On an unspecified day during 1642, Sir Philip received the following urgent message from one James Birbeck, who was presumably an officer under his command. I have translated the script (except for one undecipherable word) but the spelling and punctuation, etc., follow the original text.
The original letter is at Cumbria County Archive in Carlisle.
This letter is one of many in the files of letters to Sir Philip Musgrave stored in the County Records Office, Carlisle, but it is the only one concerning this incident, which of course leaves many questions unanswered.
From the letter, it would seem that Sir Philip was away from home and that Birbeck was acting in his stead. The messenger Thomas Walton must have taken quite a risk of life and limb in delivering his message, one can imagine a lone rider evading the Roundheads and galloping at full pelt over Hartside.
But, what of the Roundheads? In a Royalist area, how did so many men on horseback manage to travel unmolested, let along undetected by the Royalists? Where did they come from in the first place? The nearest territory held by Parliament was around Bradford, or the port of Hull, both many miles away. Had they been hiding in Scotland?
Did the Royalists feel so secure in their own territory that they felt no need for an information-gathering network, or even sentries, to give advance warning of an enemy approach? And, of course, what was Musgrave’s reaction? Did he send a retaliatory force? Did a battle ensue, or had the Parliamentarians disappeared as quickly and effectively as they had appeared? Did they “come into our daylles”? Did Birbeck’s scouts even return safely?
Like so much of history, a piece of information can raise more questions than it answers, but this piece certainly shows a very dramatic moment in Alston’s past.
(Postscript: Sir Henry Fletcher of Hutton was killed at the battle of Rowton Heath near Chester in 1645. Sir Philip Musgrave died in 1678 aged 70. Captain James Birbeck was killed in 1644 during the siege of Carlisle.)