A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 24 January 2016

ECW - a Bit of Planning Ahead

Alexander Leslie, Lord Leven - commander of the Covenanter army in 1644
- getting on a bit in years, but he was the real deal - he had been a Field
Marshal in the Swedish Army in the 30 Years War
Still a desperate shortage of hobby time, but I’ve been spending some of my train and bus journeys thinking, reading and scribbling notes about a possible ECW tabletop battle to introduce my chiropractor (whom, for the sake of argument, I shall call David the Cruncher) to both the history of that war and the idea of playing games with toy soldiers. 

The Marquis of Newcastle - maybe the richest man in England? - no
soldier, but he almost singlehandedly funded and raised the troops for the
King in the North East. No match for Leven on the battlefield. I've never
understood why he was not treated better, by his monarch and by subsequent
historians. Emigrated to Germany after Marston Moor.
Since David is from that part of the country, I thought it might be rather fun to set the action in the 1644 campaign around Sunderland, when the Covenanters were busy ignoring the City of Newcastle (a subject which they took up again with fresh interest after they had helped win the Battle of Marston Moor). I have been doing a fair amount of swotting-up, since my detailed knowledge of this campaign is not great, and since it falls into that off-mainstream category of ECW history that is usually classified as “of interest only to local historical societies” (which is exactly the sort of thing I am interested in).

I read about the storming of the Lawe Top fort in South Shields, which the Scots had to capture in order to protect their supply ships (which were sailing from Leith to Sunderland, and were being intercepted and forced into the Tyne). That seemed to score highly for relevance, but it was a small action, and would be a fiddly, awkward game for a newbie.

Now I am growing increasingly focused on the battle which took place (or, more accurately, didn’t quite take place) on the Boldon Hills, just West of Sunderland, in March 1644. Reasonably sized armies faced each other, but the weather was poor, and the ground may have been a bit rough, or maybe the armies were too closely matched for either side to risk an attack – whatever the reason, there was an exchange of artillery and a bit of a skirmish, but in the evening the Scots withdrew to Sunderland and the Royalists headed towards Durham. During this withdrawal, the Marquis of Newcastle received news of the Royalist defeat at Selby, and set off to York – a move which led him eventually to disaster at Marston Moor.

In my thirst for understanding of the local area, I visited
the website of West Boldon Community Council. Since I was
thinking vaguely of a possible visit, I checked Forthcoming
Events - it says there are no forthcoming events, so that's official then
The (non-)Battle of Boldon is also known as Hylton, or Hilton – my source is primarily Stuart Reid’s wonderful All the King’s Armies, but I have also picked up some scraps in my various Montrose books, and I have just started on Rosie Serdiville’s and John Sadler’s The Great Siege of Newcastle 1644, which also looks quite good. [And then of course there are also Stuart Reid’s invaluable books on the Scottish Regiments of the ECW and on the Royalist officers and regiments – once again, I have to offer humble thanks for Stuart’s research and his writings – this particular wargamer would be greatly disadvantaged without all that hard work!]

St Nicholas' Church, West Boldon, which in parts dates back to 1212
Not so rural nowadays - a view of Sunderland, including the football
stadium, from the top of the Boldon Hills - mostly, I included this photo
to upset Clive
I have a pretty convincing looking OOB shaping up, and I even have a map. For a wild moment I thought of driving down to Boldon to look at the place, but my track record for that sort of thing is not good – I usually find the battlefield is underneath a modern sewage farm or similar, and even if it is not I am unusually bad at interpreting the ground. I believe that the village of West Boldon contains a church, St Nicholas, which was around at the time, so I have no doubt that will appear somewhere on the table.

Hmmm – seems promising. I am sure you will hear more of this.

Not relevant at all, but in the course of my ECW studies I came across this photo
of Cromwell's Stone, from the site of the Leaguer of Lathom House (which
was in Lancashire, of course, and Cromwell never set foot within miles
of the place as far as I know) - local tradition has it that the holes
were used to cast cannonballs, but to me this is clear evidence that the
rules in use for the ECW in those parts used very large six-sided dice


  1. Yes, and clearly a two was not enough command points to bring on a battle!

    I look forward to seeing your ECW armies in action again.

    1. At least part of my preliminary thinking has been around preservation of the troops - a miniature battlefield is a strange, hazardous environment for a newbie - the idea of an inexperienced general handling stands of 20mm pikemen is a little alarming, but a man who can separate a specified pair of adjacent vertebrae with a slight movement of the thumb must have good fine motor control, you would think.

      The forward planning takes me back to my days of salaried distraction - when time was short, I used to make the most of my wargaming by doing the design and the scoping in odd spare moments - it (usually) helped with the logical flow of the eventual battle, and it gave me some welcome diversion during long meetings...

      Thinking about the ECW again now has reminded me that there were a number of things about my solo campaign and my quick look at Montrose which I enjoyed greatly, so I must keep all that simmering gently. It's a good idea to keep lots of pots on the fire...

  2. It's a brave man that takes on his chiropractor. Are you planning to win?

    1. On the grounds that it is an introductory session, it might be useful to make it a collaborative effort to allow the game to develop nicely - you know the sort of thing. To use a piece of old IBM terminology, that de-emphasises the matter of who actually wins (especially if it isn't me). It's all a bit like politically-correct team sports in primary school - there was a time when a school at which one of my cousins taught stopped playing netball, since it was a game which placed inappropriate importance on success, and promoted athletic elitism, which is a concept which is entirely unacceptable (except when Liverpool are playing Manchester Bloody United).

      I was trying to think of a clever-clever chiropractic reference which applied to wargaming, but have failed spectacularly. Any suggestions? - I'll throw the floor open...

    2. Blogger seems to have suffered a mild spasm last night - Mr Kinch sent me a follow-up suggestion, which I am unable to publish, so here it is from the notification

      <<Conrad Kinch has left a new comment on your post "ECW - a Bit of Planning Ahead":

      <<Lifting all these figures is back breaking?

      <<I'll get my coat.

      That's amusing and also very relevant - I had already thought briefly about what my chiro would say if he saw me attempting to shift the big battle boards from the corner of my office to the dining table. They are not heavy, but the old lever principle causes a little spinal grief when I try to lay them flat. One day I will be found pinned beneath them... 8-(

  3. I call my osteopath Matthew the Masher. Not only does mash my back but also the contents of my wallet!

    1. Spot on - one important aspect of the service is that they save you from carrying all that heavy money around, which is a great help with the old subluxation.

  4. I think Newcastle suffered because Charles I had the unfortunate habit of agreeing and believing whatever the last person said to him. Sadly for Newcastle (who was probably the last senior Royalist commander to leave the field at Marston Moor) Prince Rupert usually blamed everyone but himself for defeats.

    1. Good point - I am convinced that is true. It does seem a bit unfair that the standard histories seem to concentrate on his extravagant leisure tastes rather than the fact that he wrecked his fortune and expended a great deal of personal effort in the service of Charles I, securing the precious coal exporting revenues and representing just about the only buffer between the Scots and anywhere that Charles considered important.

      A fair number of second-string Royalists were dignified (deified?) after the Restoration, but Cavendish seems to have missed out. Marston Moor must have been a mighty blot on his record - one could almost argue that without his efforts the 1st Civil War might not have lasted long enough for MM to be fought.

      I have no axe to grind, but Charles seems to have taken a lot for granted!

      Cheers - Tony