This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009.
A West Berkshire Market Town 1642-45
‘Though the civil war, which ended in the death of King Charles I, has left a lasting impression on the minds of the English people, it is strange that there is little evidence left to show how it affected the people of Hungerford at that time. ....... Generally speaking, the town seems to have continued its existence little disturbed by the events
that were moving the country’. So begins the chapter on the Civil War in W.H.Summers’ ‘The Story of Hungerford ’. This is one of those inaccuracies which mar Summers’ pioneering work. In the course of this article evidence will be presented which shows that there was a very real incidence of war upon this West Berkshire
Hungerford’s involvement in the first Civil War (1642-6) was determined by its geographical situation midway on the route between London and Bristol and athwart the road from Oxford to Salisbury and the south. Centred in London, Parliament held strong bases in the west, such as the port of Bristol, the city of Gloucester and the town of Taunton, so that for Parliament, control of the London - Bristol road was vital. The king, on the other hand, had safe headquarters in Oxford, less than 30 miles north of the
precarious middle section of the London - Bristol highway; and beyond this highway had strong support in the southwest and in South Wales. As long as towns such as Bristol, Taunton, and Gloucester held for Parliament, however, and could be reinforced along the route from London to the west, it was not easy for him to reach these southern and southwestern areas of his support. In consequence much of the military history of the first Civil War between Edgehill and Naseby consists of movements designed by one side to out-manoeuvre the other across a sort of no-man’s-land in Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire.
Perhaps the most crucial area of all lay in the Thames and Kennet valleys. The king’s control could usually reach from Bath to Marlborough, and Parliament’s from London to Reading. Between Reading and Marlborough lay only Newbury and Hungerford. The ebb and flow of war moved across this area, sometimes northwards and southwards, sometimes eastwards and westwards. It was because of this that there were two battles of Newbury.
Hungerford lay helplessly in the route of these clashing forces. In such circumstances it is not to be expected that many men would wear their political allegiance on their sleeve too openly. Country gentry like Robert Mason of Hidden  and the Chocke family of Avington tended to be Royalists, whereas many of the Hungerford tradesmen favoured Parliament. Churchwardens’ presentments in particular provide the names of a number of the most prominent tradesmen who were convinced non-conformists in the years immediately following the Restoration and who could well have been activists in the earlier, stirring times of the Civil War.
The local vicar John Clarke was a Presbyterian and clearly had strong support from his congregration. Appointed in 1642, just before the war began, he remained as the parish pastor until his ejectment under the Act of Uniformity in 1662. Ecclesiastical and other documents give us occasional glimpses of the sectarian leanings of some of the families who lived in the parish before and shortly after the wars, but the subject is a complex one which requires more detailed study . On the whole it is likely that the average resident, whether in the country or in the town, kept his head down and went about his business as well as he could, or as the marauding army squadrons would let him.
In its first year the war may have passed relatively quietly for the local townsmen, but its full force descended upon the area in 1643. Sir Samuel Luke, the Parliamentary Scout-master, that is, head of military intelligence in the field, serving under the Earl of Essex, reports in his Journal on the 1st. March 1643 that one of his scouts ‘returned this day and saith that on Sonday last hee was at Basingstoke and the king’s forces did the same day march to Hungerford 7 miles beyond Newbury, and that hee went after them on Monday morning within 3 miles of Hungerford, and that they pillaged and plundered the contry as they went along, and tooke away above 400 horses, and such armes as they could anywhere find, and on Tuesday morning they marched away from thence, to Oxford’. The king’s forces here referred to were some 5000 horse under Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice .
Two other scouts also returned that day and reported further on Prince Rupert’s activities. Apparently the Prince and his brother had intended to intercept a Parliamentary money wagon, containing £10,000 to be taken to the Parliamentary general Sir William Waller at Farnham Castle, but missing the wagon train they retreated to Hungerford, where they rested on the Sunday and Monday, setting off on the Tuesday for Oxford. The scouts went on to report ‘that Prince Rupert’s forces plundered all the contrye and tooke away all their horse, sheepe and lambs, and all the provision in the contry as they marched along ’.
