The Story of Crabchurch
Our Crabchurch celebrations are held in Weymouth, Dorset every year on or around the anniversary of the Battle of Weymouth and the preceding Siege of Melcombe where more than 500 people died in total, many in just one night of savage conflict. It happened as a result of a royalist plot to overthrow the parliamentarian garrison within the twin towns of Weymouth and Melcombe, some say, as a prelude to the King, Charles 1, using the ports to land a huge French Catholic army to enable him to turn the tide of the civil war once again in his favour.
The password that the plotters and their accomplices used on the first night of their attack, was ‘Crabchurch’. This was used so that they did not kill each other in the dark. They also wore white rags around their arms to further distinguish them from the Parliamentarians.
The plot though was only half successful with most of the Parliamentarians being able to escape across the water to Melcombe where they stubbornly held out. A week long siege and bombardment ensued between the two warring factions, causing great material damage to both communities. Eventually though, the infamous royalist General, George, Lord Goring appeared on the scene with a 4,500 strong army and all seemed lost to the ‘roundhead’ garrison commanded by the then relatively unknown Colonel William Sydenham. With the 2000 or so royalist soldiers already facing him, the arrival of Goring’s men meant that Sydenham was now outnumbered about six to one. And when, at midnight on the 27th February 1645, Goring launched an all out assault on the towns, it seemed a forgone conclusion that they would both fall and were once again under the control of the King’s Army. But underestimating Colonel William Sydenham, the eldest son of a Dorset squire, was Goring’s first and biggest mistake. Royalist losses were heavy and Sydenham’s beleaguered garrison claimed a “miraculous victory” to retain the twin ports for Parliament. Hundreds of Goring’s men were ambushed in the old High Street and about 200 killed there, whilst 250 Royalist Irish troops were killed when they were chased by Sydenham’s men and forced into the icy February waters of Weymouth Quayside. After the fighting, most of the conspirators were arrested, tried and some executed, though the chief plotter, Fabian Hodder somehow contrived to escape to the continent.