Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Armies Manoeuvre at Modbury, Devon
The skirmish of December 1642 proved to be only a temporary setback for the king’s cause in Devon. Hopton was an energetic and skilled soldier who quickly overcame his difficulties to build up a sizeable army which he was determined to get trained to a semblance of professional efficiency before leading it into battle. By January he had established a secure land blockade around Plymouth. Although the Parliamentary garrison could bring in supplies and reinforcements by sea, the normal life of the city was to be slowly strangled by the blocking of all roads in and out of the countryside surrounding Plymouth.
Modbury was in a key strategic position as it commanded the narrow gap between the heights of Dartmoor and the sea a few miles east of Plymouth. Hopton stationed Sir Nicholas Slanning and Colonel Trevanion in the town with about 2,000 men. The senior officers lodged in the Exeter Arms Hotel. Their orders were to patrol the roads leading to Plymouth. Everyone using the roads was to be stopped and searched, with anyone suspicious being arrested and taken away for questioning. Slanning and Trevanion did their job well and the eastern roads into Plymouth were securely blocked.
The winter of 1642-43 was exceptionally mild, which allowed armies to operate when they would normally be shivering in winter quarters. On 19 January Hopton’s main army of 8,000 men defeated some 5,000 Parliamentarians under Colonel Ruthin. Ruthin and his men had been trying to reach Launceston, but were stopped at Braddock Down and rolled back to Liskeard.
Meanwhile a second Roundhead army was on the march, and this time it had not been spotted by Hopton’s scouts. This army was some 8,000 strong and was marching down from Bristol with the aim of breaking through to Plymouth and raising the blockade of that city. On 19 February the army marched into Totnes unopposed for there were no Royalist troops present. They strode out at dawn and that evening camped at Kingsbridge. A local man managed to get away on horseback, riding hard for Modbury to alert Slanning and Trevanion to the approaching danger.
Early on the morning of 21 February Slanning and Trevanion mustered their men in the little village square. They had some 1,500 men with them, the rest being off on patrol. Messengers were sent out to gather the scattered units and bring them back to Modbury, but that would take time. Even if all the patrols came in the Royalists would still be outnumbered by 4:1. A rider was sent off to find Hopton and give him the news.
After giving their men a good breakfast to sustain them through the coming day Slanning and Trevanion led them out to take up a defensive position east of the village.
3) Head east along the A379. Where the main road turns sharp right go straight on into Galpin Street. Follow this steep lane up and out of the village. Just past the last house on the right a footpath leaves the lane by way of a flight of steps and a stile. It then strikes off across the open hillside, crossing several fields and stiles as it does so. After about 150 yards the path tops the crest of the hill.
It was on this hilltop that the Royalists formed up to face the coming onslaught.