Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday, 15 December 2014

ECW Campaign – Week 2

New secret weapon for the Roundheads; a personal friend of General
Aspinall's, this is Mordecai Hindle, calling down damnation upon the Papist
followers of the King. If attached to a Parliamentarian unit in battle, Mordecai
can add one C&C battle die to their capability. The bad news is that if they have to
retreat from a melee while he is attached, they leave the field in panic (with him)
Each week consists of two turns, and one side has the initiative throughout. This week, since the Royalist HQ had no word of any enemy advance until very late, there is little doubt that the initiative lies with Parliament.


Aspinall, seconding a number of chosen officers and sergeants for the job, has arranged for the raising of a pro-Parliament town guard unit at All Hallows (new Force H), to man (and defend, as necessary) a depot there, for storage and shipment of supplies to the advancing army. The job of commanding this unit is given to Captain Joshuah Tweedie, of Hawkstone’s Regiment of Foot.

Word has reached General Figge-Newton, at Fernbeck, that the promised force of Scottish Covenanters, under General William Geddes, are marching from the Ripon area to join his army. Estimates are approximately 6000 foot plus 400 horse, but it is not yet certain when they will arrive, nor exactly where. Figge-Newton has sent messengers to Geddes, requesting that he march towards Pacefield. This group is identified provisionally as new Force I, but they are not yet on the map.

Force D (Lord Alwyn, with a brigade of horse) advance north, along the west bank of the River Arith, from Hoskett Castle to the area around Old Claiffe, to screen the remainder of Aspinall’s army.

Force E (Col Allington’s brigade of horse) cross the Arith at Ringrose House, and march north-east over Old Howk Hill to Frinckus Abbey.

Force F (Col Bryanston’s brigade of foot) march from Harthill, via Ringrose to Hoskett.

Force G (Genl Aspinall, with Hawkstone’s and Lord Lambton’s brigades) marches via Skag Moor, across the river to Thorkeld, destroying the river bridge after crossing).

General Figge-Newton has ordered a new carriage, to allow him to campaign in comfort. We shall hear more of this.


Since no word of the enemy movement reached Lowther until Friday, there has been no reaction yet. As from Friday, Lord Porteous knows that the enemy were at Ringrose House a week ago, with a large body of cavalry.

A messenger has also arrived at Lowther with word from Sir John Darracott, commanding a reinforcement sent by the Marquis of Newcastle, confirming that he has lost contact with the Scottish forces, and has opted to march directly to Lowther to join with Lord Porteous – he expects to arrive around 21st March, his force amounting to about 4700 foot, 800 horse – these troops are all classed as veterans, and comprise a new Force F, which is off the map for the present.

Lady Porteous has finally chosen the drapes for her new home, and the Royalist command are (unusually) united in their relief that her husband will now be allowed to concentrate on the job in hand.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Hooptedoodle #156 – Holidays with Clues

Themed Holidays - for loonies?
I was in Edinburgh this morning – I had a hospital appointment, so had to be on the 09:26 from our local station. Left my car at my mother’s house (private superstition – just in case the hospital keeps me in overnight – you know how it is…) and walked through a light snowstorm to the station. Blooming freezing, I can tell you.

When I got to Edinburgh it was still very cold, but the sun was shining, and Princes Street was looking as good as it can these days – very attractive, if you like mobile phone shops. Saw the famous tram – not so shiny-new now, but still exciting – I must go on it sometime soon – maybe out to the airport and back.

I had just a little time to kill, and as I walked along Rose Street I passed the rear of British Home Stores, and was very surprised to be reminded they have a restaurant – well, a “caff”, really. I haven’t been in, nor thought about, a BHS restaurant for maybe 25 years – in a moment of nostalgic perversity, I went in and ordered a cup of coffee – perverse only in the sense that I recall that BHS used to serve the worst coffee I ever tasted. I read my book for a little while in there – it was warm, the place was almost empty, and it was entertaining to watch the staff not quite managing to put up a big Christmas tree. Lots of shouted instructions and things falling. The coffee was undrinkable; it is reassuring in these days of uncertainty and slipping standards to know that some traditions, at least, are kept safe for us.

