Why was Sir William Brereton so worried in January 1645?

Jill Wilson

He was alarmed because in this third year of the Civil War, he had heard that a Parliamentary spy had obtained a report for Prince Rupert by the Royalist governor of Chipping Campden setting out his detailed plans to fortify the manor house and to increase the garrison. As Parliamentary governor of Cheshire, Sir William feared that this presaged a major attack on Cheshire by the Royalists. After all one of the main routes from the south to Cheshire had passed through Chipping Campden since Norman times and it was generally felt that there was a sort of a link between Chester and Campden.

There was indeed an early link between the Campden manor and Chester for the first Norman Lord of the Manor of Campden was Hugh d’Avranches, Earl of Chester. He was a powerful follower of William the Conqueror and was granted Campden well before 1086, when it is listed in Domesday Book amongst his many English manors. It seems to have been an important place since the holder of the manor before 1066 had been King Harold himself. Various Earls of Chester held Campden subsequently until 1262, when Ranulph de Blundeville died without a male heir and the manor passed to his sister, wife of the Earl of Arundel.

There had been a brief period in the reign of Henry II when the king had deprived the then Earl of Chester, Hugh de Kevilock, of his lands for taking the wrong side in a revolt against the king. It was during this short period, 1173 to1177, that the king’s representative, Hugh de Gondeville, carried out the Kings wishes and established a new market town – known as Chipping [i.e. ‘Market’] Campden. This was not added to the existing village (now Broad Campden) but was built either side of an existing route northwards. This had perhaps been established by, and seems certainly to have been used by the employees of the early Earls of Chester. There must have been a need for communication between the Earls of Chester and their various manors and the road (or track) they had provided to supply communication between Campden and Chester remained in use long after the manor was held by a succession of lords with no connection with Cheshire.

However Sir William Brereton need not have worried. Colonel Henry Bard, the newly appointed governor of this district, had known that Prince Rupert would not have believed his report in the unlikely event that he received it. They both knew that an expert had inspected the fine manor house in Campden and declared it to be unsuitable for fortification and indefensible. In addition Bard’s forces were insufficient to do more that his job of controlling the district round about. He was aware that there was a clever Roundhead spy in the neighbourhood and seems to have thought that if the Roundheads in Warwick and Gloucester believed he had the capability to defend Campden, they would hold off attacking. So, somehow, the spy got hold of this false report.

Parliament believed it and ordered Colonel Massey, governor of Gloucester, to secretly withdraw troops from his own and other garrisons and seize Campden as soon as possible. Unfortunately the day after this decision was made the equivalent of a London newspaper published all the documents – including the secret orders!  When Colonel Massey heard what had happened he pointed out there was no chance of his carrying out the orders in secret. Bard was successful in that there was no immediate attack on Campden. The later events, including the burning down of Campden House, is another story.

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