The latest offering from Wessex Books is Alan Turton’s Civil War in Wessex. Alan was until recently manager of Basing House, site of one of the most lengthy – and bloody – sieges of ‘this war without an enemy’ and his knowledge of the conflict is without compare. He provides a compelling narrative of the 1640s and 50s, as the balance of power swung back and forth between the Royalist and Parliamentarian forces.
We learn that, in August 1642, before war was actually declared, Portsmouth was wrenched from Royalist hands, the Governor of Southsea Castle, Captain Challenor, being found drunk at his post! Meanwhile armies, already numbered in the thousands, were squaring up to one another around Sherborne and Yeovil.
1643 saw Bath and Devizes in the spotlight, and evidence of the Parliamentary assault is still visible at the latter today. As the year wore on the action veered towards Hampshire. Newbury fell to the Royalists, William Waller attacked Basing House, and in December a violent action was fought at Alton, where Colonel Bolles fell fighting in St Lawrence’s Church and the Parliamentarians prevailed.
The following year saw the Battle of Cheriton, where Waller emerged victorious. This says Alan Turton ‘proved to be one of the main turning points of the war’. It also saw the combatants digging in at Basing House, where a formal siege was established and pursued through countless hardships, until Oliver Cromwell brought it to an end in October, 1645.
And so the story continues, with the surrender of the last Royalist army in March, 1646, the attempts of King Charles to evade capture in Hampshire, while looking for a ship and, after his stay at Carisbrooke, his three week imprisonment at Hurst Castle ‘the worst castle in England’. Then came his move to Windsor, his trial and subsequent execution.
The book is well illustrated, with excellent photographs of key locations and line drawings of the main protagonists, many by the author. If you want a concise, informative, colourful introduction to this turbulent period of our regional history, then this is the book for you.