Stories from history in their telling and retelling lose most of their reality over the distance of time. That is the main reason why I read memoirs, diaries and letters to gather the true impressions of the periods I write about in my novels. I have found that many text books will share the facts but the facts have lost the substance of reality. What did it like for the people involved? What happened next when that event was over?
But the details of reality are often not completely lost. By spending some time researching things properly you can rediscover the detail.
One of the myths that has been filled-in in these gaps of lost knowledge in our village is that our village was so impacted by the plague in the 1600s that people moved away from the area around the church and up the hill to settle around what became the village green. Having spent hours researching our house and the land our house is built on, I think it is another myth that I can bust. Through my research, I have seen a very different story come through in the lost details I’ve found out.
This section of my story begins with the last document I looked at in the records office (pictured above). I have already said that I managed to trace the ownership of the land and property where our house is in documents back to the 24th June 1671, when the property was sold by Henry Long Esquire to Edward Pierce, woollen draper.
The document was amongst this package of deeds;
|“Ten counterpart conveyances|
|Of houses and lands, parts of the manor of Poulshot, from Henry Long of Rood Ashton, and after 1672, his executors.
Parties: Sheppard, Stone, Hiller, Rooke, Bollwell, Withers, Peirce, Gowen, Hind.
I knew there is more to be learned about this transaction, because the Long family were vast landowners, and in 1671 Walter Long of Whaddon was the 1st Baronet of Whaddon and the Sheriff of Wiltshire.
Sir Walter Long, son of another Henry Long, died in 1672 at the age of 80 and left his land to his heir Walter who became the 2nd Baronet of Whaddon. Most of the land in Poulshot passed to the 2nd Barron. Those areas of land and buildings remained in the Long family until 1911 when the land and properties were sold by auction. Everyone in the village already knows this. My mind then was wondering why our land was sold on from the Long family much earlier.
I have now tracked the Long family tree to discover that Henry Long of Rood Ashton (the seller in the Indenture in 1671) was a distant cousin to Walter (1st Baronet of Whaddon). Walter’s grandfather (Edward Long) had been Henry’s great-grandfather’s uncle. Edward was given a separate area of Land in Poulshot by his uncle (Henry), while the largest area in Poulshot was passed to his uncle’s heir (his eldest son, another Henry. It is no wonder this gets so confusing).
So our Henry’s land had passed down to him via a separate line of the Long family.
Fortunately our Henry’s grandfather, Gifford Long, was a member of parliament over the period just before the Civil War in the 1600s, and this means there are records of how Gifford Long came by his inheritance. (Richard Long’s story, a later relative of our Henry who was also an MP, gives a little more background). I have also found this really good description of Walter Long’s life during the 1600s. Walter was heavily involved in the political arena of parliament in the lead up to the Civil War.
I want to discover more about these members of the Long family, but I had another lead that took me into further research in a slightly different direction. It was this research that meant I began thinking that the village myth wasn’t right.
The last document told me two particularly useful things that took me in directions for more research. The first thing led to the reason for this blog post (the second I will save for next week). The Indenture above actually mentions the name of the tenant, John Cook(e). If you read my post last week you will know that the same name appeared on the paperwork of a later sale in 1740, I think the second John Cook is the son of the original John Cook, though. But the fact that they named the tenant told me that John Cook, and his son, may have been important. There was something to be read between the lines of the document. As I said the things that are lost, metaphorically slipping between the cracks of the facts.
My time at the records office finished on that document (for now, I have a list of documents to go back and look for that I hope will tell me more.) But John Cook, or Cooke as it is sometimes written, stayed in my mind. I had a man. I wanted to picture the man. What was life like for him. With the research bug itching, I began searching online to find out more.
My first stop was a historical timeline for the 1600s. Obviously the village myth says that in that century our village had entirely reformed. Why had nearly every resident moved from wattle and daub properties around the church at the bottom of the hill, into new brick buildings, with wood-frames for their bones, mostly built about the village green at the top of the hill?
The official conservation document for Poulshot confirms that this migration took place in the 17th Century, but it cannot explain the reason for this. Yet, that document mentions the Manor Farm buildings were there prior to this date. (Manor Farm is the building that is on the land that was sold at the same time as ours, and on the 1800s maps, the only other property on the 165 acres of land that was sold along with our house). Manor Farm is the property that is shaded green at the lowest point in the map below.