The hospital visit was trivial in the end – they took me early, as soon as I arrived, a quick X-Ray and I was out again. On the way back up to the station, my No. 29 bus was stuck in traffic, and a sign in a shop window in Stockbridge caught my eye. It was obviously a travel agency, but I couldn’t quite make out this sign. Eventually the bus reached the window, and I confirmed that the sign did, in fact, say “Painting and Pilates Holidays in Italy”, which I had previously discounted as meaningless – or at least unlikely. Painting and Pilates? Very strange – I can think of a whole pile of things I would like to do in Italy – especially on a cold Scottish morning – but wouldn’t have thought of pilates. Hmmm.

“Wandering Around Gawping at Tourist Sites in Paris”? That would work.

“Getting Drunk and Falling Over in Spain”? Not for me, certainly, but there appears to be a big demand for it.

I recall that, years ago, a widowed friend of my first wife went on a very expensive Cookery Holiday in Provence. A party of comfortably-off British women of a certain age all went on a conducted bus tour of Provence, watched local chefs in action and had a go themselves. Like the old school domestic science cookery lessons, they had to pay extra for the ingredients, and I understand that the holiday turned out to be more about the tastes and opinions of the English gauleiterin who organised and led the tour than it was about food in Provence. It was, in short, an exercise in rather shrill discipline and control, conducted in a foreign country at considerable cost to the attendees. Maybe we could have predicted this – I don’t know.

In truth, some of my own holidays over the years have been less than perfect – it might have helped if we had been given more clues up front – “Playing Boardgames in a Rain-Sodden Tent in Brittany for 2 Weeks” – “Trying to Get a Replacement Alternator for a Very Old Ford Cortina in the Jura Mountains” – these and a few others would have been useful, but it isn’t really like that in the world of holidays.

What this subject really reminded me about was James Last Holidays [what?]. Ages ago, a friend of mine at work, and his wife, were passionate about the James Last Orchestra, and used to spend a lot of money going to see them whenever they came to Edinburgh. If you are unfamiliar with the JLO then you have my congratulations – well done. I understand that James (real name Hansi) is still alive and going strong, aged 85. In his field, he was almost uniquely successful – for many years he ran a big touring orchestra, with all the top instrumental and vocal soloists he could get his hands on, added rows and rows of very attractive girl violinists dressed in low-cut lace blouses, and charged an absolute fortune for tickets. Old Hansi had completely cornered the market in exquisite bad taste – everything they played was faultless, arranged and engineered to perfection, and it stank to heaven. If you liked over-the-top big-band versions of Presley hits, or excerpts from Mozart’s horn concerto with bass guitar and castanets, or grindingly sickly romantic ballads, the JLO was for you. It was, absolutely, a product of its age; a number of really top-quality dance-bands came out of Germany in the 1950s and 1960s – Bert Kaempfert’s was another – and what they specialised in was superbly engineered LP recordings of covers of other people’s hit songs – particularly on the German Polydor label. Elderly audiophiles who had a little money to spend (i.e. who owned a “stereogram” – remember those? – they were the ones you could hear from next door) bought their LPs by the lorry-load. Hansi made a great many people happy – especially his bank manager and the West German economy – so good luck to him.

Yeah - right...
Anyway – back to my story. My work colleague talked me into paying some obscene amount for two tickets, and my wife and I joined him and his wife at a JLO concert at the Playhouse. Unspeakable. Couldn’t be faulted in any way except that it made me feel physically unwell. Somehow we got mugged into going to two further concerts on subsequent tours – each dearer than the previous one, and all the old ladies in the audience used to call out to the singers, who blew kisses and so on, while Herr Last posed and minced and almost conducted, and played to the ancient gallery like a true old showbiz ham. We couldn’t turn down the offer of tickets because – well, because we didn’t want to offend anyone. How much evil in the world is carried on because someone didn’t want to cause offence? After two further helpings I eventually found some unbeatable reason not to attend the next one, and then we were, mercifully, off the roller.

The audiences at these shows were something to behold – all dressed to the nines, and all loving it, blue rinses and all. The relevance to my story about holidays is that you could actually go on a James Last holiday – if you were a registered fan. The programmes were full of adverts. You could go on a cruise from Bremen (Last’s birthplace), and there would be music playing all day, every day (guess whose?), and there would be dances at night featuring JLO tribute bands who had once received a pay-cheque from Hansi himself, and during the days there would be walking tours of Bremen, to visit sites associated with Hansi’s childhood etc, where you could buy signed souvenirs, and there would even be some gigantic organised swapmeets, where you could buy and sell your rare JLO albums and memorabilia. After all these years, I still cannot think of a better working definition of Hades.

