Relics of Fairfax’s Army in Crediton
Devon Notes & Queries, vol. I, (January 1900 to January 1901), p.109.
E. K. Prideaux
Lord Thomas Fairfax or ‘Black Tom’ as he was known to both sides was an honourable man on and off the battlefield. He opposed the execution of the king and as a consequence was pardoned by Charles II at the Restoration whilst many, many others were not. In late 1645 and early 1646, Crediton was used as a base by Fairfax and the New Model Army from where they marched on the Royalist forces gathering in North Devon, and to where they returned on 29 March 1646 after success both at the Battle of Torrington and in overturning the siege of Plymouth. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.
Note 220. RELICS OF FAIRFAX'S ARMY IN CREDITON. - Hanging on the walls of the " Corporation Chamber "attached to Crediton Church there are some interesting relics of the time when Crediton, with the surrounding district, was in the occupation of a detachment of the Parliamentary army under Fairfax in 1645.
In the previous year "Lord's Meadow," by the side of the Creedy outside Crediton, had been the scene of a grand review of the Royalist army under Prince Maurice, King Charles I. and his son, Prince Charles having been present in person. But fortunes had changed, and it was after the King's defeat at the battle of Naseby that General Fairfax was sent by the Parliament with an army into the loyal West, for the purpose of subduing Exeter and other important towns there. He took Tiverton on his way, and then prudently deferred further operations until the severe winter that had set in should have given place to more open and favourable weather. Having fixed his own headquarters at Ottery St. Mary, he sent detachments of his troops into various towns and villages round Exeter for the purpose of holding them and cutting off the supplies from the Devon capital, and thus gradually reducing the resisting power of the garrison before he could begin an active siege of the city.
To Crediton he sent Sir Hardress Waller, who seized it, and encamped his troops in the "Lord's Meadow" for a long sojourn.
It was a time of much sickness in the army, doubtless owing to the severity of the season, and while Fairfax waited at Ottery, his forces were considerably thinned by deaths from illness of various kinds.
And at Crediton also many suffered and died. One amongst these latter must have been left behind in the town, too ill to be moved, on that Sunday in 1646 when the troops were marched away to proceed further south, to Dartmouth. For it is the clothes and accoutrements of this one poor trooper that now hang in the "Corporation Chamber," or "Governors' Room," (1) of the great parish church, in which it is said that "Cromwell himself with others of the officers and men heard, before they went, a sermon from the mouth of Master Joshua Spragge, one of the chaplains." (2).
Probably these "effects" of the unknown trooper were at first preserved and put aside in case of any authorised claims being made for their possession, and none such being forthcoming, they remained in the charge of the parish in which their owner had died.
His "buff-coat" and belt (fig. 1) are still in excellent condition, and, though marked and soiled with hard wear, appear to have been, when discarded, good for another fifty years' service. Decay has not so far touched the tough hide of which the coat was made. These "buff-coats" - which were the successors to the soldiers' padded "jack-coats" - were introduced as early as Queen Elizabeth's reign, but their general use dates from that of Charles I. and the Civil War; and they were found so suitable to the wear of the army that they continued in use, in some departments, till the time of George I. The term "buff" does not refer to their colour, but to the fact of their being made from buffalo hide, an almost indestructible material, and so thick that no lining or padding was required. However, even with this severe and unmanageable material, the smart officers of the day managed to make a brilliant show, for Planché (3) tells us that "Commanders wore them richly embroidered with gold and silver upon their sleeves ; or trimmed and edged with gold and silver lace, and gold and silver buttons and loops." Our specimen, being that provided for a man in the Parliamentary ranks, is naturally devoid of any such embellishments, and indeed the edges all round are left simply cut straight, and there are very few fastenings to the garment.
Then there are his boots (fig. 2), also in first-rate condition. They are of the type worn at that time by both armies, but which among the Cavaliers came to be greatly exaggerated in the matter of the top flap. They are of solid leather throughout, and of such a weight that one marvels at the strength of the men who wore them, although, of course, this pair belonged to a mounted, soldier, and were not intended for use on long foot marches.
His saddle and bridle (fig. 3) hang in so dark a position that I fear my photograph gives but a very indistinct idea of them. They are more dilapidated than the rest of his outfit ; but his leather pistol-holster (fig. 4), now empty, is in perfect preservation.
The long sword, or rapier, hanging between two stirrups (fig. 5) is too delicate a weapon to have belonged to the trooper, and so also is one of the stirrups - that on the right hand of the print, which is fashioned with much care and some ornament. The other - on the left - however, may well have been part of the trooper's equipment, as it is rough and quite plain. The history of the elegant rapier, with its engraved "cup-guard " hanging below, is unknown; but that it must have belonged to an officer seems certain from the expensively decorated style of the weapon.
(1) There are twelve "Governors," chosen from the parishioners, responsible for Crediton Church, and this room is that in which they hold their meetings.
(2) See paper on Crediton Church by Richd. John King in the Transactions of the Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society, vol. iv., second series, p. 88.
(3) Encyclopaedia of Costume by Planché, vol.i. E. K. Prideaux.