Friday, 8 November 2019

Fire and Sword along the Marches - The 2019 Helion English Civil War Conference

Last weekend (2nd Nov) I was back in Shrewsbury this time to attend the English Civil War conference organised and sponsored by Helion Publishing along with the Pike and Shot Society. Here a series of lectures would be given on a specific theme; in this case they would cover some of the effects the Civil War had on the Welsh Marches.

I never need much of an excuse to spend time in Shrewsbury even if it is at least a three hour drive from Cardiff (anything over 1.5 hours is officially classed as a long journey in the UK) and as I am interested in both the ECW and in the area that I live in, it seemed an ideal event to attend.

As I didn’t fancy getting up at 5.30 in the morning in order to make the start of the conference, an  over night stay would obviously be required so I went up on the Friday before and with my usual executive suite pre-booked at the Lion Hotel I had time to pop into Timecast to collect some more resin rivers for my upcoming 13th c Teutons & Russians and of course a visit to the nearby Battlefield farm shop to stock up on copious amounts of cheese and some of their outstanding brownies.

Back in the town and with it still being too early to start drinking without it appearing that I have a problem, I went exploring the old town to see those bits that I hadn’t seen before and whilst doing so I walked the route to where the conference was being held the next day just to make sure of where I was going. Then it was back to the hotel and across the road to the Nags Head for my first pint of  HPA, dinner would of course be steak pie in the nearby Halibut, Stickleback and Trout (otherwise known as The Three Fishes) but with it being a Friday night I had forgotten that such dangerously sharp objects such as spoons aren’t allowed to be made available after lunchtime and so I was sadly out of luck. Fortunately Shrewsbury isn’t short of decent eating places but when all you really wanted was a pie and a pint it’s not quite the same.

Next morning it was only a seven minute drive from the hotel to the municipal car park next to the university however it was then a ten minute ‘disagreement’ with the parking machine to get a valid ticket for the day.

The lecture hall at the university is a purpose built room with twin screens either side of the lectern and was just about the right size for the sixty or so people who attended. Helion and the Pike and Shot society had set up displays at the back displaying their various wares for sale.

There were seven lectures scheduled for the day of varying lengths and topics all based around the set theme and well done to all the people who went to the time and trouble to compile their talks and slides and then to stand up and present them. Of course in any conference such as this the lectures will vary in both content and interest but I enjoyed the day and look forward to attending more in the future.

Lecture 1: Peter Gaunt: A tale of two cities

Here Peter compared the Cities of Chester and Gloucester during the Civil war, situated at either end of the Welsh border and held by differing sides for the full length of the war. He pointed out the differences in activity between the two governors and their varying circumstances throughout the conflict and which I will try and summarise in two short paragraphs.

Gloucester was more isolated as it was totally surrounded by Royalist areas, it therefore had to be much more active in raiding and skirmishes just to keep itself supplied, Edward Massey its governor was able to inflict many reverses on local Royalists and maintained a vigorous defence of the city and for a large area surrounding it.

Lord John Byron was the governor of Chester , this city was on the edge of Royalist Wales but wasn’t cut off like Gloucester was , He concentrated more on the defence of the city as it was a gateway to Ireland and Wales, in this he was very successful as Chester didn’t fall to the Parliamentarians until 1646. He didn’t need to be as aggressive as Massey was and quite frequently he was losing valuable soldiers to the King or Rupert whenever they passed by. When he did venture out he was usually defeated such as at Nantwich and was plagued by the very competent William Brereton who was the local Lancashire Commander for Parliament.

Lecture 2 - Richard Leese : the Archaeology of a Siege

Richard has been conducting what he calls Siegefield archaeology for many years at a nearby Shropshire manor house/castle, Moreton Corbet. His lecture outlined what they have discovered in relation to field surveys, shot placement in the surrounding fields and impact scars on the surviving buildings. It was far more interesting than I have managed to make it sound.

Lecture 3 - Jonathan Worton: How did Shrewsbury Fall to Parliament in 1645

Jonathan has written a number of books on the Civil war especially on the local area, I have his book To Settle the Crown: Waging Civil War in Shropshire, 1642-1648 which if I am honest is not the most riveting read, however it told me everything I needed to know on how the civil war existed away from major armies and the big battles. Set in one county it runs through the financing, manufacture, feeding, recruitment, politics etc that makes the war effort tick, from the continual small convoys of just about everything you can think of that criss-crossed the countryside to the various methods of extracting funds. Multiple that by around forty-five counties and you have what real life was like, away from the big cities during the Civil war for normal people. It certainly helped my understanding of what really went on behind the scenes, without which none of the field armies could have existed.