Of course, Father Time catches up with all of us in the end, but the thought of what those James Last Holidays might have been like still chills me to the marrow. For me, the man is best revered for his starring role in a famous musician’s joke:

Q – What is the difference between the James Last Orchestra and a buffalo?

A – A buffalo has the horns at the front and the arse at the back.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

ECW Campaign - Week 1

Lady Porteous, waiting for the merchant to bring tapestry samples
For the Royalist army, the big news of the week was the arrival of the wife of Lord Porteous, who is a considerable personage in her own right, since before her marriage she was Lady Harriet Stanley, younger sister of the Earl of Derby, and thus a very major celebrity in the Catholic Royalist circles of Lancashire. Within two days she had requisitioned a very elegant house in the centre of Lowther, and had had her husband's belongings and furnishings moved out of his rather humble apartment at the back of the Guildhall. She has also ordered that the Town Guard should no longer be drilled in the gardens opposite the new house, since the noise upsets her dogs, and disturbs her needlework in the afternoons.

The Royalist army is comfortably established in Lowther, which is on the south side of the River Arith, and in the fortress of Erneford, which lies in a loop in the river, on the north bank. Between these two places there is a single crossing at Cark Ferry, and a unit of firelocks has been stationed in the ferry house there. Immediately to the south lies the market town of Midlawton, also a prosperous place, though it has no walls or defences of any form, and there is a sizeable body of foot troops garrisoned there, billeted on the townspeople - a situation which has produced less trouble than was expected. The civilian population have coped well with the material demands of the soldiery, and are generally well disposed to having so much protection and so much of the King's treasury on their doorstep.

Over at the western end of the Royalist position, Sir Roderick Broadhurst has a substantial detachment of horse, including a unit of dragoons - this is the force which has caused so much loss and inconvenience to supporters of Parliament (and everyone else) in the Furness area of the Lonsdale Hundred.

Since it takes just over a week for news of any sort to travel right across our map, the Royalists are unaware of the movement of the Army of Parliament, to the south...

Fernbeck House
Parliament. Sir Henry Figge-Newton has identified that he needs, as a priority, to secure a number of places which have full granaries and hay-barns, to replenish his baggage train for the march ahead. Accordingly, he has established his personal and army HQ in the very luxurious Fernbeck House, and has a small mixed force with him. The main army is advancing north near the western edge of the map, beyond the river, under the command of General Aspinall, the overall 2-i-C. Aspinall has sent the cavalry ahead, where they have secured the ungarrisoned estate of Ringrose House, which is capable of some measure of defence, and - further north - the rugged old castle at Hoskett, which has been abandoned for some years but is still in a decent state of repair. The foot are following behind, and making a thorough job of emptying the stores, inns and larders of the little towns of All Hallows and Harthill. The woods near Harthill Lake were a favourite hunting venue of the King's in more peaceful times, so the soldiers have taken special care to make sure that any concealed luxuries on the estate have been discovered and put to good use.

Sir Henry Figge-Newton is also inspecting his
new residence - settling in nicely at Fernbeck
Hoskett Castle today - the river in the foreground has moved somewhat
since the 17th Century, and has swallowed the course of the old road
Mounted messengers have been sent by loyal subjects of the King at Ringrose, to warn Lord Porteous of the approaching danger, so the Royalists should know of all this by the end of next week.

Soldiers of Hawkstone's and Burdett's regiments bicker good-naturedly
about choice of billets in All Hallows
Of the respective reinforcements for the two armies, nothing more is known, but both sides are led to believe that their overall strength might eventually be more than doubled.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The ECW Campaign – Time to Get Started


It is 1st March 1644 – the agreement between the English Parliament and the Government of Scotland has been drafted and signed. John Pym – “that prince among liars” – has agreed that Presbyterianism will become the principal religion of England, in exchange for the promise of military support for Parliament from the Covenanter army. That is probably as much as accepted, factual history applies to this campaign, though you should know that it has been an unusually hard Winter in the North of England, and mud and ice are making the already poor roads even worse going than normal.

