Through Great Britain and Ireland With Cromwell - H. E. Marshall


Upon the plain of York, forming as it does a natural battle-field, some of the fiercest battles of English history have been fought. Here, at Stamford Bridge, Harold of England fought and defeated Harold of Norway, before he hurried southward to meet the great Duke William. Here, at Towton, amid a blinding snowstorm, was fought one of the deadliest battles of the Roses, the bloodiest battle fought on English ground since Hastings. And now in 1644, on Marston Moor, again in civil war, the forces of the King and people faced each other—Scots and Puritans against Cavaliers.

All through a thunderous July day the troops on either side lay waiting, marching or deploying. Scorched with the burning sun, soaked with sudden blasts of stormy rain, yet firing no shot, they waited, the Parliamentarians singing psalms meantime among the trampled corn.

About two o'clock some guns were fired, and until five from time to time shot answered shot, but neither side advanced. At five, a stillness and deep silence fell upon the waiting armies. There would be no fighting that day, said the Cavaliers, as it neared seven in the evening. Then suddenly the signal was given. "God and the King!" cried one side. "God with us!" replied the other.

The thunders of war were loose. A shot grazed Cromwell's neck, drawing blood. "A miss is as good as a mile," he laughed, and charged with his men.

"Lieutenant-General Cromwell's own division had a handful of it, for they were charged by Rupert's bravest men, both in front and flanks," writes one who saw them. "They stood at the sword point a pretty while hacking one another. But at last it pleased God he brake through them, and scattered them before him like a dust."

Like dust the dashing Prince of Plunderers and his men fled before the Ironsides. For it was at this battle that they first got the name by which they became famous, and it was Prince Rupert himself who gave it to them, or rather, he called Cromwell himself Ironsides, and the name afterwards was given to his men too.

But while Rupert fled before Cromwell, in the rest of the field things went ill with the Parliament, and Cromwell, returning from the chase in the waning light of the summer evening, found the battle all but lost. Again he charged, and, backed by the Scots under General David Leslie, turned defeat into victory. "God made them as stubble to our swords," he said.

The sun had set, and the pale moon shone calmly on the ghastly scene ere the slaughter and the chase were over. From Marston Moor all the way to York, the road was marked by a red line of dead and dying. Of the four thousand and more who lay there, turning their pale faces and unseeing eyes to the starry sky, three thousand were men who had fought and died for their King.

After the battle of Marston Moor, the Parliamentarians again besieged York, which soon yielded to them. The Royalists who had so gallantly defended it were allowed to march out with all the honours of war. And with colours flying and drums beating, making a brave show, they went, while their grave foes thronged the Minster, singing psalms of praise and victory.

Then the Scots, marching northward, took Newcastle, the only port left to the King.

Newcastle-on-Tyne takes its name from the "new castle" which William the Conqueror built there. It was a town well known to the Scots. For lying, as it does, so near the border, it had been besieged many a time by them during their almost constant wars with the English. Parts of the old walls of the town may still be seen, for they were built strong and high, so that people might sleep safe and not fear to be dragged out of their beds by Scotch marauders. The houses, too, were strongly built, for an old writer says: "The vicinity of the Scots made them to build not for state but strength."

The county of Northumberland, in which Newcastle lies, is for a great part nothing but hill and moor. On the north are the Cheviots, and on the west the Pennines. The moors running down from these hills are very bleak and lonely. They are swept by cold mist-laden winds. Few people live there, and only sheep are reared upon the bare hill-sides.

But Newcastle itself is a busy, smoky seaport. It stands upon the most famous coal field in the world, and exports more coal than any town in Great Britain except Cardiff. It is from this coal that the county gets its wealth. "To carry coals to Newcastle"—meaning, to give oneself needless trouble—had already passed into a proverb more than three hundred years ago. And besides being on a coal field, Newcastle is near lead and iron mines. It is upon a navigable river, the Tyne, which, rising in the Pennines, flows right through the coal district to the sea. So it is little wonder that Newcastle has grown into a vast workshop.

Here in the Armstrong works ironclads are built, cannon and guns are cast. In the Stephenson works, which take their name from the famous engineer George Stephenson, locomotives and heavy machinery of all kinds are made. Here there are shot works, glass works, lead-smelting works, and so on through an endless list of manufactories. From Newcastle to the sea the river banks seem one great factory. By day the air is dark with smoke and steam, and noisy with the ring of a thousand hammers. By night the flare of a hundred fires reddens the sky for miles around. And up and down the river vessels big and little sail ceaselessly, bringing and taking away merchandise.

But in the time of Charles the town of Newcastle was by no means so great, nor the port so good as it is now. The channel was narrow and across it lay a bar of sand, where at low tide there was scarcely six feet of water. Still, it was the only port looking towards the Continent which the King had been able to keep, and the loss of it was a bitter blow.

Now, with great labour and expense, the channel has been deepened and the bar removed, so that the largest vessels can safely go where once quite small ones would have grounded, and over the bar instead of six there are twenty-five feet of water. This has been done by the Tyne Improvement Commissioners, that the town might keep pace with its growing trade.