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Using locality to introduce the Civil War
The Civil War in Leeds


You are allowed to read this if you teach in some far distant place – Bradford, Pontefract or even Ipswich or Southampton. It may even be useful to you because, while the detailed example below deals with Leeds (and Yorkshire) it’s here to exemplify how you might use your locality as a way into the Civil War. There’s no doubt that the Civil War is a difficult topic to teach at KS3, not just because of the difficulty of the religion issues and political concepts but because children have difficulty relating the events to their own lives. Using your locality (whether town or county) may begin to solve this problem as well as emphasising the experience of ordinary people and not just generals and MPs.

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Or, a WORD version of this activity and accompanying resources can be downloaded:

  • For a WORD version of this activity [ click here ]
  • For the accompanying PowerPoint [ click here ]

Useful resources are shown in the left hand column and (repeated) at the bottom of the page, click here

This activity is based on the ’Simulation’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.

The principles of the activity

This section lays out the features of the activity that could be transferable to any location.

1. The enquiry is asking ‘Was the Civil War really important to the people of Leeds?’ It would be done before doing anything else on the Civil war, especially before anything on causes.

2. The core activity is the completion of a living graph of joy/terror during the Civil War [see PowerPoint]. This could be done by students individually or in pairs with annotations to explain their reactions.

3. The physical activity involves setting out part of your room as a map of your locality with the main towns played by chairs. Each chair has a coloured tabard on it – red for Royalist, another colour for Parliament. As you tell the story of events in your area the colour of the tabards changes as local control changes – this changing of colours can be done by two students, one for each side.

4. Your task is to tell the story of events in your area during the Civil War, perhaps aided by acting out particularly important moments. As you do this the towns may change hands (or not), and students complete their graphs - supplemented by use of raffle tickets – see point 5 below.

5. The class are in their normal seats, playing the part of local people. They each have a raffle ticket and at intervals you call out a ticket number and tell them what’s happened in their lives – which may be good or bad and may or may not be linked to the war. Being killed by a passing cannonball is a possibility, so is dying of plague or getting married.

6. By the end students will have an outline sense of the Civil War – the sides, the outcome, the fact there were two wars – but detailed knowledge of the national picture isn’t the objective of this activity – it’s a first layer towards that. The main concluding activity would be to describe and explain the graphs they have each completed – which will differ in part because of the random impact of the raffle ticket information. What words would they use to describe their graphs – and what do the graphs tell us about the significance of the 1640s fro these people in Leeds? And, very importantly, what questions do toy want to ask about the Civil War? (e.g. why did it begin?)

After this introduction via locality you can then move on to further coverage of the Civil War – hopefully with some questions raised and a first layer of understanding established.

Exemplar Activity – the Civil War in Leeds

How long did it take to prepare this activity? A couple of evenings to dig out the shape of events from local histories (see Resources below) and work out the pattern of the activity – hopefully it’ll take you less time if you adopt or adapt this pattern.

In writing out the script below I’ve been unsure how much detail to put in. In the end I’ve left most of it in and assume you’ll cut out what you think will confuse and be too much (e.g. details about Cooke, the local vicar) – only you know how much detail to include for any particular class.


Attached are the following 4 PowerPoint screens [see PowerPoint].

  • Graph of Joy/terror for completion
  • Map of Yorkshire
  • Map of Leeds
  • Comparison of numbers who died in 1640s with World Wars (multi-click)

You also need cards identifying names of local towns and two colours of tabards to symbolize who holds each town.

1. Introducing the activity

a) Introduce PowerPoint screen of Joy/Terror graph for1642-1649. Task is to work in pairs keeping your own record – you’re in character as people of Leeds but some of you are supporters of the King (choose about 6) and others are supporters of Parliament (choose about 6 on other side of room) – the rest are more worried about work and families than kings and Parliament.

b) Introduce map of room representing Leeds and Yorkshire – need cards on chairs to show names of towns. Use PowerPoint screen map of Yorkshire for support.

c) What kind of place do you live in - Leeds c.1640?

3500-4000 people; timber buildings with small but increasing numbers of stone and brick buildings.

Focus is woollen cloth trade – booming since 1560s – spinning and weaving in homes – growth and prosperity – building of grammar school 1624; workhouse 1636; almshouses. Civic Pride!

BUT there’s a deep divide – religion. 1615 Alexander Cooke became vicar of St Peter’s the parish church (he was a Puritan) - he removed the coloured wall hangings from the church, destroyed the stained glass and whitewashed over the frescos, condemned anyone he saw wearing a wedding ring and anyone doing anything on a Sunday except praying.

Cooke had to walk round with two pistols for fear of attack by opponents! But he had lots of supporters too. Cooke died in 1632 but Leeds still very divided over religion and this led to people taking sides in Civil War.

