The Battle of Stamford Hill
It’s funny how the Battle of Stamford Hill tends to be underplayed in Stratton. This year, it wasn’t celebrated by the Town Council after poor attendance at the usual Sealed Knot re-enaction the previous year, when it rained, but it was a key event in the Civil War down in the SW.
The late Dudley Stamp and Bere, in their book, The Book of Bude and Stratton (1980) suggest that the Earl of Stamford may not have been at the battle at all, but laid up with gout in Exeter. However, the Earl of Clarendon reckons he was, and he should probably know. Curious that the site was named after a general on the losing side, but Stamford Hill was actually in existence long before the event, which probably explains it.
While not decisive, Stamp and Bere say the Battle marked an important point in the struggle for dominance over the West Country between the Royalists and Parliamentarians. War started in 1642. The Cornish Army was formed by Sir Bevil Grenville of Stowe (Kilkhampton way) along with other Cornish Royalists. They were joined by Sir Ralph Hopton of Somerset, and it was he who marched northwards with Grenville to Stratton to meet the Parliamentarians.
The aim was to stop the Earl of Stamford getting further into Cornwall. The army marched towards Stratton, but rather than attacking the town head on, swung west towards Widemouth Bay, thus securing their left flank by the sea. The recovered the ‘passe’ over the river, which is now known as Nanny Moore’s Bridge. Many of the army camped at Efford Down, it seems, with the officers likely to have slept at Efford House, then occupied by the staunch Royalist, Mistress Mary Arundell.
The ensuing fight started at 5am, and continued until about 3pm. The Cornish Army made a last pike and sword charge to the top of Stamford Hill, and the Parliamentarian General, Chudleigh, was captured. It is hard to imagine the scale of this, but if you visualise that 1700 of his troops were made prisoner, 300 men died, and all the cannon and baggage was taken (including £5,000 of campaign funds) it is a little easier. Even so, eye witnesses make no mention of the Earl of Stamford! Indeed, the suggestion from historical sources used by Dudley Stamp and Bere is that Stamford kept himself at a safe distance, and made haste to Exeter upon defeat. Who knows the reality? He doesn’t really get a great press.
So, although outnumbered by more than two to one, the Cornish Army won the day. Courage or local knowledge, or both? The tradition is that the dead were buried in a mass grave on Maer Down, just above Crooklets Beach, the site of many cannonball findings.
Grenville was later killed near Bath, struck on the head by a pick-axe while leading his men to battle. Chudleigh, the Parliamentarian leader, meanwhile, was said to be so impressed with the courage and devotion of the Royalist Army that he promptly changed sides and fought or the King. Poor Hopton became Lord Hopton of Stratton in 1643, but ended his days in exile, dying in Bruges in 1652, when his title became extinct. Guess there are worse places to die.