The human suffering of civilians during the First English Civil War

BLOG FOR ‘FRIENDS’ from Dr Maureen Harris, PhD from The Centre for English Local History (2015), Honorary Visiting Fellow (2015-2020) now ‘Collaborative Worker’, The Centre for English Local History

A unique volunteer project, focusing on the human suffering of civilians during the First English Civil War, is nearing completion. I set up the project in 2017 after volunteering to transcribe and edit the 200 or so Warwickshire ‘Loss Accounts’ for publication by the county’s Dugdale Society. The ‘Accounts’ (mostly housed at The National Archives) detail the losses for ordinary people from parliamentarian military activity from 1642 to 1646 and exist for about 75 per cent of the county’s parishes, probably the best coverage of any county in England.

A visit to Warwickshire County Record Office, September 2018. Images copyright Maureen E Harris’

I felt that these name-rich documents, featuring fascinating military, economic and social details, were an excellent source for engaging enthusiastic but inexperienced members of local history and civic societies, daunted by 17th Century palaeography and anxious about how to negotiate local record offices but eager to learn more about their own localities during such a momentous period of history. In June 2018, having secured a modest grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund with money raised through National Lottery players, I recruited 30 inexperienced volunteers from all over Warwickshire and five more experienced volunteer ‘assistants’ to help me run the project. We began with intensive palaeography training and teaching on aspects of the English Civil Wars with the help of expert lecturers, including our Head of Centre, Professor Andy Hopper. We’ve visited local civil war sites, explored sources and how to use them at local record offices and The National Archives, and discussed the implications of Civil War suffering both then and in the wider world today.

Engaged in classroom learning about the Civil War. Images copyright Maureen E Harris’

The ‘Loss Accounts’ bring the human cost of the First English Civil War vividly to life. Through them we can hear the indignation, anguish and fear of the civilian population in a war-torn county. At a time of traditionally low taxation, the burden of weekly contributions to local garrisons and officers became intolerable. The small township of Upper Shuckburgh paid ‘more than our abilities’ but set down less because the King’s soldiers plundered the township and ‘carryed away and [tore] to peeces’ the receipts. Julius Billers, a Coventry mercer, lost ‘on the Road’ £248 worth of goods. Constantly-marching troops demanded free board and lodging. In Burmington, a village of only 28 households, 450 troops were lodged for two days with just thirteen named residents. Cavalry horses ate the stores of malt and oats and trampled the hay meadows. Maimed soldiers (and sometimes their wives) and sick horses were cared for by local people for days or weeks on end. Thomas Stringfield of Ashow spent nine shillings caring for ‘one sick Souldier of Sir William Wallers three Weekes and Clothed him’. Local garrisons, military camps and courts of guard requisitioned food, fuel and candles while marching troops took cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry, and often the fencing that kept them in to fuel cooking-fires for slaughtered animals. Horses were constantly seized, or had to be redeemed by their owners, and household items and money were mercilessly plundered, supplementing information from contemporary probate inventories. The project, which continued with formal sessions until June 2020, has been a great success and an absolute pleasure to work on with such enthusiastic volunteers. Twenty-six of the original 30 completed at least one parish transcription, and some have done far more, requesting extra ‘Accounts’ while self-isolating in the first Covid-19 lock-down. Volunteers formed two regional ‘Hundred’ groups meeting to discuss research and swap ideas. Many of the volunteers have given talks about the ‘Accounts’ to their local history societies and 20 of them have now embarked on a new Dugdale Society volunteer transcription project while two active teachers are working on education packs. I’m currently editing all the volunteers’ transcriptions which will appear in 2021 on an accessible Warwickshire County Record Office website. In 2022 the Dugdale Society will publish my introduction to the ‘Loss Accounts’ with a full index and transcriptions of some, if not all, the ‘Accounts’ so that hopefully these little-known sources will become more widely appreciated in future.

For more information please contact Dr Maureen Harris or  

Representing Disability in Shakespeare’s World Video

Image: Charity table painting from St Nicholas Church, Alcester, Warwickshire.

On Monday, 9th November 2020, 2:00pm – 4:00pm, there was a FREE online event exploring social representations and attitudes toward disability in the 17th century and today.

You can view the video at:

Using insights from history and disability studies, this event drew from Shakespearean England to explore social representations and attitudes toward disability across historical eras and in the context of military life. It featured a pre-recorded mini lecture to introduce an online screening of videos, followed up by recorded online discussion.

