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Christopher O'Riordan
© the author 1986

(First published in Cheshire History, no. 18, autumn 1986, pp.21-3.)

Several families of poor people took advantage of the upheaval of the English Civil War to take for themselves a home in the House of Correction in Middlewich. They had the support of local officials and others of purported authority, as well as the evident sympathy of Middlewich inhabitants, and remained in occupation for two years at least, despite the repeated orders of the Cheshire Court of Quarter Sessions.

   The House, whose purpose was the reform of criminals through hard labour, had only been built in the late 1630s. The old House of Correction, at Northwich, had been falling into decay for some time, but financial and administrative difficulties delayed the completion of the new one for ten years. The Middlewich House was finally opened in 1641. The Cheshire Justices of the Peace appointed a Mr. Alan Walley as its governor.[1]

   The Civil War lasted from 1642 to 1646, and for most of that period most of Cheshire remained in Parliamentarian hands. Two battles were fought at Middlewich. The first, on 13 March 1643, resulted in the defeat of the Royalist force that had occupied the town for the previous few days. On 26 December, the Parliamentarians were in turn beaten at Middlewich by a new Royalist army which proceeded to occupy many strategic points in Cheshire. The Royalists were routed at the battle of Nantwich, however (25 January 1644), and most of Cheshire rapidly returned to Parliamentarian control.[2]

   Because of the War's disruptive effects no Quarter Sessions were held between early 1643 and the autumn of 1645, so we do not know just when the House was first occupied. However Sessions documents of October 1645 and the following two years reveal the subsequent saga.

[Warrant of the Justices at the Quarter Sessions held at Knutsford, 7 October 1645, to the constables of Middlewich:]

[Forasmuch as the Justices ...] were informed by Mr. Alan Walley Governor of the said House of Correction, that diverse persons whose names are underwritten (taking occasion by the present distractions) have broken into and possessed themselves of the said House, there intending to inhabit and dwell, by which means the same House and diverse utensils and other accommodations therein lately built and provided at the Country's great charge, are spoiled and kept from the use intended, and rogues, lewd and dissolute persons much encouraged in their idle lewd courses, to the great detriment and terror of the Country; These [orders] are therefore to charge and Command you, upon sight hereof, to bring or cause to be brought all the said persons whose names are underwritten before Philip Mainwaring Esquire one of [the] Justices of peace of [Cheshire], to be by him examined and dealt withal as he shall find cause. Fail not at your uttermost peril ...

Elizabeth Walker [and three of her children]
Elizabeth Sprosten [widow]
Robert Culcheth and Katherine his wife [and two of their children]
John Byrom and his wife [and one child]
Margery Lingard [widow]
Thomas Gladden and his wife
Elizabeth Milton[3]

The first seven entries on the list pertain to the October 1645 Session. The last two were added at the subsequent Session of July 1646; at the same time, evidently, the fifth, sixth and seventh entries (Kirkman, Lingard, Gladden and wife) were crossed out. The seventh entry is marked `mort' (i.e. dead), although this seems to be a mistake. It is not clear whether Kirkman and Lingard had died by this time, or merely left the House of Correction.[4]

   The occupiers, as may be expected, were from the lower ranks of Middlewich society.[5] Venables, a householder, seems to have been a skinner of declining fortunes.[6] Gladden was a cottager and there is evidence to suggest that he was a labourer.[7] Others do not appear to have been householders of any description. In 1652 the parish churchwardens paid Byrom and his wife for looking after Elizabeth Milton's illegitimate child,[8] suggesting Byrom was (by then) a householder but Milton was not. Several of them or their widows (e.g. Gladden, Sprosten) appear in receipt of parish poor relief in the 1650s.[9] The remainder (Walker, Culcheth, Lingard) do not appear at all in the local accounts, a;though there are various people with the same family names who do; perhaps the former were all relations too poor to be registered for tax or rates. Local records were ill-kept for most of the 1640s, and can throw no light on the changes of fortune of the squatters during this time. But it may be speculated that some of them had had their homes plundered and ruined by troops (the English Civil War was full of such incidents) and in consequence have been glad to squat, even in a House of Correction.

   To continue the story from the Quarter Sessions documents.

