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Threapwood during the Civil War (1642 - 1651)

Threapwood and its surrounding area was touched by the Civil War as was much of England and Wales during that period. Although no concise detailed historical picture has been published of Threapwood during this time it is possible to piece together various contemporary accounts that relate to the general area around the village.

The following text was written by local historian Gerrard Barnes in 1983 and has kindly been passed to the History Group for inclusion here by David Hayns himself a noted local historian. The text is illustrated by images kindly provided by David Hayns.

Malpas in the Civil Wars - by Gerrard Barnes (Reproduced by permission of Malpas Field Club from Malpas History No.1 (December 1983)

  Threapwood is not directly mentioned in the article below, however Oldcastle Heath is no more than 1 - 2 miles due east of the village .  

On 8th March 1644 Thomas Dod of Edge wrote to Captain Horton, the commander of the Royalist garrison at Cholmondeley Hall:

"On behalf of our poor town of Edge that ever groans under the imposition (whereby) your garrison has been weekly supplied as long as we have any provision .... For my part I have no corne and were it not for the little profit from two mills, I my wife and 7 children might want bread, for any profit my father (Edward Dod) or I can make out of our demesne lands .... We have £300 p.a. by the death of Lady Norton in Nantwich, but cannot expect meanes from thence, whilst the rebels are in the cursed town. Forced to live in Chester this winter, returned home last Friday when the Constable brought a warrant for £3 and odd money out of our poore, poore, nay poore township. I assure you to accept what money the constable can collect by reason that our tenants are so impoverished they cannot pay their rent. If you refuse, I shall petition Lord Byron (the Royalist Governor of Chester) to examine the charge to this poor country of weekly maintaining your garrison.

P.S. Glad to see Lt. Twyford at Edge to confer concerning my deceased brother (Edward) or I will come to Cholmondeley to him or you."

Allowances should no doubt be made for a certain amount of exaggeration and special pleading by the writer but the letter probably represents the general condition of the gentry, the people and the townships in the Malpas area after 15 months of war.

Sandwiched between the Royalist stronghold of Chester and the Parliamentary base of Nantwich with, in addition to Cholmondeley, other strong points at Beeston and Holt Castles, the role of the parish of Malpas in the Civil War was mainly one of providing money, supplies and plunder for whichever army happened to be in control or in transit through the area.

As to the sympathies of the inhabitants, the majority probably tried to avoid any involvement at all. For the mass of the ordinary people, this would not be difficult, unless the local landlord happened to regard enlistment in the regiment he himself was raising or favouring as incumbent on his tenants or employees. Thus one of the charges made against Thomas Dod at the hearing before the Committee for Compounding with Delinquents in 1646 was that he "discharged Randle Stockton because he would not serve as a soldier under Col. Egerton."

Among the gentry too, the most common attitude would seem to have been either that of Robert Elcocke who, living midway between Nantwich and Royalist held Beeston, contributed to both sides "a demeanour necessary for his preservation" or that of Thomas Bromley of Hampton, who claimed “he could do no other (than side with the King's party), having their garrisons all round him."

Such arguments failed to save either from being brought before the same Committee for compounding at the end of the war, when Parliament was investigating those who had supported the King, nor a dozen or so other gentlemen from Malpas parish who were similarly arraigned.

A few were more demonstrably active in the King's cause, most notably Lord Cholmondeley. A commissioner of Array for the King and, in the words of the Committee for Compounding, "a great malignant", he raised a regiment of his tenants under the captaincy of his steward, Stanley Burrows of Bickley. In October 1642 they were said to number 200 foot and 20 horse and, although their full part in the fighting is not known, they seemingly were not restricted to the garrison of Cholmondeley House, since they were blamed for "unsoldierly conduct" in violating the terms under which Hawarden Castle surrendered in November 1643. Edward Dod, the brother of Thomas referred to in the postscript to his letter to Captain Horton, held a commission in the regiment and was killed in the defence of Chester in February 1644. Sir Thomas Cholmondeley also was commissioned in the regiment and a Captain Cholmondeley "base son to the Lord Cholmondeley" was amongst prisoners taken by Parliament at the Battle of Nantwich in January 1643. Another to suffer for openly supporting the King was Richard Alport of Overton, having mortgaged his land and being imprisoned in the Fleet for four years.

Also active but, as befitted his profession, giving help to both sides where needed, was James Banks, a surgeon of Cholmondeley, who at the end of the war is found addressing a petition to Sir William Brereton. In this he asks for recompense for the labour and materials he had expended on "the curing of many soldiers under the command of King and Parliament at Nantwich, Cholmondeley and Beeston and diverse other places."

