Extracts from 'The Cromwellian Gazetteer
- An illustrated Guide to Britain in the Civil War and Commonwealth" written by Peter Gaunt

Transcribed by Carrie Meerten


In 1643 Sir John Strangeways fortified the Abbey House for the King and installed a Royalist garrison; at the same time he occupied the adjoining church as an outpost and store. The garrison survived for eighteen months until November 1644, when Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper led a party of Musketeers and Horse against Abbotsbury. The Church of St Nicholas was stormed by the Musketeers and the dozen or so Royalists within quickly expelled. The capture of the main house proved far more difficult and only after six hours of fierce fighting did the Parliamentarians reach the walls of the house. They wrenched open the windows and threw in blazing furse, forcing the Royalists to abandon the soon blazing and smoke filled house. As Parliamentary troops rushed in to plunder, a spark set off the Royalist magazinge killing over 50 Royalists and Parliamentarians and demolishing much of Abbey House. Cooper withdrew with the 130 surviving Royalist prisoners.

Nothing now remains of the Strangeways' Elizabethan mansion built on the site of a Benedictine Abbey. The present Abbey House is much later and the adjoining ruins are apparently no earlier than the eighteenth century. St Nicholas's Church has survived several renovations largely unaltered; bullet holes in the Jacobean pulpit were supposedly made by Cooper's forces as they stormed the church.

Chideock Castle , also known as Whitechurch Castle , stood on high ground immediately north of the village. A late medieval fortified manor-house defended by a moat, it was owned during the mid-seventeenth century by Henry, Lord Arundel, who garrisoned it for the King in 1643. In March 1644 it was stormed and taken by a detachment of Parliamentarians from Lyme led by Capt. Thomas Pyne, who subsequently garrisoned it for Parliament. Retaken by Royalists in the autumn, it changed hands for the third and final time in July 1645 when the 100-strong Royalist garrison fell to the Lyme Parliamentarians. By the eighteenth century only the gatehouse remained, and today nothing survives above ground. The site of the castle, however, is still clearly visible, indicated by a number of earthworks – particularly the dry ditches of the former moat – in a field 300 yards north-east of the church.

One of the most spectacular ruins in England , Corfe Castle stands on a steep hillock overlooking the village. The Normans built the keep on the site of an earlier Saxon fortress, and over the following centuries the castle was strengthened with the addition of curtain walls, wall towers, and gatehouses on the slopes below. The castle was garrisoned for the King in 1642 and, despite frequent attacks, it held out until 1646, ably defended by Lady Bankes and other members of the family. It finally fell through treachery: on 26 February Lt.- Col. Pittman rode out from the castle to collect reinforcements, defected to Parliament, and led 50 Parliamentary soldiers back into the castle under a Royalist banner. The castle was slighted after the war and rendered indefensible. The extensive ruins are open daily.

By the road ¼ mile south-west of the castle stand the Rings, the remains of a siegework thrown up by King Stephen in the twelfth century. Five hundred years later the stronghold was reused by the Parliamentarians as a battery. Inevitably, the site became known as ‘Cromwell's Battery ', although Cromwell himself played no recorded part in the siege.

In common with many Dorset towns, Dorchester changed hands several time in 1643-44 as the two sides disputed control of the county. Despite the addition of earthworks around the town to strengthen the much-decayed Roman defences, Dorchester remained very vulnerable to attack, the occupying garrison usually retreating without a fight at the approach of a larger force. Not until November 1644 was the town finally secured for parliament by Col. Sydenham. Cromwell was frequently in the area during 1645 and there is an unconfirmed tradition that in March of that year he clashed with local Royalists at Fordington, now a western suburb or Dorchester .

Most of the Civil War defences have been destroyed. The exception is Maumbury Rings, a Neolithic henge and Roman amphitheatre south of the town centre by Weymouth Avenue . In 1642 the Parliamentarians threw up gun emplacements within the circular earthwork to cover the main road to Weymouth . The internal terracing and the gun platform in the south-west corner are still visible.

Denzil, Lord Holles, was buried in St Peter's Church in 1680. MP for Dorchester in the Long Parliament, he was one of the most prominent political opponents of the King during the early 1640s and was one of the five Members whom Charles tried to arrest in January 1642. He lies with his son and grandson in the family vault beneath the church, near a large standing monument to the Holles family.

