The Battle of Turnham Green

The definitive guide to a key turning point in English history

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At the beginning of the English Civil Wars, in 1642, the royalists attempted to bring the conflict to a quick end by capturing London. Their advance was halted at Turnham Green on 13 November, when their army, under the command of the Earl of Forth and Prince Rupert, was blocked by a much larger parliamentarian force commanded by its Lord General, the Earl of Essex.

This was the closest that the royalists came to London during the war. The resolute behaviour of the parliamentarian army, which included a large contingent of citizen-soldiers, showed that Londoners were prepared to defy, and if necessary fight, King Charles I, who was present at the battle.

When the king’s army left Shrewsbury on 12 October 1642, its objective was London. Pursued by the parliamentarian army, the royalists were forced to give battle at Edgehill, in Warwickshire, on 23 October. Although the battle was inconclusive, the royalists were able to resume their march, occupying Oxford before continuing along the Thames valley. Essex’s army also continued on to London, through the Chilterns.

Essex reached London in time to establish an outpost at Brentford. But on the morning of 12 November this was surprised and defeated by the royalists, while negotiations with the king were still taking place. The capture of Brentford took so long that it was impractical for the royalists to advance much further before nightfall and Essex was able to gather his entire army to meet the threat.

The Battle

Text Box:  
Prince Rupert
The parliamentarian army was reinforced by the London trained bands, commanded by Philip Skippon,  as well as auxiliaries, volunteers, sailors, Members of both Houses of Parliament and leading citizens. By the morning of Sunday, 13 November this army of about 24,000 men was concentrated at Turnham Green. A leading royalist described it admiringly as ‘a full army of horse and foot, fit to have decided the title of a crown’. It was indeed the largest army that was deployed on a Civil War battlefield.

Text Box:  
Philip Skippon
Although the royalists had attracted some new recruits, their army was only about 12,000 men, matching the Parliamentarians in the number of horse, but with far fewer infantry. Even so, only at Marston Moor in 1644 were there more troops present on a Civil War battlefield than the 36,000 men drawn up on Turnham Green that morning.

Text Box: “Come my honest brave boys, pray heartily and fight heartily and God will bless us”
	Philip Skippon to the Trained Bands
The modern open spaces of Turnham Green, Chiswick Back Common, Acton Common and Acton Green are the remnants of the original Turnham Green. On its south side Chiswick common field extended to the village of Chiswick and the walled gardens of the Jacobean Chiswick House. This open space of the green and the common field, surrounded by small, hedged, fields was the battlefield.

To protect their left flank, the royalists sent troops on to the rising ground towards Acton. The parliamentarians drove them off and Essex then ordered a detachment to march between Turnham Green and Acton, to outflank the king’s army. But when it had covered about a mile, he recalled it.

Text Box: “Essex consulting in the field, commanded a party of two regiments of horse and four of foot to march about Acton and to get behind the King’s forces”
Bulstrode Whitelocke, parliamentary eye-witness
The battle then settled into a stalemate, punctuated by exchanges of artillery fire and royalist attempts to provoke the inexperienced parliamentarian troops to break ranks. But they stood fast and as the king’s army was too small to risk an assault, during the late afternoon it withdrew. Essex dared not launch an attack in the fading light and so it could retreat unscathed, marching to Hounslow Heath and then Kingston, before erupting into Surrey.

Aftermath

Text Box: “[the royalists drew] off their forces and artillery towards Kingston, which they did so fast as they could, leaving only a body of horse to face us between the two Brentfords..”
         Edmund Ludlow, parliamentary soldier
At Turnham Green the royalist commanders discovered that the Londoners were prepared to defy a royalist army. Not only had the parliamentarian army been reinforced by citizen-soldiers, but there had been no revolt or even demonstration in support of the king, even though his army was just a few miles from the city. Both sides realised that any further royalist march on London was likely to fail.

Parliament had already organised the construction of earthwork defences, which were extended in the spring of 1643. With the military capability of the citizen-soldiers demonstrated at Turnham Green, this gave Essex the freedom to campaign away from the capital. Never again were the royalists able to threaten London and their efforts were aimed at inciting an uprising. But these, too, were unsuccessful.

The Walk 

A number of open spaces of the Green remain and the Great West Road, now the A315, follows the same alignment as in the seventeenth century. From Turnham Green tube station [1] the path north of the railway line runs from the right flank of the parliamentarian army across the ground between the two armies to Acton Green [2].

To the north of Acton Green is the high ground where the parliamentarian detachment marched to outflank the royalists. To its south Acton Lane leads to Turnham Green, the centre of the royalist position [3].

Running south from Turnham Green is Sutton Court Road, which roughly follows the line of the royalist army, which probably extended to the junction with Chesterfield Road, on the line of the Bollo Brook. At the junction with Fauconberg Road  [4] is the site of Sutton Court, bought in 1676 by Thomas Belasyse, Viscount Fauconberg, and his wife Mary, daughter of Oliver Cromwell. Mary and her sister Elizabeth are buried in St Nicholas’s church and their vault may hold a third coffin, perhaps containing Oliver’s body [5].

From Chesterfield Road paths through Chiswick House grounds lead to the Palladian villa and the adjoining site of the Jacobean house. The garden on its north-west side covers roughly the area of the walled enclosure which was the limit of the parliamentarian left flank [6]. The Duke’s Avenue runs north to Chiswick High Road. On the north side of the High Road, Windmill Road leads to Chiswick Back Common, one of the residual parts of Turnham Green and the site of the parliamentarian right wing. This completes the circuit of the battlefield.

This account of the Battle formed part of materials for a recent guided tour of the Battlefield by the Battlefields Trust and is reproduced with kind permission.

The Battlefields Trust 2004 ©

November 19, 2004