William Sydenham had no idea when or indeed where the attack would come, he only knew that it was inevitable, and he made such preparations as he could to strengthen the defences of both towns in whatever time he had left to him. On the morning of the 27th February 1645, the ever reliable Vice Admiral Batten once again sailed in to Weymouth Bay and landed a further one hundred men to add to Sydenham’s twelve hundred souls, but this would still leave the Roundheads outnumbered by almost six to one. It is unlikely that the small three hundred strong, predominantly Irish, Royalist garrison of Lord Inchiquin’s at the Nothe Fort would have fired it’s cannons at Batten’s vessels, as they were probably feeling rather isolated since the fall of Weymouth and therefore would not be over keen to draw attention to themselves until relief came.
In the early evening of the 27th of February 1645, a troop of Sydenham’s cavalry who were patrolling at Upwey, a couple of miles north of Melcombe, to watch for any signs of Goring’s army, came across an escaped Parliamentarian soldier. The man, who had been captured about three days before and held in Dorchester gaol, was trying to make his way to the twin ports with a devastating tale to tell. The cavalrymen quickly transported him to Colonel William Sydenham, and the escapee anxiously told him of a conversation he had overheard between two guards, a conversation about an imminent attack upon Weymouth and Melcombe, that very night. This gave the Roundheads only a matter of hours to speed up their preparations for defence and Admiral Batten readily agreed to stay and fight in the ensuing battle. As midnight approached, the beleaguered garrison of the twin towns prepared themselves for a fight to the death and wondered who among them would live to see the dawn.
As foretold, Goring, with his vastly superior force appeared in the vicinity of the towns at around midnight and immediately split his force into two factions. That portion of his men, who were given the task of attacking Melcombe, somewhat inexplicably did little more than sit behind a bank and almost half-heartedly fire a few shots at the defences, but the fighting across the water in Weymouth where William Sydenham had positioned himself was of a very different calibre indeed.
Behind the Town gates which were situated near the western end of Boot Hill, just past the Boot Inn, the Parliamentarians had hastily erected a barricade stretching roughly from the bottom of Chapelhay Street, in front of the old Tudor town hall and across to the Boot Inn. (both buildings happily still exist today)
Realising that the Town Gate and this barricade would soon be overwhelmed through sheer weight of numbers, Sydenham had set up another defensive position at the other end of the narrow old High Street which led up to Boot Hill. At the far end of this street were seventy stone steps dating from medieval times that led straight up to the Chapel Fort should they be needed as an escape route, and always assuming that the fort had not fallen to the enemy by then, as it too was under attack from Goring’s soldiers.
As expected, the gate and the first barricade soon fell, and the Parliamentarian defenders duly melted away into the darkness of the bitter winter night and took up their positions with others at the eastern end of the old High Street almost opposite the present day lifting bridge, deep inside Weymouth town. Goring’s jubilant cavaliers swarmed over the abandoned obstacles and rushed headlong down the narrow, unlit High Street, baying for blood and convinced that an easy victory and welcome revenge would soon be theirs.
On they came in their hundreds and as they approached the second position, Sydenham gave the order to fire. Several concealed cannon, together with countless musketeers who were stationed at every window, rooftop and doorway, poured a withering wall of deadly lead shot and iron ball in to the Royalist ranks. Confusion reigned in the enveloping darkness and the stench of black powder and blood hung thick in the chilled night air. The numerous Royalist dead and wounded at the front of the advance were trampled underfoot by their stumbling comrades, who were still streaming down from the other end of the street in large numbers, if not oblivious to what had occurred then certainly not realising the extent of the disaster and slaughter. Not content with this carnage, Sydenham’s Dorset soldiers then drew their swords or upended their muskets to use as clubs and rushed out to get to grips with Goring’s men at close quarters. A deadly hand-to-hand struggle developed as the Royalists fought desperately to extricate themselves from the trap. Eventually, Goring’s men broke and ran, Sydenham’s troops chasing them back up the old High Street and all the way out of Weymouth town.
Elsewhere though, the battle was far from won. Above, the Chapel Fort was also under fierce assault and the contest there could still go either way and now, the reluctant Irish garrison at the Nothe had suddenly found new heart and was fighting its way into Weymouth from the east at Hope (Ope). Their efforts were rewarded and soon they had attacked and occupied a small fort in the heart of Weymouth, situated on the quayside near the bridge which led to Melcombe.
Sydenham had ordered that the bridge be destroyed in case one of the towns fell and put the other in jeopardy. The fort taken by the Irish troops was commanded by a Captain Thornhill, who is thought to have been an uncle of the celebrated Weymouth-born artist, Sir James Thornhill, who was in fact, one of William Sydenham’s grandsons and the first ever artist to be knighted. He painted the ceilings of the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Greenwich Hall and Blenheim Palace and was reputed to have been born in what is now the White Hart Inn, in Melcombe which still survives today (2013) though in a much altered state.
As Thornhill’s soldiers were ousted by the Nothe Irishmen and made their getaway, they were met by Sydenham and his triumphant troops coming up from the battle in the nearby High Street. He persuaded them to turn and fight and eventually, together they managed to eject the Irish contingent from the Town Bridge fort.
The Irishmen retreated in some disorder back the way they came; hoping to get to the comparative safety of their own fort upon the Nothe headland. But here also the rout was to turn into another disaster for the unfortunate King’s army.