These passages alone make nonsense of the Summers-Peake fiction that Hungerford ‘continued its existence little disturbed’ by the events of the war. Luke for instance goes on to record that ‘Prince Rupert, Prince Maurice, the Lord Digby and the Lord Grandison.... lay at Hungerford ( as hee had heard) at one Mr. Choakes howse ’.
Sir Francis Chocke (he was knighted in 1643) was a prominent Royalist supporter, whose estate was later sequestered by the victorious Roundheads and compounded for at a substantial price .
On 13th March news came from Oxford that ‘one Mr. Sadler of Chilton [i.e. Chilton Foliat, a parish adjoining to Hungerford] in co. Wilts for giveing some certaine horses and lending some mony to Parliament, is fyned 500 L. and imprisoned at Oxford’. At the same time the king, desperate for arms and distrusting the loyalty of the
trained militia bands in parts of Wiltshire, Berkshire and Gloucestershire ‘commanded the trayned bands to come and bringe in their armes, which as soon as they have performed they are commanded to depart and leave their armes, which some have donne accordingly, and they that refuse are pillaged and plundered and their goods taken from them’. The Royalists were also short of provisions, a scout reporting on the 6th May that they had fetched 5 quarters of wheat, 5 quarters of oats and 5 loads of hay from Blewbury and carried it to the king’s army. ‘They also sent to Newbury and Hungerford and other places to bring in provision by Monday next ’.
Another scout arriving next day from Hungerford informed Luke that there were 11 or 12 troopers of the king’s forces there ‘who meeting with a post and three horsemen riding from Newbury took them prisoners and carried them back to Mr. Browne’s house at Denford near Hungerford, but what became of them afterwards he knows
not’. Whatever the post may have contained, probably a message from the townsmen of Newbury to their counterparts in Hungerford, it did not reach its destination. The Newbury men did not seem to know that the enemy’s flying squad had already reached the outskirts of Hungerford. This situation was typical of a war of reconnoitre, skirmish, quick advance and equally hasty retreat.
When Rupert followed with his troop of 2000 cavalry, he entered Newbury ‘and pillaged divers houses in the town’, threatening to burn down the whole town if the townsmen should, after he left, send help or provisions to the ‘rebels’ elsewhere .
It is possible that Hungerford may have suffered similar intimidation, for in 1643 an appeal was made on behalf of persons in Hungerford whose property had been destroyed by fire. Since this appeal pre-dates the Constable’s Accounts, we have no local record of it. Our only knowledge comes from Cheddar in the Bristol area
where a donation is recorded10. It is, of course, perfectly possible that the fire may have been accidental rather than military.
However, nationwide appeals, known as ‘briefs’, normally had to be approved by the Crown; but during the Civil War this authorisation was taken over by Parliament, a circumstance which (together with the known political leanings in the Bristol area) suggests that there may have been some Parliamentary sympathy for the burnt-out
townsmen of Hungerford.
One interesting speculation which arises from these reports submitted by Luke’s ‘scouts’ is whether any local men were involved in the supplying of intelligence. Many of the scouts were natives of the district in which they operated and they operated only within that district, where their local knowledge and contacts enabled them to be particularly successful. As local tradesmen they could travel their own district to ply their trade and sell their wares without suspicion falling on them, meeting often in taverns, the Bear at Newbury being one such . During the period of Luke’s journal (March to October 1643) which covers operations in the Berkshire area especially, several scouts are named, but in no case is their place of origin given. Certain names, however, correspond to known inhabitants of Hungerford at this time, such as Robert Goddard and John Youle. Both these men had signed the Protestation Oath at Hungerford in February 1642 in protest against the possible imposition (by the king) of ‘an arbitrary and tyrannical government’.
John Youle was Constable of Hungerford in 1642 and again in 1645. Robert Goddard, a local weaver, is listed in 1669, a year before his death, as a local non-conformist teacher. During the summer months, Rupert had taken his formidable body of horse and foot, eight thousand in number, to the Berkshire Downs, occupying or controlling the small towns and villages of Faringdon, Baydon, Highworth, Wantage, and Lambourn, from which vantage points he could descend swiftly to the lower valleys whenever it might suit him. He was thus able to hinder trade between London and Bristol and to prevent relief proceeding from London westwards to Gloucester, where the Parliamentary garrison was besieged. On 26 June local scouts reported to Luke that ‘the king’s forces continue still their outrages in all places where they come, having robbed two carriers this last week, the one at Chilton [Foliat], the other at Hungerford12’. These depredations, Luke would be well aware, put pressure on Parliament but also aroused the fury of the trading classes, whether local or national.
