Monday, 28 October 2019

Little-known Lincolnshire campaign - Teaser

I knew 'Norris' from football. Specifically we met in Oxford in the early 90s. To clear-up any illusions about 'Dreaming Spires', it was in a pub in Oxford. By the station one wet evening after work on the way to a mid-week match.  Oxford 0 - Town 1 since you ask. Back then Grimsby Town were 'any good', gracing the second tier in English football for most of that decade. Norris, as you may have guessed wasn't his real name but for reasons not suitable for the politer corners of the Blogosphere, I won't explain how he came to be known by this appellation. Suffice to say that he was named by his fellow exiled-Grimbarians (yes that is a 'thing') after 'Norris the Rubberman' an emporium famed locally for selling Wellington boots, workwear and sports clothing. Our Norris was a bright bloke and a graduate of that fine institution Middlesex Poly (or as he used to joke 'Toothickfuh University'). He worked in IT for a local authority somewhere west of London. 

As well as liking a beer or several, and football of course, Norris was something of an afficianado of the English Civil War. Or 'know all' as some of the other deliberately loud and exaggeratedly northern exiles (accountants to a man) would have it.  Specifically, being a died-in-the-wool socialist, Labour man, Norris loved to talk about the Levellers and others of their ilk. But by the end of the 90s Norris had disappeared somewhat from the 'Exiled Mariners' boozy scene, and rumour had it that he had adopted a healthier lifestyle and was working in a City financial institution in some IT capacity. You'd see him in and out (the second Wembley '98 game being one that stands out) but he'd definitely moved on in more ways than one. Next I'd heard he had gone off to work for himself and had started up some internet-based financial service and was raking it in - never did understand the explanation of what the service was. Then by about 2005 I heard he'd sold up and retired (at a young age) and moved to a big house in the Lincolnshire Wolds. I saw him at the last Carnival Parade in Cleethorpes a few years later. I was looking up at the fly past of the Battle of Britain Flight when I heard a voice say 'Still into your military stuff then?' Norris then began to tell me that he had rekindled his love of the seventeenth century and was taking advantage of his leisure to research the subject. 'Got something that you might be interested actually. Some old documents I found in this house I've bin doing up ner Spilsby. I'll give you a bell. Gotta go now. Ta da.'

I wasn't that surprised that I didn't get a call. 'Same old Norris, full of sh*t'. He was one of those entertaining people you take with a pinch of salt, though that is where his similarities with our current Prime Minister end. About two years ago I got a letter from a solicitor in Louth (Lincolnshire, not Ireland) dated a couple of months before I received it. It had eventually found me after being forwarded a couple of times from previous addresses. Remarkable really. Unbelieveable you might say. The letter revealed that the solicitor wanted me to confirm I was the person his client thought I was and could I visit the office and answer some questions to validate who I was. Strange. I rang them up but the solicitor wasn't prepared to discuss the matter on the phone but would I be able to attend in person. Next time I was up that way I arranged to go down to Louth. It's always a pleasure to go to Louth. A pretty, town with well-preserved Georgian and Victorian buildings and a vibrant independent retail scene - independent because it missed all the previous trends in retail and somehow survived long enough to become very much 'on trend'. It's also a good place to spot proper joskins and chaps wearing red trousers.

To cut this rambling story a bit short, I was able to satisfy the legal-eagle that I was indeed Mr N.Danket, formerly of Cleethorpes and various places south of the Thames and one-time social aquaintance of his late client Mr Naurice l'Homme-Caoutchouc. I was then presented with an A4 sized envelope (not overly thick) which the solicitor explained was left for me by Mr l'Homme-Caoutchouc in his will. I wouldn't be human if I didn't secretly hope that it would be something valuable despite not being close to Norris, but the lawyer was quick to lower my expectations. It was, he said, a manuscript for a historical work his client had been toiling over following some 'original research into 17th century Lincolnshire'. I read Norris' covering letter (he'd evidently known he was on his way out then) in a cafe down Eastgate. 

I won't relay the whole thing, but just offer this brief extract. 'I know I said I would give you a bell years back, but life kind of got in the way. I won't give you the whole sorry, sordid tale, but by the time you read this I'll be having a drink in the Afterlife Arms with the Jarrow Marchers and Tolpuddle Martyrs. Hopefully. Pompey Chris will be able to fill you in more. If you're interested. Anyway, those documents I told you about were historical gold dust mate, and that started me on the trail and I decided to write up what I found. I'm sure with your historical interests it would be right up your strasse.' [Norris like to use this phrase, making sure he gave special emphasis on the first syllable to make it rhyme with someting you sit on]. I skimmed through the document and saw that there were no references or bibliography. Not a citation in sight. I'll leave you to judge the veracity of the contents.

So this is the story of the campaign in north eastern Lincolnshire in the second year of the Great Rebellion.

What follows is the little known story of a violent campaign in Lincolnshire. Not much is known about this campaign because it has been overshadowed by the story of the rise of Oliver Cromwell, who came to prominence the same year at Winceby. Historians of the Whig school overlooked it because it was something of a side-show to the tale of the Great Man Cromwell. It hasn't been helped either by the lack of accounts of the campaign, beyond a few scraps of records about fodder and purchases of clothing and a vague reference in the correspondence of the Earl of Manchester. That is until the discovery in Spilsby of a folio from Gervase Holles' An History of the Late War in England, previously thought to have been lost in a Dutch river by Holles during his exile.

In Autumn 1643 in an effort to stop the flow of food and munitions to the Parliamentary stronghold of Kingston-upon-Hull, the Marquis of Newcastle despatched a force of Northern Horse to meet up with foot regiments from Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire to seize the Lincolnshire ports of Barton and Grimsby.  The Royalist forces were guided in their endeavours by loyal Member of Parliament for Grimsby, antiquarian and man of letters, Colonel Gervase Holles. Holles' co-MP, the borough then having two seats in Parliament, Christopher Wray had decided to side with Parliament.

As well as securing the southern approaches to Hull, control of the Lindsey part of Lincolnshire would bring in extra revenue for the Crown from the rich agricultural lands, fisheries and salt pans on the coastal marshes. In those days because of sandbanks, ships travelling up the Humber had to sail much close to the Lincolnshire shore, and certainly within cannon shot of well-placed batteries. See map below.

This is indeed a map. From 90 years after the events depicted in the story, but well...

Independents in the area loyal to Parliament were passed rumours from their Yorkshire brethren. Word soon sped down the coast by barque to Norfolk much faster than man or horse could make the journey along the north side of the Humber from Hull and then back down the southern shore and down the coast to East Anglia. The local towns were veritable nests of Dissent. The small harbour of Immingham had after all been the original port of departure for the Puritan emigrants to New England.

Word soon reached the Earl of Manchester, and the threat to the cause posed by the incipient encirclement and loss of Hull was not lost on his Lordship. Four regiments of foot and two of horse and from Eastern Association forces in south Lincolnshire were soon rushing up the coastal roads.

They were destined to meet the King’s men at the heights above the ancient township of Clee.


  1. Rubs hands in anticipation.. or is it because I have an rash.. :o))

    1. A rash you say. You've been to Grimsby then?*