The English Civil War (actually three separate rounds of conflict) lasted from 1641 to 1651. The basis of the conflict was a struggle for power and authority between the King Charles I and Parliament but added to the mix were religious conflicts and wars in Scotland and Ireland. There was also a radical democratic upsurge amongst the Parliamentary soldiers and public led by the Levellers, who demanded greater rights for the common people. They were eventually crushed by Cromwell and his commanders who feared that the rights of property owners would be swept away. England became a Republic in 1649 after the execution of Charles I. The monarchy was restored in 1660 when Charles II returned from exile.
The Civil War began in the summer of 1642. On 22 August Charles I raised his standard in Nottingham. Parliament controlled London, East Anglia, most of the Midlands and all of Southern England (except West Cornwall). Lancashire was divided. The most prominent local aristocrat, Lord Strange (James Stanley , heir to the Earl of Derby), was a Royalist. Both sides frantically sought to lay their hands on arms and gunpowder. The Royalists seized the magazines at Lancaster, Preston and Liverpool, but Manchester declared for Parliament and refused to hand over its ten barrels to the Royalist forces.
On 15 July a party of Royalists led by Lord Strange came to Manchester and a fight broke out during which Richard Perceval, a linen weaver from Levenshulme, was killed, allegedly by Thomas Tyldesley from Astley. This has been claimed as the first death in a conflict which eventually claimed tens of thousands of lives.
By September Lord Strange had gathered several thousand troops in Warrington, while Manchester had a militia raised from the townspeople under the command of Colonel John Rosworm, a German soldier living in Manchester who had served in the Low Countries and Ireland and been taken on for six months to organise the town’s defences, at a cost of £30. As it turned out he was kept on for six years at £60 a year
Strange moved out of Warrington on 24 September and laid siege to the town. The alarm was sounded by ringing the church bells. The Royalist headquarters were in Alport Lodge on Deansgate near what is now St John Street. The town refused to surrender and on 26 September the Royalists attacked down Deansgate, firing their cannon. They were driven off after some fierce fighting. They then attacked across Salford bridge but were held back as the defenders were on higher ground in the churchyard.
There was more fighting the following day but the again the attackers were repulsed. A truce was called and further talks took place but again the town, though running short of ammunition, refused Strange’s demands, though there were some divisions in the town.
On 29 September there was another round of fighting in which 200 Parliamentarians sallied out to attack a house on Deansgate which had been occupied by the Royalists . There was an hour of fighting in which the Royalists were defeated. A sniper on top of the church shot dead the Royalist Captain Standish who was standing in the door of a house on the Salford side of the river.
There was more fighting the next day. On 1 October there was an exchange of prisoners and Lord Strange and his troops abandoned the siege. In the course of the week’s skirmishes the Royalists appeared to have lost about 200 men and the defenders about 20. The victory at Manchester greatly boosted the moral of Parliament’s supporters in Lancashire. There was no further fighting in Manchester for the rest of the Civil War. Rosworm later complained to Parliament that he had not been paid enough.
Lord Strange, now the Earl of Derby, was executed in Bolton on 15 October 1651 for his part in the Bolton Massacre of 28 May 1644 in which 1500 Parliamentary troops and townspeople were slaughtered by Royalists commanded by Price Rupert.
In 1874 a bust of Oliver Cromwell by Matthew Noble was presented to Manchester City Council by Thomas Bayley Potter MP, and placed in the Town Hall. The following year a statue of Cromwell, also by Matthew Noble, was put up near the Cathedral. It was moved to Wythenshawe Park in 1968 when the road layout was changed, where it remains.
In October 1965 BBC TV broadcast a play called “The Siege of Manchester” in its Theatre 625 series, written by Keith Dewhurst and directed by Herbert Wise. Alan Dobie played Captain Rosworm, James Villiers played Lord Strange.
The other significant Civil War event locally was the siege of Wythenshawe Hall by several dozen Parliamentary soldiers between 21 November 1643 and 25 February 1644. The hall was owned by the Tatton family who sided with the King. During the siege the fiancée of a servant, Mary Webb, was killed. Legend has it that in revenge she took a musket and shot dead a Colonel Adams who was sitting on a wall. The hall was finally taken by storm after two cannon were brought from Manchester. It was returned to the family two years later after they paid a substantial fine. Every June there is a re-enactment of the siege.
Article by Michael Herbert
More information on the Siege of Wythenshawe Hall:
Wythenshawe history trail information
Print-ready guide to historical walks round Wythenshawe
Manchester City Council information on the annual re-enactment of the Siege