The Civil War

The Civil War

The late 1630s saw a growing conflict between Charles I and land­owning and business interests over his autocratic government, imposition of taxes like ship-money, and promotion of High Church practices. The first spark in the north was when the Scottish Presbyterian army, in revolt against Charles’ imposition of a Prayer Book on the Scottish Church, crossed the border in 1639, and again in 1640 when they occupied Newcastle and the Tyneside coalfield after routing the King’s forces at Newburn on the Tyne. They forced the King to recall Parliament, and withdrew in 1641,  but during their stay Newcastle had to pay them £200 a day.

As civil war grew nearer the bulk of the county gentry of Northumberland (with some notable exceptions like the Ogles of Eglingham) supported the King, but the merchants of Newcastle were more divided. Local conflicts, particularly that between the inner ring of governing Hostmen like Sir John Marley, Sir Thomas Riddell and Sir Nicholas Cole, and those slightly outside this group, still dominated town politics. There was a small but significant Puritan community, established in the town since the days of John Knox’s residence and helped by trading links with Scotland and Protestant Northern Europe. Dr. Robert Jenison, son of a former mayor, was a leading Puritan clergyman and several merchants like Sir Lionel Maddison, Henry Dawson and Robert Bewick were Puritans. As a group they were not clearly associated with either the inner or outer ring, but included members of both. HOwever, a group of High Churchmen led by Marley were enthusiastic in the attempts of Secretary Windebanke to suppress Puritan activity, and in 1640 Jenison  had to flee to Danzig in North Germany. Later that same year, as Mayor Bewick welcomed the Scots, men like Marley and Cole fled to Kings Lynn. The Scottish occupation made the Puritan group unpopular in the town and Cole was elected mayor. Nevertheless, the Newcastle M.P.s in the Long Parliament were not clearly aligned: both Anderson and Blakiston voted against the King’s minister, Strafford, though Anderson later became a Royalist, and the Puritan Blakiston a Parliamentarian and regicide.

Charles saw the strategic importance of controlling the Tyne: coal exports could buy foreign armaments, and the river provided an entry port for both arms and men. In June 1642 he sent the Earl of Newcastle as governor, and Sir John Marley was appointed Mayor. The presence of royal troops secured Newcastle as a royalist town. There was still opposition: at Tynemouth Castle labourers in the coal trade resisted the Earl’s troops, and in Newcastle Marley had to purge the Corporation: Warmouth, a leading Puritan alderman, was dismissed in April 1643, and in September Marley disfranchised 35 freemen, including the Dawsons.

This royalist control worried the Parliamentarians. On 14 January 1 643 Parliament put an embargo on trade with the Tyne ‘Vntill that Towne of Newcastle shall be freed of, and from the Forces there now raised, or mainteined against the Parliament’. The embargo on coal was easily enforced since most of the colliers were based in the Thames or East Anglia, though the stoppage caused hardship in London. Other ships still got into the Tyne, however. In May 1643 Parliament sent the Antilope on a cruise up the north-east coast, where it reported from Holy Island roadstead that it had captured off Tynemouth bar two Kings Lynn ships that had just delivered corn to Newcastle. In January 1644 a Danish boat brought guns from Amsterdam to Newcastle.

Parliament was in no position to take military action against Newcastle, deep in the royalist north, but in September 1643 the Solemn League and Covenant with Scotland brought in Scottish troops on the Parliamentary side. The following January these troops under Lord Leven advanced into Northumberland in a winter so severe that many crossed the Tweed over the ice. Sir Thomas Glemham, commanding royalist troops in the county, realised he could not resist this force, and withdrew from Ainwick to Newcastle, destroying the bridge over the Aln first. The Scots took Alnwick, Coquet Island (which had a royalist garrison) and on 28 January captured Morpeth (where William Craster was royalist governor for part of the Civil War). As Leven advanced on Newcastle, the Marquess of Newcastle managed to slip into the town with reinforce­ments. There were skirmishes around the town, notably at Shieldfield fort, and Marley destroyed the suburbs around Newgate and Sandgate, the fires ‘burning all that night, and Sunday and Monday all day’, so that the Scots could not get near the town walls. Leven decided to press on south rather than undertake a siege, and moved into Durham, where he captured South Shields, which gave him command of the Tyne entrance, and then advanced into Yorkshire.