The Earl of Essex, commanding the Parliamentary army, was forced to make a quick dash by a circuitous route to relieve his hardpressed garrison at Gloucester. For the return journey to London he chose the quicker, more southerly route via Swindon and Hungerford. Prince Rupert’s Royalist cavalry caught up with Essex’s main force near Aldbourne about 6 - 7 miles northwest of Hungerford on 18th. September. A sharp engagement ensued.
Pushing ahead to reach Hungerford that night, Essex had to fight his way through Aldbourne village, losing there three carts heavily laden with ammunition and a further 14 carts containing wheat and other provisions, together with 1000 sheep. A contemporary estimated the killed on both sides as about 80 .
It is estimated that Essex’s force consisted of 10,000 foot and 4000 cavalry. The weather was deteriorating and when his troops reached Hungerford they were cold, wet, and hungry. Essex himself spent the night at Chilton House, probably the most comfortable premises in the neighbourhood available to him. His headquarters staff and
his bodyguard remained with him at Chilton Foliat. But the greater part of his army had to slosh their way over the river Kennet at Eddington causeway and then across the ford over the tributary river Dun.
In Hungerford the dead, dying and wounded were left to local people to tend. The parish register records the burials of 4 unnamed soldiers on September 18; in the haste of that night their names were not recorded. Two other soldiers were buried there on September 25 and October 4 respectively and these may have been those who succumbed to wounds received at Aldbourne or at the battle of Newbury . One of the Royalist dead at Aldbourne said to have been conveyed to Hungerford by command of Lord General Essex was the Marquis de Villeneuve who, although he was in England as a French diplomat, could not resist fighting for King Charles. The Hungerford parish register, however, has no record of this .
Where 14,000 men found shelter or sleeping accommodation in or around Hungerford on the night of September 18 is hard to imagine. Even all the inns of Hungerford and Charnham Street and the maximum requisitioned lodging in private houses would not hold the officers alone; troops must have stretched out in the shelter of shrubs or hedges or trees all the way along the Portdown [the town common]. Nor were they allowed long to sleep that night, for Essex roused his troops and sent off his vanguard at the crack of dawn in his race to get to Newbury before the Royalist forces.
It was a desperate battle that took place on the 20th, with Essex managing to push his way through and bring his army successfully, though not unbattered, back to London. The king’s army, however, retained possession of the area through which Essex had passed.
Luke’s scouts reported on Sunday, September 24th that ‘the body of the [king’s] army lies at Newbury, Wantage, Hungerford and the villages thereabouts. That a great number of sick, maimed, and other soldiers have been for these last 3 days straggling from the army to their several quarters, besides many cartloads which have been brought from Newbury to Oxford and Abingdon ’.
By September 27th it was reported that the king and all his forces which had been at Newbury had now gone to take up their winter quarters at Abingdon and Oxford. ‘The king, queen, prince and the whole court is at Oxford...and that some men were come up from the Marquis of Hertford as far as Hungerford and other places adjoining ’.
The return of both armies to winter quarters must have brought relief to all those on whom the events of the previous few months had pressed so heavily. Hungerford had been raided first by desperate Cavaliers sweeping through the town and countryside in search for provisions, then it had been trampled through by a mauled and hard-pressed Roundhead army the night before they reached the battlefield of Newbury. For townsmen and countrymen alike it had been a period of danger and stress on a scale to which few of them could have been accustomed. Only the onset of winter, harsh though it was, gave them relief in that year of 1643. Not only was Hungerford the scene of troop movements of this desperate kind, but its geographical position also made it an important stage in the transport of ordnance. Thus on 15 November 1643 there is report of a load of arms and ammunition being carried from Oxford to Hungerford for Lord Hopton’s army in Hampshire .
