Header: The Oliver Cromwell Association
Red dotHome

Abbott Lichfield's early sixteenth century bell tower still dominates the Evesham skyline.

Abbott Lichfield's early sixteenth century bell
tower still dominates the Evesham skyline.


Part of the Town Hall in Market Place

Part of the Town Hall in
the Market Place.
The building is
disappointing, for
although it dates back
to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
it has been repeatedly extended and today its appearance is
overwhelmingly Victorian
or later.


The house in Bridge Street where Charles I stayed in 1644

The house in Brige Street,
now a bakery, where
Charles I stayed in 1644.


Plaque commenorating Charles's presence

Charles's presence
commemorated by a
small first floor sign


The timber-framed and jettied Walker Hall

The timber-framed
and jettied Walker Hall,
by the medieval gateway
which linked the town
and the abbey precinct.





Cromwellian Britain - Evesham, Worcestershire

Evesham is more usually associated with a thirteenth century battle than with any events of the Cromwellian period. On Greenhill, above the town on the Stratford-upon-Avon road, the forces of Simon de Montfort were in 1265 routed by Prince Edward, loyal to King Henry III, and portions of the corpse of the luckless Simon were dispatched to various parts of the kingdom pour encourager les autres. Monks of Evesham Abbey, around whose walls the town grew during the Middle Ages, nurtured a cult of Simon de Montfort and kept his memory green. By 1640 the town had for a century been weaned from the institution and the faith which had brought it into being. Abbot Clement Lichfield’s bell tower, raised in the 1530s, which still dominates the Evesham skyline, was the last flourish of a relationship between monastery and community; from the Dissolution of 1540 to the end of the seventeenth century, the town depended on the cloth trade, and particularly the specialist trades in finished articles – caps, collars and gloves. By 1640 the townspeople were busily quarrying the ruined abbey walls for building stone.

The town only first received a royal charter in 1603, as a result of the influence the vicar of Evesham, Lewes Bayly (a future bishop of Bangor) had as chaplain to James I’s eldest son, Prince Henry. The town was important not only as an industrial centre, but as a staging post between Oxford and Worcester and routes west to Wales. Evesham was garrisoned for the king early in the civil war, but relations between royalists and citizens were not easy. Townspeople resented the disruptions that the military presence brought to the weekly markets held in the centre of the town, and Charles’s party came to regard their reluctant hosts as treacherous. Like other clothworking towns of the west Midlands, the west of England and the south-west, Evesham was in matters of culture and religion, at least, more attuned to the thinking of parliament than that of the king. Nevertheless, with the exception of Alderman Samuel Gardner, who deserted his post as mayor to sign up for service in the army of the parliamentarian Lord Brooke of Warwick Castle, the common councillors of Evesham laid low and said nothing, or more accurately carried on business as usual, during the royalist occupation.

Because of the king’s choice of Oxford as his headquarters after the battle of Edgehill in October 1642, much of the subsequent military campaign turned on troop movements in the southern west Midlands and Wales, and so Evesham found itself frequently the focus of strategists’ attentions. Charles stayed in the town in 1644, probably in one of the town houses in Bridge Street that were crown property.

The townspeople of Evesham may have had good reason to resent Charles’s presence; their lifeline to the rich Cotswold sheep pastures, the bridge over the Avon dividing Evesham from Bengeworth, was smashed by the king as he left for Oxford in June 1644. Through the remainder of that year, Evesham continued to be used as a royalist garrison, but parliamentarian surprise raids became bolder and more successful; in June a raiding party took a royalist lieutenant, three cornets and sixty men prisoner within a mile of the town.

From January 1645, Colonel Edward Massey of the parliamentary garrison of Gloucester was being asked by the Committee of Both Kingdoms to reduce the garrison at Evesham. His chance came in the spring of that year; on Saturday 24 May 1645, a force of 800 horse and 600 foot from Gloucester took up positions outside the town. Evesham lies in a bend in the River Avon, and is thus surrounded on three of its four sides by water. It had no town walls. Troops were positioned on the south side across the river, and on the north (Alcester/Stratford) side. Sunday was spent in preparations. The defenders had built a ditch and hedge of faggots and brushwood on the north side, and trusted that the waters of the Avon would do the rest. On the Monday, the attack seems to have come from the north. The parliamentary troops must have attacked downhill from Greenhill, the site of the 1265 battle, and brought ladders to scale the defences. They seem to have proved easy to penetrate in several places. ‘The storme’, according to an eyewitness report, ‘lasted almost an houre with great fury on both sides’, but the royalists were quickly overrun and subdued. The casualties were seven killed and thirty wounded on Massey’s side, while the royalists lost eleven men. In all about 548 royalist soldiers were taken prisoner. The spoils of war induded 200 horses, twenty barrels of powder, 700 firearms and two tons of match. After the event, the county committee of Worcestershire, now based in Evesham, included a payment of 2s 6d for ‘ladders and other materialls’ used at the siege.

Although there were subsequently a few rumours that Evesham was likely to be taken again by the king, the town remained in the control of parliament. Its Interregnum history is more interesting than its slight military claim to fame. While the siege was going on, there was a brawl in an Evesham tavern over the integrity of the king. A townsman, Edward Pitway, defended the honour of parliament against the declarations of a cavalier in extremis. Pitway was a burgess of Evesham, and rallied to the cause of the Commonwealth in 1651, helping to rout the forces of Charles Stuart at Worcester. By August 1655 Pitway was at the centre of a fierce struggle for authority in the town between a group of Quakers and the mayor, aldermen and burgesses.

The details of the case of the Evesham Quakers can be followed in a recent article.[1] The town was visited by an itinerant preacher, Humphrey Smith of Little Cowarne, Herefordshire, who gathered around him a group of families who rejected the orthodox Calvinism of the minister, George Hopkins, and at the same time viewed the town fathers as soft on drunkards and swearers. The leaders of the sect were rounded up and imprisoned in various places in the borough around the Market Place, and leading town burgesses strove to incite a mob to taunt the prisoners in their cell. It was at this point that Edward Pitway intervened on the prisoners’ behalf and ‘came out’ as a Quaker himself.

As a response to their ill-treatment, the Evesham Quakers, under the leadership of Humphrey Smith, wrote to the Protector, and at the same time published their letter. The magistrates of the town were further incensed and tried Pitway, Smith and fourteen others for libel. Quaker books were burned at the cross in the Market Place.

Eventually, through the good offices of Major-General James Berry, the Protector issued a warrant for the release of the Quakers, confirming Berry’s verdict that he could not understand ‘either their faults or their fines’. Thereafter the Quakers were persecuted intermittently through the rest of the Interregnum and into the mid 1660s. Their case illustrated the fear that the socially and theologically conservative town rulers had of the unorthodox behaviour of the radical sectaries – their refusal to doff their hats and their unwillingness not to proselytise. More importantly in the local Evesham context, however, the Quakers became a magnet for those unhappy with the lack of a radical agenda in government, with spiritual poverty in parts of the town and with the reluctance of the civic authorities to support the clauses in the Instrument of Government which established a measure of religious toleration.

The siege of Evesham was brief and its implications short lived. The furore over the Quakers split the town, led to a period of faction fighting in the town government and created a permanent Protestant nonconformity there.

The modern visitor to Evesham has to look hard for relics of the mid seventeenth century. The probable line of the royalist defences in 1645 ran from the river where the modern railway line from Oxford crosses it in the east, along what is now a railway cutting, to join the river on the west side. Modern development, including the railway, has certainly obliterated most of the line of the defences, but at the north end of Briar Close a footpath is visible running down a narrow lane. Where the lane peters out the remains of a hedge and ditch may be seen running down to the river, and this probably marks the last surviving trace of the civil war defences (OS 40332444). The Market Place in the centre of the town contains the town hall, where the Quakers were tried for sedition. The hall is late sixteenth century, but with many later additions. It has long been a tradition – it certainly seems highly plausible – that the Quakers were imprisoned in the cellar of what is now called the Walker Hall, until recently the town lending library. The market cross, at which over sixty Quaker books were burnt in 1655, stood in the Market Place where the doors of the modern Abbey Gate shopping centre give on to it, but the cross itself was pulled down in the eighteenth century.

In Bridge Street, on the left going down, is the house where Charles stayed in 1644. A sign hanging from the first storey barely advertises the fact; the house itself is now a baker’s shop. The Bengeworth or Evesham bridge, destroyed by Charles I, was rebuilt during the late 1640s but the present structure is Victorian.

1. Stephen Roberts, ‘The Quakers in Evesham 1655-60: a study in religion, politics and culture’, Midland History 16 (1991), pp. 63-85.

By Dr Stephen Roberts


This site is jointly maintained by the Cromwell Association and the Cromwell Museum Huntingdon
Copyright © 2001-2005 All material on this site is the copyright of the individual author and or the Association and or the Cromwell Museum, and may not be published elsewhere without permission.
Please make all proposals and requests for reciprocal links to
The Cromwell Association is a registered charity, reg. no. 1132954