Monday, 28 October 2019

Lincolnshire Campaign II - the Battle of Clee Fields

The Eastern Association men led by Colonel Sydenham Hill, temporarily elevated to Major General, took the direct route from Boston via Spilsby, then on to Grimsby via Louth. One of the regiments of horse scouted ahead of the main body whilst the other (Hill’s) took the coastal road, along the edge of the marshes to procure mutton and salt. Crofton Park, Lt Col of Hill’s regiment of horse, found the locals a peculiar bunch and difficult to understand. ‘The spietch of the marsh fowk is base and nigh impossible to understand containing as it does many words of the old Norse tonge. They appear shy of strangers, superstitious and at first as children in matters of trade yet my quartermaster discovered the bargain he had made was not as good as he first thought.’

The Royalists, under command of Lord Beddington Lane (husband of the fabulously wealthy Lady Therapia Lane) marched from their assembly point near Gainsborough. Once across the Trent, they followed the old Roman road north to Scawby near Brigg, then headed east sending two troops of horse to keep an eye on Barton whilst the main force proceeded to secure the mouth of the Humber at Grimsby.

Hill, fearing that the Royalists had already got ahead of him veered off the Louth Road before Scartho and followed tracks heading towards the coast where he could camp on the higher ground above Grimsby. Hill’s regiment under Lt Col Park were dispatched on a circuitous route towards Itterby and Oole in the east in a kind of reconnaissance in force cum foraging expedition, whilst the infantry and small artillery train, trailed behind the other horse regiment via Humberston towards Weelsby and Clee. Unbeknownst to Hill, Lane had also decided to perform a wider sweep, south of Grimsby to head off the Rebels before they could approach the town. His main force was in the Weelsby area heading towards Clee whilst one regiment of horse scouting ahead had taken a wrong turning through the marshes to the east of the town (possibly misdirected by a local malcontent) whereupon they then turned south heading towards Oole on the track by the coastal marsh or Fitties. Ahead of the main column, the dragoon regiment had already secured the village of Clee where they were making themselves comfortable when Rebel flags were spotted on Beacon Hill above Clee. Almost simultaneously (according to letters written later by a captain of horse on the Weelsby road and the colonel of dragoons, who both heard the church bells of Saint Trinity and St. Mary the Virgin church in Clee) Rebel horse cornets were spotted on the road from Humberston.

Area of the battlefield

By the seventeenth century the village of Clee had a population of over 300, including Clee's nearby 'thorpes' of Oole, Itterby and Thrunscoe on the higher ground above the marshes which surrounded the old port of Grimsby. Since the silting up of the old haven around the turn of the 16th century, Grimsby's population by contrast had declined from its late medieval height of 2000 to around 650. Nevertheless, the port still provided a haven from the North Sea and was within canon shot of the roads which carried shipping up the estuary to Barton and Hull. Control of the area thus gave command of the southern and eastern approaches to the port and eventually to the seward route to Hull.

At the time of the Civil War enclosure was still 200 years in Clee's future, so apart from the immediate small plots surrounding the village, the area was dominated by the open field system. This meant plenty of room for manoeuvre for both sides in the coming battle.

Map from Alan Dowling's excellent local history book, Cleethorpes, Chichester 2005


The Battle of Clee Fields.

Orders of Battle

Royalist (Lord Beddington Lane)

Blue Regiment of Horse:  8 troops.
Red Regiment of Horse: 6 troops.
Dragoons: 6 companies.
Blue Regiment of Foot
Grey Regiment of Foot
White Regiment of Foot
Red Regiment of Foot
Artillery: 4 guns.

Parliamentarian (Sergeant-Major General Sydenham Hill)

Grey Regiment of Horse: 8 troops.
Buff Regiment of Horse: 8 troops.
Yellow Regiment of Foot
Orange Regiment of Foot
Brick Red Regiment of Foot
Tawny Regiment of Foot
Artillery: 4 guns.