[Order at Quarter Sessions, 14 July 1646:]

Whereas by order of Sessions holden at Knutsford the 7th. of October last a warrant was granted to bring [those named in the first seven entries of the above list] before Philip Mainwaring esquire touching their entering into and abusing the house of Correction in Middlewich, And whereas it was now informed that the said persons being thereupon removed, were put in and placed there again by Randle Wood and William Furnivall, Constables of Newton, to the great affront of Justice and the abuse of the whole County, It is therefore ordered by this bench that a warrant be sent from this Court against the said randle Wood and William Furnivall for their appearance at the next general Session of peace within and for this County, to answer the premises, and in the mean time to be of good abearing [behaviour]. and it is further ordered that the now [i.e. present] Constables of Middlewich shall upon sight of this order remove the said persons out of the said house of Correction at their perils.[10]

[Order at Quarter Sessions, 6 October 1646:]

Whereas at the last Sessions it was ordered for the reasons therein expressed, that the Constables of Middlewich should remove diverse persons out of the house of Correction there, which the said Constables have not yet done upon pretence [i.e. alleging] that they were not of power to be it without assistance, It is therefore ordered by this Bench that the said Constables shall forthwith ... call to their assistance so many of the Inhabitants of Middlewich aforesaid as they shall think fit, and thereupon remove the said persons out of the said house of Correction, and if any person shall refuse to assist the said Constables in the premises, then the said Constables shall bring such refusers before some Justice of peace for this County, whom this bench entreats to take such course to punish their disobedience as shall be meet.[11]

[Petition of Alan Walley, 5 May 1647, to Thomas Stanley and Philip Mainwaring, esquires, [Justices,] at the Quarter Sessions at Knutsford:]

Right worshipful

I presume to present you with this Remembrance concerning the house of Correction, [requesting] That your worships would be pleased to take some course with those that have so Contemptuously disobeyed your several Orders. The house is every day abused by them, and if they Continue a while longer in it, they will pull down the very floors. I cannot in any short compass express the great abuse done to it; It has Cost the country a great sum of money to purchase the land and build the house, and if it be put into any repair again it will cost a great deal more. And therefore how worthy those persons are to repair it of their own purses who advised those unruly persons to break into it I humbly leave to your Consideration ...[12]

[Order at Quarter Sessions, 4 July 1647:]

Whereas several former orders of Sessions have been made to the former Constables of Middlewich, for the removing of such Lewd persons as have unlawfully entered into the house of Correction in Middlewich and made there [their?] abode and dwelling ... And whereas the said former orders [are not put] in execution in regard that some others of power (as they pretend) do Countenance the said Lewd people therein; This bench intend not to suffer their orders to be slighted, And therefore do peremptorily command the new constables of Middlewich to remove the said Lewd persons out of the said house of Correction forthwith upon the receipt hereof at their uttermost perils, and also to cause the former Constables to appear before the Justices of peace at the next meeting for Northwich hundred to show cause why they have not obeyed and perfected the former order of this Court in the premises, and also to discover unto the said Justices the names of such persons as have encouraged the said lewd persons to enter into the same house or to stay therein, Entreating the same Justices strictly to punish the default or neglect of everyone whom they shall find faulty int the same.[13]

   Since this is the last order on the matter, we can only assume that the Justices were now finally successful in having the occupants evicted. Things were returning slowly to normal after the upheaval of the Civil War.

Middlewich was not alone in having the property world temporarily turned upside down during the 1640s. Other examples occur, in Cheshire and elsewhere.

   During the Civil War the puritan Roundhead regime had introduced a measure called sequestration against catholics and Royalists, involving the removal of their estates from their possession; in most cases they were subsequently able to regain them in return for a heavy `composition' fine.

