The Dorset Clubmen

October 3, 2013

The Dorset Clubmen (This article formed part of the Archive Society Exhibition August 2013)

Clubmen’s Down
Between Compton Down and Fontmell Down, on the very edge of the north east boundary of Fontmell Magna Parish, is Clubmen’s Down. Its exact location is unclear: at different locations at the top of the downs are three information boards provided by the National Trust/Dorset Wildlife Trust, and each shows Clubmen’s Down to be in a slightly different position.

But why is it called Clubmen’s Down?
In May 1645, about 3,000 Clubmen gathered at “Gorehedge-Corner” between Shaftesbury and Blandford. History does not tell us where this was, but it is reasonable to assume that it was near Gore Clump and Gore Farm, and that this part of the Downs was so-called because that is where the Clubmen met. And if Clubmen’s Down is the steep side of Fontmell Down, it would have made a natural amphitheatre for large numbers to hear what their leaders had to say.

Who were the Clubmen?
The Clubmen were countrymen protesting against the plundering on both sides, Royalist and Parliamentarian, during the English Civil War. They banded together into local associations under the leadership of local gentry and clergy. They took up arms in an attempt to keep the war out of their regions.
They wore white ribands as a sign that they were a neutral third party. Their demands differed according to the association concerned but generally they wanted an end to plundering, and a return to the days before the war – as this meant a return to the King and Anglicanism, the Clubmen were seen to be Royalist in sympathy. However, most of the Clubmen uprisings were against Royalist troops.
It is not clear when or why they became known as Clubmen. Most sources believe that they derived their name because of their rudimentary weapons (clubs, pitchforks, bills and scythes etc). It seems that it was not until after the Civil War, that the word ‘club’ meant an association or collection of people with a common interest. So it appears that the Clubmen gave a new meaning to the word ‘club’.

Clubmen cartoon

The Clubmen felt that they were ‘piggies in the middle’ of the two sides in the Civil War

Uprisings by local populations were nothing new. Just a few years before, between 1626 and 1632, there were massive anti-enclosure riots in western England, mainly by landless peasants who relied on the forest and its raw materials for subsistence. These riots, collectively known as ‘The Western Rising’, occurred in Gillingham Forest on the Dorset-Wiltshire border, and also in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire and Leicestershire, all those areas where the Clubmen rose in the Civil War. It is possible that the Clubmen had their origins in these or earlier uprisings.
It is also possible that there was a Masonic connection. Many trades, such as stone masonry, tin mining and metalworkers had their own charters and guilds, and members of those guilds were sometimes referred to as ‘clubmen’.
The English Civil War (1642-1646) was a particularly bitter and bloody struggle that devastated the countryside. There were relatively few major battles, and the casualties of these battles were relatively few. However, the fluctuations in fortunes of both sides meant that armies were constantly on the move through areas.
Until the creation of the New Model Army early in 1644, these armies were for the most part ill-paid (if at all) and poorly disciplined. They therefore lived off the land. The population was expected to accommodate and feed any occupying troops, and also had to put up with plundering, the taking of livestock and the destruction of homes and crops. The countryside was ravaged and manpower reduced by pressing men into army service or forced labour (for example to work on fortifications).
And even if there were no armies on the move, most regions had to put up with garrison forces which demanded payment for their protection, and for the most part took what they pleased. While armies tended to move on, garrisons remained in place to continue their plundering for a period of time. The presence of foreign mercenaries in both armies was also a cause of mistrust. For example, in October 1644, there were reports that in and about Shaftesbury, 600 Swedes, Germans, French and Walloons “much oppressed the county and raised some … a day for their maintenance – some fined …. And if the money was not presently paid then they were plundered and made prisoners.”
It made little difference which side people were on – friend was as likely to be looted as neutral or enemy. Taxation was a burden on all and trade was severely affected by the war.

