London, Part Six: Battlefields
The modern sprawl that is Greater London now encompasses two (!) Civil War battlefield sites. The ECW Travelogue investigates them both.
Battle of Brentford, 12th November 1642.
Charles believed he could strengthen his negotiating power in the peace negotiations if he parked an army on the outskirts of London - his 'I've got a big stick' approach to negotiations led to his advance down the Thames Valley.
Detail from Moses Glover's 1635 map of Brentford
Charles ordered Rupert to take Brentford, which protected his preferred route into London along the Great West Road; the town was guarded by two Parliamentarian Regiments of Foot (Denzil Holles's and Lord Brooke's), and a number of cavalry squadrons.
Early on the morning of the 12th Rupert attacked with a force of cavalry and dragoons. On hearing the attack the Parliamentarian cavalry duly ran away. The initial attack at Sir Richard Wynn's House was repulsed; with the support of six Regiments of Foot, Rupert was able to rout the Parliamentarian forces from this position and then through the town itself. Many Parliamentarians were captured or drowned in the Thames fleeing. Those troops that did manage to escape did so because John Hampden’s Regiment of Foot moved up to protect the retreat.
Once the fighting was done, Rupert's troops sacked Brentford, an act that led to many undecided Londoners to side with Parliament.
Amongst those captured was John Lilburne. The Royalists wanted to try Lilburn for high treason, but the Parliamentarians threatened to execute a number of Royalist prisoners in return; so Lilburne was exchanged for Royalist prisoners. This convention of prisoner exchange became known as Declaration of Lex Talionis and would run until the Second Civil War.
Overnight, following the battle, Parliament tried to bring arms and ammunition down the Thames to help defend the City. The barges came under fire from Syon House; and, as the Royalists had lined the river with cannon from Brentford to the site of Kew Bridge, the barge crews believed they had no escape so scuttled their vessels.
What's there now?
Information boards can be found at Syon Park (near the garden centre site, overlooking the car park), Brentford Bridge, and outside the County Court. The Brentford Memorial, which commemorates significant events in Brentford's history is also located at the Court.
The Battlefield's Trust has a trail leaflet linking the three information boards together, the walk takes about 45 minutes.
Syon House, home of the Earl of Northumberland, is described as one of the last great houses of London, and sits within 800 acres of parkland. The house and park were remodelled in the eighteenth century by Robert Adam and capability Brown, and is believed to be the birthplace of 'Adam style' architecture. The 'red drawing room' houses a number of portraits of the Stuart household, and a portrait of the 10th Earl, who was made guardian of Charles's children when the King was under house arrest at Hampton Court. The House is open to visitors from March to November, see website for details.
Sir Richard Wynn's House is long since gone, but was located somewhere between the Coach and Horses, and The George and Dragon on London Road.
The Turnham Green Standoff, 13th November 1642
Turnham Green was the battle that never was. In the aftermath of Brentwood Parliament moved it's forces to Turnham to block the approach to London. 13000 Royalist troops (under the command of the Earl of Forth) squared up to 24000 Parliamentarians (Earl of Essex). The King was present and decided that fighting the Trained Bands would not endear him to the civilian population of London (coupled with low stocks of gunpowder, and the small matter of being massively outnumbered) so decided to withdraw after a few cannon salvoes and a bit of light cavalry skirmishing.
Two Parliamentarian vessels on the Thames attacked Syon House with cannon, damaging the house. Royalist counter-fire appears to have sunk one of the vessels.
The citizens of London had sent one hundred cart loads of food and drink for the Parliamentarian army; supplies which Essex would send to alleviate the suffering of the inhabitants of Brentford,
Charles's 'big stick' approach to bolstering peace negotiations had backfired considerably: London was now, if it had ever been in doubt, very firmly for Parliament.
What's there now?
The 'battlefield' has pretty much been built over, however there is a small park bearing the name Turnham Green. There are information boards at Barley Mow (Heathfield Terrace near the junction with Chiswick High Road), Acton Green Common (entrance opposite Cunnington Street), and Turnham Green Terrace (next to the bus stop opposite the estate agents at number 92).
Detail from the Turnham Green Terrace board
Fast forward to 1652
When Cromwell returned to London after his victory at Worcester, London's dignitaries rode out to meet his return at Acton Hill.
Postcodes for SatNavs/mapping apps, and closest TfL stations
Syon Park, Park Road TW8 8JG (this serves both the information board and the House)
Brentford Bridge, London Road TW8 8JB
Brentford County Court, Alexandra Road TW8 0JJ
Turnham Green Standoff those for Parliament alight at Turnham Green, those for the King Chiswick Park (those stations pretty much align with deployment lines) - both stations are on the District Line
Barley Mow, Heathfield Terrace W4 4JN
Turnham Green, Turnham Green Terrace W4 1QN
Acton Green Common, Acton Lane W4 5EE