Birmingham: Sieges, Battles and Skirmishes

The ECW Travelogue ventured slightly south to Britain's second city. Although in seventeenth century Britain  Birmingham was a small town, existing in the shadow of the once great medieval city of Coventry.

In 1520 Birmingham boasted a population of about 1000, by 1650 it was about 5000, the rapidly expanding town had become the fifth largest in the country boasting three markets. From medieval times the town had a history of manufacturing, mostly leather and textiles. This changed in the early seventeenth century and Birmingham became famous for metalwork - in particular ironwork. The townspeople mostly supported Parliament in the Civil War and iron mills made arms for the Parliamentary forces: Robert Porter's Town Mill alone supplied 15000 swords to Lord Essex. Coupled with Birmingham's location it becomes easy to see why the town would become of interest to the King.

Birmingham and it's environs witnessed a number of small battles and skirmishes as well as the more famous Battle of Camp Hill and the sacking of the town by Prince Rupert.

Battle of Kings Norton
In October 1642 Prince Rupert marched towards Solihull to meet the King (who was staying at Aston Hall with Sir Thomas Holte). His troops were resting near Kings Norton (possibly on Kings Norton Green) and were surprised by a small force of Trained Band soldiers led by Lord Willoughby of Parham. Willoughby's men, despite being heavily outnumbered, won the day and Rupert's men fled. 

Charles's Army passed through Birmingham after the Battle, and his soldiers went on a looting spree. To appease the town Charles ordered two of his captains to be hanged - it didn't and the town moved further towards the Parliamentarian cause. In retaliation the King's baggage train was attacked, captured and delivered to the Parliamentarian stronghold of Warwick

The day after Kings Norton a small skirmish took place at Hawkesley Hall.

Battle of Camp Hill
Easter Monday 1643: Prince Rupert requested entry to the poorly fortified town. His army of 1900 men was refused entry by about 200 townsfolk and a company from the garrison at Lichfield under the command of Captain Richard Greaves.

The battle  started with a direct assault on the earthworks at Camp Hill: the defenders  twice repulsed Rupert's men, before their earthworks were outflanked by Rupert's cavalry. Rupert's men pursued the fleeing townspeople and soldiers into Birmingham where they came under fire from some houses, which they torched. About 80 houses were “burnt to ashes”, and some 15 men, and two women were killed, with many more wounded.

These atrocities were reported, and no doubt exaggerated in the news sheet A True Relation of Prince Rvpert's Barbarous Cruelly against the Towne of Brumingham.

Siege of Aston Hall
December 1643: 1,200 Birmingham Parliamentarians attacked Aston Hall; after a 3 day siege using artillery Holte and his men surrendered. He was imprisoned and the house plundered. 

Siege of Hawksley Hall
The Middlemore family who lived at Hawksley Hall were ardent royalists, had been driven out of their home when the Hall was seized in 1644 by Colonel Fox. It would be garrisoned by Captain Gouge. Soldiers from the Royalist garrison of Dudley Castle  would constantly try to raid the Hall and it's lands.

The siege of Hawkesley began on 13 May 1645 when Rupert and Maurice arrived from Droitwich with the main Royalist army to demand surrender. The following day the King himself arrived with his army, having travelled the short distance from Cofton Hall where he had been staying. 

Some one hundred Parliamentarians endured a three-day siege and bombardment with the Royalists held at bay by the medieval moat. However, on 16 May Gouge and  his troops were finally forced to surrender and Hawkesley House was burnt to the ground. There is a record in the 1950s of cannon balls having been unearthed at the farm.

What's there now?

Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery has a small exhibition relating to the Civil Wars, most notably Rupert's sacking of the town. On display is a weathervane reputedly shot at by Rupert.

Also on display is a portrait of an unknown woman by the noted court portrait painter William Dobson.

The Museum is currently closed until 2022 for an electrical rewire.

The site of Camp Hill has pretty much disappeared under urban sprawl- the only surviving building from the time is Stratford House, which has had a somewhat colourful history, and has been extensively rebuilt after an extensive fire in 2015.

A marker locates the site of the Ship Inn, which was reputedly Rupert's headquarters during the battle. Located to the north of Camp Hill Circus on the grass verge between the very busy carriageway of Bordesley Middleway, it can be accessed safely via the pedestrian route between Old Camp Hill Road and Stratford Street north.

Kings Norton Green still exists, as does the Saracen's Head where Henrietta Maria stayed the night as she processed to Oxford at the head of a Yorkshire raised army. (The Saracen's Head is now known by the name St Nicholas' Place.)

Aston Hall was restored after the Restoration in 1660; it is run by Birmingham City Council as a museum and conference/wedding venue. This beautiful Jacobean red brick mansion still bears some of the damage from it's sieges, most notably hole in the staircase which allegedly was caused by a cannonball which had passed through a window, an open door, and into the banister.

The hall has a Civil War room, with a display of replica armour and weaponry.

Kingstanding Road is site of a bowl barrow where Charles reviewed his troops on 18th October 1642 (lit. King standing) after staying at Aston Hall. As the bowl barrow is a scheduled ancient monument, the area is undeveloped.

Hawkesley Hall doesn't exist anymore as it was razed to the ground. Excavations have found evidence of settlement on the site from the 11th century, soon after the Norman Conquest. Probably during the 13th century a moat with a sandstone wall was dug to surround the house.  Excavations prior to building in 1957 showed evidence of a timber gatehouse with a tiled roof. Evidence of timber buildings within the moat was also revealed. There is a record from the 1950s of cannon balls being unearthed at this location. The area is now an open space and the remains of the moat are still visible.

Edgbaston Hall was a 'twin' garrison of Hawkesley Hall. The combined garrisons being notorious at raiding the local area. Comprehensive records of the garrison and its men have survived, the papers of  Warwickshire County Committee. Alas the Civil war era hasn't survived, being demolished and rebuilt as a Georgian mansion. The building is now the clubhouse of a golf club.

The Old Crown, Digbeth claims the title of  Birmingham's oldest pub, and it is believed that some skirmishing took place in it's vicinity during the Wars (as opposed to general Saturday night pub fights).

St Giles Church, Sheldon has marks on the north side of it's tower which are claimed to have been made by pikemen sharpening their pikes.

Postcodes for SatNavs
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery B3 3DH
(site of) Ship Inn, B11 1BN
Stratford House B12 0HT
St Nicholas' Place (Saracen's Head) B38 8RU
Aston Hall B6 6JD
Kingstanding bowl barrow, Kingstanding Road B44 9NH
Hawkesley Open Space, Hawkesley End B38 9SQ
Edgbaston Hall (Edgbaston Golf Club), 25 Church Road B15 3TB
Old Crown, Digbeth B12 0LD
St Giles Church, Sheldon B26 3TT

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  1. Wonderful images - history brought back to life. I must say I was intrigued by the woodblock of Prince Rupert and Boye.

    1. Thanks Dean. The woodcut of Rupert at Birmingham is one of the strongest images from the period (along with Streeter's plan, Rupert hiding after Marston Moor, and the two dogs image)

  2. A most interesting article.

    1. You can see why they didn't like Royalists in those parts! I do like Dobson, fantastic painter!
      Best Iain


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