Murder in Dorset

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It is true that we have been promised for some time past a work on the Civil War in Dorset, but it has not yet been published. Bayley, B. The feelings of bitter antagonism which sprang up between Charles I. The war broke out in August, , and continued until the battle of Worcester, in , that is to say, for a period of nine years. Weymouth proper lies on the south side, and Melcombe Regis [the more modern part of the Borough] on the North side of the harbour. A fine Fourteenth century church, was, at the commencement of the war, standing on the Chapelhaye, Weymouth, and was reached by 70 steps from the street below.

Another fort was erected at the Nothe to command the harbour and the bay. Platforms for artillery were set up at both these forts.

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Earthworks were thrown up, some at the then northern entrance to Melcombe Regis, and others just a little north of the junction of St. Several drawbridges were built and town gates erected, the positions of which are long since forgotten. We naturally enquire whether the Weymouth and Melcombe people were mainly on the side of the Royalists or on that of the Parliament.

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Like the neighbouring towns of Poole, Dorchester, and Lyme Regis, they were for the most part decidedly in favour of the Parliament. In fact, the towns-folk throughout the South and East of England were to a great extent disaffected. As regards Weymouth and Melcombe, it is suggestive that, almost immediately on the outbreak of the war, and apparently without fighting, the towns fell into the hands of the Parliamentary forces,commanded by Sir Walter Erie and Sir Thomas Trenchard, who garrisoned and fortified them 2 Hut.

The Parliament also took possession, about the same time, of the coast towns of Lyme Regis and Poole, also of Portland and Dorchester. This was in August and September, He was a leading figure in the subsequent contests. The house with the cannon ball embedded in the gable end, which stands at the corner of Maiden Street and St. Edmund Street. It is thought to date from the Civil War period.

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This occurred early in August, The sight of these Ironsides in their heavy breastplates and steel morions, armed with musketoons, pistols and swords, must have been a striking one for the townsfolk, who, as yet, had seen but little of war. They plundered the houses of the townsmen and, laden with booty, shouted and howled with joy. In fact, the articles agreed on at the surrender of the towns were so ill observed, that Carnarvon, who was a man of high honour, resented this conduct so much that he indignantly threw up his command and returned to the King at the siege of Gloucester.

Matters were not improved for the townsmen by the landing at Weymouth in the following November of a body of Irish soldiers under Lord Inchiquin, in support of the Royal forces. Whitelock, p. It was of great importance as a base, not only on account of its inherent strength, but also of its proximity to Weymouth bay and harbour. The treasure and rich furniture which the rebels had but lately taken from Wardour Castle and elsewhere, had been lodged by them in Portland Castle, a prize which now fell to the Royalists. Some of the Parliament garrison of Poole and Wareham fell upon them near Dorchester probably at Yellowham Wood , seized the money, with horse, arms and ammunition, and carried all to Poole.

Coins were struck at Weymouth whilst garrisoned by Charles, half-crowns and, probably, shillings and sixpences were issued, the mint marks comprising part of the arms of the place. But the towns were shortly to be re-captured by the Parliament. The Earl of Essex, an honourable, steady man, but with little genius, had been appointed Commander-in-Chief by the Parliament.

He had arrived at Blandford in June, , with an army of 13,, Horse and Foot, and, in that month, took Dorchester. It was felt that Weymouth and Melcombe were of much importance for the trade of the county. The towns, however, were of no great strength; Colonel William Ashburnham, the Royalist Governor there, and Captain-General of the county, had been negligent in completing the fortifications.

Besides this, a change of government was facilitated by the fact that some of the townsmen probably incensed by the exactions of the Cavaliers had mutinied. Lyme was gallantly resisting a siege by the Royalists, commenced some two months previously under Prince Maurice, and Essex, proceeding on his march to relieve that town, sent to Weymouth, in advance, a party of Horse, under Sir Wm.

Four of the Weymouth burgesses went to Essex, who was then at Dorchester, to treat as to the surrender of the two towns. Favourable terms having been ultimately arranged, the Royalists, to the number of about , marched out of Weymouth on the following day 17th June , and proclamation was made that, upon pain of death, everyone should bring in all arms and ammunition to the Court of Guard and Town Hall before sunset. Essex followed Balfour to Weymouth and remained there some days.


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  6. The Earl of Warwick, the Parliamentary Lord High Admiral, had been engaged in relieving Lyme, and now appeared in Weymouth Roads with a fleet of nine ships to assist the operations of Essex in Melcombe. At this juncture Ashburnham retired with the remainder of his forces to Portland Castle, still held by the Royalists. Once more, then, the Parliament flag was floating over the forts of the two towns, and, without any fighting, a rich prize fell to the Parliament, including, it is said, 60 ships in the Harbour.

