10 London hills – 7. Brockley Hill…

Looking north along the A5 as it passes over Brockley Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps

Located in Stanmore in London’s northern outskirts, Brockley Hill has an elevation of 136 metres above sea level.

The name apparently comes from an Old English word for badger holes (the sandy soil on top of the hill being easier for them to dig than the surrounding clay).

The Celtic tribe the Catuvellauni is believed to have had a settlement on the hill top and legend says that it was on the hill that a battle was fought between the Catuvellauni, under their leader Cassivellanus, and the Roman Julius Caesar in 54 BC.

The Romans later are understood to have established their own settlement on the hill – Sulloniacae – which was served as an imperial posting station on Watling Street as it made its way north from Marble Arch to Verulamium (St Albans).

The sandy soil also meant the area was a centre for pottery making during the Roman period, in particular flagons and vessels known as mortaria (bricks were made here in more recent centuries). There’s a plaque commemorating the Roman pottery on the A5 (just pass the junction with Wood Lane)

There is an obelisk commemorating the battle on top of the hill which was erected in 1750 (which can still be seen although it suggests the Catuvellauni won the battle when historians today believe the reverse). It stands now in the grounds of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital which moved into the site of an earlier hospital in the late 1920s.

10 London ‘battlefields’ – 7. Battle of Brentford…

Syon-Park

Yes, we’re a bit out of order here given we looked at the subsequent Battle of Turnham Green last week, but today we’re taking a look at the Civil War fight known as the Battle of Brentford.

As recounted last week, having taken Banbury and Oxford in the aftermath of the Battle of Edgehill, the Royalist army marched along the Thames Valley toward London where a Parliamentarian army under the Earl of Essex waited.

Battle-of-BrentfordHaving arrived at Reading to the west of London, King Charles I, apparently unconvinced peace talks were heading in the right direction, ordered Prince Rupert to take Brentford in order to put pressure on the Parliamentarians in London.

On 12th November, 1642, up to 4,600 Royalists under the command of the prince engaged with two Parliamentarian infantry regiments at Brentford, one of the key approaches the City of London. The Parliamentarians were under the command of Denzil Hollis (who wasn’t present) and Lord Brooke – various estimates put their number at between 1,300 and 2,000 men.

Prince Rupert’s men – consisting of cavalry and dragoons – attacked at dawn under the cover of a mist. An initial venture to take a Parliamentarian outpost at the house of Royalist Sir Richard Wynne was repulsed by cannon fire but Sir Rupert ordered a Welsh foot regiment to join the fight and the outpost was quickly taken.

The Cavaliers then pushed forward across the bridge over the River Brent (which divided the town) and eventually drove the Parliamentarians from the town and into the surrounding fields (part of the battle was apparently fought on the grounds of Syon House – pictured at top).

Fighting continued into the late afternoon before the arrival of a Parliamentarian infantry brigade under the command of John Hampden allowed the Roundheads to withdraw.

About 170 are believed to have died in the battle (including a number who drowned fleeing the fighting). Followed by the sack of the town, the battle was a success for the Royalists who apparently captured some 15 guns and about 400 prisoners. The captured apparently included Leveller John Lilburne, a captain in Brooke’s regiment.

The Royalists and Parliamentarians met again only a few days later – this time at Turnham Green (for more on that, see last week’s post).

Incidentally, this wasn’t the first battle to be fought at Brentford. Some time over the summer of 1016, English led by Edmund Ironside clashed with the Danes under the soon-to-be-English king Canute. Edmund was victorious on the day, one of a series of battles he fought with Canute.

Meanwhile, more than 1000 years earlier, it was apparently at Brentford that the British under the King Cassivellaunus fought with Julius Caesar’s men in 54 BC on their approach to St Albans (Verulamium).

A pillar stands High Street in Brentford commemorating all three battles while there is an explanatory plaque about the battle in the grounds of Syon Park.

For more the Battles of Brentford and Turnham Green, see www.battlefieldstrust.com/brentfordandturnhamgreen.