A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.


Volume 3


The Eastern Association

Suffolk continued to raise money to pay for troops and horses to support Parliament, and it has been estimated that the County raised 56,000 between 1642 - 48. The towns and villages themselves offered volunteers and provided collections of armour for their use; Mendlesham still has its 17th century armour on display at the church. One troop was raised from public subscription at Norwich, and became known as the 'Maidens' Troop' because the story grew up that the troop had been raised from money given by young women as a kind of protest against the Royalist's alleged habit of ravishing any young women that fell into their hands. Parliament also borrowed goods and money at 8% interest in their anxiety to have sufficient money for their preparations for war. The Vicar of Cratfield, a Mr. Eland, entered in his accounts, money which was used to pay for the cost of four men's dinners with their horses, for going to Yoxford to pay in the 'money and plate lent to the Parliament upon the propositions' and also for two nags and a mare lent to Parliament on the same terms. He also had to find money for the support of 'maimed souldjers and their wives' as the wounded troops passed through his village.

The nearest action in the early days of the Civil War took place in March 1643 with the Siege of Lowestoft. Hearing that the town had been taken by Royalists, Cromwell rode immediately from Cambridge with 1000 Cavalry and, surprising the Royalists, was able to take the town without a fight. He is said to have set up his Headquarters in the Swan Inn at the head of what is now Mariners Score. Some of the cannons in the town which had been carried away by Cromwell's troops, were later returned to set up a new battery to counter attacks by the Royalists. This gun emplacement became Battery Green.

In time, Cromwell's 'New Model Army' came into being, fighting decisive victories at Marston Moor and Naseby. After losing key towns such as Bristol and Oxford, Charles surrendered to the Scots at Newark on 5th May 1646. They negotiated with Parliament and agreed to hand him over for 400,000. Charles was imprisoned at Hampton Court, but escaped and fled to the Isle of Wight. He was again captured, and this time placed in the hands of the army. Cromwell frequently visited a friend and counsellor, John Carter, in his house on the South Quay at Great Yarmouth. It was here, according to tradition, in one of the upper rooms, that a meeting was held at which the death of Charles was proposed and settled. Charles was brought to trial, but without any defence witnesses, and was condemned to death. The execution took place outside the Banqueting House of Whitehall Palace on the 30th January 1649.

Well before this act, the way of life of the population had been forced into a greyer and less colourful trend. Theatres were closed in July 1642 and didn't open again until 1660 at the Restoration of the Monarchy. Other pinpricks included the banning of playing cards, disappearance of the Maypole and the attempt to get rid of the festive side of Christmas. In 1641 Parliament once more attacked the problem of ornament in the churches, and ordered that all 'superstitious pictures and inscriptions' be removed or defaced. It was three years before this affected the parishes of Suffolk, following the appointment of William Dowsing as a Parliamentary Visitor in 1644.

Dowsing came back to his own county, for he is said to have come from a Laxfield family, and with a troop of soldiers spent about 50 days inspecting and 'cleansing' 150 Suffolk churches with the rest dealt with by his deputies. They smashed windows, fonts and statues, defacing tombs and monuments, his diary lists nearly 7,000 superstitious pictures he destroyed in those 150 churches alone - meaning stained glass windows.

Dowsing records his visit to Halesworth 'HALLISWORTH, April the 5th. 2 Crucfixes, 3 of the Holy Ghost, and a 3d of the Trinity altogether; and two hundred other superstitious pictures and more; 5 popish inscriptions of Brass, 'orate pro animabus', and 'cujus animae propitietur Deus'; and the Steps (of the altar) to be levelled by the Parson of the town; and to take a cross off the chancel'. Then the Churchwardens had orders to take down 2 crosses off the steeple.

In some churches, the windows were so high that they escaped damage because the parishioners would not 'help as to ladders' while at Blythburgh the Angel Roof was so high that the men contented themselves with firing muskets into the wooden angels. 


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