    The memorable siege of Lyme Regis by the Royalists having been raised at about the same date as the surrender of Weymouth, Prince Maurice retired from Lyme to Exeter, and the surrendered Royalist garrison of Weymouth received orders to join him there. Favourable terms were granted them, as mentioned above, and the officers were allowed to march on horse-back, retaining their swords and pistols, the common soldiers to carry staves only.

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    Colonel William Sydenham was now re-appointed Governor of Weymouth for the Parliament, and the fortifications of the towns were vigorously proceeded with. Another change was about to take place, and the shadows of war were again shortly to hang over the towns. He was taken in August, , with immense booty, at the capture of Sherborne Castle. Being brought to the bar of the House and refusing to kneel, he was compelled by force.

    He was M. The Roundheads did not expect this. This conspiracy and its results formed some of the most interesting and important incidents of the war here. I am unaware of any Royalist records containing other than very brief accounts of the siege of Melcombe, and of the events which immediately led up to it. I am therefore mainly indebted for information to Parliamentary sources; many of these being official, I see no reason to doubt their general accuracy.

    Sydenham, Col. This was a risky business, and so the correspondence was carried on by Weymouth women, they being less likely to be suspected. These tokens were tiny ovals of gold, small enough to be put under the tongue in case of need, with the head of Charles on one side and his initials on the other. Besides these, there were conspirators in some of the adjoining villages, especially Preston and Sutton Poyntz, whence about 60 men were to be let into the town to join in the attack on Melcombe. The town gates of Melcombe were to be opened to let in Sir Lewis, the Main Guard was to be seized, the Major of the Parliamentary regiment was to be slain, and the doors of the marshalsea, or prison, in which the prisoners of war taken by the Roundheads were confined, were to be broken open, so that they, being released, might join the attacking forces.

    Some of the gunners in the Chapel and Nothe Forts were parties to the conspiracy. The time, too, was opportune, for there was no Parliament ship in the Roads. The men having assembled, two companies were formed, under the command of Sir William Hastings one to go by land and the other by water to Weymouth proper.

    One company accordingly proceeded along the road by the Chesil Beach to Smallmouth. Let us picture the scene : it is now dark, silently they effect the crossing, and are met on the Wyke side by the tanner, who conducts them to the Chapel Fort. We may assume that the route chosen, in order to secure secrecy and to attack the Chapel Fort from the rear, is by Buxton and St. Meanwhile the other company goes by water to the ancient pier long since demolished , under the Nothe, whence,led by Walter Bond, a Hope fisherman, they creep along to the Nothe Fort.

    The total number of the attacking party from Portland is small and does not exceed As to Melcombe, all is excitement among the plotters there, in the expectation that Sir Lewis Dyve is about to arrive and co-operate in the capture of the towns. Some, we are told, are armed with pistols, one with a Welsh hook, and others with cudgels. The secret is remarkably well kept ; a complete surprise of the Chapel Fort is effected about midnight, the Royalists suddenly falling upon the sentinels, while most of the Roundhead soldiers are asleep.

    The attack on the Nothe Fort is also successful, and once more the Royalist Standard is raised. March 10, The Parliament men, although exposed to the fire of their enemy, and notwithstanding the loss of the forts, manage to remain in Weymouth proper until the evening of the following day. Weldon entered the town and raised the siege.

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    He was a collateral ancestor of the Rev. Canon Weldon, D. It is remarkable that the Canon should now have, as part of his parochial organisation, the noble schools built on the actual site of the fort which his ancestor had defended!

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    He was appointed surgeon to Charles II. We get a glimpse of some of the Royalist soldiers on the Wednesday following the surprise of the forts. For aught I know, the tradition may still survive. The long siege of that town had begun. It was resolutely held by the Roundheads. Owing to its geographical position, they were at a serious disadvantage, whereas the Cavaliers, with ample ammunition, were encamped in what was, practically, a citadel on the top of a precipitous hill, and also held the Nothe Fort, commanding the harbour, and a small fort at Bincleaves.


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    The Royalist forces, when at full strength, numbered 4, or 5, — the Parliamentary, only, and these were looked upon by the Royalists as being almost prisoners at mercy. All that week cannonading and burning of houses went on, but with little effect. Meanwhile, two Parliament ships, aided by a favourable wind, and other welcome reinforcements to the Parliament forces, arrived, including Horse.

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