“The oldest surviving dwelling in the Conservation Area is The Old Farmhouse at Mill Lane which although much altered dates from the 16th century. The 17th century was a time of considerable building in the village, including a number of the farmhouses. There are at least nine surviving properties from the 17th century including Manor Farmhouse which is a late 17th century refronting of an earlier timber framed range of buildings. Several of the other 17th century buildings can still be seen as timber framed, others have been refronted or updated.” (All the properties shaded green on the map above are listed properties).
In the past people must have looked at the historical timeline for the 1600s, seen the plague and apportioned the changes in Poulshot to that. But the Civil War raged across the British Isles from 1642 until 1653. My attention was drawn by that, not the plague.
Poulshot is within the distance of canon fire – a-stone’s-throw – or a trebuchet shot (she says with a smile 😀 ) – from a castle town. Devizes, that castle town, is on another step up to the hills on which the ancient track called The Ridgeway crossed. A castle was on that hill at least from the early Norman period, and the castle even housed the royal court for a period in the much earlier civil war; a war between the followers of Queen Matilda and followers of King Stephen.
During the Civil War in the 1600s most castles in the south of England were destroyed by canon fire and ransacked. To the point of being inhabitable. Most of these castles were left to become ruins after the war, as families built more modern properties rather than rebuilding their castles. So, it was safe for me to make a guess that troops would have attacked Devizes, and that therefore that was something to research to try to understand more about John Cook(e)’s life.in
The intent of my search then progressed to try to understand what was not only happening in the village of Poulshot, but around Poulshot during the 1600s, in the years impacted by the politics that lead up to the Civil War and into the years following the war. The stories of Walter Long of Whaddon indicate that the Long family where at the heart of the political situation that lead up to the Civil war, and Walter, who owned most of the land in Poulshot, fought on the side of the Roundheads, against Charles I. Though, Walter Long later changed his allegiance and joined Charles II in exile. This information made me certain that there was warfare in the area around Poulshot.
There are lots of online articles on the Civil War in Devizes . The focus is particularly about the battle of Roundway. This was a significant Civil War battle that took place in the countryside around Devizes and carried on into the streets of the town. The Royalists were camped in Devizes and the Parliamentarian army had surrounded the town, setting up a siege in the hopes of forcing the Royalists out from the castle. When the Parliamentarians heard that a Royalist army of 1500 was on its way to provide reinforcements for the town, the Parliamentarians left the town and moved to a position on the high ground at the top of a steep hill on Roundway Down. A hill that looked down over the road. But the Royalist mounted cavalry were not deterred by the slope, they attacked first (horses hooves kicking those that stood in their way, trampling them down and stamping on those that fell as the soldiers slashed, cut and pierced with their swords). The Parliamentarians may have held the advantage of position, but they could not form squares to protect themselves from the cavalry and so the Royalists won and the Parliamentarians dispersed and fled. The descriptions speak of hand to hand combat in the narrow streets of the town around the castle.
A local amateur historian has found numerous remains that evidence how widespread and violent the battle was.
When I watched the Battle of Waterloo reenactment I discovered how the army responded to restrict the impact of a cavalry attack. The Parliamentarians could not have responded like this on the narrow area of the shallower slope where the battle took place.
Devizes and Roundway Down
A few days before the battle of Roundway, there was also a battle on lands between Poulshot and the City of Bath, at Landsdowne. Neither side won that battle, the Parliamentarians (Roundheads) retreated into the City of Bath and because the Royalists had heavy losses they retreated to Devizes.
So, that means that between the 5th July 1643 and the 13th July 1643 the armies of Both sides had certainly moved across the land close to Poulshot, or even travelled through the village. Perhaps part of the army had even stayed in the village as they had set up a siege around the castle before the 13th July?
Today when these battles are re-enacted, they are celebrated as being something of occasion. But around 1500 Parliamentarians (Roundheads) died during the battle of Roundway Down, no figure for deaths is known for the Royalists (Cavaliers).
