In the cold winter of the year 1645, ‘loyal’ Exeter was still a royalist stronghold holding out against a now confident parliamentarian army. General Fairfax, the parliamentarians’ supreme commander, had his headquarters in Ottery and Lieutenant General Oliver Cromwell had turned up with his forces. The Estuary demanded their attention because supplies and reinforcements were reaching besieged Exeter up river by ship and boat.
The parliamentarians controlled the length of the eastern bank and there must have been armed men everywhere. There were garrisons at Topsham, Nutwell and at the Fort in Exmouth. Troops stared across to the western bank of the Exe which was in royalist hands and fired at suspect shipping passing up to Exeter. Then came the parliamentarian attack across the river on Powderham Castle. With both Powderham and Nutwell in their hands, the parliamentarians hoped to prevent help reaching Exeter up river. Professor Hoskins takes up the story:
“Under cover of darkness – it was nine o’clock on Sunday night, December 14 – Captain Dean with two hundred foot and dragoons , moved across the river from Nutwell in boats and reached the Powderham side. But they found the house more strongly defended than they had imagined and they did not, in fact, attack it.
Not wishing to return without doing anything, they occupied the church, not far from the Castle. The next morning they brought provisions across the river from Nutwell into the church and began to fortify it. The royalists up at Exeter feared that the river would be blocked by these manoeuvres. On Monday night they sent down a party of five hundred soldiers to join the two hundred in the Castle. Together they attacked Fairfax’s men who were barricaded inside the church, throwing in many hand-grenades. For three hours the siege of Powderham church went on until the royalists withdrew, leaving the snow stained with their blood. However, it was bitterly cold in the church. There was no means of warming it, and the parliamentary forces were glad to be withdrawn in a day or two from this unpleasant situation.”
For more on Exeter in the Civil War link to Exeter Memories.