The course of the war in Chester and the fighting which took place in Malpas parish was dictated by the strategic significance of Chester as the port for Ireland and the gateway to North Wales, both vital for the King as sources of men and money. From their base at Nantwich, the Parliamentary forces gradually won control of most of the county but, until late 1645, were never strong enough to maintain a permanent siege of Chester. Sir William Brereton's tactics were to mount a succession of raiding parties against the Royalist garrisons and supply centres in the surrounding areas. The Royalists for their part too lacked the strength to take the initiative except when reinforced by relieving armies from outside the area. Such support however was invariably too short-lived to make any real impression or so badly led as to leave them worse off than before.  
    From "A Survey of England's Champions" by Josiah Ricraft Pub 1647

So far as the parish of Malpas was concerned, the Royalist garrison at Cholmondeley House was a prime target for Nantwich's Parliamentary commanders. A determined attack was made on 11th April 1643 when, according to Thomas Maibon in his "Memories of the civil War in Cheshire", the garrison of 400 men was driven into the house and booty of 600 horses taken for the loss of three men killed. Malbon puts the garrison's losses at 52 killed but the Malpas Burial Register records only two burials of soldiers "slain at Cholmley" on 22nd April, with a third recorded as "died about Cholmley" on 11th May.

No further attempts on Cholmondeley are known for more than twelve months. In May 1644 there was an attack which resulted, says Malbon in the capture of 100 sheep and lambs and then, on 7th July, a much more serious effort was made. A large force under the Earl of Denbigh, including two volunteer companies from Nantwich, 200 Staffordshire volunteers and eight pieces of artillery, marched out from Nantwich in the evening. Maibon continues the story thus: "The following evening they planted the greatest piece of ordnance within pistol shot of the house. About 3/4 o'clock in the morning (of 8th July) after they had summoned the house, they played upon it with ordnance. Those in the house replied with muskets ...." Eventually, the garrison under Captain Horton, which numbered only some 66, compared with the 400 in 1643, were driven into the house where they continued to resist bravely until 1 pm., when quarter was asked for and granted, Despite the bombardment, the garrison suffered no casualties but the Nantwich Burial Register records the burial of eight Parliamentary soldiers and, in addition, there were some 20 wounded. The house itself, and its contents, were given over to plunder.

An important commercial target in the parish were the salt works at Dirtwich (the Wyches), which were the King's main source for the supply of salt. Two attempts, at least, were made by Parliament to destroy them, being described by Malbon. The first occasion was in August 1643 and the second in September 1644, when six of the iron pans in which the salt was boiled and other equipment were taken away. On this latter raid, it is recorded, the Parliamentary forces on their march to Dirtwich "lay in Malpas Church all night, having but sorry quarters."  
    Plan of saltworks dated 1706 Courtesy Cheshire Archives

Three weeks prior to the raid, the one battle of any consequence in the parish had been fought at Oldcastle Heath, on 25th August 1644. Prince Rupert had withdrawn to Chester, following his defeat at Marston Moor, and quartered his troops over a wide area including Malpas. A force of 2,000 men under Sir Marmaduke Langdale, whilst seeking to join up with Rupert's main body, were brought to battle by Sir William Brereton. He had marched from Nantwich with 800/900 horse and foot and, despite the disparity in numbers, completely routed the Royalists, killing over 60 of them and taking 25 prisoners. Brereton’s casualties totaled only 8 wounded.

Henceforth Brereton began to increase the pressure on Chester and this, although temporarily relieved from time to time, was to last until the City's surrender in February 1646. Forward detachments were established in Tattenhall, Aldford, Christleton, etc., and with similar close watches being kept on Holt and Beeston the major effect on the countryside was the problem of supplying the several thousand men engaged in those various sieges.

One source of supply had been in operation since 1644, with the sequestration of the property of the King's supporters and the establishment of committees in each hundred to administer this. This was now reinforced by measures affecting all classes, as taxation, free quartering, plunder and the seizure of animals and household goods were practised increasingly by both sides.

Thus, for example, when Princes Rupert and Maurice came to relieve Chester in February 1645, Maurice's forces lay for three weeks between Chester and Maelor "plundering and impoverishing the country extremely." As they moved on to the relief of Beeston as well, Thomas Bulkeley of Bulkeley Hall recorded in his memorandum book that "they plundered all before them .... they took from my house £20 and the day after they took from the towne (of Bickerton) all they did lay hands on and out of my house goods to the value of £16." Bulkeley also states that at this time they had 12 men hanged "on a crabtree at the Widow Fisher's house" – presumably the gallows tree from which Gallantry Bank is said to derive its name.  
    Prince Rupert Courtesy Internet Archive

Later entries in Bulkeley's book illustrate the continual and continuing demands for financial and material support made on the local people by the Parliamentary forces, now in the ascendant, though in Bulkeley’s case, since his son seems to have been a captain in the detachment at Tattenhall, this may not have been so much of an imposition. He lists payments to the constable to help meet "the pay of a trained soldier” and “the cost of a horse which the town of Bickerton was charged to send to Farndon to help in the siege of Holt Castle. There are contributions also to the Parliamentary garrisons at Stretton and Christleton. In February 1645 he notes the township was seised to pay "two mizes weekly" to maintain the garrison at Christleton, a total of 25s 8d, and later in that year seven of his cattle were taken to Holt Castle but he only received payment for three.

