Weymouth Civil war : JustWeymouth

Weymouth Civil war History

Weymouth Civil war - The crabchurch conspiracy
The civil war in Weymouth
The civil war started in 1642 and Weymouth in the civil war started in the hands of parlimentary supporters much like most of Dorset. The civil war in Weymouth had little effect on its citizens at the beginning. Even in 1643 when Weymouth fell to the royalists, its citizens saw little in the way of fighting as a peaceful surrender and handover occured. In much the same way when parlimentary colours regained control with little fighting affecting the towns civilians. Weymouths citizens were not totally disaffected by the takeover by the royalists however, the royalists soldiers paid little attention to the conditions of surrender of Weymouth to royalist leaders and treated the towns inhabitants with little respect, paying very little attention to Weymouths citizens rights and property. Following parliaments retaking of the town shortly afterwards, life in Weymouths civil war returned to some normality, however this was short lived. The town still had a number of royalist sympathisers and in 1645, leading sympathisers led by the wealthy and respected Fabien Hodden planned a deadly attempt to retake Weymouth back for the royalist in a battle that became known as the Weymouth crabchurch conspiracy. The crabchurch conspiracy is so called because Crabchurch was a code word to keep the conspiracy a surprise from the parlimentarian forces that occupied the town.

Pre civil war Weymouth fortifications
Prior to the civil war, Weymouth was not well set up to defend itself, Henry VIII had built Sandsfoot castle to protect Weymouth harbour from pirates and French invasion but apart from a small fort on the Nothe and some ancient earthworks the town had very little in the way in which to defend itself. This explains why in the early years of the civil war Weymouth had been so easily lost and re-taken by the parlimentarians. However, high on the hill where Chapelhay now stands stood a church in what was considered a good defensive position from which to defend the town.It was high up on the hill, overlooking the town bridge and it was decided that this was the ideal location for a new fort leading to the parliamentarians hastily converting it, this becoming known as 'The Chapel fort' and the main defensive position in weymouth. The three forts of Sandsfoot, the Nothe and the Chapel therefore made up Weymouths Civil war defences. Weymouth folk must have felt pretty safe after the constructions at the Nothe and the Chapel, there was plenty of fortifications and little sign of any enemy 'we were in as sweet a quiet and security as any garrison in the Kingdom' wrote the Weymouths regimental preacher Peter Ince. At the time therefore there was no idea of the attack that was shortly to come.

The Weymouth Crabchurch conspiracy
The Crabchurch conspiracy started on the night of the 9th February 1645 and became the most colourful part in Weymouth civil war history. As stated above, the town was peaceful and the inhabitants felt secure in the hands of the parliamentarians with the enemy far away and plenty of fortifications should they attack. However through the night of February 9th, two small armies of men slowly made their way through the cold dark night from the royalist stronghold of Portland, one approached via Chesil, made their way through Wyke towards the Chapel fort while the second arrived via the sea to attack the Nothe and shortly before midnight sounds of musket fire and sword fighting filled the air, waking the town as both its key defences at the Nothe and the Chapel were easily taken in the surprise attack. Weymouth however didn't fall to the royalists until the next day (10th February) when royalist reinforcements from Sherborne (led by Sir Lewis Dyve) and Portland (led by Sir William Hastings) arrived to join in the attack. Melcombe Regis on the other side of the harbour remained in Parlimentarian hands under the command of Colonel William Sydenham who raised the town bridge cutting off access across the harbour. Royalist held Weymouth led by Dyve and Parlimentarian Melcombe Regis led by Sydenham repeatedly exchanged fire across the harbour. A cannon ball lodged in the wall of a building that survives to this day can still be seen in Weymouth, this can be found above the public toilets on Maiden street, the ball is belived to have been fired into Melcombe Regis by Dyves forces in one of these exchanges. The scar of a battle that has survived some 350 years! It is not the only reminder of the civil war in Weymouth however, other old buildings around Weymouth harbour also show signs of cannon ball damage.

