In Mrs Newcastle’s somewhat starry eyed biography of her husband, she mentions that his forces defeated a significant Parliamentarian force at Tankersley Moor which is between Sheffield and Barnsley. It is also mentioned in his patent for Marquess.
However, there appears to be little further direct evidence on this. Even Peter Newman in his thesis on the Royalist Northern Army speculates on only one other possible reference which is from ‘Mercurius Brittanicus’ and would place the battle in the June/July of 1643 which is somewhat later than Mrs. Newcastle implies.
Naturally, living within a couple of miles of the battlefield, I have been particularly interested to find out any information I can. That a battle actually took place is evidenced by the finding of cannon balls in a field near Tankersley Lane in 1917, and a musket ball in a tree cut down in 1876. These are still held in the Parish Church.
The story starts with the battle of Seacroft Moor on 30th March 1643 after which the Duchess tells us:
“… in pursuit of that victory, my Lord sent a considerable party into the West of Yorkshire, where they met with 2000 of the enemy’s forces, taken out of their several garrisons in those parts, to execute some design upon a moor called Tankerly Moor, and there fought them, and routed them; many were slain, and some taken prisoners.”
If we take the date of Seacroft Moor, as our starting point, then other circumstantial evidence can be brought into play to see if and possibly why the battle took place, if not the actual course of the battle, and to fix the date of the battle as being sometime in late April.
Following his victory at Seacroft, Newcastle was in the process of consolidating his victory. He made Wakefield his base of operations, and was beginning to push his forces into the south of the county. This we know from a letter sent by Sir Thomas Fairfax to his father Lord Fairfax on 20th April:
“… some of the Penistone men came also to demand aid, there being seventeen colours in Barnsley, five miles of them. I advised them to seek help from Rotherham and Sheffield, and whilst they stood upon their guards to get their goods to places of most safeguard, for it will be impossible without more horse to defend the county from spoil.”
As each company or troop carried its own colour, this gives a force of about 1000 to 1500 men, although it gives no indication as the type of troops, or even what mix thereof. My personal preferences would interpret the word ‘colours’ to mean that the force was predominantly infantry, which would push the numbers towards the upper end of this range. However, the Fairfax letter can be interpreted in such a way as to imply a reasonable cavalry contingent.
It is quite possible that the ‘Peniston Men’ brought this approach of Royalist forces on themselves as they had been making quite a nuisance of themselves:
“On Wednesday the 4th January 1642, 500 soldiers or more out of Bradfield parrish, Peniston parrish, Burton parrish, &c, came neare Emley towne into the Park, but retreated having taken Mich. Greene constable of Emley prisoner but released him with two dayes”
(The calendar in use during the Civil Wars had the year change on the 26th March, so this is in fact 1643.)
“On Saturday the 21st Jan. in the afternoon above 1000 soldiers came to Emley, and begunne presentlie to pillage. Most of them were of Peniston and Burton parrishes.”
I suggest that the local Parliamentarians acted on Fairfax’s advice, and called a mustering of forces on Tankersley Moor. This would have been a natural meeting point, being reasonably equidistant from Penistone and the Parliamentarian garrisons at Sheffield and Rotherham, and not least as it seems to have been a meeting place for the Trained Bands of the area. This last is evidenced by ‘the county militia’ having used the moor for training on at least three occasions (quoted by Charles Twigg in an article in The Douglas Collection, Volume One). The Royalists at Barnsley somehow got wind of these moves, resulting in the battle and a resounding defeat for Parliament. This theory certainly accords with the Duchess’s account.
There is some evidence that Tankersley Hall was garrisoned for a time, and if it still existed this garrison may have alerted their comrades in Barnsley. (The remains of the hall are visible from the M1 motorway, and are located to the east between junctions 35A and 36).
The actual date of the battle is still unclear, but I recently came across two references which help to narrow the options down.
Firstly, there is a burial record for the parish of Sessay in 1643 which reads:
‘Gabriel Rud was buried at Snaith, 8th of May, who died of a shot in his arme, received at Ek’sley Moor, of a gun‘
It is my opinion that “Ek’sley” is a corruption (all too common at the time) of Tankersley and this would place the battle late in April. We do not know which side Gabriel fought on, or whether he was Horse, Dragoon, or Foote, but we do know that Snaith is about 25 miles north east of Tankersley, and it would have taken some time for Gabriel to travel/be transported there.
This also ties in with a record in the Barnsley Registers dated 1st May 1643, which records the burial of ‘Luke Carleil, Willm Dobson, Luke Garfield soldiers’. There are no other similar entries around this time and there is only one other entry dated 21st June of the same year for one ‘Thomas Hinchcliff soldier’. It may even be that he was wounded in the battle and was left behind, dying some seven weeks later. This indicates a military presence in the area for a limited period, and supports my theories on Tankersley.
The impact of the battle was significant. When, shortly after the battle, Newcastle moved to take Rotherham and Sheffield, Parliament found itself with a dearth of troops, such that they only had enough men to defend one of these, Rotherham, and that with a scratch garrison which included schoolboys and other untrained levies. The effect of Tankersley was to compound the calls by the local Parliamentarians for support from further afield, with not only Lord Fairfax being asked again for troops, but also the Derbyshire forces of Sir John Gell. Here two companies of Gell’s own foot regiment were stationed at Chesterfield under the command of its Lieutenant-Colonel and these moved towards Rotherham taking their two small cannon with them. However, by the time they got under way Rotherham had fallen to Newcastle’s “ragged and torne” (see note 1) troops on May 4th after a two day siege. This was quickly followed by the stronger Sheffield on along with its castle which fell without a fight due to there being hardly anyone left to defend it!
1In conversation with Sherland Adams on 5th May, Newcastle said he knew his soldiers, “…were ragged and torne, but they will doe their work”
As a matter of interest, the results of the assault on Rotherham can still be seen today in bullet impact holes to be found in wall of the chantry (see note 2) church in the middle of town.
2A chantry church or chapel is one built on a bridge.