The theatre for our humble backwater of the Great Rebellion is a little-known part of North Lancashire; the map (which I have shown here before) represents an area which has Lancaster somewhere to the south, the Lake District and Furness to the west, Carlisle far to the north and North Yorkshire to the east. This map is a skeleton, built of (slightly modified) cards from The Perfect Captain’s Battlefinder system; as I have explained previously, these snapshots of terrain do not plug together to form a continuous sheet of countryside – the individual spaces are separated by distances of up to 15 miles – no action takes place in the gaps between the cards – movement between cards is along the marked tracks. The most important constraint is that the principal river cannot be crossed anywhere but at the crossing places marked on the cards.

The management rules for the campaign are based upon the Maneuver Campaign section of the Battlefinder system. If you wish to study them independently then please do so, but this campaign is going to be different from my recent Peninsular War campaign in one important respect; that effort was controlled, as best as I could manage, by applying detailed rules and creating a narrative to explain what had happened – this one will be sort of the other way round, being driven principally by the developing narrative – if I don’t like the way it is shaping up then I shall change it! The intention is that I shall assess probabilities where choices occur, and let the trusty dice push things along. If necessary, the dice may get a couple of chances to reach the right answer…

The game turns will each represent “half-a-week”, if you will kindly excuse such a lumpy concept. This gives reasonably-sized moves – mounted troops can move two spaces, troops who are on foot or encumbered with wheeled vehicles can move one space per turn (mixed troops, of course, move at the speed of their slowest component) – mounted individuals and messengers (and thus news and information and orders and communications) may travel three spaces per turn if they get a move on, but they will run extra risks of delay (or misfortune). Two turns per week also gives some likelihood of getting a decent game going for a campaign which might well be over in a few weeks!

The map area is dominated by the River Arith (pronounced “earth”, please note), which flows from the north east of our map, past the large market town of Lowther (no connection with any modern place of the same name) and its near neighbour, the medieval castle and town of Erneford, then through a significant, rather marshy gap in the north-south line of hills at Patondale (scene of a significant battle in the 2nd Century, by the way), then it runs in a generally southerly direction, eventually emptying into the River Lune on its way to Morecambe Bay.

This region contains the highest proportion of Catholics in England, and its potential as a hotspot of Royalist fervour is further increased by the activities of prominent local families – notably the Armours, the Heskeths (cousins of the Marquis of Newcastle), the Monktons, the Bickerstaffes, the Galliards and others, whose support for the King is apparent and vigorous. Parliament views the area as a major recruitment area for the King, and the Royalist-dominated centres of population at Lowther and Midlawton as a key obstacle to any attempt to advance on Carlisle.


Benedict Hesketh, 2nd Baron Porteous (1598-  )

When bulletes fly
The nede is high
For sterner stufe
Than Vanity's puff
[Wm Hemphill, in a pamphlet on the King's Generals in Lancashire, 1643]
As our campaign opens, the Royalist commander in the area is Benedict, Lord Porteous, an indecisive, habitually anxious general whose victory last year at Thornthwaite has served to rescue an otherwise unimpressive record. Most of the talent among his staff lies with the two cavalry leaders, Lord Sefton and Col Sir Roderick Broadhurst, both of whom have seen service in the German Wars and know their trade thoroughly. Sefton's charge of horse at Thornthwaite has become famous, and is widely regarded as having turned the battle that day, a view which is not favoured by Porteous himself, who has taken some trouble in his reports to discredit Sefton’s contribution to that success, taking advantage of his subordinate’s absence as the result of his capture. Subsequently, Lord Sefton managed to escape by the simple expedient of bribing his captors while camped near Stockport, and returned to the Royalist HQ, where his relationship with his superior is observed to be somewhat cool.

Porteous has some 7500 foot and 2000 horse at his disposal, though the foot contingent includes some unpromising material – notably the respective town guards of Midlawton and Lowther, who have little formal training, are not trusted with firearms, and are unlikely to stay with the colours beyond sight of their homes. Col Broadhurst, based at Dransfield House in the north west of the area, has carried out a series of successful cavalry raids into the Furness district of Lonsdale Hundred, requisitioning horses and forage (and much else of value) and causing considerable nuisance – the burning of the town of Cartmel in November was the final straw which drew the forces of Parliament (of which more shortly) back into the region.