The English Civil War
Although commonly called the English Civil War, Wales, Scotland and Ireland were all involved in what should properly be called the British Civil Wars. A greater proportion of the population was killed in these wars than in the First World War. In the latter, there were 1 million casualties – with a population of 42 million, this means that 2.4% of the population died in the war. In the British Civil Wars, out of a population of 7 million, 868,000 died (190,000 in England, 60,000 in Scotland and 618,000 in Ireland), meaning that 12.3% of population died in the wars.
The First Civil War effectively started on 22 August 1642, when Charles I raised the royal standard at Nottingham Castle. The major battles between Royalist forces and those of Parliament were Edgehill (23 October 1642), the First Battle of Newbury (20 September 1643), Marston Moor (2 July 1644), the Second Battle of Newbury (27 October 1644) and Naseby (16 June 1645), and the War ended in May 1646 when the King surrendered to the Scottish army at Newark.
In December 1647, Charles signed the “Engagement” with the Scots, in which he promised to impose Presbyterianism in England in exchange for a Scottish army to regain his throne. During 1648, a number of revolts against Parliament broke out in England and Wales with demands that the King should be reinstated to power. Cromwell marched to suppress the insurgency in Wales while Fairfax marched against the Royalists in Kent and Essex. Fortunately for Parliament, the “Engager” invasion from Scotland was badly co-ordinated with the uprisings in England and Wales. After Cromwell had defeated the Welsh insurgency, he marched north to defeat the Engagers at the battle of Preston (17-19 August 1648), effectively bringing the Second Civil War to an end.
The Army denounced King Charles for inflicting a second civil war upon the nation. Parliament was purged of the King’s supporters and he was brought to trial as an enemy of the people. The King was pronounced guilty and executed in January 1649. England was declared a republican Commonwealth governed by Parliament and the Council of State. However, the King’s son Charles Stuart was proclaimed King in Scotland and plotted to regain the throne of England.
In the summer of 1649, the Commonwealth sent an army to Ireland under the command of Oliver Cromwell, who succeeded in defeating the Royalists and subjugating (massacring) the Irish. In 1650, with no hope of help from Ireland, Charles II agreed with Covenanter leaders to impose Presbyterianism in England in exchange for a Scottish army. Cromwell mounted a pre-emptive invasion of Scotland and defeated the Covenanter army at the battle of Dunbar (3 September 1650). Meanwhile, Charles II invaded England with a Scots-Royalist army, but was defeated by Cromwell at the battle of Worcester (3 September 1651), ending the British Civil Wars on the mainland. By March 1652, the Commonwealth navy had subdued all outlying colonial outposts held by the Royalists.

The rise of the Clubmen
There were numerous incidents of civil unrest during the War, and sporadic violence against soldiers in many parts of England. As the conflict wore on and the devastation increased, countrymen began to organise themselves into associations, and called themselves Clubmen. The arrival of Lord George Goring’s Royalist army seems to have acted as a particular catalyst.
Lord Goring was notoriously undisciplined and fond of his drink; he would frequently engage in drinking bouts in which his staff were expected to join. His troops had a particularly bad reputation for their “horrid outrages and barbarities” and for their “continual butcheries, rapes and robberies”. Even in the next century ‘Goring’s crew’ were remembered with abhorrence, particularly in Somerset.

Lord George Goring

Lord George Goring

The first Clubmen uprising was in Shropshire in December 1644 when 1,200 countrymen assembled to protest against plundering by Royalist garrisons. The movement spread through the counties on the Welsh border during the winter of 1644-5, which was a particularly harsh one.

Dorset in the Civil War
While no major battles were fought in Dorset, the county lay between the Royalist strongholds in the south west and the King’s base at Oxford. This meant that armies regularly passed through the county leaving garrisons at local strongpoints.

Dorsetshire John Bill 1626

Dorset Shire. 1626 John Bill in An Abridgment of Camden’s Britannia

Shaftesbury, in common with many towns in Dorset, tended to be conservative, Anglican and Royalist in sympathy and most of the leading gentry stood with the King.
The exceptions were areas where the clothing trade was carried on and many of the seaports, perhaps because Dorset had been highly assessed for ship-money and other taxes. Poole and Lyme Regis were held by Parliament for the duration of the war, and Weymouth also firmly backed Parliament.
Sherborne, Corfe and Portland Castles were Royalist strongholds; the first two were each besieged twice, and the Royalists managed to keep Portland out of Parliamentarian hands for all but two brief periods of the war, despite being hopelessly undermanned and inadequately armed. Wareham, Blandford, Dorchester and Sturminster Newton changed hands several times. For example, 1642 Dorchester was fortified by Parliament in 1642. It was easily captured by Royalists in 1643 by Lord Carnavon and then recaptured for Parliament in July 1644 by Colonel Sydenham. In March 1645 Oliver Cromwell was present in Dorchester.
Just across the border, Wardour Castle was besieged twice – Parliament captured it in May 1643, and the Royalists recaptured it in March 1644 after a three month siege.
By early 1643 most of Dorset, with the exception of the three castles, was under Parliamentarian control.

The King moves east
In the autumn of 1644, the Royalists gained control of most of Dorset after the surrender of the Earl of Essex’s Parliamentarian army at Lostwithiel in Cornwall in September 1644.

Clubmen map 1

The King’s march from the West – October 1644

By the end of that month, the King had advanced to Sherborne, having left part of his army to besiege Taunton. Sir William Waller was sent westwards to impede the Royalist advance. By early October 1644, Waller had reinforced the garrisons at Weymouth, Poole and Lyme and occupied Shaftesbury.

King Charles 1

King Charles I

Around the middle of October 1644, the King’s army marched towards Oxford. As the Royalists advanced, Sir William Waller abandoned Shaftesbury and withdrew to Hampshire. The year’s campaigning concluded with the indecisive Second Battle of Newbury.

Sir William Waller

Sir William Waller, by Cornelius Janssens van Ceulen

While the main armies settled into winter quarters, there was no let up in military activity. In November 1644, a Parliamentary army led by Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper (the Earl of Shaftesbury) marched south from Dorchester to Abbotsbury. After a sharp battle, the Royalist garrison was defeated and the manor house destroyed. From Abbotsbury, Sir Anthony marched east and the Royalist garrisons of Sturminster Newton and Shaftesbury fled at his approach.

Goring returns to the West
Having distinguished himself at the Second Battle of Newbury, Lord Goring was in the King’s favour. In February 1645, he was sent to the West Country, where the Prince of Wales (Charles, the King’s eldest son aged 14) had been appointed captain-general of the West.
Despite his success on the battlefield, Goring had little control over his troops, and fell out with just about all the other Royalist commanders. He also clashed with the Prince’s advisers and engaged in a series of counter-productive intrigues against him. He half-heartedly resumed the siege of Taunton, and then used this as an excuse to remain in the West, despite repeated orders to join the King. Goring insisted that “he was certain in few days to be master of Taunton, and should leave that country free from any enemy, excepting Lyme (which was then and had been for some time blocked up), whereas if he should leave the siege, the enemy would be masters of that country”.
It is quite possible that Goring’s refusal to join the King contributed to the King’s defeat at the decisive battle of Naseby in June 1645, which effectively ended the King’s hopes of winning the War. When he attempted to raise forces in south Wales after his defeat, 4,000 Glamorgan Clubmen demanding a reduction in taxes and that English Royalist officers in the region should be replaced by Welsh gentry. The King was obliged to grant some of their demands and to abandon his hope for raising a new army in Wales.
Following Naseby, the only effective Royalist force left was the Western army under Lord Goring. Life for the local population was hard enough after three years of war but, after Naseby, it was rumoured that Goring’s periods of drunkenness became more frequent, and his troops became even more unruly and undisciplined.

The New Model Army comes to Dorset
In February 1645, agreement was reached by Parliament for the creation of a New Model Army of 22,000 men to be paid for by fixed taxes. It was to be commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax. Over the next two months, the new red-coated army underwent rigorous training and strict discipline was imposed. Death was the penalty for any plundering.

Sir Thomas Fairfax

Sir Thomas Fairfax, the Lord General of the New Model Army

At the end of April, Fairfax and the New Model Army left its base at Windsor and marched east to Newbury, Andover and Salisbury. It reached Sixpenny Handley (6 May), Blandford (7 May) and Witchampton (8 May). Here, Fairfax received orders to retrace his steps towards Oxford which had been left with only a small Royalist garrison. Before doing so, he detached a force of five or six thousand men under the command of Colonel Weldon to relieve Taunton which was being besieged by Goring’s Royalists.
Weldon reached Taunton on 10 May, just in time to prevent what remained of it falling to the Royalists. Two-thirds of the houses had been destroyed, and the countryside devastated for miles around. However, the relief of Taunton was short-lived, as the remains of Colonel Robert Blake’s garrison and Weldon’s relieving force were then besieged again by the Royalists.

The Clubmen meet
At the end of February 1645, the villagers of Godmanstone (a village a few miles north of Dorchester) killed several Royalist soldiers. Next day, nearly a thousand men gathered “with guns and clubs to resist the French and Irish among the cavaliers”. The Clubmen movement had spread to Dorset.
On 25 May, three thousand Clubmen from Dorset and Wiltshire gathered on Clubmen’s Down. Here certain ‘Desires and Resolutions’ were read out, together with articles of covenant, and certain directions for present behavior, and were agreed upon.
Each Parish was to have a committee of three with two constables to raise the alarm. Arms and ammunition should be stockpiled, and villages should ring church bells to warn each other of the approach of soldiers. All soldiers who were caught plundering should be disarmed and returned to their army. Any person assembling soldiers for the King or Parliament would not be given their protection.
In early June, the Desires and Resolutions of this meeting were embodied in a Covenant which was read at Badbury Rings (near Wimborne St Giles), by Thomas Young, attorney-at-law; where there were present “neere 4,000 armed, with clubs, swords, bils, pitch-forkes, and other severall weapons”. On 24 June, these were published at a general meeting at Sturminster Newton.

The Desires and Resolutions began:
“We the miserable inhabitants of the said counties being too deeply touched with apprehension and sense of our past and present sufferings, occasioned by the Civil and un-natural wars within this Kingdom; and finding by sad experience that, by means thereof, the true worship of Almighty God and our religion are almost forgotton, and that the ancient Laws and Liberties, contrary to the Great Charter of England and the Petition of Right, are altogether swallowed up in the arbitory power of the sword”.

As the summer wore on, there were fresh gatherings in many parts of North and East Dorset, as well as on Salisbury Plain.

Fairfax returns
On 30 June, 1645, Sir Thomas Fairfax led the New Model Army back into the south- west, taking a southerly route to avoid Royalist garrisons at Bristol, Bath, Devizes and Bridgwater.
He marched from Marlborough to Amesbury. There Chaplain Hugh Peters urged the destruction of Stonehenge, as being one of “the monuments of heathenism,” but Fairfax was keen to press on to relieve Taunton which was then being besieged by Goring for the third time (the siege was finally raised on 4 July).

Clubmen map 2

The New Model Army’s return to the West and defeat of Goring
June to August 1645

Passing through the open city of Salisbury, Fairfax found the Clubmen there very confident, “wearing white ribands in their hats, as it were in affront of the army, not sparing to declare themselves absolute neuters, or rather friends to the enemy.”
On Wednesday, 2 July, Fairfax was back in Dorset, marching from Broad Chalke to Blandford. The area had seen several outbreaks of disorder. At the end of June, four or five thousand Clubmen had “forced the Parliament’s quarters at Sturminster Newton, divers slain and wounded on both sides”. The Clubmen captured 16 dragoons. In West Dorset, near Bridport, Clubmen attacked a Parliamentarian messenger and wounded, and nearly captured the Governor of Lyme. The Clubmen were also harassing the pro-Parliament fisherman of the coast.
Around Blandford itself, between four and five thousand Clubmen had gathered. “They come into our quarters and steal horses where they find them at grass” objected Fairfax, who considered them “abundantly more affected to the enemy than to Parliament”. The two leaders, John Penruddock of Compton Chamberlayne and John Fussell of Blandford, were arrested but, in exchange for a promise that they would cease their unlawful assemblies, they were released.

The Clubmen petition the King and Parliament
The Clubmen had prepared (very long) Petitions to both the King and Parliament, signed by “above ten thousand of your Majesty’s loyal subjects of this county, not in arms on either party in the present wars”.
The Rev. Thomas Bravel, Rector of Compton Abbas, was one of the men chosen to take the Petition to the King at Oxford. The others were Doctor Henry Gooch, Rector of Pulham, John Saint Lo, Peter Hoskins of Ibberton, Mr. Thomas Young of Manston, an attorney, and Mr. Robert Pawlett, gentleman. The King’s answer of 8 July from Ragland Castle to the Clubmen’s Petition was “altogether favourable”. He declared that he fully agreed with them and that he desired a cessation of arms.
On 3 July, Fairfax reached Dorchester where he was approached by a deputation of Clubmen led by George Hawles of Upwimborne, brother to him of Salisbury, and five others: Mr. Melchisedec Waltham, Mr. Richard Hooke, Rector of Durweston, Thomas Trenchard, Robert Culliford of Encombe and Richard Newman of Fifehead Magdelene. They presented Fairfax with the Petition to Parliament, the articles of association. Hawles was “most peremptory and insolent in his carriage, and but for his being sent as a messenger, he had been committed, as this man is the head of that giddy-head faction in Dorset”.
Fairfax spoke politely to them and said that he desired peace as much as they did themselves but he could not agree to a cessation when there was a threat of foreign invasion. Good discipline was all that he could promise them and with that they must be content. If parliamentary troops committed disorder of any sort “justice shall be done and satisfaction given”.
Fairfax was as good as his word. His men paid for their quarters, much to the disbelief of the villagers as John Lilburne reported to the House of Commons, “divers of them telling us that they never knew what it was to finger soldiers’ money”.

Fairfax continues into Somerset, then returns.
On 4 July, Fairfax reached Beaminster “a place of the pittifulest spectacle that man can behold, hardly a house left not consumed with fire; the town being fired by the enemy in five places at once, when Prince Maurice was there, by reason of a falling out between the French and the Cornish”.
The next day, Fairfax left Dorset and, on 10 July, the New Model Army defeated Lord Goring’s Royalists at Langport. Lord Goring, his army shattered, fled westwards into Devon. Royalist fugitives from the battle were hunted down and killed by Somerset Clubmen in revenge for the depredations inflicted during the Royalist occupation.
At a meeting with leaders of the Somerset Clubmen at Middlezoy on 11 July, Fairfax won them over to his side by giving an undertaking that the New Model Army would pay for all supplies and provisions and would not harass the local population, providing that they did not assist the Royalists. Having suffered terribly from plundering by Lord Goring’s Royalists, the Clubmen readily agreed to the peace and order that the New Model Army promised.
On 23 July, the New Model Army captured Bridgwater, and Bath fell in a surprise dawn attack on 31 July. However, rather than attempting to recapture the port of Bristol, held by the Royalists since July 1643, or pursue the Royalists into Devon, Fairfax was forced to return to Dorset, where the Clubmen were less conciliatory than their Somerset counterparts.
With the 400 strong Royalist garrison at Sherborne Castle, commanded by Sir Lewis Dyve, acting as a focus of resistance, the Clubmen were posing a significant threat to his communications, stopping messengers and preventing his army with being supplied with arms or food.
Fairfax therefore marched to Sherborne, arriving there on 1 August. After the non-stop campaigning of the last months, his men were almost out of ammunition, and could not start a siege until his supply lines were secure. As soon as he crossed the border into Dorset, the Clubmen swarmed around him threatening to cut off his supplies.

Shaftesbury
On 2 August, Fairfax received news that the Clubmen of Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset were to meet the following day at Shaftesbury to consult how best to interrupt or raise the siege of Sherborne. He immediately detached Colonel Fleetwood with about 1,000 cavalry. The Clubmen had fortified an area of about two acres on the brow of Castle Hill at the western extremity of Shaftesbury, consisting of a small mound surrounded on the part that joins the town by a shallow trench.
On 3 August, Colonel Charles Fleetwood surrounded the town and captured over 50 of the ringleaders, sending them to prison at Sherborne, and later to London. The prisoners included John Saint Lo, Dr Henry Gooch, Thomas Young and Peter Hoskins, all of whom had carried the Clubmen’s petition to the King with Thomas Bravel and Robert Pawlett.
The same day, news came that all the country of Wiltshire and Dorset, and part of Somerset, were up in arms “and would have a rendezvous of 10,000 men at least”.

Duncliffe Hill
On 4 August, Lieutenant-General Oliver Cromwell, having received intelligence of some of the Clubmen’s places of rendezvous, left Sherborne with 1,000 dragoons.

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell, by Samuel Cooper

As they approached Shaftesbury, they noticed some colours flying from the top of Duncliffe Hill, a mile or two to the west of the town. A lieutenant with a small party climbed to the top of the hill, “a place full of wood and almost inaccessible”, to find out what they were up to. Their leader was Richard Newman of Fifehead Magdalen and, when he learnt that Cromwell himself was at the bottom of the hill, he came down.

Duncliffe Hill - scene of a Clubmen gathering that Cromwell convinced to disperse peaceably (4 August 1645)

Duncliffe Hill – scene of a Clubmen gathering that Cromwell convinced to disperse peaceably
(4 August 1645)

He told Cromwell that the Clubmen had gathered to decide what to do about their men who had been captured at Shaftesbury. Cromwell replied that the men had been taken away on Fairfax’s authority to be tried judicially for raising a third party in the Kingdom and for instigating unlawful meetings. Mr Newman said he would go back up the hill to tell the rest of the Clubmen; Cromwell and a small party went with him.
Cromwell assured them that Fairfax did not want them to be plundered in any way and that they could defend themselves from violence. They should bring to the New Model Army anyone who did any wrong, and the culprits would be punished severely. As for those captured at Shaftesbury, he said that if they were found guilty, they must suffer according to the nature of their offence; if innocent, Fairfax would acquit them.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Clubmen said that if they deserved punishment, they would have nothing to do with them. “Upon this, very quietly and peacefully they marched away to their houses, being very well satisfied and contented”.

Hambledon Hill
Marching on to Shaftesbury, Cromwell learned that a great number of Clubmen were camped on Hambledon Hill, some six miles to the south. He puts their number at nearly 2,000, others estimate 2,500, while Joshua Sprigg (Fairfax’s Chaplin) doubles Cromwell’s estimate.

Hambledon Hill - scene of the Clubmen’s defeat (4 August 1645)

Hambledon Hill – scene of the Clubmen’s defeat (4 August 1645)

Oliver Cromwell thundered through Sutton Waldron with his cavalry on his march from Shaftesbury to Shroton to subdue the Dorset Clubmen encamped on Hambledon Hill.
On their arrival at the bottom of the hill, Cromwell’s troops met a man with a musket. When they asked where he was going, he replied that he was going to join ‘the club army’. When questioned as to what he was going to do there, the man replied that it had nothing to do with them. The dragoons demanded that he lay down his musket, to which he responded by cocking and pointing the weapon at them. Before he could fire they managed to wrestle the man to the ground and relieve him of his musket, hurting him in the process but not killing him.
On Hambledon Hill there was an old Iron Age hill fort. The earthworks were still formidable with a double wall and ditch, and various entrenchments guarding the entrance. The Clubmen were posted behind the great earth-works, the passage through which was so narrow “that three horses could scarce march abreast”.

Aerial view of Hambledon Hill from the south

Aerial view of Hambledon Hill from the south

Cromwell sent a lieutenant and 50 dragoons up the hill to ask someone to come out to negotiate, but they were shot at. However, one person, Mr Lee, had come from the Clubmen and he was sent back to assure the rest of the peacefulness of Cromwell’s intentions and to ask them to lay down their arms. However, they refused to listen and fired at the troops.
Cromwell sent Lee a second time to let them know that, if they laid down their arms, no wrong would be done to them, but “they still (through the animation of their leaders, and especially two vile ministers) refused”. Cromwell then ordered Captain-Lieutenant Gladman’s troop to approach them and threaten to charge, but to spare their lives if they laid down their arms. However, when they got near, the Clubmen refused to surrender, and fired a volley of shots. Two dragoons were killed and at least four horses, and eight or nine troopers were wounded.
Rumour has it that there was a traitor living locally and he guided a troop of dragoons commanded by Major Desborough around a ledge of the hill to one of the old entrances on the Hanford side. From there, they got to the top of the hill and were able to charge the surprised Clubmen from behind. The Clubmen took one look at the dragoons galloping towards them and scattered. According to Sprigg: “After a short dispute they ran, and the passage formerly assaulted was opened, and all the clubmen dispersed and disarmed, some slain, many wounded; the rest slid and tumbled down that great steep hill to the hazard of their necks”. According to Cromwell, the dragoons “did some small execution upon them; I believe killed not 12 of them, but cut very many, and we have taken about 300, many of which are poor silly creatures”.
Other estimates put the number of Clubmen dead as nearer 60. Cromwell lost three men (one an officer, Captain Pattison), and 12 wounded. As well as the 300 or so prisoners (of whom around 200 were wounded), Cromwell’s troops took 600 arms and twelve white colours. The motto on one of these colours was the distich “If you offer to plunder or take our cattle, Be assured we will bid you battle”. On others were mottos, such as “Peace and Truth”, or sentences from scripture.
Sixteen Roundhead prisoners, captured at Sturminster Newton, were freed. Some had been threatened with hanging. Among the Clubmen taken were four vicars and curates, who had been “at no divine service I can assure you”. The “malignant priests, who were principle stirrers up of the people to these tumultuous assemblies” included the Reverend Thomas Bravel, Rector of Compton Abbas, who had threatened to pistol any Clubmen who ran away, John Talbot, Vicar of Milton Abbas, and Lawford, Curate of Child Okeford, who was said to be “worse of all”.
The Clubmen prisoners were herded into St Mary’s Church in the village of Shroton and kept there for the night. Other than the 14th century Tower, the Church had been rebuilt in 1610 by Sir Thomas Freke. The only fitting surviving from 1645 is the screen that now surrounds the chapel with the large monument to Sir Thomas and Lady Freke, the monument dating from 1654. A helmet dating from about 1560, with an added neckpiece dating from the Civil War, and in the style worn by Cromwell’s troops, used to hang from the opposite wall. The helmet may have been carried at Sir Thomas’s funeral. It was still in the Church at the time ‘Walking Dorset History’ by Jo Draper and Christopher Chaplin was published in 1997, but it has since been stolen.