His lecture ran through how the Parliamentarians went about capturing Shrewsbury, it was at night/early morning and done as fast as possible before anyone could stop what was happening or even knew that they were on the way to attack the town. The main attack was down the edge of the river next to the castle and then over some weakened walls into the city. Again quite an interesting talk.

Lecture 4 - Andrew Abram: Sir William Brereton’s Offensive Strategy in Cheshire and its borders.

Not enough Welsh Marshes for me but Andrew knew everything there was about Brereton who was one of Parliament's better generals. He was heavily involved in securing all of Cheshire for his side and frequently sent forces to assist in and around Shrewsbury. Andrew had dug up quite a few  documents relating to Brereton’s activities from the local Cheshire archives never highlighted before

Lecture 5 – Richard Israel: Offa’s Dyke and its ineffective role in the Civil War

Basically in the wrong place, didn’t go near anywhere important and was a long line of earthworks so difficult to utilise. Richard did give some interesting examples of older earthworks that were re-used during the war. One of special interest to me was Maumbury Rings in Dorchester, Jon and I explored this part of Dorset only a couple of weeks ago and we missed this site out completely despite being in the town looking at other stuff. What I found informative is that they deliberately lowered (or  scarped) the old earthworks to improve the defensive capabilities.

Lecture 6- Sam Chadwick: Goodrich castle and the Civil war

This is a castle I have visited as it is quite close to were I live, it is only twelve miles from Skenfrith castle which Jon and I visited last year on our three castles walk so I am surprised we missed it from the itinerary.

Originally held by the Parliamentarians they withdrew in 1643 and the Royalists took it over under the command of Henry Lingen. He used Goodrich as a base to raid the countryside once the war had turned against the King; with the fall of Hereford in 1645 Goodrich was the last remaining stronghold in the county. In 1646 Colonel John Birch laid siege to Goodrich but his artillery wasn’t powerful enough to breach the walls, he even tried mining to no effect so he sent word to a local blacksmith to make him a mortar, this comment raised some raised eyebrows amongst the audience until one of the
members said that she was from the area and knew of someone who could do this nowadays. Goodrich is in the vicinity of the Forest of Dean where ironworks and munitions were a major industry at the time. Said mortar duly arrived and the castle fell after a three month siege in total, called ‘Roaring Meg’ this mortar is still in situ at the castle as can be seen in the link below.

Lecture 7 – Ivor Carr: The Moorlanders of North Staffordshire during the Civil war.

The final lecture of the day was again slightly off topic and it was clear that Ivor knew his subject inside and out, he had spent a great deal of time researching every district in the area combing the records for any mention of meetings, call ups, musterings and troop gatherings for each parish in North Staffordshire in meticulous detail.

I still have no idea what or who a Moorlander is or what they did.

The conference ended at this point at around 3.30pm which was a little earlier than published but I wasn’t that un-happy especially as after emptying my pockets of change that morning to buy a parking ticket I had only managed to get it up to 4.00pm plus I could now start my long journey back to Cardiff in what was left of the daylight.

Overall a good day out, if I had one complaint it was the room suffered from a very off putting loud squeaky floor throughout, if like me you wander about when giving a speech or lecture (mainly to make it harder for those still awake to hit you) or when people entered the room or were moving about at the back etc then it tended to distract you from the talks.

Summery of the lectures

Hellion hold these conferences throughout the year, the next one is on the 25th April next year in Derby and will be Napoleonic based (see below). They also announced that there would be another ECW conference next year on Sat 31st October, again in Shrewsbury and titled

1648 and all that: The Scottish Invasion of England 1648 and 1651

This has been a Mr Steve event


  1. Wow! I had no clue that this conference was even on :>(

    I don't know if it's because I didn't have my ear to the ground?

    Great write up- very informative and well thought through in terms of what information to pass on etc.

    Great that there's another conference next year on 31st October- I'mm make an effort to get down- as long as i can get a train

  2. Look forward to seeing you there as I have every intention to attend again next year and who knows, we may even persuade the editor to come along as well.