Holt Castle continued to hold out for the King until January 1647 and Bulkeley's diary describes the effect on the local people. For example, in February I646, three measures of malt, a 141b loaf of bread and 10d in money are given to the constable, Richard Okes, for "the siege of Farndon." In succeeding months he had soldiers billeted on him twice and there were regular payments of 21d on his own behalf and contributions to the warrant for 50s which the town was required to find for the hire of two soldiers. A reconstruction of Holt Castle by Phil Kenning 2014 is pictured right.  
    Early sketch of Holt Castle (see Arch. Cam Vol VII 6th Series p 438

By this time, Parliament was raising revenue from fines imposed on those of the King's supporters who had surrendered. As mentioned earlier, the Committee for Compounding with Delinquents had been set up in 1646 to receive a confession of delinquency, a pledge of adherence to Parliamentary government and an account of their estates and personal possessions from those such as royalists, papists and recusants judged to be delinquents. The accused were allowed to compound their offence by payment of a fine in proportion to their guilt.

Some twelve names can be identified as Malpas parish residents appearing among those dealt with by this Committee. These included Lord Cholmondeley, his steward (Stanley Burrowes of Bickley) Edward and Thomas Dod of Edge, Thomas Bromley of Hampton, Richard Heath of Egerton, William Edge of Larkton and, the only one from Malpas town itself, the Rev. Thomas Bridge, Rector of the Higher Mediety.

By far the heaviest punishment fell on Lord Cholmondeley, a fine of £7,742 being imposed on him in December 1646. Stanley Burrowes was fined £298 and Thomas Bromley had to pay 320. Thomas Bridge, although his fine was only £26, was ejected from his living at Malpas and replaced by the Rev. George Mainwaring. Even Edward Dod, who had submitted to Parliament in December 1644, when he was already over 80 and very sickly, was not spared and was required to pay £93 6s 8d.

Nor did things return immediately to normal with the end of the war. Cholmondeley House, in addition to the damage done to it during the siege, suffered at the hands of the tenants to whom it had been leased, after being sequestered so much so that the Committee for Sequestration found that "they had converted it into a hogsty and rendered it unuseful and unfit for a place of residence for a person of such quality." Even when in September 1648 the sequestration was ordered to be discharged and the Agent for Sequestration for the Hundred of Broxton ordered to do nothing to prejudice the quiet enjoyment of his estates, Lord Cholmondeley, without the money to restore the house, remained living at Bickley Hall until his death in 1659.

Richard Alport too, after being released from prison and returning to Overton Hall in June 1648, found, according to the wife he had married whilst in prison, "a pitiful ruined house for want of living in and plundered besides."

The quartering of soldiers also continued to distress the people generally as shown by a petition from the inhabitants of Malpas and other local parishes to the Deputy Lieutenants in January 1648, against the continuation of the practice "contrary to the ordinances of Parliament."

Additional Accounts

Oldcastle and the Civil War Magna Britannia; Being a Concise Topographical Account of ..., Volume 2, Part 2

The township of Old Castle, which took it's name from an ancient castle, built probably by the Barons of Malpas, lies about five miles S. W. by W. from Whitchurch. The manor was a parcel of the barony of Malpas, belonged to the St. Pierres, and having passed with their portion of the barony to the Breretons, was sold to Sir William Drake, but an estate described as the manor of Old-Castle was some time in the Allports, and is now the property of ----Dodd of Cleveley in the county of Salop, a minor. The castle, which gave name to this township, was wholly destroyed before the year 1585.

A battle was fought at Old-Castle-Heath, on or about the 26th of August 1644, between the parliamentary forces from Nantwich, and some of the King's cavalry, in which the latter were defeated, and Colonel Vane and Colonel Conyers together with 60 private soldiers were left dead on the field. Twenty five prisoners including two Majors three Captains and a Lieutenant fell into the hands of the Parliamentary Troops of whom only Lieut-Col Jones was wounded.

In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Oldcastle like this: OLDCASTLE, a township in Malpas parish, Cheshire; on the river Elf, 2 miles S S W of Malpas. Acres, 835. Real property, £940. Pop., 100. Houses, 16. The manor belongs to W. Dodd, Esq.; and the property is divided between him and T. T. Drake, Esq. An ancient castle, of which no trace now exists, was here; is said to have been originally founded by the Romans; and gave rise to the name Oldcastle.

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Map of Oldcastle Heath





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