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The civil war in Weymouth is mostly remembered for an incredible plot which was hatched by one of its' leading citizens and royalist sympathisers, Fabian Hodder.. Together with his wife, her friend Elizabeth Wall and several others, the plot, which has become known locally as the CRABCHURCH CONSPIRACY, was aimed at bringing the town once more, under the control of the Kings army, and, before its' desperate conclusion would result in the deaths of many of the conspirators and the soldiers of both sides.
By the February of 1645 the Parliamentarian garrisons of Weymouth and Melcombe (linked by a bridge across the harbour) were under the control of the Governor, Colonel William Sydenham. Weymouth felt secure, a fact borne out in the diary of its' regimental preacher Peter Ince who wrote 'we were in as sweet a quiet and security as any garrison in the Kingdom; no enemy close to us but one at Portland, and that not very considerable, being but about 300 or 400 men'. The Roundheads numbered about 900 souls as Sydenhams' garrison was swelled by the arrival of a regiment commanded by Colonel Ralph Weldon. All seemed well, but beneath the surface a plot so audacious and cunning in its' aims and means was already nearing fruition, and the final details being ironed out.
On the night of February 9th 1645, soldiers of the Royalist Portland garrison, guided by two men from Weymouth, John Dry, a tanner, and Walter Bond, a fisherman, were to simultaneously attack two of the most strategically important forts crucial to the defence of Weymouth (the Nothe and Chapel Forts). At the same time, villagers from the surrounding areas of Upwey, Broadwey, Sutton Poyntz and Preston who were sympathetic to the royalist cause, were to meet up with a large force of 1500 men from Sherborne commanded by Sir Lewis Dyve, and were to guide them to Melcombe where a tailor named Thomas Samways would let them in to the town. The names of the other known conspirators included John Seton, Leonard Symonds, Walter Mich, John Lock, Philip Ashe, and Samuel Tackle.
At midnight the sounds of battle rent the cold winter air as the surprise attacks upon the Nothe and Chapel Forts went ahead as planned, but elsewhere things did not go so smoothly. Sir Lewis Dyve and his force from Sherborne did not appear and so Melcombe remained in Parliamentarian hands. In Weymouth however both forts were taken, but one person had kept their wits about them and was soon rallying his men for a counterattack. Within half an hour, Major Francis Sydenham led an assault upon the cavaliers who had just captured the powerful Chapel Fort of St Nicholas. Leading from the front, as ever, he charged the enemy and a fierce fight ensued. At its' end, the Chapel Fort still remained in royalist hands, but for the Roundheads an even bigger blow had befallen them. Their inspirational and much admired leader Francis Sydenham lay mortally wounded. He died at dawn the following day aged 27, and in his diary Preacher Ince seems to have captured the mood of the moment when he wrote, 'Among the slain was Major Francis Sydenham, the Governor's brother, whose memory may not be buried with him. His death was no small joy to his enemies, to whom he was a perpetual vexation and terror, and no small grief to us who had our eyes too much upon him'... That morning, Colonel William Sydenham and his younger brother Thomas, a Cornet, who was also wounded in the attack, stared across the harbour from Melcombe at the victorious Royalists in Weymouth and vowed to avenge their brothers' death.