   The Cheshire mansion seat of the Royalist Lord Robert Cholmondeley was occupied during his sequestration by `men of low and mean condition', `people of such a quality as are very unfit to inhabit such a mansion, which they convert to a hogsty and such other unworthy and beastly uses'. When Cholmondeley agreed to compound for his estate in the autumn of 1646, the Committee for Compounding in London ordered that the house be returned to his possession. But the tenants were supported by Raphe Judson, a local sequestrations commissioner, who demanded that they be allowed to stay until the expiration of their lease. It took several orders from the Compounding Committee to remove them (the last being made on 5 April 1647).[14]

   In Shropshire, the estate of the catholic Sir Basil Brooke was sequestered in 1645. Tenants took advantage of the resulting power vacuum to take over the estate and its iron works, reduce rents and make other economic gains. In 1649 a relative of Sir Basil's acquired the lease of the estate and proceeded to restore the status quo ante[15] In Somerset, `Taunton paupers lodged in Hestercombe House in the post-war emergency were still there in April 1649, having defied repeated ejection orders'.[16] Taunton, a pro-Parliamentarian town, had been devastated by the Royalists during the War. Perhaps these lodgers were some of those inhabitants whose homes had been destroyed, and possibly they had been re-housed in the home of a Royalist gentleman under sequestration.[17]

1. Victoria County History of Cheshire, vol. 2, Oxford 1979, pp.51, 53; J. S. Morrill, Cheshire 1630 - 1660: County Government and Society during the `English Revolution', Oxford 1974, pp.93, 247; Cheshire Record Office, QJB/1/6 (Quarter Sessions Book 1640 -1650), f.53a.

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2. Morrill, Cheshire, pp.75-6; R. N. Dore, The Civil Wars in Cheshire, Chester 1966, chapter 3, pp.23-39.

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3. Cheshire R.O., QJF/74/2 (file of Quarter Sessions papers, July 1646), no. 70; cf. QJB/1/6, f.96a (the additions to the list of names in square brackets are from the latter). Spelling and punctuation have been modernised in this and the following quotations.

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4. Cf. QJB/1/6, f.96a, and below. For the apparent mistake over Gladden and his wife, see the following note.

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5. The following sources were consulted for the social background. G. O. Lawton, ed., `Northwich Hundred Poll Tax 1660 and Hearth Tax 1664', Lancs. and Cheshire Record Soc. Pubs., vol. 119, 1979. Cheshire R.O.:- P/13/1/1, Middlewich parish register 1613-53, microfilm MF86/1; P/13/22/1, Middlewich parish book (churchwardens' accounts) 1635-67; DVE/2/10, Middlewich borough court books 1607-51 (e.g. 10 Feb. 1642/3, 3 Nov. 1651); DVE/2/6, Kinderton court book 1650-85 (e.g. 17 April 1651); DVE/1/R/18, Baron of Kinderton's rents 1645-6, for Middlewich and other localities; wills of Hugh and William Culcheth of Middlewich, 1651 (1660) and 1658 (1660).

On 12 July 1635 Thomas Gladden married Margaret Beckett (P/13/1/1); this couple appear again in 1652 (P/13/22/1, p.60). `Mort' is thus probably a mistake in the Justices' warrant.

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6. P/13/22/1, 1635 receipts (no pag.), Middlewich `walling' and cottages, Kinderton, Newton; ibid., pp.23, 27, 29, 30, 33, 37-40, 44, 45, 47-9 (1636-1640).

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7. Ibid., pp.29, 39, 43 (cf. 45), 85, 94, 129. Back to text

8. Ibid., pp73, 77. Back to text

9. Ibid., pp.131, 140, 160.
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10. QJB/1/6, f.112a. Back to text

11. QJB/1/6, f.119a. Back to text

12. QJF/75/1, no. 40. Back to text

13. QJB/1/6, ff.133b-134a. Back to text

14. Mary Anne Everitt Greene, ed., Calendar of the Committee for Compounding with Delinquents, London 1888-93, p.1480; Public Record Office, SP23/3, p.364; SP23/4, f.63 (cf. ff.45b, 48a). It is notable that Judson, while claiming his accounts to be complete, did not include Cholmondeley House in them. Evidence of an underhand deal with the occupants? British Library, Harleian MS 2136, f.36.

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15. Christopher O'Riordan, `Sequestration and Social Upheaval: Madeley, Shropshire, and the English Revolution', West Midlands Studies, vol. 18, 1985, pp.21-31.

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16. David Underdown, Somerset in the Civil War and Interregnum, Newton Abbott 1973, pp.155-6.

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17. For the ownership of Hestercombe House, see Thomas Hugo, `Hestercombe', Somerset Archl. and Nat. History Proceedings, vol. 18, 1872, pp.136-76.

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