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Leveson, a name from Dudley's past

By john workman  |  Posted: December 07, 2012

The ruins of Colonel Leveson's Civil War stronghold.

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The results of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into the activities of the press, which were published recently, has reignited the debate about press freedom and the defence of democracy, and with politicians about to lock horns over the future of press controls, the name Leveson will no doubt remain in the headlines for many months to come.

If that's the case it's worth mentioning a Leveson from our neck of the woods, a military man who came to prominence during the English Civil War of the 17th century during another turbulent period of the country's history. He was Colonel Thomas Leveson, a Roman Catholic from Wolverhampton, who was viewed with great suspicion by the town's residents when he became governor of Dudley Castle in 1643, because Wolverhampton was a great competitor to Dudley at the time.

A staunch Royalist, he was also a willing combatant on the battlefield and was always at King Charles' side during the major battles, and in his absence Lieutenant Colonel Beaumont was left in charge of the castle, an unsavoury character who on one occasion threatened to burn houses down if the townsfolk didn't send musicians up to the castle for a party.

Dudley Castle remained in Royalist hands throughout the bulk of the Civil War, and troops from there constantly harassed the enemy in lightning strikes. Parliamentary Birmingham was burnt and ransacked on more than one occasion.

However the castle did come under siege from time to time, a brief one in 1644 was soon ended by a relieving force from Worcester.

But the devastating Royalist defeat at the Battle of Naseby left the garrison isolated and vulnerable, and when Colonel Leveson returned to Dudley he began to add to the castle's defences. In an attempt to deny the enemy cover he ordered the demolition of St Edmund's Church, a stone's throw from the castle walls, and much of Castle Street.

These were desperate measures and ultimately futile.

On 27th April 1646 a Parliamentary force under the command of Sir William Brereton laid siege to the castle and began to construct siege works, using stone from the demolished church, and ditches; they were prepared for the long haul. But knowing the King's cause was lost Colonel Leveson surrendered his garrison of 40 officers and 300 men just over two weeks later on 13th May, and Brereton generously gave safe passage to them all. Almost immediately the dismantling of Dudley Castle began, and within the space of just a few weeks, the once strong, impenetrable castle was reduced to the romantic ruin that still dominates the local skyline today.

The history of St Edmund's Church has always been inextricably linked with Dudley Castle, and looking along Castle Street today it doesn't take long before the imagination starts to relive those turbulent years of the Civil War. The dedication of the church to the Anglo- Saxon martyr King Edmund of East Anglia, suggests this was the focal point of Anglo Saxon Dudley, and the present church is believed to be the 3rd or 4th built in over a thousand years.

From the ruins left by Leveson's demolition in 1646, rose the church that graces Castle Street today, a Grade II Listed building for us to enjoy and marvel at, and all thanks to the funds provided 77 years later by Dudley brothers George and Richard Bradley. It was erected in 1724, and if you look up, and to both sides, at the main entrance to the church, the names of the men who cast the first bricks can be seen inscribed for posterity — This brick was made and laid by Moses Hinton in 1724.

This first brick was laid by John Homer Bayley in 1724.

The irony is, the historic tables have now been turned. Whereas before the church of St Edmund lay in ruins against the backdrop of a defiant and domineering Dudley Castle, it now stands proud, after nearly three centuries since its rebuild, against the backdrop of the ruin that Dudley Castle has become.

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