Operational context. Map from early 19th century in Dowling. Local legend fails to tell of the despoiling of local sheep by dragoons following the battle, in an enclosure subsequently named 'Cruel Close' to the north of Clee village.

View west to east of the ridge south of Clee (centre left) Royalists advancing from Weelsby heading east, Parliamentarians on the road north from Humberston (right).

Hamlets of Oole (left) and Itterby (right) with the coastal marshes left. Hill's regiment of (Parliamentarian) horse led by Lt Colonel Crofton Park heading towards Itterby. Windmill by Mill Lane (later Mill Road), which runs towards where the modern cemetary is located. General Hill (bottom right of picture) is stood atop the Bronze Age tumulus - the locals have been burying their dead here at the highest point of the area for over 3000 years. No known resting place for victims of the battle have yet been identified.

Royalist dragoons occupy Clee

Parliamentarian cavalry heading towards the road junction fail to spot the deployed Royalist horse deployed ahaed and do not themselves deploy in time.

Parliamentarian foot and guns appear on Beacon Hill close to the ancient burial mound

Spying Royalist horse advance up the coastal route fom Grimsby, the Park's horse near Itterby deploy. The Cavaliers who had marched up the Grimsby Road are still riding up Old Isaacs Hill past Oole oblivious of the threat ahead.

Back at the junction of the Clee, Humbertsone and Weelsby roads, the Parliamentarian  horse charge the Royalist blue horse regiment. The Royalists seem to have more luck getting their orders through to their units (or are their officers just more obedient?), and they have the advantage of the commander being nearer the bulk of the army. However, in doing so Lord Lane has to abandon his left wing cavalry to its fate. The Roundhead general has chosen to position himself on the old burial mound so he can see the whole field and be fairly central between his two wings.

The Roundhead horse have been repulsed, unsurprisingly, but they rally in good order up the slope. Mindful of the danger, the newly arrived White Regiment of Royalist foot form a pike block. Three more regiments march east along the Weelsby Road. The Roundhead foot is still some way off, two regiments marching to join their horse, with two more being put into order to march from Beacon Hill in the distance.


Finally the descent from the hill commences

The left wing Parliamentarian horse has managed to best the Royalist blue regiment, which has split into two wings, one anchored on the pike block. The foot begin to advance to head off the approaching rebels.

View from behind the Roundhead foot towards the road junction. Roundhead cavalry top right.

The second Roundhead foot unit begins to march off the hill. Meanwhile messengers from Hill try to get all the guns to follow with mixed success.

Initial success for the Royalist horse by Itterby. The Roundheads led by Park, despite inflicting more losses, are repulsed. A Pyrrhic victory for the King's men. [I'm actually using mounted dragoons here for the Roundhead horse as I was short of cavalry].

Back in the west (Royalist left) 4 troops of Roundhead cavalry caught the Blue Foot in flank and rear and decimated them. Top left: the Royalist horse have engaged the other wing of the Roundhead cavalry regiment.

Another view of the same area, only slightly further north. Parliamentarian foot is engaging Royalist foot, foreground, whilst in the centre more foot and guns descend the ridge to attack Clee. Opposing horse (Blue Royalist) battle it out next to the road.

The first Roundhead foot attack Clee where the Royalist dragoons are ensconced behind hedges. The earthworks around Mordaunt Hall which can still be seen from Clee Road, date from after this battle and are believed to have been made a by the Roundheads during their leaguer of Grimsby.

Almost a battle on its own, the horse combat by Itterby has been renewed. The Parliamentarian's edge in numbers begins to tell and they flow round the flanks.

Evenly matched action in the west. Two foot regiments apiece.

Having finally seen off the half regiment of Roundhead horse west of Clee, the Royalist Blues rally and the nearby Parliamentarian foot form a pike stand as a precaution. Better to try to form up now than wait and risk being caught! Park's victorious Roundhead horse, top of the picture, pound down Clee road to give succour to the foot.