The videos includes a production by actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), along with two freelance actors with disabilities. A series of video monologues of extracts from Shakespeare’s plays which portray people with disabilities caused by war are featured. Alongside this, the actors recite, dramatize and perform short petitions that survive from wounded soldiers applying for the first state military pensions during Shakespeare’s day and the years immediately afterwards. These were drawn from the University of Leicester and THE CENTRE FOR ENGLISH LOCAL HISTORY led Civil War Petitions project 

The video outputs and recited petitions are accompanied by filmed commentaries and discussion from experts including an academic from the Shakespeare Institute, early modern historians, disability studies scholars, representatives from arts and military organisations, and the actors themselves. In doing so insights and critical reflection on contemporary representation and attitudes toward disability, as well as equality and social support for those with disability, are provided.

For more information about the Civil War Petitions project please contact Prof. Andy Hopper, Director of THE CENTRE FOR ENGLISH LOCAL HISTORY at the University of Leicester

Seminar Programme 2020-21

Centre for English Local History

Seminars will be delivered live and remotely on the following dates and times. You can join these sessions from your home computer via Blackboard Collaborate. You do not need to download any special software to join these sessions. Simply click on the links below which act as an entry key into the virtual seminar room. Sessions will open 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the paper. Please ensure that your video and microphones are off during the paper. There will be opportunities to ask questions directly after the paper.

8 October, 2.15pm Matt Bristow, ‘The pre-industrial Lowestoft Fish Office: another red herring?

22 October, 2.15pm Dr Bill Shannon, ‘New light on the medieval Gough map of Britain

5 November, 2.15pm Dr Adam Chapman, ‘Where next for the Victoria County History?’

19 November, 2.15pm Dr Melodee Beals, ‘The Provincial-Provincial Public Sphere: Scotland, New Zealand and the Newspaper Press in the Age of Telegraph and Steam.

3 December, 2.15pm Prof. Martin Johnes, ‘Humbug and a Welsh Hindu: a small history of race, language and begging in nineteenth-century Liverpool.’

21 January, 2.15pm Dr Xuesheng You, ‘Women’s labour force participation in nineteenth-century England and Wales.’

4 February, 2.15pm Dr Carry van Lieshout, ‘Female entrepreneurship: business, marriage and motherhood in England and Wales, 1851-1911.’

18 February, 7pm Dr Bethany Marsh, ‘”Overfrighted and feared”: feelings, attitudes and responses to fear during the 1641 Irish rebellion.’

4 March, 2.15pm Prof. Phil Batman, ‘Migration from Swaledale during the collapse of the nineteenth-century lead mines.’

18 March, 2.15pm Dr Chris Zembe, ‘From Slave Trade to Scramble for Africa: the making of the Black population in Britain.’

In Support of Marc Fitch House

As you know the closure and sale of Marc Fitch House by the university has been postponed as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic. However, it is still the intention of the university to continue with the closure and the relocation of the Centre to the main campus when possible.

This gives the Friends the opportunity to progress with the campaign to protect both the building and the Centre. Our aim is to try and work with Centre staff and the university to achieve a feasible and sustainable future for the study of English Local History at Leicester. The next step is to develop a case demonstrating the unique value of the site and how it has been used to help positively promote study and research. The purpose being to show how the loss of the building will have a damaging impact on the university outweighing any short-term financial benefits.

To that end, I would be grateful if Friends could send in any evidence and examples of where Marc Fitch House has been particularly suitable and important in the promotion of the aims of the Centre. This could include for example conferences, seminars and working with external groups to share knowledge and learning. This will be used to provide valuable information to support the case for retaining the Centre at the site.

Thank you for your help and assistance.

Dr Michael Gilbert

Responses please to John Parker

Friends Update May 2020

These are challenging times and we hope everybody is keeping safe and well during the current lockdown. It is particularly difficult for the academic world and we can see the impacts of the crisis on teaching activities at the Centre for English Local History and the University of Leicester. As you know the Friends have sadly had to cancel all our planned events for this year including the Spotlight Conference and Hoskins’ Day. However, subject to government guidance, we plan to launch a full programme in the New Year to include day visits and a study weekend as well as the conference and seminars. We will aim to send out more details of how to be involved later in the year. 