2. Civil War begins

The King has raised his standard in York. He’s recruiting men for his army to fight against Parliament. War has begun. Who are the local leaders (choose 1 student for each side)

For Parliament – Sir Thomas Fairfax - age 30; experienced military family – learned fighting in religious wars in Europe

For King – Sir William Saville - local landowner, also an experienced soldier

Give each of them tabards to put over chairs

Who controls which bits of Yorkshire – late 1642?

Parliament has Hull, Selby, Scarborough, Halifax

Royalists – heavily outnumber Parliamentary forces in Yorkshire – they hold York, Tadcaster, Pontefract – then took Leeds and Wakefield without a fight and headed for Bradford …

– but Saville was fought off by townspeople – remarkable as any men with training had gone off with Fairfax’s army. 80 men with muskets defended the church – sacks of wool hung to defend steeple and rest of townspeople armed with ‘clubs, scythes, spits, flails, halberds, sickles and other rustic weapons’.

Bradford became a national symbol of defiance and hope for Parliament - local area very anti-Royalist because people blamed the Royalists for disrupting trade and stopping cloth getting to Hull for export. Also great anxiety over cost of food.

So that’s been 1642 – fill in your graph and write a quick note explaining your choice.

3. 1643 – the attack on Leeds

Fairfax brings Parliament’s army of 3000 men against Saville’s 3000. Leeds protected by cannon and barricades, plus deep ditch dug from St. John’s Church near Headrow to the river

Near Town Hall - Fairfax sent a trumpeter to call on Saville to surrender the town – he refused – Fairfax began attack at 2 in afternoon.

Fairfax approached along Headrow, William Fairfax from the north (Merrion Centre) while a second force attacked from south across river, led by chaplain Scholefield singing Psalm 68 [ for words see below ] – they forced their way across bridge and up into town

Fairfax galloped along Headrow and met the rest of the army in market place at top of Briggate

Leeds had fallen to Parliament in 2 hours of fighting - Fairfax stopped any pillaging and was greeted with great cheers and shouts of “Fairfax, Fairfax”

40 Royalist soldiers killed, of whom 11 buried at parish church – the parish register notes:

‘11 soldiers killed, buried 24 January, 9 unpaid for.’

Raffle numbers – call out a raffle ticket number/s to identify 1 or 2 local people accidentally killed. Plus maybe add another number for someone who gave birth successfully on day of attack.

Lots more happened in 1643 – Parliament took Wakefield and now held all west Yorks but lost Scarborough when its commander changed sides.

BUT followed by battle of Seacroft Moor which Fairfax lost and 800 local men were taken prisoner. Royalists now won back Wakefield and also besieged Leeds - cannon bombardment for 2 days but then Royalists went away.

Raffle tickets call out 1 dead in cannon bombardment plus a number for someone getting married (good news!).

May – Parliament re-took Wakefield again! But in June Royalists won battle of Adwalton Moor. 500 Parliamentary soldiers killed followed by capture of Bradford, then Leeds.

Raffle Ticket – call out another number of someone who died in skirmishing in town.

Royalists now held all Yorkshire bar Hull.

1643 summary – fill in graph of your experience as a citizen of Leeds.

4. Parliament fights back - 1644

Announce news that Parliament has allied with Scots –20,000 Scots invade north of England so Royalists army headed north to block them.

With Royalist army out of the way Fairfax and Parliamentary army re-took Bradford, Selby and Leeds and large quantity of weaponry.

Next the Scots and Parliament besieged York – the major Royalist base in north. The Royalist army marched to attack the Parliamentary army and the two armies met on the evening of 2nd July 1644 at Marston Moor.

Marston Moor was a great victory for Parliament - 17000 Royalist troops, 4000 killed, 5000 wounded, 2000 prisoners

York now surrendered to Parliament – all Yorkshire now Parliament’s apart from Scarborough and Pontefract.

[ Fairfax had an adventurous time – he got a sword slash across face at Marston Moor, a bullet in shoulder at Helmsley and was blown over by wind of cannon ball at Pontefract siege.]

But there as much local grumbling in towns like Leeds. The armies were eating food, creating food shortages. Parliament also abolished Christmas at end of 1644! Not popular!

Add raffle ticket number – a family event – good or bad news – up to you!

1644 – complete graph for 1644.

5. Plague in Leeds

The war continued – Parliament won the battle of Naseby – 14 June 1645 - and going to win overall but something very different happened in Leeds. Plague!

First victim recorded March 1645 – Alice Musgrave – call out a raffle ticket number – dead!

