Brentford, a working-class suburb of West London, is best known in the 21st century for its aspirational football team and the world famous garage DJs of Kurrupt FM. But, in November 1642 it was the site of a small but significant battle in the First English Civil War. Located at the convergence of the River Thames, flowing up from Kingston in the South, and the River Brent, flowing down from Wembley in the north, Brentford became the bottleneck through which the Royalist and Parliamentarian forces raced into London.
As King Charles swept through Oxfordshire, capturing Banbury and Oxford, Prince Rupert led further forces down the Thames Valley, bringing Abingdon, Aylesbury and Maidenhead under Royalist control. Prince Rupert then tried to take Windsor but failed after encountering a well embedded Parliamentary resistance. The Royalists slowed their advances and considered opening peace negotiations with their opponents. The Parliamentarians, lead by the Earl of Essex, capitalised on this naive indecision and raced ahead into London, barricading the bridges at Kingston and Brentford. Seeing his peace negotiations fail and having lost ground to the Parliamentarians, King Charles marched his army further into London to an area that now makes up Heathrow Airport. Prince Rupert was ordered to continue marching and take Brentford for the Royalists.
Under the mist in the morning of November 12th, Rupert’s forces advanced into Brentford on horseback and attacked the two Parliamentary regiments of foot soldiers, led by Denzil Holles and Lord Brooke. The initial attack at a site to the west of Brentford was repelled by Holles’ men, but with Royalist reinforcements arriving on foot, the combined mounted and marching forces successfully drove Holles’ men back over Brentford Bridge and into the defences manned by Lord Brooke. After the initial surprise of the attack, and being outnumbered by four to one, the Parliamentarians suffered heavily and were forced out of Brentford and into the open fields to the east. Many of them died trying to swim across the Thames to safety. It was not until the arrival of a supporting division from the north that the Parliamentarians were able to safely disengage and flee Brentford, falling back to Turnham Green and Chelsea. Overall, the small battle involved some 6,000 troops and resulted in the death or imprisonment of 600 Parliamentarians, more than half of their forces involved.
Whilst the battle itself may have been small, its effects were vastly significant to the outcome of the First English Civil War. The Royalists, who saw victory in the town as a big piece of propaganda to offer up to their King, ransacked Brentford. Fuelled by alcohol and energised by the recent victory, they set fires, stole goods, assaulted locals and stole or killed livestock. News of this unjust destruction of the town travelled fast across London, as well as first hand reports of the Thames’ drownings, described as ‘most pitiful … to see how many poor men ended and lost their lives striving to save them.’ These two events sent ripples of dissent across the capital, and catalysed the growing sympathy for the Parliamentary forces. Indeed, the following days saw the widespread militarisation of many Londoners, as they joined the parliamentary forces in their thousands. Whilst these new soldiers were significantly under trained, their sheer number reinvigorated and re-legitimised the Parliamentarian strength. In numbers reaching 24,000 men, they assembled in Chelsea and marched towards the Royalist forces in Turnham Green. After demonstrating their significant strength in numbers at the Battle of Turnham Green, the Parliamentarians managed to drive the Royalists out of West London, as they fled back to the safety of Oxfordshire for the duration of the winter.
Despite its relative smallness in size, the Battle of Brentford proved very significant in the overall picture of the First English Civil War. Back in 2015, the only battling that takes place in the area is at Griffin Park as Brentford FC push to get promotion to the Premiership. Though, to this day, the Battle of Brentford remains present in the local collective consciousness, as residents preserve its memory with the peculiar little saying: ‘1642. Never Forget’.