The Battle of Heptonstall

In November 1643 eight hundred Royalist cavalry and foot soldiers led by Sir Francis Mackworth attempted to seize the small West Riding town of Heptonstall from the occupying Parliamentary forces. Although they were driven back after a bloody night battle, several weeks later the Royalists returned in greater numbers, sacking the town, burning the houses and taking the livestock. The wool trade was destroyed for a generation. Plague followed.

A few years ago, Michael Crowley turned the story of this small, bloody battle in the English Civil War into a community play. The Battle of Heptonstall takes some of the characters from the play – real and imagined – and lets them tell their own version of events. It is an examination of ideology, class and Englishness, from the Putney Debates to Brexit, a book about propaganda and division, authority and dissent, reaction and resistance, then and now.

Sample Poems

Weaver

John Cockcroft


All else depends on warp and weft,
that the tension be right and be even,
or the coat unravels from the back.

I make a cloth of simple tabby weave
the shafts and shuttle like it well,
all day tying to the heddles until my eyes fail.

Soldiers on the hills: the arc of their helmets,
rumps of their horses, cloth torn by blade and shot.
The summer shearing, weaving under the moon,
those days passed for another year.

Spinner

Alice Cockcroft


Thread bleeds from my palm
spindle hungry as a lamb,
wheel she turns with just a stroke
walking me closer to autumn.

I watched mother through its spokes
straw between my toes,
she laid my hands upon the fleece
I stand where she stood years ago.

I wear her smock ripe with rosemary
singing, Although I am a country lass
a lusty mind I bear-a, the wheel is turning
turning a lullaby back to me.

Nothing but Labour

Joseph Cockcroft


We are all at the wool each day.
Mother walks to her wheel and then away
like the hare-brained not knowing her mind.
Father he is in the loft weaving thread upon thread
even at candle light. Crow’s feet for fingers,
crooked when he stands, his eyes weakening
and I, kneeling upon the stone
carding grey strands, softer than his beard
when he could lift me with his hands.

All the summer days are such.
Other lads and lasses are about from May
but not a clothier’s son, I only see
wild roses on a Sunday.
My brother gone to clerk in Leeds
no one left but me to weave.
Father curses the merchants at the cloth hall
thumbing each piece, playing doubtful.
When the cloth is sold, he only buys more wool.

Spinster

Two wheels for the three of us is enough,
we have our livestock and a kitchen garden to pluck.
Hope, she shears and clod-moulds the earth,
Rose, she spins and sings. They are sistren now.

Alice comes to us for mutton,
they have no earth of their own the clothiers.
She will join our circle of prayer soon I’m certain,
hiding from the Spirit for now.

Today I opened the book at Matthew,
did find the words I already knew.
My finger leads my lips, tears bleed for the meek,
I speak to the multitude from the mountain.

Wool Master

I hear the scratching of fleeces behind doors,
the clapping of the loom from the lofts,
I smell the pots stirring.

They are rough about the price
saying the sheep has died of sickness,
believing they see the livestock with their hands.

They say for themselves what the Bible does say,
observe their own Saints days at the tavern,
do not remove their hats in church.

I walk these wet hills for them.
Lambs quiver ’neath the sodden sheep,
eyes half closed against the walls.

Soldiers’ horses swim through the mist,
the cloth hall drains – the end of a heady evening.
The weavers’ shoddy patience is wearing thin.

Promise

Rose


I am a girl orphaned by the plague.
Too young yet to be wed I did walk down
one hill up another making my way
inside a storm, was found by Martha
hungered, near dead. She did warm me
and feed me, swathe me in a shawl, this man
William called. Blessed are those that mourn
he said. His words hide within these walls.

Sweet lipped, so gentle tongued he, his eyes
see through the years to my children,
he can hear what isn’t yet spoken. We the despised
are not for church, the statues and the kneeling.
Princes will fall, the world shall be made anew.
I card the fleece, bathe his feet, brush his pilgrim shoes.

Pike-man

Sergeant Richard Leach at the Battle of Adwalton Moor, June 1643


We splay out as wolves to keep the horses at bay.
The first charge a taunt veering away
before they reach our points.

I have sawn two feet from my stave
an arm beyond my arms,
a quill pushed into the dough of horses and men.

The riders are knee to knee,
the mounts neck to neck
thudding louder, mud thrown higher,

swords drawn later. The beasts know
it will be blood. We are bent low,
a rocking head brings me its eyes like eggs.

My pike trembles in its acorn breast,
blood bursts back at me, soaks my head,
the beast screams, falls like an oak.

The gentleman rider I slay
his last look bearing no blame,
his last breath warming my blade.

The horse gallops the air dancing a spasm,
its eyes have knowledge of the end
but not of the victory won.

I run and lie in the womb of a clough,
quiver til nightfall. They will not charge
so easily up the hill to Heptonstall.

Seeker

William Saltmarsh, evangelist preacher, 16 October 1643


The clergy lead the people like horses,
ride them at their pleasure. They are holy
imbeciles who believe imagery forces
people to Christ. Spirit is all. It knows
all things, was before sin’s invention,
the preaching of perfection. I saw a man
standing inside a tree, he clapped his hands
upon his breast saying ‘heaven is within me,

within me.’ We meet at the foot of the rocks
under the blackthorn crest, we hold hands
in the silences, the scuffle of frogs,
a warning from a jackdaw. My child Evelyn scans
the skyline for glove puppets of cavalry.
Tongues are bored, ears sawn off in the pillory.

Reason

Colonel Robert Bradshaw, Rochdale, 18 October


What does it mean to fight a king, treason?
A king that hath sent his parliament away
like a lord discharging his servants, believing
saints will cook his supper for him. He lays
with a papist plotting, with rebels turning
church into a place of coloured dolls, painted
walls and altar rails, where men kneeling
upon their own minds recite some scroll
by the Archbishop Laud. Kings are not God.
We do not seek to slay him, make him a ghost
behind palace walls, but we shall sit at his table
beside a fire of the relics and the yoke.
High birth and unearned wealth shall fall.
We make our stand hereafter at Heptonstall.

Reviews

‘Most poets don’t have a story to tell. But Michael Crowley does.’ 

The High Window

‘Crowley has the skill of a novelist, but a poet’s ability to concentrate on what matters.’ 

Poetry Salzburg Review