Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of War! Guest writer David Ruffle continues his three part series marking the 375th anniversary of the Siege of Lyme:
LYME did not have to wait long for the first attack and test of its defences. On the morning of the 21st, the royal forces concentrated their attention on the western defences of the town. However, the attackers were beaten back, losing some 40 of their number.
This initial skirmish lasted a few hours and was fought at fairly close quarters. The royalists made good use of the hedges and ditches outside of the town’s defensive lines, concealing their musketeers therein.
Notwithstanding that, most of the lives lost that day were musketeers who were prone to being picked off, when they could be sighted of course.
The besieging troops now fell to organising their forces. These forces comprised the feared Cornish infantry, who were used to things going their way; Lord Poulett’s Devon regiment; the Irish, whose fierce reputation was well known; and a contingent of foreign mercenaries, who regardless of their fighting prowess, would certainly be on the lookout for any opportunity for loot and plunder like any other soldiers of fortune.
Initially, the Cornish regiments were deployed to the north, the Devon regiments to the west and the Irish and other troops to the east, though there was an element of migration after that initial setting up.
Lyme’s defence lay chiefly in the hands of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Blake and Colonel Were, who was nominally in command although the kudos after the event went to Blake with good reason.
Twenty years later he received a mention in Samuel Pepys’ Diary as “the defender and saviour of Lime” (if you have never read ‘The Diary of Samuel Pepys’ then beg, steal or borrow ‘The Shorter Pepys’, which is a third of the original and one of the fascinating reads you may possibly ever encounter!)
A word too for Thomas Ceeley, nominally the governor of the Lyme garrison, chiefly by dint of being mayor.
On the 23rd, the Royalists raised a battery somewhere on the western side of town, possibly near the present West Hill Road, where they could fire on Lyme’s western fort. This battery in turn was harassed by fire brought to bear on them by the men in Lyme’s eastern fort (Davey’s Fort).
The following day, it was the town’s turn to go on the offensive. Around dawn, a party of just under two hundred men attacked the royalists’ western battery, the surprised gunners were no match for the town’s defenders and after losing some of their number, made a mad dash up the hill with Lyme’s men chasing.
The pursuit only lasted as long as it took the Cornish to enter the fray, who drove the defenders back into the town.
The next day, it was the turn of Gaitch’s Fort to come under attack. A new royalist battery was set up in the vicinity of Colway Meadow, possibly on the high ground where Bay View Road now meets Manor Avenue.
The damage inflicted on the fort was such that two cannons had to be removed although these were then set up on a platform nearby where they proved to be effective in impeding the fire coming from Colway Meadow.
The defenders in Gaitch’s Fort, far from being disheartened, sallied forth the following day, routed many royalists, capturing not just musketry and useful implements, but also a leg of mutton which may have been the most treasured prize!
Meanwhile, petitions were urgently being made to parliament for the relief of the town. These were about to be answered.