The problem of supply to these Hampshire forces was always difficult. An ordnance instruction of January 1643/4 reveals the danger and difficulty of trying to push lumbering wagons through the hilly countryside midway between Oxford and Winchester. An instruction given to Sir John Heydon on 15 January 1643/4 was explicit. He was to carry 100 round shot of iron for twelve pieces of artillery for ultimate delivery to Lord Hopton at Winchester. The convoy was to be met at Hungerford by a detachment from Hopton’s forces. Heydon was to go to Hungerford and no further and return ‘speedily’. It seems clear that, half-way between Oxford and Winchester, Hungerford was not a safe place for Royalists to linger .
With the spring of 1644 the war came to life again and once more the armies moved their pieces across the chessboard and along recognised traversable routes. We have no Luke’s journal for 1644, but in April the Hungerford parish register has an almost illegible insertion which seems to record among two or three entries on the same day the burial of a soldier20. This entry corresponds with some local movements of the two armies. For on the night of 10th April the Royalist army was quartered in Newbury, but the Parliamentary forces were moving towards it from London, forcing the king to retire to Oxford. Meanwhile the Parliamentary forces pushed on and occupied Reading, Newbury and even Abingdon. On 10th June the Earl of Essex passed the night with his army in Hungerford on his way westwards again, setting off as usual early the next morning, and taking the campaign westwards with him .
When he returned with his army later in the year, a second battle of Newbury took place (October 27, 1644), but Hungerford on this occasion did not lie so directly in the route of the converging forces. Some skirmishing and reconnoitring may have taken place in the locality, however, for the parish register contains entries of a soldier
buried on October 22 and another on October 26. Certainly on October 5th the Parliamentary general the Earl of Manchester wrote from Reading ‘most of my horse are quartered at Hungerford ’. A few days later on the 9th he wrote ‘yesterday I sent orders to the horse at Hungerford to march to Salisbury ’.
After the second battle of Newbury the king marched his army in a series of uneasy movements to Marlborough on November 12. ‘A miserable wet windy day’, records a Royalist letter-writer . The king was under strong compulsion to secure the relief from siege of the Royalist fortress at Basing in Hampshire. Sending 1000 troops on
ahead to Basing the king himself marched to Hungerford on Sunday the 17th November .
Summers in ‘The Story of Hungerford’ has an account which seems to have been drawn word for word from Clarendon’s History. He made one personal addition to the story, however, stating that the king made his quarters at the Bear Inn. Summers is an infuriating local historian because he so rarely gives any references for his statements. One would especially like to know whether his statement that Charles stayed at the Bear was a documented fact or a conjecture based on probability. In a contemporary account the Royalist diarist Richard Symonds notes: ‘Sunday 17 November, left Marlingborough, and that night the king lay at Hungerford, Co. Berks, seven myles [distant], five myles short of Newbury, where the headquarters of the enemy was. The king’s troop at Chilton [Foliat] a myle from Hungerford. Mr. Packer, who owns Denyngton [Donnington], and was Secretary to the Duke of Buckingham, ow[n]es a pretty fair howse’. The implication seems to be that Charles spent the night at Packer’s Chilton House, just as on the 19th he ‘lay at Great Shefford in the old manor howse of Mr. Browne esq ’.
Whilst the king was at Hungerford he received a petition from leading Somerset Royalists urging removal of Cavalier troops from the county and giving their discomfitting advice that ‘Instead of relying on plundering soldiers, Charles should reawaken the popular longing for peace ’. It seems that the Somerset petition may have had some effect, for on the following day as Charles withdrew his troops towards Great Shefford ‘in the course of the march a soldier was hanged for plunder. But’, the diarist notes, ‘the rope broke ’.