The royalists recaptured Morpeth, and Parliament asked the Scots to send more troops to help take Newcastle. These arrived in June, followed by Leven’s troops in August after the victories at Marston Moor and York. Newcastle was surrounded, with bridges of boats stretched across the Tyne at Elswick and Ouseburn, and the siege began. The delay since February had, however, given Marley time to improve the town’s defences. The ditch outside the walls was deepened and the outer sides of the walls werë ‘steeply lyned with clay-mixt earth’ to stop besiegers climbing up. Gaps in the battlements were filled with ‘lime and stone’, leaving only narrow slits, and stones were collected to drop on attackers. Now the Scots gun batteries began to bombard the town, and troops mined under the walls. In particular, the fire of the Gateshead guns forced many inhabitants to flee from the lower parts of Newcastle to the upper town beyond St. Nicholas’s. The guns on the Leazes breached the wall around St. Andrew’s, but this, like other holes, was blocked up with timber and rubbish by the townsmen. After Marley several times refused to surrender, Leven attempted a general assault on 19 October. Mines breached the walls at Sandgate and in 55-yard stretches at Westgate and White Friars Tower, as did the artillery, though less effectively. Douglas wrote: ‘The mines were easy to entcr, but the breaches were weel guarded, and hard to enter; they entered by the help of the mines, for they that entered the mines helped them that were at the breeches to come in: after two hours hard disput the town is taken’. Marley and the leading royalists retreated to the Castle, but were forced to surrender on 22 October. Tynemouth Castle’s surrender on 27 October completed the Scots’ victory.

The Parliamentary-Puritan group now took over the town’s government, especially after the Scots finally left in 1647, and Dr. Jenison became vicar. In general, and particularly during the dominance of the Dawson circle during the 1650s, the outer ring of Newcastle merchants now controlled the town, but the new oligarchy were just as zealous over the town’s monopolistic privileges as the old inner ring, and they vigorously opposed the attempts of Ralph Gardner of Chirton to establish at North Shields in the 1650s trading rights free of Newcastle. At the Restoration the Puritans were driven out of power, but many of the leading Newcastle merchants, like Shafto and Blackett, were no more committed Puritans than committed royalists, and those with the right trading and family connections retained their positions after 1660: Mark Milbank, for example, was sheriff in 1638 (though not one of the inner ring of Hostmen), mayor in 16581 a Hostman in 1662, and mayor again in 1672. During the Commonwealth, Puritanism took a greater and lasting hold on the religious life of the town, and in the Northumbrian countryside with ministers like John Lomax at Wooler, and Ralph Ward at Hartburn. Although most of the Puritan preachers were ejected in 1660 (Lomax went to North Shields where he found a A living as a physician and ran an apothecary’s shop), many of the   congregations survived, augmented by the efforts of the Scottish dissenting ministers like William Veitch, who fled from the religious persecution of the ‘Killing Time’ in Scotland in the 1660s.

After the Civil War royalists on Tyneside and in Northumberland had their estates sequestered, like the Colhngwoods of Eshngton, or only retained them by paying a heavy fine, like the Claverings of Callaly. In 1648 the royalist rising led by Sir Marmaduke Langdale, who seized Berwick, found some support amongst the Northumbrian gentry, and there were some skirmishes around Alnwick, but it was easily suppressed. The governor of Tynemouth Castle, Henry Lilburne, declared for the King, but the Castle was quickly stormed and taken. In 1 655 there was a widespread royalist revolt, but in Northumberland only about 70 men were involved. They met near Newcastle, but dispersed and were easily captured. At this time a greater threat to law and order came from the mounted bands of robbers and horse-thieves, known as moss-troopers, many of them disbanded soldiers, who rode the Northumbrian moorlands.

The war severely damaged the Tyneside economy. The coal trade was at  a standstill and most of the mines belonged to deprived royalists. By the early 1650s, however, the coal shipments had recovered. Shortages, stoppages and the dangers from Dutch privateers often helped the Newcastle merchants to get higher prices and profits on the London market, though they reduced the earnings of the keelmen and colliers. A London pamphlet of 1653 The Two Grand Ingrossers of Coles accused some Newcastle merchants of using false weather reports and tales of shipwrecks to improve their London prices. Engrossing or getting a corner in a commodity and inflating its price was common practice at this time. William Blackett, who became a prominent merchant in this period, trading to Eastland and dealing in whaling and fishing to Greenland, is reputed to have made a lot of his fortune by taking advantage of a rumour that a fleet from Eastland had been sunk to make a quick profit on his own goods at inflated prices. Although coal shipments and overseas trade soon recovered, other industries found things more difficult. Several of the Tyneside glasshouses had been damaged by the Scots, and the Tyne never regained its virtual monopoly. Similarly, the salt trade was hard hit by the new free competition from Scotland. In contrast, there was a rapid growth in shipbuilding on the river, stimulated by government contracts. In 1651 there were 25 flat-boats under construction for the government.