Alas! Both the remaining Royalist foot have been seen off following a brisk fire fight. The Royalist horse behind them have enemy foot and horse behind them and are in two minds what to do next. Lord Lane decides caution is the better option and orders an orderly withdrawal, managing to face off both horse and foot.

Reforming into line, the Parliamentarian foot face towards Weelsby, whilst the Royalist dragoons have decided to withdraw from the village and head across the carr towards Grimsby. Sydenham Hill has won a hard fought victory!

After their victory the exhausted Parliamentarians lay down where they stood. The Royalists fled north towards Grimsby via little tracks across the carr. Over the following days the Roundheads began to fortify Mordaunt Hall in Clee where Sydenham Hill set up his headquarters. Traces of the earthworks can still be seen to this day in the old 'donkey field.'

Gradually they regained their strength, strays and not a few turncoat royalist soldiers, returned to the colours no doubt in search of a good meal in this chilly coastal district. Lord Lane's bedraggled army coalesced around Grimsby, mainly on the site of the old Wellow Abbey, once they realised there was no pursuit. His Lordship negotiated with the Freemen of the Borough for entry to the town and for supplies (even a beaten army can be very persuasive). The Royalists' demands were moderated somewhat by Holles who had some interest in the on-going prosperity of his seat.

Over the succeeding two weeks both sides strengthened their respective positions, and earthworks appeared around the perimeter of Grimsby. A redoubt was built on the low rise of Holme Hill (really just an island as its name suggests) where two of six ships guns, recovered from a stranded Dutch vessel, were placed by the Royalists. Two more were placed at each of the main roads into town. Lord Lane hoped the effluxion of time and the approach of colder weather would force Hill to retire to the south. Urged on by entreaties from Sir Thomas Fairfax and the Earl of Manchester, concerned over the threat to Hull, Hill had other ideas. He energetically made sure the area was scoured for supplies and that his powder, shot and match were all replenished. Confidence began to rise in the Parliamentarian camp. They had seen off those idolators and the benders of the King's ear once already. They were sure they could do it again.

Could they indeed?

7 comments:

  1. An interesting campaign matey with plenty of good background info. I shall be watching for any follow ups.

    Dragoons worrying sheep - Lol. They always get a bad press!

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  2. An enjoyable game report and supporting narrative.

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  3. Cheers gents. It's all a little self-indulgent, having battalia of foot march past the house where I grew up and fight on the playing field where the massed ranks of local kids would battle it out in Sunday games of football.

    Spolier alert: the campaign will not exactly be as long as the siege of Ostend.

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  4. Great looking game and a most enjoyable report.
    (So pleased that you brought me to your blog)

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    1. You’re most welcome James. Glad you found it.

      As you can see from the bases it was before I’d finished preparing everything, but I wanted to play with my new toys! Also no flags even.

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  5. Great,fun battle report,I like the local angle too. When I was working in Iceland once I got into talking to a chap who's dad was (of course) a trawlerman and who's special treat was to be brought chocolates back from a sun drenched exotic southern port, when I asked the name of this port I was told Grimsby,I guess everything is a question of perspective!
    Best Iain

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    1. I love that story Iain. Thanks for that. I’ll dine out on that! Shows how tough life was in Iceland if GY was an exotic southern port.
      We have a mixed relationship with the Icelanders in GY. Grudging respect I think sums it up.
      One of the earliest extant mentions of Grimsby comes up in an Icelandic saga. We’re proud of our creation myth.

      The local background to the story of the battle was inspired by two related ‘factoids’. My old man used to tell us that the earthworks by the old farm building (ex-Mordaunt Hall, now Clee Hall) was because it was a ‘fortified farm’ in the Civil War. His mate from the pub around the corner from there* was a local history buff and said that there was a battle at Grimsby in the Viking era - the sea used to come in as far as (Old) Clee in Saxon times.
      * the Spider’s Web, reputedly where the game of Darts originated.

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