Dransfield House
Porteous has been promised by the King that a sizeable reinforcement from the army of the Marquis of Newcastle will arrive soon to help him deal with the reported approach of the Parliamentarians from the south. He knows little of what this help will consist of, but he does know that it is commanded by the talented Sir John Darracott, who theoretically outranks Porteous in the King’s service (and is thus, also, regarded as a threat). Darracott’s own army is currently busy trying to prevent a Covenanter force (which marched from Scots Gap three weeks ago) from joining the Parliamentarian force opposing Porteous’s.

One final ingredient in the mix is that General Sir George Boniface, a noted fire-eater (and also the possessor of a legendary thirst), has been seconded to the army at Lowther by the personal recommendation of Prince Rupert – Sir George has not yet joined the army, and his role is still to be decided. Lord Porteous, of course, is not happy about this development either.


Sir Nathaniel Aspinall of Sussken (1590-  ), in unusually jovial mood
On the Parliamentary side, the formidable (though unpopular) Sir Nathaniel Aspinall, the defeated commander at Thornthwaite, is still present with the army, but is now second in command, having had the largely unknown Sir Henry Figge-Newton appointed over his head. Figge-Newton is well connected politically, and regarded highly by the Lancashire Committee as an organiser and motivator, but his military talents are as yet untried. The Committee has had concerns over General Aspinall’s attention to detail in the matter of provisioning and paying his troops, and this seems to have figured prominently in Figge-Newton’s appointment.

The army has a number of experienced regimental commanders of real ability, but the only other general officer present at the moment is the Welshman, Lord Alwyn, who is a courageous leader of foot but was wounded at Thornthwaite (in the assault on the town) and has uncertain health as a result.

Though they hope to be joined by what is described as a "substantial force" of the Army of the Covenant in the near future, the Roundhead leaders have little idea of when that force will arrive, nor of what it will consist. In the meantime they have rather less than 6000 foot, and about 3200 horse. They also have a rudimentary siege train (which is usually to be found sunk into the mud, some miles behind the rest of the army), and – thanks to the efforts of Figge-Newton and his contacts in high places – they have a fairly impressive supply train, which will be invaluable in the march north across the barren hills beyond Bradshaigh (pronounced “Bradshaw”, by the way – for the enthusiasts) and similar places where the hillsides are just sodden expanses of gorse and bracken, and the roads are adequate only for herding small numbers of sheep.

Pikeman of Col John Burdett's (Rochdale) Regt of Foot [P]
The Parliamentarians are now arriving at the southern edge of our map, having marched from Lancaster. Porteous knows they are coming (he has been waiting for this initiative for some weeks, watching nervously as the snow recedes on the hills); his position around Lowther looks reassuringly sound, but he is concerned that an enemy advance towards Carlisle, bypassing his position on his western side, would seriously threaten his communications with the Royalists to the north and invalidate his position on the Arith. He has the advantage of local popular sympathy for purposes of supply and of information gathering, but his newer recruits are of uncertain quality.

The opening moves should follow over the next few weeks, and I'll give more details of OOBs then.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Genealogy: The Descent of the Higgins Pikeman

This post was originally intended to be an email to Old John, who is the present owner and producer of the old Les Higgins/Pheonix Model Developments 20mm wargames ranges. John has supplied me with the greater part of my ECW armies during the last two years - especially in the Foot department, and I am very fond of these elegant, stylish little figures - I hope he will forgive this public version of what was intended as a private discussion, but I thought it might be of rather wider interest. In the course of buying in new castings, obtaining old stuff from eBay and receiving occasional samples from John of forthcoming products, I suddenly realised that there are more variants of some of the figures than I would expect, given that Higgins did not stay in business very long in their original form.

This is entirely a matter of idle curiosity - I'd be very grateful for any clues or expert views on how this all works, but it doesn't matter, really, beyond scratching a vague itch. As an example, here are some variations on one single pose - the standing pikeman. There is also a pikeman stooped to receive horse, and there is a pikeman involved in what looks to my inexpert eye to be "push of pike", and there are variants of these also, but, to keep things simple, let's just stick to the standing pikeman.

