that in which the Earl of Newcastle slept on that fateful night. Perhaps it was another room.
My 'further reading' was confined, through lack of time, to passages from Green's Short History, Holroyd's Collectanea (for Lister's 'Genuine Account' and Fairfax's 'Memoirs') and three excellent books from the local library. The first two years of the war are characterized by general lack of organization. Fairfax paints a picture of many skirmishes, with much marching and countermarching, not unlike a game of hide-and-seek.
In this 'war without an enemy' issues are blurred: 'shades of grey' is how one writer sees it. The fight was not against the King. After a battle near Leeds, Fairfax took over 500 prisoners, but released them on condition they promised never to fight against King and Parliament again, the aim of the Parliamentarians being to save King Charles from his friends, the 'Popish Malignants', not to depose or kill him. Some moderate Royalists feared the complete triumph of the King as much as his defeat.
There was much wavering. In 1642 Sir John Hotham, the governor of Hull, closed the gates to Charles. Later, however, when the governor of Scarborough joined the Royalists Sir John was also found preparing to defect. The Roundhead cause at Edgehill was jeopardized at the start of the battle when the inaptly named Sir Faithful Fortescue deserted, taking his whole regiment with him. Essex, with winding-sheet and coffin to hand in case of need, led the army, but was less than whole-hearted. He hung back from striking the first blow lest he be charged with starting hostilities. Cromwell's opinion of the Roundhead's old leaders was that they were 'afraid to conquer'. They simply wanted to force Charles into a position where he became a constitutional king. Loyalties were strained. A man's foes were often those of his own household, or his best friends. For instance it is known that six of the Cromwell family fought for the King. Fairfax's wife, who was held prisoner in Bradford after Adwalton Moor, was returned to her husband by the Earl of Newcastle shortly afterwards. This gesture, chivalry apart, may have been because she was a Royalist. Fairfax himself, we must remember, did not support the trial of the King.
All this is not to minimise the seriousness of the fighting. once it began. Normal life was sadly disturbed and there was much slaughter Lister asks his gentle reader to pause and consider what all this meant to the inhabitants of Bradford. The horrors of war had been brought to their very doors. 'Oh, may our rising generation never feel the calamities of civil war', he pleads. He mentions the guns many times. Their sound, to people who had probably never heard anything louder than the smack of hammer upon anvil, must have been truly terrifying. The bark of the 'Gogs and Magogs' was worse than their bite; they were meant more to frighten than to kill. It was undoubtedly a lucky shot that cut the cords holding the wool sacks! (Does any gentle reader know if any other town protected its church steeple in this way?)
I hope that The Siege of Bradford, will encourage people, as it did me, to see local events as part of the detailed and often puzzling pattern of the national conflict. They will find it an immensely rewarding exercise.
© 1991, Joseph Fieldhouse and The Bradford Antiquary