Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

Blowing Up Oswestry Castle – Week 34 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Plucky George Cranage! The full story of his exploits would make a perfect Hollywood movie – in fact, the whole of the siege of Oswestry would make a great film!

The spring of 1644 was not a good time to be in Oswestry. The town was held by Royalists, under Colonel Edward Lloyd of Llanforda. But in June, General Thomas Mytton and the Earl of Denbigh arrived with a 2,000-strong Parliamentarian army and siege cannon and, on the 23rd of June, began to bombard the town. The Royalists razed most of the buildings outside the town walls, but it was then that George Cranage first sprung into action. According to some accounts, he ran up to the New Gate (where Gilhams and Booka are) and cut the chains (or ropes) of the drawbridge and enabled the Parliamentary army to charge into the town. Abandoning the walls – and then losing the battle for the town itself during fierce fighting – the Royalist forces abandoned the town to its fate and took shelter in the castle. The townspeople of Oswestry offered a ransom of £500 to the Parliamentarian forces not to ransack and loot the town, and the army then took up positions near the castle. Despite the field guns – and despite sappers working to undermine the walls and towers – the Parliamentarian army could not break the Royalist hold on the castle, and the siege dragged on. But now George Cranage sprang into action a second time!

The order was given by General Mytton for a party to fire the gates of the castle with pitch – but the exhausted soldiers couldn’t do it. Recalling, no doubt, his display of bravery at the Newgate, Mytton and the Earl of Denbigh now approached George Cranage. They got him drunk on sack – a very strong wine that later evolved into what we call ‘sherry’ – and convinced him to sneak up to the castle gate and put a bomb called a petard against it. A petard was basically an iron pot packed with gunpowder, with a fuse at the rounded end and the flat open mouth of the pot propped up and tied against a door or gate. When the gunpowder went off, the petard acted like a miniature cannon, blowing a big hole in the door or gate. A dangerous mission (even worse with a sack hangover!), as petards were notoriously apt to go off early, blowing up the unlucky bomber (hence the expression hoist with your own petard, meaning to be caught up in your own plot). But Cranage placed his petard, retired safely, and the gates were blown up. The Parliamentarians captured the castle, and the banner of the Earl of Denbigh flew over its battered walls.

At this point – exhausted, covered in gunpowder soot and hungover – George Cranage disappears from our history books. We know he survived the siege of Oswestry, but not what happened to him after that. The Cranage family was later well-known in Shropshire as innovative iron-workers and foundry men. Did George Cranage’s experience of explosives at Oswestry lead him into a new profession after the end of the Civil War – who knows? But poor Oswestry’s black spring continued. Just three days after the blowing up of the castle gates, a Royalist army from Shrewsbury – about 1,500 cavalry and 3,500 infantry – under Sir Fulke Hunke and Colonel Marrow besieged the besiegers, and fierce fighting once again broke out around the town. This lasted until July 3rd, when a second Parliamentary army under Sir Thomas Myddleton arrived and defeated the Royalists at Whittington – pursuing the remnants back towards Felton Heath near Shrewsbury. Oswestry was burned, bruised and battered by war – despite the bribe they had paid to Mytton’s army. But although the Civil War raged around Shrewsbury for the next few years, Oswestry’s part in the war was mostly ended. In 1648, Parliament issued an order that the castles at Oswestry, Boncroft and Dawley be “reduced” so as to render them unusable. By January 1649, King Charles had been arrested, tried and finally beheaded – and the First Civil War had come to its dramatic end.

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of the area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Prees Heath Common – Week Nine of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Over the past month, I have been fortunate enough to get to know the site of Prees Heath Common, just on the outskirts of Whitchurch. It’s a piece of common land whose history and archaeology goes back through its use as a World War II airfield, a World War I internment camp, a Civil War and mediaeval muster ground, all the way back to the Bronze Age. It’s also now a butterfly reserve, and provides some of the last remaining habitat for the Silver Studded Blue butterfly in Shropshire. But, even more importantly, it’s valued by the commoners and the local community as an important part of their local heritage.

But lots of people don’t know the story of Prees Heath Common – a lot of people outside of Whitchurch have never heard of the place. So I was asked to come along and demonstrate in a workshop how comics could be used to help raise awareness of the archaeology, history and ecology of the common. So I came along to see the archaeological test-pits being dug on a new portion of the site by the Prees Heath volunteers, and then a week or so later, ran the workshop.

What was really interesting about the workshop was that, yes, people wanted to talk about the archaeology, history and ecology of the site – but they also wanted to talk about things that weren’t part of the “official” narrative of the site: the social history of the common, the archaeology and the butterfly reserve, as told through individual recollections and biographies. I had not anticipated these oral histories to be quite so rich, quite so detailed, nor quite so diverse.

I did also not anticipate these histories to be quite so “alternative” to the official, mainstream narrative of the common, the reserve or the archaeology. It seemed as if there was a slightly different local perspective on almost every important or significant element of the common’s story – not contradictory, but complementary; not conflicting, but certainly competing. These oral histories definitely brought an extra layer to the site’s narrative, making it more detailed, richer, more diverse – and, as far as the Prees Heath volunteers were concerned – more meaningful.

The volunteers are now using the experience of the workshop to design their own comics about the common – comics which tell the story of their interactions with the land and those who have used and occupied it over the years; comics which tell the story of families, individuals and communities who have called the common “home” for over sixty years; comics which link their present with the archaeology, history and ecology of the site and make them part and parcel of their community heritage. We’ll also be using comics to raise awareness of the site in a more general sense, and these comics will be featured during this year’s Shropshire Wildlife Trust/Meres & Mosses Merefest celebrations this September.

It would be nice to see this model of comics-focused community engagement repeated with other groups during the course of the Oswestry Heritage Comics project – I’ve already done similar workshops with the Corwen and Dee Valley Archaeology Group (CADVAS). I feel like these workshops open the door to a what could be really interesting ways of connecting different kinds of place-based heritage narratives.

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Adverizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.


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