During May 1643 information owe from Crowland that Captain Welbie, described as a pernicious and desperate malignant against King and Parliament, and a mischievour mover of rebellion in this part of the Fens, had “persuaded” the inhabitants of Crowland to obey him and with him and other commanders declare themselves against Parliament and fortify the town with trenches and other obstructive defences.
When this was done, Captain Welbie and his soldiers approached Spalding, a town bereft of armed men, and beset the house of a Mr. Ram. a minister, whom they took captive and also John Harrington with two others, a Mr. Horn and Mr. Slater. Both sixty years of age. The reason given for seizing these peaceful men was that the minister had supposedly written a letter to the inhabitants of Crowland appealing to them not to oppose Parliament. Crowland had two clergymen who were known to have orchestrated objections against the appeal and who supported Captain Welbie. The Spalding men were taken to Crowland and imprisoned and denied opportunity to pray.
This state of affairs continued for three weeks during which the prisoners were subjected to much abuse. Meanwhile the citizens of Spalding got themselves together and with arms and some regular soldiers marched against Crowland. At eight o’clock on the first night the opposing forces faced each other and the prisoners were carried down the bulwark on the north side of the town and kept there all night among rude and coarse soldiers. The Spalding contingent could not advance for fear of their captive friends receiving injury or worse. The following night the prisoners were taken to an alehouse and cast into prison again next day. Seeing their four friends taken away from the bulwarks, the Spalding men advanced but the prisoners were again brought out and placed before the oncoming army as cannons hurled missiles over their heads. Before the assault a Spalding drummer was sent to peaceably summon the town but the man was wounded and he, too, was taken prisoner.
All the prisoners were set upon the breastworks and made to stand there for three hours, their friends from Spalding unaware of their presence, actually shooting towards them but happily missing. Captain Harrington of Spalding took a musket from a soldier, charged it with powder and shot three times at his own father without knowing whom it was. Other Spalding soldiers also opened fire at the prisoners standing calmly upon the fortifications. When they realised what was happening the Spalding men aimed their muskets well to the right of the hostages, but the Crowland garrison instantly moved the hapless men into the line of fire. Little could be done on that side of the town that day, the fortifications well lined with soldiers backed by Crowland civilians armed to the teeth with hassock-knives (long scythes) and other weapons.
The fury of the fight abated but increased in another direction, where Mr. Ram and Mr. Horn had been placed in range of shot. By this the besiegers supposed Mr. Ram was none other than the Rev. Styles of Crowland for whom they had little respect. The Spalding force steadily advanced within musket range and opened fire at the prisoners and others in (he vicinity. Miraculously the men escaped the fusillade and some shots went past their ears, pieces of lead falling half a musket length short of the prisoners.
The men continued to suffer in this way for three hours or so, and the Spałding force realising who they were started to withdraw. The two prisoners were then released and removed to the prison together with three others including the wounded drummer who had been subjected to similar treatment on the west side of Crowland. The besieging forces on the north side, seeing the way clear, began to attack on a heavy scale and instantly the defenders set up the prisoners again and the attack failed.
The Crowland garrison took this as a victory and then made a fatal error. One man, a priest named Jackson, later had the prisoners brought from their cells and by way of a form of thanksgiving for the “victory” read aloud certain Collects. Inspired by this little ceremony, the garrison troops spent the rest of the day drinking, revelling and mocking the Parliamentary forces surrounding the town.
The besiegers, taking advantage of their opponents preoccupation, formed themselves into three assault groups and stormed Crowland from different directions, climbing the bulwarks and entering the streets before the defenders could realise what was happening. The assault forces were respectively commanded by Col. Sir Miles Hobert, Col. Sir Anthonie Irbie, and none other than Col. Oliver Cromwell who had come to their assistance. Crowland fell but not before the prisoners were brought from their cells for the umpteenth time and pinioned to stakes in the wet ground and fallen into the mud where they lay before being set free by their victorious friends.
The rebel commanders left their men to their fate and escaped. Several Crowland inhabitants who had helped the rebels were seized and taken into custody at Colchester, Ipswich and various other płaces. The general Commander of the Parliamentary force was Col. Edward King of Ashby on Lincoln Heath, a highly capable officer and High Sheriff of Lincolnshire.
Crowland abbey is said to have been severely damaged in the bombardment by Parliamentarian artillery, understandably so as the church was used by the defenders. The original description of the battle makes no mention of the abbey, but there is little doubt that its position and especially the tower would prove very useful as a lookout for the town’s defensive positions. During the Civil War many churches and large mansions in the land were requisitioned by both sides and as a result damaged. Crowland was the gateway to the Isle of Ely which was essential to the Parliamentary cause, fortresses being set up at Wisbech and March for the security of the western flank of the Eastern Counties Association.