The English Civil war was fought between King and Parliament, but the largest battle in Dorset was not fought between Cavaliers and Roundheads.

SoldierEvery one knows that the English Civil war was fought between King and Parliament, but the largest battle in Dorset, (some of the sieges involved more men), was not fought between Cavaliers and Roundheads. It occurred in 1645 when a force from Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, numerically outnumbered by some 4 to 1, did battle with the Dorset Clubmen a little known third force which owed no allegiance to either side.

The Clubmen were countryfolk who resented the 'un-natural' Civil War and had grown weary of the battles between Cavaliers and Roundheads, and the depredations of the soldiers of both sides which damaged their lands and ruined the crops. Few of them knew the merits of the quarrel between King and Parliament but, armed with clubs, (from which came their name), pitchforks and scythe blades, this motley collection of yeomen and farmers took issue with both sides. Often generalled by clergy, they took a battering wherever they defended their land. Their only uniform was a white cockcade and their banners were inscribed with the motto

'If you offer to plunder or take our cattle,
be assured we will bid you battle'.

Although they came from all the surrounding counties the Clubmen were particularly strong in Dorset and after having been harried by Oliver Cromwell some 2-4000 of them became entrenched on Hambledon Hill in August 1645. It was here that they made their last stand led by the Rev. Bravel of Compton Abbas. Against them was Cromwells army of about 1000 men, fresh from the siege of Sherborne Castle and which had earlier surrounded the town of Shaftesbury and capture about 50 of the clubmens leaders who were holding a meeting there. Cromwell attacked from the rear and the clubmen were routed. Most fled, and some it is said, escaped by sliding down the hill on their bottoms, amongst them 4 clergy.

At the end of the battle when Cromwell sent 50 dragoons to drag the remaining Clubmen from the hill, it was probably as comic a battle as the reenactment by villagers carried out when Princess Marie Louise visited Shroton in 1951. Cromwell's dragoons easily overcame them and chased some 400 of them down the slopes to be locked up overnight in the village church of St. Mary's. Next day Oliver Cromwell decided that they were 'poor silly creatures' and after lecturing them allowed their release.

Other than this final stand, very little detail is known about the Clubmen or their leaders. It is known that prior to the battle on Hambledon Hill they had gathered at Badbury Rings. and that one of their leaders was Richard Newman , a member of the Newman family of Fifehead Magdalen. Any additional information on the Clubmen would be greatly appreciated.

Brian Tompkins

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