BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

BBC Homepage
Inside Out
East Midlands
North East
North West
South East
South West
West Midlands
Yorks & Lincs
Go to BBC1 programmes page (image: BBC1 logo)

Contact Us

   Inside Out - South West: Monday 6th January, 2003


Man seated at a desk
CIVIL WAR | A twist in the tale of the siege

Plymouth is a town built on the scene of bloodbaths and killing fields, yet few know the true extent of Plymouth’s loss during the Civil War over 350 years ago.

The English Civil War immersed the South West, and nowhere was the loss of life as great as in Plymouth. To mark the anniversary of the end of the Civil War, Inside Out reveals a new twist in the tale of the siege.

When war swept through the South West, Plymouth came under attack because it sided with parliament against King Charles I.

John Sym's diary

Skull and cross bones
The death toll in Plymouth was the highest in the South West

John Syms was a puritan minister who sought sanctuary in Plymouth. His diary sheds new light on the town’s steadfast resolve in their fight against the Royalists.

The people of Plymouth were faced with a stark choice of seeing their town burn to ashes or surrendering to the enemy. They chose to fight.

Solemn oath

The people of Plymouth signed a solemn covenant to fight to the last man and indeed facing the Royalist army may have proven the lesser of two evils.

John Syms’ diary reveals that failure to keep the oath lead to punishment and even death.

Burial record
Deserters of the army were punishable by death

Extracts from Syms’ diary state, "George Henwood of Plymouth and one of the captain’s troop were executed on the Hoe for deserting the Parliament’s army after their covenant… The renegade committed a barbarous cruelty on two of our soldiers going out to the country enforcing one to hang the other."

More revelations

Syms’ revelations do not end there however. His diary tells of a betrayal which could have been the end of Plymouth.

Commander Alexander Carew plotted to give up Drake’s Island to the enemy camped over at Mount Edgecumbe. Thankfully Carew was caught before the plot was carried out. He protested his innocence all the way to the gallows.

John Syms
John Syms' diary reveals new details of Plymouth's role in the Civil War

King Charles took up headquarters at Widey House believing Plymouth ready to surrender. With their refusal, the King dared not risk his 15,000 strong army against Plymouth and the task fell to others.


Sir Richard Grenville amassed a formidable force in the last major attempt to break the resistance. Thousands of soldiers surged towards Plymouth and its badly armed defenders.

The Plymothians displayed astonishing bravery and by the end of the fighting it was the blood of Grenville’s men that was shed.

Plymouth stood firm for nearly four years and with the King finally defeated, they found themselves on the winning side.

Their triumph however was short lived. The monarchy was restored and the new King, Charles II exacted revenge for Plymouth’s resistance. Many of its heroes were imprisoned on Drake’s Island, some until their deaths’.

See also ...

History - Wars and conflict

On the rest of the web
English Civil War society
British Civil Wars
The English Civil Wars

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

Inside Out Archive

Inside Out: South West
View our story archive to see articles from previous series.

BBC Where I Live

Find local news, entertainment, debate and more ...


Meet your
Inside Out
Go to our profile of Sam Smith  (image: Sam Smith)

Sam Smith
your local Inside Out presenter.

Contact us
Contact the South West team with the issues that affect you.

Free email updates

Keep in touch and receive your free and informative Inside Out updates.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy