17 January 2012

Churches still bearing battle scars

St John's, Devizes. The church was in use as a gunpowder store in July 1643 when it
 was hit by the Roundheads' grapeshot. Photo: Brian Robert Marshall (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Photos of English parish church exteriors where English Civil War damage is still visible ...

The close-up above shows the east wall at St John's church in Devizes, Wiltshire, established in the 12th century and now a Grade 1-listed building.

Devizes came under two periods of targeted attack during the English Civil War. Parliamentary forces under William Waller besieged Ralph Hopton and his men there in 1643, before Henry Wilmot rode out of Oxford with 2,000 men to relieve the siege and allow Hopton passage out of the town. It would prove a costly mistake for Waller: Hopton would help inflict the terminal blow against his former friend's forces only days later at Roundway Down.

Close up of the damage to the east wall of St John's.
Photo: Brian Robert Marshall (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 1645 Cromwell attacked the Royalist garrison at Devizes again. The 400 Welsh troops under the command of Sir Charles Lloyd, the King's Quarter Master General, were forced to surrender and the town passed into the hands of Parliament.

During the conflict the church tower was used as a powder magazine and lead was removed from the roof to make shot (in common with many other churches of the period). A rectory house damaged during the Civil War was ordered to be rebuilt in 1646 but was removed again by 1704.

The east wall still bears around 20 grapeshot scars, at about three metres to the right of the Beauchamp tower and two to three metres off the ground. Grapeshot was about 1.5 inches in diameter and wrapped in a cloth/leather bag and fired from an artillery piece.

It is not clear during which of these attacks the damage to St John's occurred.

St Chad's, Farndon. The tower has a number of marks in
 the soft sandstone. Photo: John S Turner (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The base of the tower at St Chad's in Farndon, Cheshire, dates from the 14th century, though previous churches probably existed on the site from Saxon times.

In 1643 St Chad's was commandeered as a barracks by the Parliamentarian commander Sir William Brereton.On November 9th a skirmish took place between Brereton's troops and an opposing Royalist force for control of passage over the River Dee. Fighting reached Farndon churchyard, and the roof was set ablaze.

St Chad's remained, however, under Parliamentary control until 1645, when it was abandoned after forces under Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice forced the garrison to flee. Such was the damage to the church after this second attack that it was completely rebuilt in 1658.

The photo above show pock-marks in the sandstone wall of the church, though again it is not clear during which attack the damage was inflicted.

The church also has a fine stained glass window in the east wall of the Barnston Chapel. Underneath there is a plaque which reads:

'The Above Window was rescued in a state of extreme decay & repaired at the expense of the late Dean Cholmondeley of Chester. Of the four small top compartments, the first is broken, the second contains the representation of Richard Grosvenor, the third that of Sir William Mainwaring, slaind at the siege of Chester & the fourth that of William Barnston of Churton, another suffering loyalist. The four centre compartments are strewed with & military trophies, in the angle of one of which is a representation of Sir Francis Gamul at the seige of Chester. The ensign in one of the lower compartments is unknown. In the other compartments are figures of pikemen, musqueteers & musicians in the equipment of the time. The window was removed when the church was restored in 1869 by the late Major Barnston at the request of the then vicar but was replaced by Harry Barnston in 1894.'

St Gregory's, Offchurch. The pock-marks are said to have
been made by the musket balls fired by Cromwell's troops.
Photo: David Stowell (CC BY-SA 2.0)

St Gregory's in Offchurch, Warwickshire. The name of the village derives from 'Offa's Church', the building thought to pre-date the current one built in 1115 (the remains of a stone coffin found under the porch of the present building are thought to have contained the remains of Offa, King of Mercia).

After the first large battle of the English Civil War at nearby Edgehill, the churchwardens of Offchurch paid 1s 4d to John Cox, Nicholas Gobbs and John Arnold ‘for guiding the King’s Carriage', 6d for ‘two fathens for the King’ and 2d for ‘a maimed soldier'.

The pock-marks (above) on the south face are locally attributed to have been caused by Cromwell's troops, though there is no direct evidence to confirm the story.

St Luke's, Holmes Chapel. Photo: Terry Robinson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

St Luke's in the village of Holmes Chapel in Cheshire. The history of the church can be traced back to 1245, though, again, a Saxon church may have existed on the site.

In 1640 two stained glass memorials to members of the Needham family in the north aisle of the church were destroyed. The tower has musket ball damage to its base (above), possibly suffered during the Royalist fallback from Middlewich in 1643 or around the time of the Battle of Nantwich in 1644.

St Lawrence's, Alton. Parliamentary forces caused musket
damage to the south door during the Battle of Alton.
Photo: Julian Humphrys

The door at St Lawrence's, in Alton, Hampshire. The baptismal font is the only remaining indication that an Anglo-Saxon place of worship existed on the same site, the rest of the church Norman in origin.

The churchwarden accounts of 1625 mention' the church's peal of bells being rung when King Charles came to the town in 1625. The pulpit, described by Pevsner as 'an outstanding mid-C17 piece', also dates from this period.

On 13th December 1643 the Royalist garrison at Alton serving under the Earl of Crawford were taken by surprise by William Waller's army. Crawford fled, leaving the town to be defended by Colonel Richard Bole (Bolle). Waller was joined in the assault by Arthur Heselrig, and after fierce fighting around the church lasting around two hours Bole was killed, reputedly on the steps of the pulpit (after hearing of his death King Charles wrote that he had 'lost one of (his) best commanders in this Kingdom').

Success at Alton brought some revenge for Waller over Hopton after the defeat at Roundway Down. In the aftermath of the battle he wrote to his former friend:

'This is the first evident ill success I have had. I must acknowledge that I have lost many brave and gallant men. I desire you, if Colonel Boles be alive, to propound a fit exchange; if dead, that you will send me his corpse. I pray you send me a list of such prisoners as you have, that such choice men as they are may not continue long unredeemed. God give a sudden stop to this issue of English blood which is the desire, Sir, of your faithful friend to serve you ...'.

The fighting at Alton - some of the fiercest of the war - was also the first time that leather guns had been used in England.

The south door of the church (above) has a number of holes caused by musket balls, though shot also caused damage to pillars, walls and the ceiling. A number of relics from the battle, including a key, a uniform button, bullets and a pipe are on display in a cabinet in the church.

Others examples of churches where I've been told that visible damage exists (but I don't have images for) include:

  • St Chads, Holt, Denbighshire
  • St Barts, Tong, Shropshire.

If anyone has images of these churches showing English Civil War damage and is happy for me to display them here, please do send them on.


  1. Great site!

    Three other churches showing damage I can think of:

    St Mary's Acton, Cheshire: bullet impact marks from 1644 battle of Nantwich

    The Tower of St James Church, Devizes: shot damage during 1643 siege

    St Lawrence, Alton: old west (now south) door bears scars of battle of Dec 1643

  2. Updated 19.01.12 to include the Alton image. Thanks Julian: @generaljules

  3. Hello, I have some photograph's of the damage of the Tower for St Chad's Norton-in-Hales, Shropshire. Where should I send these to?

    Regards Hannah

  4. Hi Hannah - would love to see them. Please send to struan (at) englishcivilwar.org (see the 'About' page). A few people have sent me some more, so will try and do a 'Churches bearing battle scars' part 2 soon. Thanks for stopping by!