Searchers were appointed to identify the sick; homes sealed and sick moved to Quarry Hill – cabins built for segregation. The homes of sick were fumigated, property washed or burned. The market transferred to Woodhouse Moor, a mile north.

But death rate high – dozens a week – 300 in July - over 1300 died in total –– over 20% of pop of Leeds died of plague between March and December 1645.

Call out 20% of raffle ticket numbers – they died of plague.

1645 summary - dominated by plague, not war. Fill in graph.

6. 1646-1647

[for sake of speed take these as one chunk]

Announce the king has surrendered. The War’s over. Parliament offers negotiations with Charles to stay king. Negotiations continue, drag on and on.

January 1647 Charles arrives in Leeds in custody on way south – held at Red Hall (on Headrow opposite Merrion Centre – what used to be called the Schofield’s Centre)

Locals come to Charles to be touched for the disease, the King’s Evil – John Harrison secretly gives Charles a jug of gold (not so secretly – later convicted of aiding the king and fined).

November 47 – Charles escapes his captors and heads to Isle of Wight. Will war start again?

Raffle tickets – call out a couple of numbers with good news – births, marriages, a son home safely from war – your choice!

1646/1647 summary - complete graph

7. 1648 - War and peace

Civil war breaks out again – Charles raises an army BUT the Royalists are quickly beaten. What will happen next? It’s all quiet in Leeds but in December all MPs keen on negotiation with Charles are rounded up and removed from Parliament by the army. The remaining MPs vote to put Charles on trial.

Final announcement January 1649 - King executed.

1648 summary - complete graph

8. Debriefing

Summarise patterns of graphs – are they all the same? Why not? Which events created the greatest highs and lows? [Worth working on language e.g. ‘fluctuations’ is a great word to use!]

What does this tell you about how the Civil War could affect ordinary people? Now is the time to see what answers students have to the overall question - Was the Civil War really important to the people of Leeds?’

Now you know what happened in Leeds - what questions do you want to ask about the Civil War?

You could also use the PowerPoint slide showing comparative death tallies for the Civil War and the World Wars. Keep clicking and the details are revealed in stages.

Notes & Variations

1. Perhaps think of this as a special event – bring two classes together in the hall?

2. How do you give students a sense of how long the war lasted? Ask them to work out their age in 1642 if they were 12 in 1649 – or count forward i.e. relate it to their own lives. This won’t work wonders but it may begin to have an effect on their sense of duration.

Psalm 68

1. Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered:

let them also that hate him flee before him.

2. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away:

as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

3. But let the righteous be glad;

let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.

4. Sing unto God, sing praises to his name:

extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.

The Civil War in Leeds – some extra information

Fairfax was one of examples of cult of personality that developed round CW leaders – often encouraged self-consciously and publicised through newssheets and pamphlets. TF already wounded on head at Selby and had horse killed under him at Sherburn but it was the capture of Leeds that led TF to be associated with the Millenarian image of the Rider on the White Horse (Revelation 19 verse 11). The capture of Leeds was Parliament’s greatest success so far – TF now very much a figure of national stature and Biblical significance –the Champion of God’s chosen people.

The 1643 defeat at Seacroft Moor had a dire impact on Leeds, Bradford, Halifax etc because of loss of cloth workers – if couldn’t make cloth then couldn’t earn money to feed themselves. Bradford, Halifax had populations of no more than 1000 – therefore 800 prisoners a huge proportion of cloth workers.

30 June 1643 –after battle of Adwalton Moor Fairfax rode to Halifax, then Bradford, overnight on 1 July, led defence of Bradford, broke out through encircling Royalists to Leeds, 2 hrs in Leeds then rode for Hull – at Selby shot through wrist, lost plenty of blood. 20 hours in saddle.

Fairfax refused to attend trial or execution. He’d fought in 10 battles, 3 skirmishes and 10 sieges doing the Lord’s work – Sir Thomas Hazelrigg said in 1659 Fairfax was so covered in wounds it was a wonder he was still there. BUT still did not agree with execution.

Leeds briefly had its own MP in 1650s – lost 1658, not recovered until 1832.


Some of the material I found useful, particularly in creating the Civil War in Leeds activity – there seem to be plenty of studies of other localities available.

Going to the Wars: Experience of the British Civil Wars, 1638-51

by Charles Carleton

Destruction in the English Civil Wars (Illustrated History Paperbacks)

by Stephen Porter

The Civil War in Yorkshire: Fairfax Versus Newcastle (Battlefield Britain)

by David Cooke

'Black Tom': Sir Thomas Fairfax and the English Revolution (Politics, Culture & Society in Early Modern Britain)

by Andrew Hopper


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Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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Principles of the Activity

Exemplar Activity

Notes & Variations

Psalm 68

Extra Info – Leeds