The Siege of Melcombe Regis by Royalist troops - Weymouth civil war 1645
During this exchange of fire, buildings were destroyed in both Melcombe Regis and Weymouth but despite Sydenhams forces in Melcombe Regis being hugely outnumbered (900 to 7000), he managed to hold his position. Being hugely outnumbered and besieged by Dyves men in Weymouth who held both the Nothe and the Chapel, the royalist stronghold on Portland and the large army that had recently arrived and was busy looting Dorchester, Sydenham refused to give up and even when supplies got low his men were able to go out into the country and steal what livestock they could. Supplies were very short but they held on and so the biggest battle in Weymouth civil war history continued.

The retaking of Weymouth
On the 25th February, after 16 days of siege, Sydenhams men, getting very low on supplies managed to intercept a large party of Royalists bringing in supplies from Dorchester. This proved to be the turning point in Weymouths civil war as Dyve, unable to accept such a loss, sent his own men out to attack the attacking parliamentarians and take back the supplies that were intended for his men. This was the point Sydenham was waiting for however and he seized his opportunity, lowering the bridge and sending a flurry of attackers into Weymouth where they quickly overwhelmed the Chapel, re-taking control of Weymouth. Sydenham had now succesfully held Melcombe and re-established control of most of Weymouth but he would still need to defend them against the considerably larger Royalist army gathered at Dorchester and after humiliating Dyve, the most bloody battle in Weymouths civil war was far from over.

The Royalists reinforcements arrive
In the early hours of February 28th, Goring, whose troops had been camped at Dorchester and considerable in number arrived and attacked Weymouth and Melcombe Regis simulaneously from a number of positions, attacking the Chapel fort as well as street fighting throughout Weymouth, Sydenham however had been forwarned of the impending attack by an escaped Parlimentarian prisoner and he had positioned his men and artillery as best he could to defend the town. Despite being hugely outnumbered and some very fierce fighting, Sydenhams men eventually drove the Royalist attackers out of the town, a large number of royalists were killed in the fighting or drowned as they attempted to escape and fell into the cold waters of Weymouth harbour. Weymouth harbour in those days had a number of inlets that have now been filled in and built upon and these would have been difficult to avoid in the panic of an ambush in the unlit, dark and cold 17th century Weymouth night. All areas of Weymouth were heroically held by Sydenhams outnumbered men. This was to be the last of the attacks on Weymouth and Melcombe Regis by the Royalist during the conspiracy and despite over 2 weeks of intense fighting and siege, the royalists were defeated. The surviving army marched out of Dorset and headed to Taunton that day in what was probably a reaction to news that a large parlimentary force was closing in to relieve the sieged town. The royalists had failed and the biggest battle to take place in Weymouth civil war history was over.

Weymouths Crabchurch conspirators are brought to justice
The leading conspirators were quickly brought before Sydenham and his council and handed strong penalties for their betrayal of the town. Fabian Hodder, the leader of the conspiracy had escaped but was captured and held in prison in Poole, he did however escape justice for his actions and was known to have survived the war. Of the other leading conspirators, two were sentenced to hang but begged for mercy at the gallows, these being William Bond and Thomas Samways - who had helped to lead the initial surprise attacks on the forts. They were reprieved and sent back to jail. John Cade and John Mills however were less fortunate, John Cade became the first man to hang for his betrayal and was shortly followed John Mills who 'desperately threw himself off' the ladder with no sign of any guilt or pleas for mercy. Both men were hanged in public in Weymouth at the Nothe, the scene of the initial attack. A depiction of the hanging of the two royalist conspirators can be seen in the Nothe Forts Weymouth civil war and Crabchurch conspiracy display together with an audio depiction of the condemned mens final minutes.

Weymouuth civil war after the crabchurch conspiracy
With the leading conspirators dead, imprisoned or on the run, life in Weymouth and Melcombe Regis began to return to normal and Weymouth along with the rest of Dorset, with the taking of Portland and Sherborne became a strong parlimentarian held county. The most colourful part of the civil war in Weymouth was over and ultimately it had failed for the royalist cause.