heroes, history, Yorkshire

Set On Like A Terrier – John Lambert

Well, the Selby book is out, and fending for itself quite nicely, and so I’m going to blog about the real-life hero of Selby – a chap called Colonel John Lambert, sometimes known as “Cromwell’s understudy”.


A rebel to the last, and a man who led the last resistance to the Restoration, his vision of the Rule of the Major-Generals – although it didn’t work, in the end – was a massively progressive piece of thinking away from the idea of one absolute monarch, towards dividing England into military districts ruled by Army Major Generals who answered only to Cromwell. The 15 major generals and deputy major generals—called “godly governors”—werecentral not only to national security, but Cromwell’s crusade to reform the nation’s morals. The generals not only supervised militia forces and security commissions, but collected taxes and ensured support for the government in the English and Welsh provinces. Commissioners for securing the peace of the commonwealth were appointed to work with them in every county. While a few of these commissioners were career politicians, most were zealous puritans who welcomed the major-generals with open arms and embraced their work with enthusiasm. However, the major-generals lasted less than a year. Many feared they threatened their reform efforts and authority. Their position was further harmed by a tax proposal  to provide financial backing for their work, which the second Protectorate parliament—instated in September 1656—voted down for fear of a permanent military state.

I think when we look at that proposal, we have to see past the words “military state” and see just what he had in mind: an unprecedented move away from the arbitrary whims of one unrepresentative individual, unconnected to the districts he governed. Lambert was opposed to the idea of a civilian government, as well as to a monarchy, but there is no indication, ever, that he was interested in personal advancement for his own ends, or in the military dictatorship that Cromwell is often suspected of. My guess is that Lambert was a man who’d seen civilian government in action, seen royal rule, and seen Army discipline – and he preferred Army discipline. It worked. You knew where you were, and where to go if it went wrong. It was a fundamentally-flawed, unpopular vision, and in the end it failed. But when you consider that prior to the Civil Wars there’d never been any other system of goverment but rule by a monarchy, to even look at functional alternatives was a massively progressive move. Yay Lambert.