The now rampant Colonel William Sydenham and his men mercilessly forced the Irishmen back along Weymouth quayside. But, in those days, the area which is now solid ground beyond Trinity Street near the Old Rooms Inn through to Hope Square at Brewers Quay, was then nothing more than an inlet filled with cold, deep water, known as ‘The Hole’. In the frosty darkness of the small hours, and gripped with blind panic due to the ferocity of Sydenham’s charge, most of the luckless Nothe men blundered in to, or else were driven straight over, the quayside and into the icy February waters below, where those that didn’t immediately drown were easy prey for the Roundheads. As many as two hundred and fifty souls perished in a few grisly minutes. Colonel Sydenham’s horse was literally shot and killed beneath him as the chase ensued and turned to carnage for the men from County Clare.
With Melcombe hardly being challenged by the Royalists at all and the Parliamentarians defending the Chapel Fort of St. Nicholas finally succeeding in repelling their assailants, the Battle of Weymouth was all but over. Colonel William Sydenham had achieved a near “miraculous” victory against overwhelming odds and Lord Goring and his surviving soldiers took themselves off to the small village of Wyke to lick their many wounds and ponder the fortunes of war.
The almost annihilated Nothe garrison, together with another small Cavalier garrison in a fort at nearby Bincleaves, made good their escapes, not even bothering to “spike their guns”, so as to make them unusable to the Parliamentarians, nor caring to take their colours with them. Sydenham’s victory over Goring and Dyve was total and complete, with only the Isle of Portland still remaining in Royalist hands locally.
Excellent written evidence exists of the amazing events of the night of February 27th 1645 in old Weymouth. Both Sydenham and Batten composed graphic letters in the days directly after the battle and these correspondences demonstrate wonderfully what occurred there. First, Sydenham wrote the following account two days after the battle (March 1st) in a letter to the Parliamentary Committee of the West. He begins with how he first regained Weymouth.
“Having now some few hours of freedom, from those continued sallyes, alarms, firings and batteries which almost these three weeks have kept me from the least leisure to do anything, but attend the enemy, I think it my duty to give you an account of God’s miraculous dispensations towards us. All (as you have formally received) being treacherously delivered in to the hands of the enemy except Melcombe.
On Tuesday last, February 25th the enemy having drawn out many of their foot to relieve a party of their horse, being in danger to be engaged by a party of ours which I sent out to discover the enemy. I fell presently upon Weymouth, which town (together with the Chapel Fort) was in an hour regained, where we took prisoners, one Lieutenant Colonel, one Major, three Captains and one hundred of inferior officers and soldiers, which so enraged the enemy that upon Thursday last about midnight they furiously stormed us at several places in both towns. Out of all Weymouth we were not able to keep them, and therefore resolved to make good so much of it as might let us, upon any occasion, to and from the Chapel Fort.
The enemy came in great multitudes through the streets and backsides at both ends of the town, and disputed with us very hotly about three hours for that small part of it, which we were willing to keep. The Chapel Fort, and Melcombe being likewise stormed at the same time from all which places God enabled us to repel them. In all this time they wounded but one of my men.
What execution is done upon the enemy, I am not certain, they carrying off as many as they were able before day, amongst whom (as the people of the town have since informed me) were divers in buffe coats and velvet jackets. They left much blood behind them in the streets and slain men upon the place, they carried (as it is reported) many wounded men into one village a mile from the town” (Wyke).
During the whole 17 days of fighting, Sydenham maintained that he actually only lost about ten men killed and, if this is true, then he may have had some justification in claiming that God was indeed on his side, though how many more subsequently died from their wounds is not known. However, he still expected Goring to make another assault and near the end of his letter describes the enemy as “still blocking us up as before”, and “what they mean to do next I know not, but do expect some further design upon us.”
His concern was, in the end, unfounded. A large Parliamentarian army under Sir William Waller was rumoured to have entered the County and further proof of Goring’s intentions are provided by Vice Admiral Batten in a letter written soon after Sydenham’s. It confirms that Goring and his men had eventually fled off towards Taunton in Somerset, “in a very confused manner”.
He also reported that:
“I have two of my own company, one hath lost a leg, the other dangerously wounded and will hardly escape. And three of Captain Jordan’s men scalded by a mischance, by the firing of some powder”.
Batten wrote another letter on the morning directly after the battle (28th February), whilst on board his ship ‘The Reformation’, moored in Weymouth Bay. Here, he refers to the great losses inflicted upon the Irish Royalists who had held the Nothe Fort, and also makes a deserved reference to Sydenham’s character and qualities of leadership. He wrote;
“At night a prisoner of ours ran from them, who gave us notice that they would storm the town that night, in all places that they could, which was performed accordingly, the enemy getting within our works near to Weymouth Bridge, but were gallantly repulsed by our men with the loss of some hundreds of the enemy. The Governor (Sydenham) himself behaving himself like a gallant man as he hath done in all the siege”.
With the Royalist threat finally gone, it was now to be a time of vengeance for Colonel William Sydenham. Vengeance upon those who had hatched the Crabchurch Conspiracy and in doing so caused him to lose a much loved brother and comrade in arms.
Now those people would have to pay the price.
Reblogged this on Victorian tales from Weymouth and Portland and commented:
Who knew that the streets of old Weymouth contained so much blood and thunder.