If you know how much blood can come from a small cut then imagine a body bleeding out into the mud. The ground that the soldiers fought on would have been soaked red. The smells of entrails, both from horses and men who had been hit, mixed with the bitter smell of gun powder from the rifles and cannon would have given the battle field a very distinct and grotesque stench. A stench that would have travelled as far as Poulshot (as you will know if you live in the country when it’s muck spreading time of year).
Equally, when I was researching the Battle of Waterloo for a book, The Lost Love of a Soldier, I was sitting in my old single brick walled living room, and the house kept shaking as over ten miles away the army set off guns on Salisbury Plain. It made me think that they must have heard the guns in Brussels. I later had that belief confirmed in research. But so then would Poulshot people not only have seen the armies pass, and been emotionally engaged in these interactions, but they would also have listened to and smelt the battle on the 13th July. They would also have seen the smoke rising. It must have been terrifying. They would have known people fighting, and they must have wondered whether they were safe in their homes. I know that people at the time were more resilient emotionally, because there were a higher number of deaths, life was more difficult, but they would not have experienced war before the Civil War broke out. War is a very different thing.
This is as much telling you about how I develop book ideas as it is telling you about how I went about this research and about the things I’ve found out. 😀 Because having recognised that these things would have been happening during the life of the John Cook(e) that lived in our house, my imagination was then drawn to comparisons of the civil war in places like Syria.
Whole towns and ways of life have been destroyed in Syria and people who have lived through this terror are struggling to learn how to feel safe and live again.
Having undertaken a lot of study on war previously, because in my Marlow Intrigues Series there a couple of soldiers in the books whose lives I wanted to properly portray, I have learned about some key historical principles of managing wars and progressing battles.
When I researched Waterloo for the Lost Love of a Soldier, and travelled over to be shown around the sites of the battle events, one thing I had never previously thought about was the importance of roads.
When you are trying to move an army, of hundreds of soldiers on the march, but also their equipment in carts – including the cannons, but also everything that is going to keep the army fed and provide kegs of ale for them to drink, and all the gunpowder and shot they will need for a battle – then you cannot drag all that over pastures and through hedgerows and woods. You need roads to be able to move an army quickly to the places where you need them. Therefore whichever side controlled the key roads had/has an advantage, and had a better chance of winning the war. Even today the army use that principle. In Helmand, in Afghanistan, the Taliban wanted to control the road and that is why that was where the majority of the worst fighting took place because the allied forces were protecting it so that the road could be used.
I have loads of videos of the different armies and battalions walking towards the reenactment Waterloo battle but here are a couple to give you some idea…
The amount of men is significantly (in the extreme) lower than those involved in the Civil War in the 1600s, and there would have been lots of cannons in between the people.
As I said the road around Poulshot leads to Rowd and on to Roundway Hill. There are other roads, but Poulshot lies on one side of a crossroads just outside Devizes, and on the far side of that crossroads is the road to Roundway. I find it hard to consider that the soldiers did not pass through and/or occupy Poulshot.
I have not proven this theory yet, but I have dug out some lists of records that might help me to prove it in the future, but certainly the case for my theory to be correct is much stronger than that the plague had such an impact on a very small village that everyone moved a few hundred meters further away from the church. It is far more likely that during the Civil War, Poulshot housed troops. Devizes town changed hands several times during the Civil War, from being controlled by Roundheads to Cavaliers and back again and therefore it is likely that the control of the roads around Poulshot changed hands several times too.
Another thing I learned about the reality of historical wars and battles in my research into not just Waterloo, but the whole of the period of the Peninsular War, is that there are often long periods of standoff. Especially during winter when the battles often stop due the difficulties encountered with moving an army on muddy tracks. During these times armies gather and may camp for weeks, waiting for the right moment to make an advance.
Before the battle of Waterloo, just on the allied side there were around 250,000 men lodged in Brussels and encamped around that city. That is a lot of people. Think about how much food those men are devouring in the weeks before the battle. Do you think they had enough animals to feed that many, or enough grain stocks to make bread for them? Of course they did not. These men would have been very hungry, and you may think that an army was disciplined that they may have been hungry but they would have been orderly. I have also learned from research of actual accounts how untrue that was. Which did not really take much imagination as at the time they shot deserters to frighten other soldiers into not rebelling or running away from a fight. But if soldiers thought they could get away with rebellions they would attempt them.