St Mary’s Church, Shroton, where the Clubmen of Hambledon Hill were held prisoner

St Mary’s Church, Shroton, where the Clubmen of Hambledon Hill were held prisoner

Next morning Cromwell took a list of names and the prisoners were formally examined. They freely confessed that Thomas Bravell had sent out the warrants; John Rogers of Langton Long, first cousin of Richard Rogers of Bryanston, was also involved. Cromwell then he lectured the entire group, warning them not to stop any soldier who was going about his business before sending all but a few back to their farms and villages, claiming in his report that the prisoners promised “to be very dutiful for time to come, and will be hanged before they come out again”. The leaders were retained for trial. Some managed to escape later but 17 were imprisoned at Sherborne. The dead were buried in a long grave to the south of the old Church tower.
Parliament instructed Fairfax to send such of the Clubmen leaders as he thought fit as prisoners to London and to set free “such others, of the meaner Sort, as he shall think fit; so as they first take the Covenant, and engage themselves to live quietly for the future”.

After Hambledon
With the Clubmen threat significantly reduced, Fairfax was able to get on with the siege of Sherborne. On 17 August, after the castle walls had been shattered by heavy bombardment and mining, Dyve surrendered. The following day, Fairfax marched for Bristol. After a siege lasting 21 days, the City was captured. Other than Cornwall and Devon, the west was secure for Parliament, though Corfe Castle and Portland were not captured until 1646.
There were further Clubmen risings in the following months. For example, Hampshire Clubmen near Winchester in September 1645, who were encouraged by local Royalist gentry, and 3,000 Clubmen in Worcestershire who openly declared for Parliament in November 1645. Both were easily brushed aside. During 1646 the Clubmen actively supported the New Model Army as an unofficial militia by blockading Royalist garrisons to deny them supplies and provisions.
Hambledon Hill marked the last time the Clubmen would pose a serious threat to either Royalist or Parliament troops. It was reported that after Cromwell’s victory “a man might ride very quietly between Sherborne and Salisbury” through the areas that had been the heartlands of the risings. The Clubmen are often regarded as something of a footnote in the history of the Civil War, but their threat was far from underestimated at the time: in the words of General Fairfax’s chaplain, Joshua Sprigg, if the Clubmen rising “had not been crushed in the egg, it had on an instant run all over the kingdom and might have been destructive to the Parliament”.

Reverend Thomas Bravel, Rector of Compton Abbas
Thomas Bravel appears to have been one of the most influential leaders of the Dorset Clubmen. He became Rector of Compton Abbas in 1645 and had a hand in putting together the ‘Desires and Resolutions’ and articles of covenant put to the Clubmen in May. He was also one of those who presented the Petition to the King in July. Avoiding capture at Shaftesbury, he was the leader of the Clubmen on Hambledon Hill.
Following that defeat, it appears that Thomas Bravel was one of those imprisoned in the Church, and was probably sent to Sherborne and then London, possibly remaining a prisoner until the end of the war.
In 1646, he was ‘sequestered’ (sacked) as Rector of Compton Abbas, probably for his association with the Clubmen. The minutes of the Dorset Standing Committee of 14 October 1646 record that “Uppon information given unto this Committee against Mr Bravel for words spoken in abuse of the favour of this Committee towards him, it is ordered that the said Mr Bravel shall not officiate in any Cure within this Countie until further ordered”.
On 28 October, he was given 20 days to leave the parsonage with his wife and family, and he was replaced by Mr Ed. Wooton, a “godly and orthodox divyne clerk”. However, it appears that the parishioners refused to pay their tithes and taxes to this particular gentleman, and Thomas Bravel was reinstated at Compton Abbas after only six months’ absence.
Thomas Bravel remained Rector until 1655, when he died at the early age of 39. The new Rector was Samuel Beadle.