The county was divided in allegiance during the early months of the war, some towns – particularly the south coase ports – declaring for Parliament, other regions for the King. The Royalists gradually gained the upper hand during 1643 and by the end of the year only Lyme and Poole held out. Most of the county was retaken by Parliament during the following year, but not until 1645-46 did the Royalists relinquish control over several strongholds. Cromwell was frequently in Dorset between March and October 1645, but he fought no major engagements here. Indeed, there were no significant battles or skirmished in the field within Dorset , the war quickly developing into a dour struggle for control of a number of key towns and fortresses.

Lulworth Castle, in reality a Jocobean lodge or fortified house, is a three storey embattled block with round corner towers. Garrisoned for the King at the outbreak of war, by 1644 it had fallen to Parliament and was being used as a base to cover the Royalists in Corfe. Although the Corfe garrison launched several raids on Lulworth, it was a twentieth-century fire rather than Civil War cannon which reduced tie castle to its present state. Roofless and gutted, but otherwise complete, the spectacular shell can be viewed from the public footpaths which run close by.

Hambledon is a large, irregular-shaped hill standing between the rivers Stour and Iwerne and topped by the remains of an extensive, multi-ramparted hillfort. In early August 1645 a large body of Clubmen, somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 strong, gathered on the hilltop. Cromwell and Disbrowe came under fire as the approached up the western slopes in the hope or parleying with the Clubmen; they returned later on 4 August at the head of a full-scale assault. Cromwell led one party up the western slopes to distract the Clubmen whilst Disbrowe launched the main attack from the Child Okeford side. Overwhelmed by the professional soldiers, the Clubmen scattered. Five hundred were rounded up and held overnight in St Mary's Church in Iwerne Courtney or Shroton. Cromwell and his men quartered in and around the village before returning to Sherborne on the 5 th .

A small but prosperous port and cloth town, Lyme was strongly Parliamentarian during the 1640s. Despite its rather weak position, overlooked by high hills and with no stone walls for defence, Lyme held out for Parliament throughout the Civil War, a vital land and sea base in an area which was overwhelmingly Royalist in 1643-44. On 20 April 1644 Prince Maurice appeared before Lyme with 6,000 men, quickly driving in the Parliamentary outposts and establishing an arc of abases around the north of the town. Below them Cols Were and Ceeley defended the town behind a hastily constructed ring of earth banks and turf and earth blockhouses – all traces of these defences have long disappeared and their precise layout and location are not known. The siege continued for nearly two months, the King's men keeping up a heavy bombardment and launching several unsuccessful attacks, the Parliamentarians occasionally sallying out to hinder Royalist operations. A prolonged siege was futile – Lyme was kep supplied by sea and could not be starved out – and having failed to take the town by storm, Maurice fell back on 15 June at the approach of the main Parliamentary army under Essex . Various relics of the siege and of the town's heroic defence are now on display in the Philpot Museum in Bridge Street .

A parliamentary stronghold throughout the Civil War, Poole held out even during the Royalist high-tide of 1643-44. In July 1643 Sir Walter Erle fell back into Poole from his position before Corfe and he organised the subsequent defence of the town against frequent attacks from Lord Crawford and others. The Parliamentary fleet in the bay not only kept the town supplied by sea but also broke up Royalist operations with heavy artillery fire. Old St Michael 's Church at Hamworthy, one mile north-west of Poole , was wrecked in the course of this naval bombardment.

Secured for Parliament at the outbreak of war, the ‘Isle' of Portland and its strongpoint, Portland Castle , changed hands several times during 1643. According to tradition the castle was captured on one occasion by subterfuge: two groups of Horse approached the castle and the first, flying Parliamentary colours and apparently fleeing from Royalists, were immediately admitted by the garrison, whereupon they attacked and overpowered the unsuspecting Parliamentarians. By the end of 1643 the castle was garrisoned by a large Royalist force and it remained under the King's control for over tow years, resisting blockades by land and sea and repelling occasional attacks. The garrison finally surrendered on 6 April 1646, by which time the Royalist cause in the south-west had collapsed. The castle, built by Henry VIII in rich Portland ashlar, survived the Civil War in surprisingly good order, and remained in military use until the nineteenth century. Open to the public daily, the castle comprises a tower, externally round but internally octagonal, standing at the centre of an artillery emplacement shaped like a segment of a circle, the outer curved wall of which faces north towards the sea.