John Lambert was born on 7th September 1619, at Calton Hall, in the parish of Kirkby-Malhamdale in Skipton. He was the younger son of Josias Lambert (d.1632) by his second wife, Anne Heber. The Lambert family was of ancient lineage and well established in Yorkshire, but Josias had fallen into debt, perhaps because of a slump in wool prices on which the family wealth depended.
Josias struggled to restore the family fortunes, but seems to have failed. John was probably educated at Cambridge and the Inns of Court, although he never practised law. In 1639, he married Frances, the daughter of Sir William Lister, who remained a close and influential helper throughout his career.
On the outbreak of the English Civil War, Lambert joined Parliament’s Northern Association army under Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax and quickly rose to the rank of colonel. He fought at the siege of Hull in 1643, and was with Sir Thomas Fairfax at the battle of Nantwich in January 1644. Sir Thomas sent Lambert with a column of troops back across the Pennines to seize Bradford in March 1644. After defeating a counter-attack by Colonel Belasyse, Lambert secured Bradford as a second base for the Yorkshire Parliamentarians, along with Hull.  In April 1644, Lambert joined forces with the Fairfaxes and Sir John Meldrum for an attack on Selby that forced the Yorkshire Royalists to withdraw to York. He was second-in-command of the Yorkshire horse at the battle of Marston Moor (July 1644). Lambert’s cavalry were on the Parliamentarian right wing, which was routed by Lieutenant-General Goring, but Lambert and a few steadfast troopers remained with Sir Thomas Fairfax when he forced his way through the Royalist lines to join Cromwell on the victorious Parliamentarian left flank.
When Fairfax was appointed captain-general of the New Model Army in 1645, Lambert took command of the Northern Association. However, his political involvement began when he worked with Henry Ireton in framing the treaty negotiations at Truro, Exeter and Oxford. He continued his association with Ireton during 1647, being active in organising the protests against Parliament’s plans to disband part of the Army and send the rest to Ireland and in July 1647 he was one of the officers appointed to draw up charges against the Eleven Members, who were driven from Parliament when the Army occupied London. Lambert was also involved in the Army’s negotiations with the King, collaborating with Ireton in framing the Army’s Heads of the Proposals.
In July 1647, soldiers of the Northern Association, in solidarity with the New Model, seized their commander, the Presbyterian Major-General Poyntz, and sent him to Fairfax as a prisoner. Lambert was ordered back to his old command to replace Poyntz. Already well-known and popular with the northern troops, he quickly restored order and discipline. On the outbreak of the Second Civil War, he continued to hold the North until the fall of Pontefract Castle in 1649, so that he did not hold any direct role in the trial and execution of Charles I.
With the ending of the civil wars on the mainland of Britain, Lambert became actively involved in civilian politics as well as maintaining his military commands. He was one of the eight commissioners appointed to supervise the settlement of Scotland in October 1651. After the death of Henry Ireton, Parliament nominated Lambert to succeed him as Lord-Deputy in Ireland—but while he was preparing to leave for Ireland in May 1652, Parliament reorganised the Irish administration and voted to abolish the office of Lord-Deputy. Lambert refused the offer of a lesser appointment and Charles Fleetwood went to Ireland in his place. After this, Lambert became an active opponent of the Rump Parliament. Apart from his disappointment over Ireland, he shared the impatience of fellow army officers over Parliament’s lethargy in formulating a permanent form of government.
Lambert fully supported Cromwell when he forcibly dissolved Parliament in April 1653. In the constitutional discussions that followed the dissolution, Lambert proposed a small executive council to govern the nation, with powers limited by a written constitution. Lambert’s proposal was passed over in favour of the Nominated Assembly or “Parliament of Saints” proposed by Major-General Harrison. Lambert declined a place in the Assembly and worked to undermine it. He collaborated with the moderates who organised the abdication of the Assembly’s powers to Cromwell in December 1653. Furthermore, Lambert sent troops to subdue the protests of the radicals and to drive them from the Parliament House. He had already drafted the Instrument of Government—the written constitution that defined Cromwell’s powers as Lord Protector—and he came to play a major role in the Protectorate through his energetic participation in key offices and committees. He was widely regarded as the probable successor as Lord Protector in the event of Cromwell’s death.
After the failure of the First Protectorate Parliament in 1655, Lambert proposed the imposition of direct military government under the Rule of the Major-Generals. He was appointed Major-General of a large area of northern England, with his seat of government at York, but he preferred to remain at the centre of power in London and delegated the administration of his districts to his deputies Robert Lilburne (the Leveller leader John’s elder brother) and Charles Howard. However, a rift was developing between Lambert and Cromwell. They disagreed over the advisability of a war with Spain in 1654; Lambert’s position was further undermined by the refusal of the Second Protectorate Parliament to grant taxes to finance the government of the Major-Generals, which led Cromwell to abandon the system early in 1657. The final split with Cromwell was over the terms of the Humble Petition and Advice. Lambert opposed moves towards a wholly civilian form of government and led the Army’s opposition to Cromwell’s acceptance of the offer of the Crown. He refused to take the oath of loyalty when Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector for life and was ordered to resign his commissions in July 1657. Lambert retired to his house in Wimbledon with his wife and ten children, where he devoted himself to gardening and artistic pursuits.
After the death of Oliver Cromwell, Lambert – now elected MP for Pontefract – supported Cromwell’s successor, his son Richard, but the Major-Generals Fleetwood and Disbrowe forced the dissolution of Parliament in April 1659. However, they were unable to prevent the recall of the old Rump Parliament which re-assembled a month later and forced Richard’s resignation. Lambert was re-appointed to his commands in the Army. As Parliament’s most capable commander, he was sent against the Royalist rebellion led by Sir George Booth in August 1659. Lambert’s veterans easily defeated Booth’s rebel army, and he avoided unnecessary bloodshed by allowing the Royalists to disperse and forbidding his cavalry from pursuing them.
Parliament voted Lambert a £1,000 jewel as a reward for his services, which he used to pay his troops. His officers took up Fleetwood’s submission to Parliament that Lambert should be re-appointed to the rank of major-general, along with calls for godly reform, a Senate to limit the House of Commons and for no officer to be cashiered without a court martial. However, the republicans remained suspicious of Lambert’s motives, and in September 1659, there were moves to have him dismissed. In an attempt to assert its authority over the Army, Parliament revoked the commissions of nine senior officers, including Lambert, in October 1659. The Council of Officers responded by resolving to expel Parliament and on 13 October, regiments loyal to Lambert encircled the approaches to Parliament and prevented MPs from sitting.
The Committee of Safety was reinstated to rule as an interim government and Lambert was restored to the rank of major-general. Meanwhile, Hesilrige appealed to other army generals to support Parliament against Lambert and his followers. General Monck, commander-in-chief in Scotland, declared that he was ready to uphold Parliament’s authority. Lambert marched north against Monck with around 12,000 troops, reaching Newcastle in mid-November 1659 where he was delayed for several weeks while the Committee of Safety negotiated with Monck’s representatives for a peaceful solution to the crisis.
In southern England, Arthur Hesilrige seized the Portsmouth garrison and demanded the return of Parliament. The republican vice-admiral John Lawson sailed the Channel fleet to Gravesend and threatened to blockade London, while riots broke out in the city against the military régime. In mid-December, the Committee of Safety dissolved itself and Fleetwood was obliged to recall the Rump Parliament. Lambert tried to march south in an attempt to regain control of the situation but his unpaid troops were reluctant to fight. When Lord Fairfax declared his support for Monck, Lambert’s forces disintegrated. Offered a general indemnity, Lambert submitted and was placed under house arrest. In March 1660, he was ordered to London to appear before the Council of State. Unable to meet the impossibly high security of £20,000 that was demanded of him, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Lambert made a desperate attempt to resist the approaching Restoration. He escaped from the Tower in April 1660 and issued a proclamation calling on all supporters of the “Good Old Cause” to rally on the battlefield of Edgehill on Easter Day 1660 from where he planned to advance on Oxford and to join forces with rebels from the south and west. The response to Lambert’s call-to-arms was sporadic. Edmund Ludlow plotted an uprising in Wiltshire, cavalry units from the Midlands and Yorkshire rode to join him, several garrisons declared for Lambert and uprisings of civilian republicans were reported in Somerset, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.  However, before Lambert could gather all his forces, however, he was confronted near Daventry on Easter Day, 22 April 1660, by troops sent by Monck under the command of Colonel Ingoldsby, a regicide who hoped to win a pardon by recapturing Lambert. When Ingoldsby prepared to attack, Lambert’s small army defected or fled. Lambert was ignominiously taken prisoner by Ingoldsby himself when his Arab charger became bogged down in a muddy field. The following day he was brought back to London. After being forced to stand beneath the Tyburn gallows, he was returned to the Tower.
Aged 40 at the Restoration, Lambert spent the rest of his life in prison. He was brought to trial alongside Sir Henry Vane in June 1662, accused of high treason. Although sentenced to death, Lambert appealed to the King’s mercy and the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was moved from the Tower to Castle Cornet on Guernsey, and finally to Drake’s Island in Plymouth Sound. Frances Lambert took a house in Plymouth and visited him when permitted, but after her death in 1676, Lambert lapsed into insanity. He died in February 1684 at the age of 64, having spent the last 24 years of his life in prison.

