Civil War in Chester....
Starving townsfolk survived siege by eating cats and
KING Charles I raised his Royal flag in Nottingham in August
1642 to commence England's bloody Civil War. Chester supported the
King, pricipally due to the influence of the locally important Gamull
family, plus of course, the fact that his eldest son was also the
Earl of Chester.
Local Royalist support soon became very strong in Chester and when
Sir William Brereton tried to rally support for the Parliamentarians
in the city centre, there was nearly a riot. Sir William left Chester
to try and raise support elsewhere, and his town house was burned
to the ground.
Chester was important since it was the Gateway to Wales and as a
port it was also a strategic position which the Parliamentarians
were keen to control. Throughout the War they tried to break through
the city's defences, but without success.
By October 1642, 300 armed men were trained and armed with muskets
to defend Chester and over the months the city walls were strengthened
However, from 1644 the Royalists armies were concentrated in the
south of England, leaving the north to fend for itself. The knowledge
that there would be nomilitary relief for Chester made the Parliamentarians
more determined to win the city - making a siege situation almost
Although most people lived within the city walls at that time there
were houses in what is now Foregate Street, Northgate Street, Boughton
and Handbridge. After a surprise attack on the eastern suburbs,
which caused the Mayor to flee from his home in Foregate Street,
the Royalists decided to burn all the suburbs down. This improved
their view of Roundhead movements, and stopped the enemy from using
the buildings for themselves.
This was obviously a drastic move, especially for the people who
lived in the suburbs, but in the time of civil war great sacrifices
were made. Initially all the Royalist soldiers were volunteers,
but in June 1643 conscription was introduced.
Now all men in Chester had to fight to defend the city.
Taxes had to be levied on the Chester residents to pay the garrison
of soldiers stationed there, and also for the building work involved
in the defences.
However, trade was reduced by the war, and people found it difficult
to pay. In the end silver treasures of the city had to be melted
down. These were turned into coins to pay for the defence.
Sir William Brereton tried to blockade the city from camps at Tarvin,
Christleton, Hoole and Puddington. In July 1643 the real attacks
began and Chester was effectively under siege for almost two years.
The King visited Chester twice during the Civil War, once in 1642
and again in 1645 when he watched the Battle of Rowton Moor, from
the Phoenix Tower, now known as King Charles' Tower. The Battle
of Rowton Moor was long and hard fought. It was actually made up
of three separate fights as the armies retreated and attacked again.
The fighting lasted all day until the Roundheads, led by Colonel
General Poynts finally defeated the Cavalier troops.
Afterwards the situation worsened for the people of Chester and
when the King left he gave instructions to the Governor, Lord Byron
to surrender in twenty days if help did not arrive.
The citizens had suffered for nearly three years and were determined
not to give in. The defences held firm until the winter of 1645-46
when the Roundheads intensified their blockade.
The citizens were now forced to eat cats, dogs and even rats to
stay alive. Starvation finally forced Lord Byron to agree to an
honourable surrender, and Chester officially capitulated on February