Even in the 1800s during the Peninsular War there were extreme cases of insubordination. After a particularly difficult battle in Spain that the English army won after a long period of encampment outside a city, the soldiers went on a raping and pillaging rampage through the city. It was very undignified for the army of scarlet jacketed men who have since been romanticised in scenes from novels like those of Jane Austen. But this was because the men had suffered hunger, thirst and fear for weeks/months and when the cork came off the top of the bottle, bloodlust made the men become viciously immoral. The officers captured and shot some of their own men in the end to bring the rampage that had gone on for days to a halt.
Being able to imagine the number of men, looking for food and shelter, it makes sense, then, that they would most likely have camped in and around Poulshot. Because, while they besieged Devizes, in Poulshot the men had houses where they might sleep under a roof for a night – probably packed in on the mud floors – and food that they could take. The animals belonging to the villagers would have either been confiscated by the officers, or stolen by the soldiers, to feed all those hungry mouths, and the grain stores emptied. Even the wild food would have been hunted if the soldiers remained for long, depleting the number of pigeons, rabbits, deer, boar, crows. The villagers and the countryside would have become as starved as the soldiers.
Then what happens when the soldiers of one army have to fall back, because the opposing side is making an advance. They will not leave that village to become a refuge for the opposing side, but burn the houses that they had sheltered in, and take any food or animals that are left, to leave the other army struggling to find resources.
War is never kind, nor polite, nor fair, and often those who suffer most are the people who are not in the fight. What was life like for John Cook, and those in the village then?
This post is getting really long I know ~ but come back to it later if you want to, I am not going to cut it in half because I want to keep all this period of information in one place. Because not only did I find out more information about the Long family in further searches but I also actually found mention of John Cook(e).
To explore the cracks between the facts of history I need to find the letters, memoirs and diaries, details about the lives of individuals involved. It’s the real life information that is not even about the fact, that a battle happened at Roundway, that I started trying to find. I wanted to know about the lives of people before and after that day.
For instance, my latest historical series that focuses on a group of poets, was inspired the stories of the real Regency Poets, and one of those, Shelley, ran away with his future second wife to Europe in between the period of the Peninsular War and Waterloo. He and Mary wrote a diary as they travelled, and described the impact of the war on the villages they travelled through. Starving people, living in makeshift buildings because their villages had been destroyed, ransacked.
So I do not think it is much of a step to image Poulshot in that situation.
A BBC website talks about the West of England at the end of the Civil War. ‘The war was over, but the cost to ordinary people in human suffering was immeasurable. Bled dry with taxes, they had also endured the compulsory billeting of uncouth troops in their houses, the plundering of their animals, the theft of their food, the disruption of their markets, the vandalisation of their churches and the destruction of their property. The lingering effects of the war were visible wherever you turned. One-third of the people in Gloucester were homeless; one-quarter in Bridgwater and two-thirds in Taunton. Hundreds of maimed soldiers and destitute widows submitted petitions to the county quarter sessions in the hope of gaining some relief. Fields lay abandoned; bridges broken down; and road surfaces destroyed. In 1646, on the anniversary of the relief of Taunton from siege, George Newton, the minister, looked around him and described in a sermon‘, “here heaps of rubbish, here consumed houses, a multitude of which are raked in their own ashes. Here a poor forsaken chimney and there a little fragment of a wall that have escaped to tell what barbarous and monstrous wretches there have been.”
I was then lucky enough to begin to be able to make some greater connections that brought this story directly back to our house. Because when I was searching records online I came across so many connections.
Going back to Henry Long Esq who sold the land and buildings where our house is sited, in 1671: the online information I found out about his family (in the Long family links earlier in the blog), told me that his grandfather and cousin Walter I (later 1st Baronetcy) were both members of parliament in the lead up to the Civil War. They stood against Charles 1 in obvious political opposition, Walter Long particularly, but Gifford Long (Henry’s grandfather) too, Gifford also fought on the side of Parliament in the Civil War.