A tragic, lonely end, for a man who deserves to be better known.

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new books, present, Yorkshire

Meet the Staith – Abbots Staith exposed

 The Abbot’s Staith in Selby is, in the new book, the site of Sir John Belasyse’s powder store in the city, and the scene of one or two of the climactic moments of the book. 
I don’t think it was ever used as a powder magazine, but even so, I’ve taken some artistic licence with this fascinating building. In recompense, the first month’s royalties of the book will be going to the Staith for the restoration fund of the building – so buy The Smoke of Her Burning and support the Staith!

The warehouse building currently known as the Abbots Staith, near the river Ouse in Selby, has been interpreted as being from the 14thcentury in a survey done in 1995, based on the style of the stonework. The building is shaped as a shallow capital ‘H’ with narrow slot windows to the ground floor frontage and leaded lights to the second floor which would have had internal shutters. At 132 feet 3 inches long by 60 feet 7 inches wide it is slightly shorter but wider than the nave of Selby Abbey (140 feet by 58 feet). All the doors face the river, except for one in the front central bay which has a flat or ‘French’ arch and would have been the main access route from the river to the monastic complex.
The name Staith or Staithe refers to a jetty or wharf and there are two ancient monuments on the site, the warehouse building and the wharf area. Most of the latter is now covered by a 20th century jetty, but the piles and timbers can be seen underneath this at low tide. The building itself is listed Grade II* and the English Heritage Buildings At Risk registers calls it a former monastic wool warehouse, reflecting the main trade of the medieval abbey in the town.
Formed in 2014 the Abbots Staith Heritage Trust are a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving, restoring and bringing the building back into use for the community of Selby. Some of the volunteers have spent many hours researching the Staith and have found references to in old texts dating back to the 15th and 16th century, including one that calls it the ‘Great Staithe’.
In more modern times a two storey Georgian building was added to the front west wing of the Staith warehouse. This was known as the Counting House, as it was where taxes and tithes were paid. The land and building were owned for a time in the 18th and 19thcenturies by both Lord Petre, lord of the manor of Selby and by the renowned surgeon and naturalist Jonathan Hutchinson, who was born in a cottage immediately behind the warehouse in July 1828, which is now the office for Westmill Foods. There is a blue plaque on the wall celebrating this fact.
For much of the 19th century and into the early 20th the warehouse was part of the Abbot’s Staith Flour Mills, that business passing through various owners, before the building was sold in 1911 to George Woodhead and Sons, Seed Merchants.
During the years from 1911 to 1995 the Counting House became the shop front and small offices for Woodhead Seeds (later larger office space was created on the top floor of the west wing of the warehouse itself). Woodhead Seeds moved out in Spring 1995 and since then (aside from a brief use as a car radio outlet in the shop front) the main building has remained empty, though it is still owned by a member of the Woodhead family.
On April 20th 2015 Abbots Staith Heritage Trust took a one year licence on the Counting House as a base to promote their vision for the restoration of the building. More information can be found on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, with a full website coming soon.
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Babbitt, Lucey, silliness, Yorkshire

About Time We Heard From Luce… an interview with young Pettitt

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Babbitt, horses, Lucey, new books, Russell, Yorkshire

Rosie and Tyburn. Luce and Rosa. Meet Russell’s Doubting Thomas….