The current crisis has shown that despite the restrictions there is much that groups can do to keep in contact and to stay active. Some of these initiatives are already underway for the Friends such as the new website and our presence on Facebook and Twitter. This year we are also planning a new style Newsletter as a showcase of the work and interests of the Friends. An email has gone out to all members asking for articles, if you would like to contribute please let us know. We are also investigating running ‘virtual’ talks and seminars in conjunction with the Centre hopefully starting this summer, details will follow shortly. Please let use know if you have any ideas for online activities that the Friends could be involved in, we will follow-up any suggestions. 

Although the threat of closure of Marc Fitch House has temporarily receded it has not gone away and we continue to work with and to support the Centre in its efforts to find suitable accommodation and to secure its future. More information on how members can help with this will be published soon.

Friends Committee 

Invitation for contributions for Friends Newsletter 2020

Dear Friend, I am writing to you to request your contributions to the annual Friends Newsletter, please.  

The Newsletter will have a different format and flavour this year, since we have so few communal activities to report.  However, we will publish it as usual in the autumn and it will be distributed predominantly online.  

I would be delighted if as many Friends as possible could send me articles on any historical subject which you think might be of interest to our membership.  We would like to extend this invitation to all Friends, Staff and Students associated with the Centre.  We could include a letters page, book and other reviews, recent publications, work in progress, thoughts on the future and the history of the Centre, etc, and photographs are always welcome.  We would like to consider any contribution you care to offer.  

The deadline for receipt of any contributions will be the end of September, and please send them to my email address at: 

I look forward to hearing from you.  

All the best.  

Phil Batman~Newsletter Editor

Update on No:5 Salisbury Road

The University of Leicester has confirmed that the sale of properties on Salisbury Road has been postponed during the current pandemic crisis and this includes Marc Fitch House the current home of the Centre for English Local History. The relocation of the Centre to the main campus during the summer has also been postponed. The Friends welcome this pragmatic decision and look forward to working with the University and the Centre to develop a viable and long term solution for the Centre and its valuable collections. We will provide more information as it becomes available. Hoping that all Friends as well as the staff and students at the Centre are keeping safe and well during these difficult times.

Dr Michael Gilbert
15 April 2020

Hoskins’ Day 2020 – CANCELLED

The Friends of the Centre for English Local History normally hold the Hoskins’ Day lecture to celebrate the work of Professor W G Hoskins in June. Given the current pandemic emergency it has been decided to cancel this year’s event and to rearrange it in 2021. We apologise for any disappointment this may cause but as always the safety of our members must always come first. Thank you for your understanding and we look forward to seeing you next year.

Restless Souls Pilgrim Roots

New book explores the turbulent history of the Christian
faith in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire

Miracles * Tragedy * Heroism * Betrayal * Revelation * Corruption

In a story running from the early 7th Century until 1660, Adrian Gray places great and intriguing figures in the context of their times and in an unfolding story of spiritual change, rebellion and sometimes death. You will meet again some well-known figures such as Saint Hugh of Lincoln, Thomas Cranmer the architect of the Church of England, and the mercurial George Fox from Mansfield who formed the Quakers; you will learn more about the first leaders of the Baptist Church and those who became the ‘Mayflower’ Pilgrims, but the text also restores to our attention many more fascinating and often radical figures who have been forgotten over time.

The range of characters stretches from Guthlac, whose supernatural experiences in the Fens became the first English biography, to Elizabeth Hooton, the Nottinghamshire Quaker who travelled the world and escaped death many times. Often, these people were motivated by a quest for a better Faith and Church, leading them from the ‘heresy’ of Lollardism to be champions of the Reformation and ultimately leaders of the Civil War against King Charles I. Many died for their beliefs.

The story also has its fair share of ‘villains’ including corrupt and venal bishops, despotic leaders who sent those who disagreed with them to the stake or the gallows, on both sides of the Atlantic, and one of Elizabethan England’s most sinister torturers.

Hardback, 405pps. RRP £28.00, discounts may apply.

ADRIAN GRAY has an MA in History from Cambridge University and is the author of over twenty books. He is well-known as the historical adviser to Pilgrims & Prophets Christian Heritage Tours and Bassetlaw Christian Heritage, which promote interest in the Christian history of the two counties.

Order from bookshops or usual suppliers, or direct from the publisher: