Heritage: Romford’s role during the Civil War

The Market Place, Romford. The Royalists probably formed up here in 1648. Picture: Archant archive

The Market Place, Romford. The Royalists probably formed up here in 1648. Picture: Archant archive - Credit: Archant

Havering supported the Roundheads against Charles I, says Prof Ged Martin

The main battles in the English Civil War, between 1642 and 1646, took place far from Essex. The county supported Parliament against King Charles the First.

But, in May 1648, Royalists staged uprisings around the country. In Kent, they were hammered by the ruthless Parliamentary general, Sir Thomas Fairfax.

The remnant of the Kentish rebels, no more than 500 men, crossed the Thames and occupied Stratford. They were in poor shape, “almost ready to fall down in the Street for Want of Food”.

Across the river Lea, Parliamentary troops – militia from London – prepared to attack them.

Tired of Parliament, and its expensive Army, opinion in Essex had switched to support the King.

The Royalist general, the Earl of Norwich, dashed to Chelmsford (despite “his great age” – he was 63), where an enthusiastic Royalist, Sir Charles Lucas, persuaded Essex men to fight.

Most Read

On Wednesday, June 3, 1648, General Lord Norwich sent orders to his men at Stratford to march towards Chelmsford.

“On Wednesday Night, we met the General at Rumford,” a Royalist veteran recalled. The eleven-mile march had been harassed by the Parliamentary troops. The Royalists had probably moved in slow leapfrog fashion, Section A protecting the rear while Section B regrouped a few hundred miles further east, allowing Section A to pass through them to a fresh defensive position, and so on.

As a result of this prolonged defensive action along today’s A118, not all the Royalists could reach Romford that evening.

“The Enemy coming after us, so obstructed our march, by alarming us in the Rear, that the whole Body could not get up till the next Morning, though the Enemy dare not venture to fall upon our Rear Guard.”

Romford town probably contained about 1,000 people – we don’t know the exact number.

The arrival of even a few hundred soldiers was bad news. They would have forced their way into inns and homes, commandeered food and supplies without payment – and women were in danger.

Havering’s leading Roundhead, Carew Hervey Mildmay, lived at Marks, a moated mansion west of Collier Row.

He’s said to have fled from the advancing Royalists by swimming his moat.

On Thursday morning, the Royalists probably formed up in the Market Place.

Then “we marched on towards Burntwood” (as Brentwood was often called). There’s no mention of any volunteers from Romford joining their bedraggled force.

The Royalists were fortunate that the Parliamentary commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, was still in Kent. He arrived later, passing through Horndon-on-the-Hill.

Fairfax would certainly have attacked and overwhelmed the weak Royalist remnant.

Wayside pubs, like the Ship in Gidea Park and the Golden Fleece at Brook Street, were probably plundered for food and drink.

Parliamentary soldiers immediately entered Romford “and followed us with Alarms in our Rear”. There are no reports of casualties, but it took all day for the Royalists to cover the six miles through Gidea Park and Harold Wood.

At Brentwood, their prospects improved.

Sir Charles Lucas arrived with reinforcements, and more volunteers appeared at Chelmsford the following day. Lord Norwich’s force soon grew to 4,000 men.

The 1648 uprising ended in tragedy.

The Royalists took refuge in the walled town of Colchester, hoping that other uprisings around the country would come to their aid.

They endured a thirteen-week siege, until starvation forced them to surrender.

It’s likely that 2,000 people died in the misery. Colchester took decades to recover.

The vengeful Fairfax had Lucas and another Royalist officer, Sir George Lisle, shot by firing squad outside Colchester Castle.

Lord Norwich escaped the death penalty thanks to the casting vote of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Charles I also paid the price for being the focus of the uprisings. He was executed in January 1649.

It’s said that grass never grew on the spot where Lucas and Lisle fell. Today it’s tarmac.