A soldier named William Hall, probably another of those wounded in the engagements of October or November, succumbed and was buried in Hungerford churchyard on December 16th . The king’s army having retreated from the town by then, we cannot guess whether the dead man was a Roundhead or a Cavalier, whether a seasoned veteran or a local recruit brought home to die. What is certain though is that if he was wounded he would have been cared for and tended by local people, anonymous to us though they may be. The local involvement with such individual casualties of war first revealed in the parish register burial entries of 1643 continued to
make its inevitable demands as long as battles or skirmishes or stationing or bivouacing of troops in the area went on. With the troops came that other horseman of the Apocalypse, pestilence. It has been shown that camp fever, plague, and typhus had begun to rage in the armies, reaching a peak in the later months of 1643 and was inevitably transmitted to the civilian population. That the Hungerford parish register accompanies a number of burial entries between December 1643 and April 1644 with the letter P, signifying plague, but none in 1645 when the troops have virtually disappeared, lends support to this view.
In the spring of 1645 it might have looked to the inhabitants of Hungerford as though the agonies of 1643 and 1644 were due to repeat themselves. But it was not to be. We hear in May of Parliamentary forces at Newbury sending out a scouting party towards Hungerford and Marlborough, and meeting a similar small party of Royalists, and taking some prisoners . Then suddenly the long stretch of no-man’s-land in Berkshire was cleared and shifted following the the decisive defeat inflicted on the King by Cromwell and his Ironsides at Naseby in June. By the end of the year the war was virtually over; and the small towns and villages, which had lain helplessly within the battle areas or on the main routes of the contending armies could begin to resume their more traditional patterns of life and allow the local wounds of internecine strife to heal.
The miseries of garrison towns and other fortified towns, like Oxford, Reading,or Windsor, have naturally received much attention; as have towns affected by battle, like Newbury, or by siege, like Wallingford. A small and unfortified market town such as Hungerford, with a parish population of about 800, presents a less obvious focal point. Nevertheless lack of obvious or easily accessible records should not allow it to be thought that smaller towns were unaffected by the war. The pillaging of supplies, whether of foodstuffs or of trading materials, the quartering or bivouacing of soldiers, the billeting of the sick or wounded en route, the burial of the individual dead, the recruitment of local males, the espionage often riskily undertaken by local partisans, and the spread of disease - these were some of the inevitable effects of the proximity of warring armies, and they affected not only the large and well-known towns, but also those smaller and lesser known. The evidence comes in scraps, rather than dollops, but it is there for those who search.
1 W.H.Summers, ‘The Story of Hungerford’ (pub. 1926) p.114
2 Norman Hidden, ‘The Manor of Hidden’, pp.89-90
3 Norman Hidden ‘Hungerford Parish Register’, vol 3, Baptisms, 1619- 1700
4 Sir Samuel Luke, ‘Journal’, vol 1, Oxford Record Society (1947), p.18
5 ibid p.19
7 M.A.E.Green, ‘Calendar of the Proceedings of the Committee for Compounding’ vol.3 p.1013
8 Luke, op.cit. p.70
9 ibid. p.74
10 Somerset R.O.: Cheddar Churchwardens’ Accounts, DD/8AS SE 14
11 Luke op.cit. p.70
12 ibid. vol ii p.106
13 W.Money, ‘ The Battles of Newbury’ p.18
14 Norman Hidden, ‘ Hungerford Parish Register’, vol 2 Burials 1619-1700
15 W.Money, op.cit. p.18
16 Luke op.cit. vol.ii p.156
17 ibid. p.157
18 Ian Roy, ‘Royalist Ordnance Papers,1642-46’, Oxford Rec. Soc.
19 ibid. p.324
20 Norman Hidden ‘Hungerford Parish Register’, vol.2 Burials 1619-1700
21 State Papers Domestic, 1644, p.230
22 ibid. 1644/5, p.16
23 ibid. 1644/5, p.26
24 M.Toynbee, ‘Papers of Capt. Henry Stevens’, Oxford Rec. Soc. vol XLII (1962), p.65
25 Clarendon, ‘History of the Rebellion’, vol viii, p.164
26 C.E.Long, ‘Richard Symonds’ Diary of the Marches of the Royal Army’, Camden Soc., vol.74 (1859), pp.152-3
27 D. Underdown, ‘Riot, Revel, and Rebellion’, Oxford,1985, p.155
28 Long op.cit. p.153
29 Norman Hidden ‘Hungerford Parish Register’ vol.2
30 Violet M.Howse, ‘The Vale of Stanford’, pt.5 p.241