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Lynn MP Escapes House Arrest Through Window Thomas Toll, one of the two Parliamentarian MPs for King’s Lynn, escaped house arrest through a window into “the arm of the sea”. He almost certainly rowed the short distance across the River Ouse to the besieging Parliamentarian forces encamped on the other side.
Three Weeks of Attack (August 28 – September 15)
News that King’s Lynn had declared for the Charles I alarmed the Parliamentarians and a detachment of Parliamentarian troops from Essex under Captain William Poe was sent to blockade and control bridges and roads leading into the town.
The Earl of Manchester (Major General of the Parliamentarian Eastern Association) and Colonel Oliver Cromwell set up mortars on the west bank of the Ouse (now West Lynn) facing the town’s water-front. They had also acquired a lot of cannon power – two demiculverines weighing 3,400 lbs, two brass falconets weighing 600 lbs, four old cannon from Norwich, and two other cannon from the Tower weighing 700 lbs. It was initially felt that the town wouldn’t hold out for longer than five days.
Inside the town there were a number of Royalist supporting fighters – eight troops of footsoldiers and eight troops on horse, as well as volunteers. (A troop consisted of between 30 and 100 men.)
The gathering of troops by Parliamentary forces had an adverse impact on the harvest. A call from the Eastern Association for 4000 horse and 7000 foot soldiers, together with the commandeering of every cart and horse that could be found in the vicinity of Lynn, made the gathering of corn almost impossible. Charles’s men sarcastically called this “a new blessing bestowed on the associated counties”. Initially the Parliamentarians faced problems getting enough men and equipment. The letters from Poe bemoan the poor quality of the troops arriving.
During the early stages the defending Royalist town troops were not afraid of leaving the security of the walls in order to cause problems for their Parliamentarian enemy. The Royalist soldiers left the East Gate and set fire to two houses in Gaywood and the Gaywood hospital at the Alms Houses of St Mary Magdalen (rebuilt in 1649) in order to stop the Parliamentarians using them for shelter. They also tried to ambush Captain Poe and capture “3 or 400 beefs” bound for Setchey Market. They set fire to trees outside the town walls and destroyed some houses near the South Gate which could have assisted the enemy.
Some townsmen ventured outside and began to cut the banks to let out water in an attempt to flood enemy troop positions. However, seven were killed by the besiegers and their naked bodies were displayed near the town so that they could be seen but not buried.
The Parliamentarian besiegers kept up a regular bombardment. By 7 September the southern and eastern approaches to the town had been blockaded and the fresh water supply from the Gaywood River via Kettle Mills was diverted. They were able to intercept vessels trying to reach the town with supplies of coal and ammunition (though one did get through).
Summoned three times to surrender, the Royalists remained defiant, even giving the Parliamentarians a letter with the names of 25 town leaders “lest you should forget to plunder us when you have taken our town”.
Thomas Toll, Parliamentarian MP for King’s Lynn, escaped house arrest (see The Siege of King’s Lynn 1643 (1) – Which Side?) through a window into “the arm of the sea”. He almost certainly rowed the short distance from his house (Clifton House, Queen Street) across the River Ouse to the besieging Parliamentarian forces encamped on the other side.
The bombardment of the town was distressing and there inevitably would have been loss of life as well as property damage, though one witness reports that it may have been less than anticipated. Apparently some of the mortars were of poor quality and sounded more destructive than they actually were. Balanced against this is a letter to the Commons of 1648 reporting that the town was in much need of repair with the House making an order for 2000 oaks to be sent to it.
Regardless of the ballistic efficiency of the mortars they had an impact on morale. People in range of the daily shooting and bombardment (especially the Tuesday Market Place) were afraid to stay in their houses. The people were “much frightened by the Grenadoes [mortars].” And some town houses were damaged, haystacks were burned, William Johnson’s mill was destroyed, as was the bridge at Setchey. The west window at St Margaret’s was smashed.
A cannon ball, which today hangs in the entrance to Hampton Court, remains as one of the few tangible reminders of the attack. On 3 September a cannon ball came in the window above the west door of St Margaret’s church, broke part of a pillar into many pieces. Nobody was hurt but five people had a narrow escape when a piece of stone fell onto a board where they had laid their books. “The preacher, a reverend Mr Hinson, left his sermon and came out of the church, and all the people departed in a most confused manner, some leaving their hats, some their books, and some their scarves.”
The Royalists in the town were almost certainly hoping for some external aid to come to them. However, as no news of assistance from the king’s army in Lincolnshire seemed to be forthcoming, their hope must have ebbed away. Charles I had made a decision to go to Gloucester, and the Earl of Newcastle feared moving further south while Hull remained in Parliamentary hands.
The Earl of Manchester advised the people of Lynn to send away the women and children and let it be known that Saturday 16 September was the day set for the final assault. His troops had grown from approximately 2,000 to what may have been approaching 8,000. Boats had been acquired for a river attack, scaling ladders were ready to overcome the town walls from the land-side.
Resistance continued right up to the last moment. In the preparations for the final assault the Parliamentarians lost four men. Of the dead, two were cannoneers – one was shot in the side and one in the neck – and a lieutenant had his arm shot off with a cannon ball.
A newspaper report of 7 September claims that a total of 80 deaths were sustained during the siege, although the burial records for the year 1643 do not support this number. However, it is likely that during the confusion of the siege people were interred without religious observance.
- Flintham, D. (2018) Richard Clampe, Fortress Engineer, c1617-1696, FORT vol.46, pp.3-14
- Hillen, H.J. (1907) History of the Borough of King’s Lynn, Vol.1, EP Publishing Ltd.
- Holmes, C. (1974) The Eastern Association in the English Civil War, Cambridge University Press
- ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 4: 5 May 1646’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 4, 1644-1646 (London, 1802), pp. 534-535. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol4/pp534-535 (accessed April 2021)
- Ketton-Cremer, R.W. (1985) Norfolk in the Civil War: A Portrait of a Society in Conflict, Gliddon Books
- Kyle, C. https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/lestrange-sir-hamon-1583-1654 (accessed April 2021)
- Yaxley, S. ed. (1993) ‘A briefe and true Relation of the Siege and Surrendering of Kings Lynn to the Earle of Manchester’. In Yaxley, S. (1993) The Siege of King’s Lynn 1643, The Larks Press
© James Rye 2021