“Got a surprise for you, Hapless,” Hollie said smugly.
Percey had groomed the bay horse till its coat gleamed like a dark conker. He’d even acquired some chalk from God knows where and he’d whitened the gelding’s stockings. There were times when you had to wonder about Mattie Percey’s previous career in a stable-yard in Essex. Just how honestly he might have come by certain skills. That lad was a better painter than Lely.
What he hadn’t done was improved the big horse’s temper, and it came out of the line rearing, ears pinned against its skull. Mattie had his hand gripping the bit-ring, trying to keep the horse’s head down, and even so the bay nearly had him off his feet.
It was a bloody fine horse, though. Big-built, not one of your lightweight sprinters like Luce Pettitt’s spindly witless Rosa: backside like a gable end and a proud arch to its thickly-muscled neck that hinted that someone might have been a little behindhand with the shears to its gelding. That was a beast that’d go all day chasing Malignants and come in at the end of it dancing. It was the sort of mount any junior cavalry officer with any dreams of a future career in the Army might covet, provided a man could train some sense into its thick head. Plenty of staying-power, plenty of fire and dash, though possibly a bit light on good humour. Hollie closed one eye and looked at the bay horse consideringly where it ramped and curvetted like some maniac heraldic emblem.
“What d’you reckon to him, then?” he said, and looked at the scarred lieutenant, expecting to see gratitude and pleasure on that cold, half-lovely face.
Instead the lad was white to the lips, the great scar on his cheek standing out a most unlovely purple, and his eyes were as mad as the bay horse’s.
“Is – thish – intended to be meant in humour?” he said stiffly, and his voice had that funny slur it had when the ragged muscle in his cheek had gone stiff as wood, like it did when he was tired or ungovernable. Or drunk. That was still always a clear and present possibility.
Hollie shook his head, thinking he must have misheard, or Russell must have misheard, because –
“All right, ain’t he?” Percey said happily, still being jerked around like a rag doll by the beast’s flinging head, but as cheerfully good-humoured as ever he was even when his arm was being yanked from its socket by an unwanted cavalry remount. “Want to take him out, Hap- uh, Lieutenant Russell? Take a bit of the ginger out of his heels?”
“I. Should. Rather. Be. Dead,” Russell said, through gritted teeth. Flung his own head up, looking not unlike the bay horse, and glared fiercely at Hollie, and Hollie would have sworn to it the lieutenant’s dark eyes were brimming with wholly incomprehensible tears. “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
“What?” Hollie said blankly, and Russell snarled at him, actually snarled, baring his teeth like a dog.
“The Book of Proverb. Ss.” He bit off the last consonant with a hissing, furious sibilance, and then hit himself in the temple with the heel of his hand. “Shir.”
And then wheeled about and was gone, shoving Luce rudely out of the way, storming back to the house. “What,” Hollie said again, shook himself, “what the bloody hell was that all about?”
“What on earth did you say to him – oh, sir, that was not well done!”
There were times when Luce didn’t half remind Hollie of Het. Well, Hollie’s wife was his cornet’s father’s little sister, it wasn’t so much of a surprise, but even so. That hurt, shocked, disappointed look was pure Het, an expression she reserved for when he did something completely stupid. What, precisely, he’d done this time, he did not quite know, save that he was still trying to make things all right for a lad who was as tricksy to handle as a barrel of rotten gunpowder, and he didn’t know from day’s end to day’s end what mood he was going to be on the receiving end of. Like walking on eggshells, if eggshells were volatile, suspicious, and prone to soothing their tempers by getting fiercely rat-arsed.
“What wasn’t?” he said warily. “What, seriously, sir? You did not mean to be – um – funny?”
“No, of course I bloody didn’t!”
Luce gave a great sigh. “Ah, God. So you – you know – did you look at the beast? Other than, um, you know – professionally?”
“What -” With one final jerk of the bit, Mattie had the bay horse with all four feet on the ground. It was still a handsome beast. It was just – odd-looking. Three white feet, and a great lopsided white blaze to its face. One blue eye, and one, slightly manic, brown one.
A perfectly sound, sturdy, fine cavalry mount, who just happened to look both ugly and irregular. It was a bloody good horse, sound in wind and limb, beautifully put together, a mount a man could rely on – could be proud of. But now Luce came to mention it, the brute did look a bit like it had been sewn together from bits of at least two other horses. Good ones, but -.
And that had been a coincidence.
“Ah,” said Hollie.


The Smoke of Her Burning. October 2015.

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