ID: MMH_MCW / L.D. Haines

TitleMersea and the Civil War - 1648
AbstractThe previous three years had seen a number of bloody battles, culminating with Charles I being captured. To many, this was the end of the war. But many royalists refused to surrender. Some who did were let off with the payment of a fine and a promise not to take up arms again. Those who could not pay the fine, where sent to America as bond-men.

In Kent, Lord Goring raised a small band of 200 Cavaliers, mostly mounted landowners, with some of the 'gentry among them. They won a skirmish at Maidstone and made for London, but their numbers did not increase and they needed more arms. A Puritan force on Blackheath in Kent barred their way, so they crossed the Thames at Gravesend into Essex, where there were reports of rich Royalist support.

They went to Ingatestone Hall, the home of the Catholic rich Lord Petrie, but got little support. It was the same story at Chelmsford. At New Hall, Boreham, there were reports of a Parliament arsenal being there, and the Royalists ransacked the house but found nothing as the inhabitants had received prior warning and had hid the weapons in nearby fields.

Another diversion was made to Coggeshall where there were was hope of Royalist support, but meanwhile Lord Fairfax, with his London-trained Parliament forces set off along the road to Colchester.

Lord Goring planned to capture the ports of Harwich and Maldon, in order to receive support from ships from abroad and then to meet the Royalist forces corning from the north for a joint attack on London. However, Harwich was already occupied by Parliament ships, and worse still the Royalists were defeated in the Midlands. Lord Goring after negotiating with the Colchester Burgesses was allowed to enter Colchester on the promise that he was only passing through.

During the next few months of the summer, the situation worsened for the Royalists. There was news of defeats in the north and in the Midlands. Harwich harbour was in Parliament hands and Lord Fairfax was now camped on Lexden Heath outside the Town.

Goring withdrew all his forces inside the town walls and closed the gates. To say the least the towns people of Colchester were not very happy with this situation as there were no food reserves or relief from the north.

Luckily, on the next day, 18th June, two Royalist ships from Holland, diverted from Harwich and came up the River Colne with supplies. The East Mersea Blockhouse, a small fort, failed to stop the ships. It is not known if Mersea men were manning the fort, but it failed in its purpose and the ships sailed passed. The supplies and the guns from the ships were landed at the Hythe which was then at the bottom of East Hill, hi order to ensure free passage for further ships, Goring at once sent out a force on horseback down the river bank to secure the blockhouse.

A Royalist deserter informed Lord Fairfax of the ships arrival and the Royalist's intentions regarding the Blockhouse, and he in turn immediately sent horsemen to Mersea to intercept the Royalists.

Using local knowledge of the area, they galloped down the Mersea Road, over Black Heath, across Manwood Bridge and Pete Bridge. They crossed the Strood (luckily it was low tide, as in those days it flooded at every high tide) and occupied the Blockhouse.

Meanwhile, the Royalists worked their way up the Roman River valley until they came to the first crossing at Manwood Bridge, over which a short time before the Roundhead party had crossed. Making their way to East Mersea, they found that they had arrived to late as by now the Parliament flag was flying over the Blockhouse. Out to sea three ships, arriving from Harwich, dropped their anchors and lowered their sails - the River Colne was now cut off.

The Siege of Colchester had now begun, Lord Fairfax set up his headquarters on Lexden Heath, with ramparts and ditches, with cannon between them. These cut the roads from the London road southwards across the Layer and Mersea roads and later to the river and eventually Wivenhoe. It was not necessary to build ramparts to the north as Suffolk was in Parliament hands. Lexden, Marks Tey and the Layer villages had been 'cleared' by the encamped army of food for both men and horses. Mersea Islanders hid as much food as they could, but kept the army happy by offering them supplies which were handed over on the Glebe Field.

Information of what was happening soon spread along the 'grapevine' and several men from Mersea went to see for themselves. They quickly came home when they found themselves under fire at the Blackheath Encampment from the guns placed on the tower of St Mary-at-the-Walls church.

On Tuesday, 20th June, a force of Royalist horsemen suddenly appeared at the Strood but were soon lost sight of. The billeted Army men in Mersea set off to protect the Blockhouse at East Mersea. Hie Royalist ruse worked, for the majority of the force, having hidden in Waldegrave Wood, swung round and entered West Mersea where they sacked the Fox Inn, took wagons, horses, cattle, corn, hay, clothes and even two serving wenches, although they went willingly and made their way back to Colchester. The half dozen decoys, with pennants flying, led a fine dance to East Mersea, and then, planting their flags in the woods, they walked their horses back to the Strood along the lower marshlands, hidden from the high road.

When the news of this raid reached Fairfax he ordered the building of two more redoubts which finally cut off the Town from the surrounding countryside. Later 'forts' were built on the hills surrounding the town, using large cannon brought by road from the Tower of [London The siege of Colchester lasted six weeks

Fodder and food was constantly demanded by the Roundhead's army. Deserters from both armies were a continual nuisance in Mersea, hoping for a ship to take them to London, or over the waters to Kent.

At the end of the war, a local parish record reads: 'from 4th June to ye 10th September, for fodder, food, spades and carts - £97.7.6d. Maintenance of soldiers in that tyme, the sum of £104.15.3d.

Map of Colchester, River Colne and Mersea Island as it was around 1648, by L.D. Haines

This article was edited from Mersea Island the Civil War 1648 by L.D. Haines MPUB_MCW It is not known who was the editor.

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The Tudor Fort at East Mersea

AuthorL.D. Haines
SourceMersea Museum