Rochdale and the Civil War

The English Civil War between 1642 and 1651 was a series of armed conflicts between those who supported Parliament (the roundheads) and those who supported King Charles I (cavaliers or Royalists). It concerned which person or group had the right to govern England. In the early days the Royalists took Newcastle and York in the north and established strongholds in Yorkshire under Lord Fairfax and his son, although these were taken at the Battle of Adwalton Moor near Bradford in 1643. The Fairfaxes then retreated to Hull. Before that however, in 1642, both sides wrestled for pre-eminence across the region, Rochdale becoming for a time an important point of tension. It is difficult to suggest exactly which towns and families were on which side but Blackwood has suggested that Lancashire, particularly in the increasingly urban areas, sided with Parliament whereas the rural pro-Catholic areas to the north of Lancashire and into Yorkshire were with the King. Rochdale, with strong a protestant population, supported those behind Parliament.

Manchester, by 1642 had become a centre for Parliamentarians as a source of fighting men but also an arsenal with barrels of gunpowder and the means to detonate them. Lord Strange for the Royalists gathered troops from Bury to attack Manchester in order to seize the arsenal but 1000 volunteers came forward to repulse them. The weaponry was dispersed to nearby towns, Rochdale being one. In February of 1643 the Manchester garrison captured Preston by the cavaliers who then turned their attention to Bolton but these were beaten back by the roundheads, one of whom was Captain Schofield from Rochdale. More roundhead victories at Whalley in April meant that by summer most of Lancashire was in the hands of Parliament.

In July 1643 the Earl of Newcastle for the Royalists offered security to the then town of Manchester if they agreed to lay down their arms but this was refused which mean an attack was imminent. So, 2000 roundheads were mustered in Rochdale to set up defences against possible attacking forces from Yorkshire, the town being only a day’s march away from the Royalists. 800 men were sent to the moors at Blackstone Edge on a front line which had become the division between the two armies regionally.

Tension in the area was on the rise by 1643 with Royalists as close as Halifax and looking to attack Lancashire. Streets in Rochdale were barricaded and roads blocked with felled trees. Such was the violence at the time that many Parliamentarian supporters from Halifax fled to Rochdale to avoid the pillaging of Royalists troops under Sir Francis Mackworth. In order to counter the potential attack, there was in Rochdale a defensive gathering in October of two companies of roundheads commanded by Colonel Bradshaw in addition to volunteers from the Yorkshire refugees.

Meanwhile, two cannons were set up and trenches dug on Blackstone Edge under the supervision of Colonel Rossworm, a German engineer who was an expert at fortifications and had worked on both sides of the conflict. The expected attack took place on July 14th, an alarm being raised when 200 Royalists cavalry came over the moors from Yorkshire to try to break through to Rochdale and Lancashire. Not so much a battle occurred, more a skirmish, but there was fighting with swords and some cannon fire. The Royalist cavalry found the ground too soft for their horses and fell foul of the fortifications on the moors. It was reported that a few men were killed and many injured but the roundheads were victorious and took prisoners back to Rochdale.

Following this, and to ensure that the area remained safe from attack, men marched from Rochdale to Heptonstall near Hebden Bridge, chosen as a good defensive position and there engaged in four months of siege and conflict, the Royalists eventually being repulsed and retreating to the north east and Hull. Following the Battle of Heptonstall 35 Royalists were taken prisoner under guard to Rochdale.

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