The Civil War brought tragedy to both countryside and town, none more so than in a quiet corner of the Derbyshire countryside.
Brian Spencer reports one small, but horrific event which occurred in the sleepy village of Ashover, near the head of the Amber Valley.
The quiet village of Ashover sits amidst sunny fields near the head of the Amber Valley, a place of tranquillity, but during the Civil War it, like many other hamlets, did not escape the rigours of a conflict that divided the nation.
During the reign of King James I relationships between the crown and parliament were far from easy, and when his son Charles I acceded the throne in 1625, things went from bad to worse. The king’s High Church views and ever increasing demands for war funds, provoked disputes with parliament, which were so severe that in 1630 the king dispensed with it all together and embarked on almost a decade of personal rule. For a time all was relatively stable, but Charles’ lack of understanding and stubbornness led to the collapse of his authority, gradually, culminating in 1642 when the nation fell into a state of rebellion and civil war. Hard fought battles between parliamentary forces and those supporting the crown raged across the country for four years. Neither side could claim to have the upper hand, until a series of major strategic errors by the king led to the royalists suffering crushing defeats at Naseby, Langport, Bristol and finally at Oxford in May 1646. Supported only and on dictated terms by a Scottish army, the autocratic king refused to submit to the will of parliament and following a rumoured plot to assassinate him he escaped to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. Here he was held as a virtual prisoner until he was taken to London for trial and subsequent execution in 1648.
History only records the major battles fought in the Civil War, but up and down the country minor scuffles occurred as well as brutish events perpetrated by ill-disciplined troops from both armies. Ill-fed and poorly led, they acted like marauding hosts rampaging up and down the country and it was during this time that Ashover was to suffer not once but three times at the hands of both parliamentarian and royalist troops. Being then as it is now, in something of a backwater, the Rector of Ashover, the Rev Immanuel Bourne tried to keep the village out of harm’s way by supporting neither side while appearing to support both.
The war tended to be fought around major towns and cities with Chesterfield and Nottingham being the main garrisons for the conflicting armies. In order to protect the road west out of Chesterfield from incursions by roundhead soldiers of the parliamentary army, a detachment of fifty royalist dragoons were stationed at Eddlestow Hall on the far side of Slack Hill above Ashover. In keeping with the way armies were run at that time they had no provisions and depended on the ‘benevolence’ of whoever they were billeted with, in other words, by levying blackmail. As the owner of Edlestowe, Sir John Pershall was away, they had free run of the place, slaughtering all the stock of pigs, sheep and poultry and drinking his ale and wine in an orgy of high living.
Bored by inactivity and well-oiled with Sir John’s wine and ale, a mob of drunken royalist dragoons descended on Ashover looking for more supplies. Stopping at the Crispin Inn next door to the church they were held at bay by the brave landlord Job Wall. He stood at the door refusing to let them in, telling them they had already had too much to drink. Severely outnumbered he was beaten up and thrown out of his own inn from where he could only watch while they literally drank the place dry. Full of bravado the royalists eventually moved out, rampaging around the village, going first to Eastwood Hall about half a mile away, the home of Rev Bourne. Here they demanded he pay them ten pounds for the King’s use, in other words themselves, otherwise they threatened to burn down his house, a threat they again made while extorting similar amounts from two other local notable families, the Dakyns and Hodgkinsons. Not content with this the mob continued round the district demanding smaller sums from miners and farmers in the locality.
Hardly the bravest of troops, once the royalists heard that a strong force of roundheads was marching on Chesterfield under the command of Sir John Gell of Hopton Hall near Wirksworth, they quickly retreated to safer climes, leaving the village in comparative safety. But this was not to last.
If the Reverent Bourne thought the deserting royalists were the end of his troubles he was sadly mistaken, for Ashover received a visit from a local parliamentarian named White of nearby Milltown, where he had been keeping a low profile while the king’s troops were on the rampage. Hearing that his opponents had been given money, he assembled his own scratch troop of dragoons and fronting the rector demanded that as the latter had been able to pay ten pounds to the royalists he could therefore give double that amount to the other cause. Poor old Immanuel was in a complete quandary and his threat to report White to his superiors was simply answered by the counter-threat that if the rector and all the others did not pay up, their cattle would be taken off them in part payment. Unable to face the loss of their animals, they submitted, thankful in Bourne’s words, ‘to see the back of such a nave’.
With the next turn of the tide in the fortunes of war, the Earl of Newcastle took command of Chesterfield in the name of King Charles, so poor Immanuel switched sides yet again, only to find that once things were back in favour of parliament, he was on the wrong side once more. Eventually the Civil War ended, petering out like a damp squib, leaving the country in a state of disorder. Parliament was in control and the country turned towards a puritanical form of religion.
Following instructions given by the new rulers, the Rev Immanuel Bourne, Rector of Ashover, threw away his surplice and stopped praying for the king. Unfortunately this did not help dispel the impressions held by those in authority who thought that deep down, the Rev Immanuel Bourne was in fact still a supporter of the king and so in1646 came the blow he had been so anxious to avoid. A company of dragoons rode over from Wingfield Manor, armed with an official demand for possession of the Rev Bourne’s home, Eastwood Hall. Despite his pleas, the place was systematically wrecked by pickaxes, gun powder and light cannons. Not content with destroying his house, the puritanical roundheads moved on into Ashover where they entered the church and set about breaking the stained glass windows and making a bonfire of the prayer books and parish records, bringing an end to Ashover’s Civil War misfortunes.
The ruins of Eastwood Hall can be seen on private land beside the Ashover to Littlemoor lane prior to where the lane climbs steeply through a belt of trees.
Eddlestow Hall Farm is one of the largest properties in the district, with the farmhouse built on the footprint of the Jacobean Manor where the Royalist troops were billeted. The farm and its surrounding land is private and not open to the public.
The Crispin Inn still stands almost unchanged since the seventeenth century, next to Ashover church; a plaque on its wall tells the story of brave landlord Jon Wall’s stand against the royalist dragoons.