The chap labelled A is (I think) from the original (drop-cast?) "subscription" series which Higgins produced in the 1960s; John has cast some of these, and I'm pretty sure he has them back in production now. D is the famous mainstream pikeman that Higgins produced in large quantities - I'd have chosen a cleaner casting if I'd had a second cup of coffee; I think this is one of the iconic wargame figures from the early 1970s, and is probably largely responsible for Higgins' range being still regarded with such affection. E is a welcome extension to the range which John has added - the same pikeman, but in a hat. The other two figures? - B and C - no idea. They appear to be production figures, and presumably are earlier than D, but they are different again.

The subscription figures are rather slimmer than the later ones, with slightly smaller helmets, and easily distinguishable, but here I seem to have two examples which are similar in stature and style to the famous fellow at D. Maybe the hand-on-hip pose was easier to cast in commercial quantities?

Any thoughts would be most welcome, and if you are interested in the ECW, Marlburian or Colonial ranges of Les Higgins, remember that they are available now, and please contact John via his blog.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Hooptedoodle #155 - Socrates is alive, and drives a taxi

Yesterday I went to Glasgow. It isn’t very far from here, but I don’t go very often; one of my grown-up sons lives there, and visiting him is really the only reason I go.

Trying to judge the timing of my return journey to avoid the Saturday football crowds, I took a taxi back to the station. It was dark, wet, dismal, and the traffic was very slow.

The driver was bald, with a thick neck – the only view I got of his head was exactly like those old photos of WW1 artillery shells.

“Where you going?”

“Queen Street station, please.”

“What train you catching?”

“It doesn’t matter – I’m travelling to Edinburgh, and they are every 15 minutes or something – plenty of time.”

“Edinburgh? [uh-oh] – I see you beat us today, then!”

“What game was that?”

“Hearts beat the Rangers three-nothing.” [Excellent!]

“I didn’t hear the result – not really a Hearts fan.”

What you doing in Glasgow then? [this question doesn’t follow from the football discussion, since the Hearts game was, in fact, in Edinburgh – perhaps he thought I might have come through to Glasgow just to avoid seeing the game.]”

“I was visiting my son – he lives off Maryhill Road.”

“Oh – that’s all right then – why not, eh? [Why not? – hmmm…]

Short silence, while the driver tried to tune in his radio

Crazy day – the town’s full of foreign bloody visitors – none of them speaks proper English, no-one knows where they are supposed to be going – they’re a bloody nuisance. [Right – one of those – presumably he refused to take their money]”

Thinking this was a poor reflection on the former City of Culture, host of the Commonwealth Games and all that, I just grunted. No stopping this guy, though.

I hope we get out of Europe – what’s all that about? They have rules about the shape of a ****ing banana, it says in the paper – what’s all that about? I’m a taxi driver [really?], and I don’t see why I have to work every hour God sends to pay my tax, so some black lassie with five kids can get a house somewhere – why isn’t her man paying tax? [Erm…] It isn’t fair, I say, and there’s a lot like me. [I fear you may be correct]

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. [Whatever]”

Right? I’ll say I’m ****ing right. That’s what’s wrong with Britain today. Anyway, you’re obviously English, are you, from your accent? [uh-oh] What you doing living in Edinburgh?”

“Well I’ve lived in Scotland most of my life – I live on the East coast, not far from Dunbar. [I guessed Dunbar was big enough for him to have heard of it – I was wrong]”

Dumbarton? [harsh guffaw] When I was at school, that was on the West coast – you’re away the wrong way, pal!”

“No – no, Dunbar – its about 40 miles the other side of Edinburgh. [where is that bloody station…?]”

“My daughter lives in Sheffield,” he said, “and all her neighbours complain to her because they can’t understand ‘Still Game’ on the telly – they say it should have subtitles. Can you understand it? [Holy Moses]”

“Yes – never had any problems with that.”

Thank goodness, we reached the station. I paid my fare, and thanked the driver, not very effusively in either action, so be sure. He had one last piece of worldly advice.

“Mind how you go in the station – these ****ing ‘Big Issue’ salesmen and that will have your wallet off you quick as a flash.”

With any lasting pleasure I might have gained from my visit to Glasgow severely muted, I set off to take my chances with the cruel foreigners.