“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Battle of Alton & Ball Lightning

For those who know where to look, the Church of St Lawrence in Alton, Hampshire, still shows the scars of its involvement in an English Civil War battle. The Battle of Alton occurred on the 13th December 1643 when Parliamentarian forces, commanded by Sir William Waller, undertook a surprise attack on Royalist forces stationed in Alton, which were commanded by the Earl of Crawford. The Royalist forces defending Alton comprised of both infantry and cavalry units.

At dawn on the 13th December Waller's Parliamentarian forces commenced their attack on Alton. As the Parliamentarian forces approached, the Royalist commander (Lord Crawford), decided to flee Alton for Winchester, ostensibly to seek reinforcements. In his withdrawal  Lord Crawford took the Royalist cavalry with him, and they were pursued for some distance by the Parliamentarian cavalry. Lord Crawford’s withdrawal left Colonel Boles to mount a defence of Alton with just the Royalist infantry at his disposal.

Outnumbered and under artillery fire,  the Royalist infantry led by Colonel Boles were harried from one defensive position to the next, until they were finally corralled inside the Church of St Lawrence, which would become the location of their last stand. Using horse carcasses as cover and also firing from the church windows, the Royalists mounted a defence of the church, whilst the Parliamentarian forces fired back and lobbed hand grenades in through the church windows. The Royalist's defence of the church was short lived and the Parliamentarian forces soon forced entry into the church. The remaining Royalist forces only surrendered upon the death of Colonel Boles. Legend states that Colonel Boles fought fiercely from his position in the church's wooden pulpit and it was in the pulpit that he was finally overcome and killed.

The damaged caused to the church during the battle is still evident today for those with a keen eye. Musket holes from the fighting can been seen in the church door, as well as in other locations inside the church.

The Battle of Alton is not St Lawrence’s only interesting piece of history. Forty three years later on Sunday the 19th December 1686 it is said that a massive thunderstorm broke over Alton and caused a bit of a stir for the congregation present in the church at the time. A contemporary account of the storm states:

All of a sudden it grew so exceeding dark that the people could hardly discern one another, and immediately after it happened such flashes of lightning that the whole Church seemed to be in a bright flame, the surprise of the Congregation was exceeding great, especially when two Balls of Fire that made their entry at the eastern wall, passed through the body of the Church, leaving behind them so great a smoke, and smell of brimstone was scarcely able to be expressed.

Could these two “balls of fire” be an early report of ball lightning? It certainly sounds like it!

The Church of St Lawrence in Alton, Hampshire.

The church door.
Musket holes in the church door from the Battle of Alton in 1643.
The pulpit where Colonel Boles met his end.
Inscription on the pulpit. 

Pictures: Hampshire (September 2014).

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