Walking With Ancestors
Before the first major battle of the English Civil War had even been fought, Wellington was the scene of a highly significant moment in the early history of the conflict. It was on the outskirts of the town in 1642 that King Charles effectively declared war on his Parliament, when he vowed to defend the freedom and liberty of the Church and State against his enemies. The ‘Declaration of Wellington’, as it became known, was considered so important at the time that the Royal Mint issued new coinage to mark the delivery of Charles’ famous speech. but just how did this monumental address come to be made in the town?
Charles and his legion of supporters stayed in Wellington from Monday 19th to Tuesday 20th of September 1642, while travelling from Nottingham to Shrewsbury. The King had enjoyed limited success in recruiting men to fight for his cause in the east Midlands and his standard, which he had raised in Nottingham on August 25th, blew down during a gale. in an ominous portent of future events. Having been assured of more fervent support in Shropshire, Charles then made his way to the county, choosing Wellington, which was roughly one day’s march short of the county town, as a rendezvous point for his followers. On arrival, he supposedly raised his standard again, this time in Market Square, before making his way to Orleton Park. Some uncertainty surrounds the actual location in which the King chose to make his historic address, the site of which may have been on the nearby Apley Castle estate. As the only defendable house of any size within the vicinity of Wellington, Apley was garrisoned at a very early point in the conflict and several skirmishes and minor battles took place there during the course of the war.
On the morning of the 20th September, the King amassed his forces for the first time and, as a prelude to the famous proclamation, ‘military orders for discipline and good government of his army’ were read to the troops who, by that point, probably numbered about 4000 men. Charles’ declaration to his supporters was certainly a powerful address, later described by the Earl of Clarendon, in his book History of Rebellion, as ‘not fit to be forgotten’. After reminding the troops of their duty to follow his instructions for good conduct, the King made a promise to live and die with his followers, before issuing a resolution that, he declared, would make his men believe they could not fight ‘in a better quarrel’. At the centre of the King’s proclamation was a pledge to defend the Protestant religion established in the Church of England, maintain the ‘just privileges and freedom of Parliament’ and to govern by the ‘known laws of the land’ consented to him by that Parliament. It seems the grave nature of the situation was not lost on the Monarch either, when he declared that he would not expect ‘aid or relief from any man’ should he fail ‘in these particulars’.
Civil War Walks
Orleton Park, the conjectured setting for King Charles’ declaration, is a 15 minute walk along Haygate Road from the Market Square where the monarch is alleged to have raised his standard on arrival in Wellington. The Cludde family, who resided at Orleton at the time of the Civil War, maintained a discreet neutrality during the campaign as, like many families, they were unwilling to risk their property being seized in the event of the wrong outcome. In the event, the Charlton family’s ancient seat of Apley Castle may have been the venue for the proclamation and lies to the north of Wellington, off Whitchurch Drive. The estate, which was sold by descendants of the Charltons during the 1950s, was much larger than today and an idea of its original size can be gained from visiting the former lodge that lies just outside the town centre on the Whitchurch Road roundabout.