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Friday, September 11, 2015

Walking Worcester with my Imaginary Friends

The 3rd September marked the 364th anniversary of the Battle of Worcester, the defining event of the Guardians of the Crown series which begins with the battle itself (BY THE SWORD).

Worcester Cathedral
My family has had a long, long association with Worcester, most notably boasting a High Sheriff of Worcester (my great grandfather) and a well respected MP and County Councillor (my grandfather) and my father served under the colours of the now defunct Worcestershire Regiment. 

In May this year I returned (or, in a sense, went home) - on a canal boat (a whole other story!). My last visit to Worcester had been some twenty plus years ago when I was researching a little story I was writing about the Battle of Worcester. That little story became BY THE SWORD... which flowed on to THE KING'S MAN and on to Book 3, EXILES' RETURN (which comes out next February). I wanted to write about a group of friends/comrades and what this seminal battle of the English Civil War meant to them and their families.

Our canal boat traverses the Sidbury Lock - The Commandery on the left

We moored our canal boat below the Sidbury Lock within spitting distance of The Commandery and the site of what was once the Sidbury Gate through the walls of the old city (now long since gone). Having an afternoon free, I abandoned my travelling companions and stepped down on to the tow path of the canal (which had not been there in 1651). They were waiting for me - Jonathan Thornton, Giles Longley, Kit Lovell and his brother Daniel, the Guardians of Crown, my companions from the past and they would be my guides for the afternoon.

AS outside The Commandery 
We began with The Commandery (that was its name long before the events of 1651). In its past it had been a merchant's house, a hospital and in 1651 became the Headquarters for Charles II.
(Jonathan) attended the meetings at the Commandery and concluded the house had been wrongly named. He saw precious little evidence of command taking place within its walls...In the endless councils that took place in the hall the young King found himself assailed from all sides by conflicting advice.  (BY THE SWORD)


From The Commandery we set off up the hill to Fort Royal where a royalist battery had been established to defend the approach to Worcester along the Sidbury road. I won't go into the details of the battle itself (I've written about it elsewhere...click HERE). Suffice to say that while the royalists held Fort Royal, Cromwell had taken Red Hill and Perry Hill. The king himself led an attack on Red Hill but was driven back to the city. Fort Royal fell, the royalist defenders slaughtered to a man and the guns turned on the city itself.


My American readers may be interested to know that it was on this hill that an oak tree was planted in commemoration of a visit by Thomas Jefferson who is quoted as reminding all Englishmen that it was at Worcester that the concept of Liberty was fought for... you can read his quote on the plaque below...


My companions led me back down the hill toward Sidbury Gate... 
The Parliament guns had been brought to bear on the gate, turning the retreat into

wholesale slaughter. Amidst the screaming of man and beast, the carnage of blood and guts and with shot pounding into the walls and the city, the King managed to get back through the gate. Jonathan followed through the confusion, scrambling over an overturned oxen cart to reach his King. (BY THE SWORD)

No trace of the gate or walls remain today (destroyed for the building of the canal in the 1760s), just one small plaque on a wall marks its existence. We turned into the city and down one of the last remaining authentic city streets - Friar Street (curse those 70s redevelopments!). Still lined with half timbered houses, it is only here one can still get a feeling for 17th century Worcester.
Wilmot pulled at Jonathan’s arm and they both ran up Friar Street, toward the King’s lodging. Jonathan took only one look back to see Giles, fighting like a virago, a small defence against the mass of red-coated soldiers who now flooded into the city from all gates except one: St Martin’s Gate stood close by the King’s lodging and remained as yet unbreached. (BY THE SWORD)

Friar Street
It was here in Friar Street that Jonathan, Giles, Kit and Daniel lodged in a house that may have looked a little like Greyfriars (now a National Trust property). Here they played cards on the night before the battle. 
Another evening at the Commandery had ended in bickering and Jonathan trudged wearily back up Friar Street to his billet ... In the downstairs parlour of the large, half-timbered house, Giles played cards with Kit Lovell, who had recently rejoined them. They were both fiendish card players, with a tendency to cheat, and Jonathan declined their invitation to join them.  (BY THE SWORD)

The parlour of Greyfriars where the Guardians played cards on the night before the battle... maybe...
Further up Friar Street we came to the building now known as The Charles II house (and rather ignomiously - a pie shop) which
had been the King's Lodgings and from which he escaped.
They found the King within his lodgings, watching uncomprehendingly as Buckingham burned papers on a hastily lit fire.
‘We must go, Your Majesty,’ Wilmot said.
The King looked up at his old friend and advisor. ‘Leslie will come,’ he insisted. ‘We will rally again.’
‘No, Your Majesty,’ Buckingham spoke. ‘It’s too late. Leslie has failed us, Hamilton is fallen. We must away while we still have breath in our bodies.’
The noise of the fighting, drawing closer up the street, brought the King to his feet. With the Parliament’s soldiers at the front door of the house, the King and his party left by the back. Taking the nearest horses they fled, at a hard gallop, through St Martin’s Gate, the gate that led the way to the north.  (BY THE SWORD)

Here we parted company,  my imaginary friends returning to the past, and I trudged back through the streets of Worcester to meet my real friends at the Worcester Porcelain museum (in what had been a thriving factory on my last visit).





ABOUT THE KING’S MAN

The second in a tantalising trilogy from award-winning author Alison Stuart, about warriors, the wounds they carry, and the women that help them heal.

London 1654: Kit Lovell is one of the King’s men, a disillusioned Royalist who passes his time cheating at cards, living off his wealthy and attractive mistress, and plotting the death of Oliver Cromwell.

Penniless and friendless, Thamsine Granville has lost everything.  Terrified, in pain, and alone, she hurls a piece of brick at the coach of Oliver Cromwell, and earns herself an immediate death sentence. Only the quick thinking of a stranger saves her.

Far from the bored, benevolent rescuer that he seems, Kit plunges Thamsine into his world of espionage and betrayal – a world that has no room for falling in love.

Torn between Thamsine and loyalty to his master and King, Kit’s carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. He must make one last desperate gamble – the cost of which might be his life.

Buy THE KING'S MAN on KOBO, NOOK, iBooks and AMAZON
(Australian readers can still buy THE KING’S MAN for just 99c on AMAZON AUSTRALIA and the first book in the series, BY THE SWORD is currently free)

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Click HERE (The prize is a kindle Ereader)

(And if you would like a smile, THE KING’S MAN is featured in an ABC Art Nation program called ‘My Secret Art Life’... Australian readers can view it on my website... click HERE)
















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