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Shaw House Feature

The Second Battle of Newbury
Speen 1644

When 2nd Battle of Newbury was fought, the Civil War had received a decided impetus in favour of Parliament. Marston Moor had been fought and the greenest laurels of Rupert had withered in one summer's night before the walls of York. The glory of Essex waned before the brilliant achievements and solid successes of Cromwell and Fairfax. The period of drawn battles and disputed victories was passing away.

Some transient successes had attended the Royal arms and Essex had been defeated in Cornwall; but with his army reinforced and reorganised, he was prepared to try conclusions with His Majesty on their old battle ground. With Essex, there marched the Earl of Manchester, Skippon, Waller and Colonels Ludlow and Cromwell. In consequence of the sickness of Essex, the supreme command devolved upon Manchester.

Charles was on the qui vive from 21st to Saturday 26th October; but being ill informed of the movements of his dangerous adversaries, he was ultimately out-manoeuvred, his communications with Oxford cut off and his rear threatened.

On the next day, Friday 25th, Symond's Diary records pithily "Noe action all this day" - both sides, in fact, were busied with their deadly preparations, for all men knew that their next meeting would be a stern and bloody one. The King's horse burned to avenge their recent overthrow on Marston Moor and Skippon's infantry were resolute to win back the credit they had lost in Cornwall.

The beleaguered Cavaliers now exerted themselves to retrieve their error, by adding to the strength of their position, throwing up entrenchments and mounting extra batteries. The Earl of Manchester, with his vanguard, held the lower portion of the town and Cromwell's Ironsides, with some infantry who formed the right wing of the Parliamentarian army, lay still, but not inactive, upon the south side of the Kennet, near Ham Mill. "Thence, as soon as it was day," says Symonds "they put a tertia of foot over a bridge which they had made in the night."

King Charles again led the Cavaliers in person, the young Prince of Wales accompanying him and the Earl of Brentford acting as Lieutenant-General. The Royal Standard waved upon Speen Moor, about a mile more northerly than its position during the previous battle, and the main body of the Cavaliers held Speen mainland and the upper town of Newbury, with their lines extending towards the Castle at Donnington. Their extreme left rested a little below the site of the old Donnington turnpike and crossed the lane which intersects the meadows behind and round about Shaw House, then known as "Dolmans". This house was occupied for the King and fortified so strongly as to be, in military parlance, "the key to the entire position." The river Lambourn flowed along their front. Sir Bernard Astley's and Sir George Lisle's cavalry were stationed round about the fields betwixt the town and Shaw, and "Dolmans" not only was well garrisoned by musketry and pikes, but had each hedge and hollow of its garden ground and pleasance well lined with ambushed skirmishers and marksmen.

The burghers of Newbury maintained their accustomed neutrality, to the great disgust of the King, who, complaining that they rendered him no account of the movements of his enemies, stigmatised them as "wicked Roundheads."

The morning of the battle was spent in a distant cannonade and the desultory skirmishing in which so much martial energy was usually expended. The Royal forces made no movement to force the fighting and Manchester held his hand in the expectation of reinforcements.

During the first movements of the battle, about mid-day, Charles and his son were in some danger of falling into Waller's hands. They were posted at Bagnor, with their guards in attendance, when the Parliamentarians, having seized Speen, made a rapid push for Bagnor. The danger of Charles was imminent when Colonel Campfield came up on the spur with the Queen's Life Guards, charged furiously, broke the Parliamentarians and followed them in headlong and vengeful pursuit. Shippon marked the fiery Cavaliers as they swept on in triumph, and threw out a strong body of infantry to check the pursuit and afford Waller an opportunity of rallying. However, as quickly, the fierce Goring and the Earl of Cleveland burst upon the pikemen, threw them into confusion and bore them sternly back, holding them in deadly play. The pikemen and musketeers, whether fighting for King or Parliament, were seldom or never routed though and they bore nobly up, dressed their line and made a stubborn stand. The impetuous Goring was driven off with stinging pikes and a hail of bullets. Again the persistent Cavaliers fell on and the pikes trembled before the rushing tide of horse and men as they fell slowly back. Goring eagerly followed up his advantage, when the Parliamentarians opened their ranks, and allowed the assailants to pass through, then reformed to cut off their retreat and opened a destructive fire. Thus entrapped, the Cavaliers fought desperately, Goring cutting his way through with a handful of followers, but leaving Cleveland in the hands of the enemy.

Dolmans, the key position, was assailed by Manchester with 3,000 foot and 1,200 horse, a force by no means too powerful for the arduous task to be attempted. Astley and Lucas were not slow to meet the assailing forces and the melodic psalms of the Parliamentarians ceased as the battle surges closed. A stubborn and bloody conflict ensued, but Manchester could make no serious impression upon his enemies. Cromwell, holding his troops ready to strike when the opportune moment arrived, beheld the setting of the Sun and the closing shades of night, while the field was as stubbornly contested as ever. He accordingly prepared to strike with his cavalry.

Dividing his brigade, Cromwell sent one division to the assistance of Manchester and, with the other, fell upon the King's left on Speen Moor. The King and the young Prince fled, on the spur, to find safety beneath the cannon of Donnington Castle. While the Life Guards threw themselves upon Cromwell's troopers, in a gallant attempt to arrest his advance. Vain was their devotion. The Ironsides smote them, hip and thigh, shattered their formation and drove them from the field in headlong flight.

"Their heads all stooping low, their points all in a row,
Like a whirlwind on the trees, like a deluge on the dykes
Our cuirassiers have burst on the ranks of the accurst."

A harder fate befell the second division. Involved among the hedges and avenues of Dolmans, they were decimated by the fire of the Royal musketeers, furiously charged by the cavalry and driven off in the utmost disorder, after sustaining a loss of 500 men. Edmund Ludlow made a gallant attempt to relieve them and cover their retreat.

With this last desperate conflict the battle ceased, not to be renewed. The King drew off and Manchester showed no disposition to attempt any further operations against him. The Second Battle of Newbury was thus no less hardly fought nor indecisive in its results than was the first.

It is said that the disgust of Cromwell was so great, that it influenced him, to make his accusation against Manchester, with the resulting self-denying ordinance, and its remarkable and wide-extending results.

From PH Ditchfield's "Bygone Berkshire" (1896)

The Siege of Reading
The First Battle of Newbury


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