I do not know the date that Gifford Long died yet, but I believe it was during the period of the Civil War (it is possibly 1635). His eldest son definitely died during the period of the Civil War, leaving the land to our Henry Long.
Fortunately for me, while the Long family men held offices in Parliament and were Sheriffs in Wiltshire, John Cook(e) who leased the land from Henry Long, also held an office that meant he is mentioned in online records. I was also fortunate that the records at Poulshot Church go back much further than most churches.
So here is the first John, mentioned in the records from Poulshot church. “John Cooke (1627-1710)” But “there is a gap in Poulshot weddings 1646-1653 (during the civil war)”. More evidence for my theory.
But most importantly, I discovered this record of Guild Stewards for the Borough of Calne. This document mentions John Cooke who served in office for the Guild after the Civil War.
In “[84v.] 1663,” three years after Charles II was restored to the throne, and Walter Long returned with him (remembering Walter owned a lot of Poulshot land and Henry much of the rest), and two years before the great plague of London, the guild records show, “several accounts of John Cooke and John Forman constables. Receipts of John Cooke for the militia. From Thomas Synnett, Is.; fi’om Richard Clark, 6d.; from widow Scott, Is.; from widow Nicholas, Is. 8d.; from Messenger, 4d.; from John Brooks, Is. Id.; from William Browne, Is.; from Thomas Riley, Is.; from Barnett, 4d.; from Ma[?tthew]Smith, Is. 1d.; from John Bishopp, Is. 6d.; from Thomas Tibboll, Is.; from Thomas Riley, 8d. Sum . . . 12s. 2d. Received by presentments, Il. 19s. 6d.; from Mr. Peirce, Il. 3s. 6d. . Sum . . . 3l. 15s. 2d. Disbursements. To several passengers with passes, Is.; for 3 journeys to Chippenham about the soldiery, 3s.; for my charges at the assizes, Ios.; in charges to the clerk of the market, 3l. Ios. Sum . . . 4.l. 4s. So there remains due to John Cooke, 8s. Iod. Receipts of John Forman. From John Pile, 15s.; ‘in his hands of the militia money, 4s. 8d. Sum . . . 19s. 8d. Disbursements as particularly appears by his note, 2l. 16s. 3d. 74 ACCOUNTS So there remains due to the said John Forman, Il. 16s. 7d. which he received from John Pile.”
This looks as if John Cooke was in a position to apply for compensation for the people in Poulshot who had been impacted by the Civil War, as described in the BBC article. It looks as though many people from Poulshot received compensation, and interestingly, it was after this date that most of the Listed Farm Houses in Poulshot were built around the Village Green.
I am learning to like John Cook(e) because also later in 1663, there is an entry saying John received more money, “16s.; to Mr. John Cooke for his constableship, 8s. Iod.; for carrying cripples for the tithingman.” Again my research into Waterloo taught me not only about the number of men who died, but the number who lived on, crippled, in a time when all work was manual and needed movement – two hands and two legs. If you were crippled it generally meant you were left to beg, or rely on the charity of guilds or parishes. After Waterloo the towns became full of crippled soldiers begging in the streets. John Cook(e) sounds as if he had a deep affiliation with those who had been impacted by the Civil War in the 1600s (I am trying to find out if he fought or not. I have not managed to find out yet).
All of this keeps making me believe more strongly that the Civil War and not the plague was the reason our village now surrounds the Green.
P.S. You may see that the guild records show that Anthony Pierce Served as a Guild Steward in 1649, 1656, 1662-63, 1671-73. It was Edward Pierce who purchased our land in 1671 but is there a connection? Anthony Pierce was involved in the payments to people in Poulshot, he knew John Cook(e). The records also show that Anthony claimed money for hiring a horse to ride to Poulshot in 1673. In 1673 a Robert Townsend from Poulshot was also called to stand as a witness for Anthony Pierce in a court.
There is so much more to be discovered, and my list of things to research is growing by the hour when I write these blogs. (But the research is also turning into a great book idea) 😉
Next week, I am going to go back even further and take you as far back in time as I am likely to be able to go…
Perfect Period Drama
from Jane Lark
The rule of the red thread of destiny says that everything that is unresolved will be resolved.