Letter from Lieutenant General Cromwell concerning the late fight at Shaftesbury, with the Clubmen of Dorset, Wilts and Somerset.
To the Right Honourable Sir Thomas Fairfax, Commander in Chief of the Parliament’s Forces.
SIR, I marched this morning towards Shaftesbury. In my way I found a party of Clubmen gathered together, about two miles on this side of the Town, towards you; and one Mr. Newman in the head of them, who was one of those that did attend you at Dorchester, with Mr. Hollis. I sent to them to know the cause of their meeting: Mr. Newman came to me, and told me that the Clubmen in Dorset and Wilts, to the number of ten thousand, were to meet about their men who were taken away at Shaftesbury, and that their intendment was to secure themselves from plundering. To the first I told them, that although no account was due to them, yet I knew the men were taken by your authority, to be tried judicially for raising a Third Party in the Kingdom; and if they should be found guilty, they must suffer according to the nature of their offence; if innocent, I assured them you would acquit them. Upon this they said, if they have deserved punishment, they would not have any thing to do with them; and so were quieted as to that point.
For the other, I assured them, that it was your great care, not to suffer them in the least to be plundered, and that they should defend themselves from violence, and bring to your Army such as did them any wrong, where they should be punished with all severity: upon this, very quietly and peaceably they marched away to their houses, being very well satisfied and contented. We marched on to Shaftesbury, where we heard a great body of them was drawn together about Hambledon Hill, where indeed near two thousand were gathered. I sent a Forlorne of about fifty Horse, who coming very civilly to them, they fired upon them, and they desiring some of them to come to me, were refused with disdain. They were drawn into one of the old Camps, upon a very high Hill: I sent one Mr. Lee to them to certify the peaceableness of my intentions, and to desire them to peaceableness, and to submit to the Parliament. They refused, and fired at us. I sent him a second time to let them know that if they would lay down their arms, no wrong should be done them. They still (through the animation of their leaders, and especially two vile Ministers) refused. I commanded your Captain-Lieutenant to draw up to them, to be in readiness to charge; and if upon his falling on, they would lay down arms, to accept them and spare them. When we came near, they refused his offer, and let fly at him; killed about two of his men, and at least four horses. The passage not being for above three abreast, kept us out: whereupon Major Desborow wheeled about; got in the rear of them, beat them from the work, and did some small execution upon them; I believe killed not twelve of them, but cut very many, and have taken about 300; many of which are poor silly creatures, whom if you please to let me send home, they promise to be very dutiful for time to come, and will be hanged before they come out again.
The ringleaders which we have, I intend to bring to you. They had taken divers of the Parliament soldiers prisoners, besides Colonel Fiennes his men; and used them most barbarously, bragging they hoped to see my Lord Hopton, that he is to command them, they expected from Wilts great store, and gave out they meant to raise the siege at Sherborne, when they were all met. We have gotten good store of their arms, and they carried few or none home. We quarter about ten miles off, and purpose to draw our quarters near to you to-morrow.
4th August, 1645. Your most humble servant, OLIVER CROMWELL

Cerne Abbas Giant

Cerne Abbas Giant

There is at least a possibility that the Cerne Abbas Giant (180 feet tall, the largest human chalk figure in Britain) was made by Clubmen. There is no evidence that it existed before the Civil War – a detailed land survey in 1617 does not refer to the giant. There is a theory that it was carved during the Civil War by servants of the Lord of the Manor, Denzil Holles, and was perhaps intended as a parody of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was sometimes mockingly referred to as “England’s Hercules” by his enemies, and the giant has similarities to depictions of Hercules.
At the start of the Civil War, Holles fought loyally for Parliament but soon lost his appetite for war. He withdrew from the military and turned down the offer of a senior command in the Parliamentarian army. During the winter of 1642-3, he emerged as a leading member of the “Peace Party” in Parliament, taking an active part in the negotiations that took place between Parliament and the King. Holles’s support for a negotiated settlement led to violent clashes with Cromwell, whom he hated.

 Author: Chris Bellers