This article first appeared in The Squeaker Magazine (click here for the latest edition).
On 23 January 1643, Sir Thomas Fairfax left Bradford at the head of a Parliamentarian force of approximately three thousand men. His objective was to seize Leeds from the Royalists garrisoned there under Sir William Savile. Although Fairfax was a military commander of some repute, most of his men were not seasoned veterans; in fact, many of them had been recruited or conscripted only the week before. The men of Bradford had, however, earned Fairfax’s respect with their valiant defence of the town against Royalist attacks the previous year.
The most direct route to Leeds was blocked. The Royalists controlled the bridge over the River Aire at Kirkstall and had sabotaged it. Fairfax had divided his forces into two: one detachment, under Captain Mildmay, went downriver to Hunslet; meanwhile, Fairfax led the remainder upstream and crossed the river at Apperley Bridge. The seventeenth-century crossing still stands just upstream of the more modern bridge which now carries the A658 over the Aire.
From there, it was an arduous slog up Apperley Lane. At that time, it was little more than a dirt track which had been turned into a quagmire of cloying mud and blackened water by the winter rains. It would not become a maintained turnpike road until the next century. At the top of the hill, they passed beneath Buckstone Rock, from which dissenting sermons were regularly preached and which is now the site of Rawdon Golf Club’s clubhouse. They entered Rawdon along West Lane (modern-day Rawdon Drive) and Over Lane before progressing down Town Street.
West Lane marked the boundary of the estate of Sir Francis Layton, the Lord of the Manor of Rawdon. Layton was Charles I’s Yeoman of the Jewel House and a staunch Royalist. At the outbreak of war, he had helped raised money for the King at York, via an intermediary.
Having acquired and enclosed most of the land in Rawdon and its surrounds, Layton was an unpopular and divisive figure and the object of much local civil disobedience. Indeed, some locals petitioned Fairfax to tear down Layton’s fences and property and another wished that “the King’s men’s meat would turn to poison.” Doubtless many residents came out to cheer the troops as they passed. However, despite passing Layton Hall, Fairfax appears to have left it unmolested – he was clearly a man in a hurry.
The Parliamentarians proceeded to Horsforth along the route of modern-day Brownberrie Lane, Westbrook Lane, Lee Lane and Broadgate Lane. Here too, they are likely to have been warmly welcomed by the locals after a Royalist army stationed in Horsforth earlier in the winter had plundered the area for food, leaving residents destitute.
The Parliamentarians crossed Oil Mill Beck via a ford over which the bridge now stands at the junction of Low Lane and Hawksworth Road and pushed on up Butcher Hill. The final leg of the journey took them down Spen Lane and Burley Road to their muster point on Woodhouse Moor. From there, Fairfax despatched a trumpeter to Savile to demand his surrender of the town. Savile, who had fortified a position in the town centre from St John’s Church to Leeds Bridge, haughtily refused.
A three-hour battle then ensued after Fairfax’s forces attacked Savile’s fortifications at two points during a snowstorm: Boar Lane and St John’s Church. Meanwhile, Mildmay launched a simultaneous assault from his position south of the river. Savile’s men were overwhelmed and fled the town to the south, several of them drowning as they tried to swim across the River Aire. Fairfax took 460 prisoners but later released almost all of them on their promise not to take up arms again. Approximately 40 men were killed in the fighting.
The rival armies clashed twice more near Leeds later that year (at Seacroft Moor and Adwalton Moor) before the Parliamentarians secured the north of England at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. This victory paved the way to Charles I’s ultimate defeat and surrender. Whilst being transported as a prisoner from Newcastle to London, Charles was held overnight in The Red Hall, Leeds on 9 February 1647. Legend has it that a local woman offered to swap places with the King so that he could escape disguised in her clothes. He declined her offer. The Red Hall no longer exists (part of it was incorporated in the old Schofield’s department store but destroyed in the 1960s) but Charles’s stay is commemorated by the name of the nearby King Charles Street.
After the war, Sir Francis Layton, in common with other prominent Royalists, was fined and imprisoned for his support of the King but his fortunes were revived after the monarchy was restored in 1660 and he was reinstated to his old office of Yeoman of the Jewel House. The name Layton will be familiar to modern-day Rawdon residents: Layton Hall still stands, albeit divided into separate homes, and the name Layton is remembered in the names of several streets nearby. St Peter’s Church was commissioned by Layton and completed by his son, Henry, after his death in 1661.
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If Leeds in the English Civil War is of interest, I have also written a piece on the subsequent Battle of Adwalton Moor (click here to read).
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Sir Thomas Fairfax