The old castle, built by the Bishop of Salisbury in the twelfth century was one of the few medieval fortresses in Dorset still defensible during the Civil War. The Marquis of Hertford occupied the castle for the King in August 1642 and repaired its defences, which had been partly destroyed in the late sixteenth century when Raleigh began converting the place along more domestic lines. In early September the Earl of Bedford arrived at the head of a 7,000 strong Parliamentary army and set up camp to the north of the castle. However, repeated raids by Hopton and others persuaded the Earl to depart on the 6 th without having launched a serious attack on the castle. Hertford himself marched off later in the month. The castle changed hands several times in 1643-44, but by 1645 it was under the control of Sir Lewis Dyve and his large Royalist garrison. The main Parliamentary army laid siege to the castle at the end of July and the King's men endured a fortnight of heavy bombardment and mining. Cromwell was present during the early stages of the siege and again on 15-17 August when Dyve and his 400 strong garrison surrendered. The badly damaged castle was slighted later in the year and much of the stone was taken away to build an extension to St Mary Magdalene's in Castleton.

The castle stands on a slight knoll to the east of the town and comprises a curtain wall with gatehouses and angle towers enclosing a large, roughly rectangular ward in which stand the keep and adjoining domestic and religious buildings. Open daily, the castle is now very ruinous. Several earthworks beyond the curtain wall are ascribed to the Civil War, particularly the triangular bastion to the west, immediately beyond the moat and south-west gatehouse, through to be a gun emplacement thrown up by the besieging army in summer 1645.

On 29 June 1645 a large body of Dorset Clubmen, aided and abetted by local Royalists, clashed with Massey's Parliamentarians outside Sturminster. Surprised and outnumbered, Massey's men fell back in disorder.

Wareham changed hands several times during the Civil War, the earth ramparts which had protected the town in the tenth century proving no real obstacle in the seventeenth. Though derelict, the Norman castle was still defensible during the early 1640s and was slighted by Parliament after the Civil War. Today nothing survives except a slight mound off Castle Close.

Despite the attempts of both sides during the Civil War to strengthen Weymouth and Melcombe Regis with earth banks and ditches, the towns could offer little resistance to a determined assault and accordingly changed hands at least six times during the course of the war. Col. Sydenham and the Parliamentary garrison attempted to bolster Weymouth 's defences in autumn 1644 by erecting two earth and turf forts, North Fort and Chapel Fort, around the town. They did not stop Dyve's forces taking Weymouth for the King on 9 February 1645, and Sydenham fell back on Melcombe. However, the Parliamentarians returned at the end of the month and finally secured Weymouth . They great expansion during the eighteenth century and later has not only effectively united Weymouth and Melcombe Regis as a single urban centre but also obliterated all trace of the Civil War defences, including Sydenham's two forts.

St Giles House, the seat of the Ashley family (later the Ashley Coopers and later still the Earls of Shaftesbury), was the birthplace and home of Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 1 st Earl. Although the earldom and much of his career belong to the period after the Restoration, Ashley Cooper rose to prominence in the mid-seventeenth century. He joined the King's army at the outbreak of war but soon adopted the Parliamentary cause and saw action in Dorset and Wiltshire. He was one of Cromwell's principal supporters in 1653-65, serving in the first Protectorate Parliament and in the Protectorate Council. For reasons which remain unclear, he broke with Cromwell early in 1655 and became an outspoken critic of the Protectorate.

The present St Giles House was begun by Ashley Cooper in the 1650s on the site of the family's late medieval mansion. Originally a modest brick house with a five or seven bay front and a hipped roof, it has been extensively remodelled and extended since the late seventeenth century.

After a frequently stormy career the 1 st Earl was buried in St Giles's Church in 1683. The elaborate monument in the church, featuring a statue of Ashley Cooper standing before an obelisk, was erected nearly fifty years later.

The Tudor and Jacobean Manor Farm was the sear of the Sydenham family and here was born William Sydenham, Parliamentary soldier, governor of Weymouth , Melcombe and the Isle of Wight , a leading supporter of Cromwell in the 1650s and a member of the Protectorate Parliaments and Councils. Sydenham demolished the old house in the 1630s and build the present, rather plain Manor Farm.

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