Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Battle of Goudhurst

It´s hard to imagine a more tranquil and beautiful area than the Weald of Kent, but it wasn´t always thus. In the mid 18th century the Weald resembled Colombia or Mexico, and for the same reason, drug trafficking, but not cocaine and heroine, this was brandy and, believe it or not, tea. High taxes meant that huge sums could be made shipping contraband over from France to the English coast and up to London, and with politicians paid off there was little political will to stop it. Some brave men tried, but they were inevitably outgunned, and even if they did capture anybody, he were rarely in prison for long. Against this backdrop emerged brutal gangs who operated in broad daylight, not just smuggling, but intimidating the local populace, taking whatever they wanted. Eventually the good folk of Kent were forced to fight back or lose everything, and on April 20th 1747 the village of Goudhurst took on one of the largest and most brutal gangs, the Hawkhurst gang, and in a pitched battle defeated them, leaving three bandits dead on the ground.

Set Up

Of course everybody has their favourite skirmish rules. The stats and rules given here are based on the DWMG rules feely available at Although designed for sci-fi they work very well for historical games.

The village of Goudhurst sits on the slope of a hill, with the High Street leading up to a church, St Marys, which give glorious views of the surrounding countryside.

The defence of Goudhurst was based on this church, a sound choice when you consider that many medieval churches were designed as sanctuarys, with thick walls and a high lookout tower. For the battle trenches were built and manned and snipers were stationed on the church tower.

The walls of the church cannot be breached, but the door can be forced. It counts as having 2 wounds, strength 4, but is hit automatically. When open 4 models may pass each turn, or 2 may shoot, counting as being in hard cover.

Church lane is sunken about 4ft relative to the churchyard, with a wall level buttressing the road and level on the church yard side. Back lane is accessable from the Star & Eagle back yard, and runs on the other side of the church, open to the church yard with turf sloping up to the church.

There are local stories of a tunnel running from the Star & Eagle (local headquaters of the gang) to the church. A more thoughtful, less sclerotic, man than Kingsmill might have made more use of this, and a party of yelling smugglers erupting in the centre of their defences would not have gone well with the militia, so one option is to allow a small party to appear at a pre arranged point in the church - even better if the Militia player is not told about this beforehand!

The Hawkhurst gang

It is far from clear how many of the gang were involved, or how they were armed, though previous reports of smugglers talk of blunderbusses and cutlasses rather than muskets, much better suited for short range work, robbery and intimidation. When the Hawkhurst and Wingham gangs fell out, over 11 tons of tea, it was settled with swords. This then is maybe a difference between the forces, with the smugglers much more formidable up close, but the militia with longer range weapons and behind cover.

The new leader of the gang, Thomas Kingsmill was surely a formidable fighter to even become leader, but his judgement appears far from shrewd. His arrogance led him not only to threaten to murder everyone in Goudhurst and burn the town down, but also to fix a day and time for his arrival. He showed little leadership during the battle and the gang broke rapidly after only a few casualties, and disintegrated shortly afterwards. 

Thomas Kingsmill
Move   Def   Hits  Str   Agility   Int   Morale
6          3      1       3     3          7     8
Leadership (1), Luck (1)

For added colour, some of the other members of the gang can be included, for example;
William Fairall, unlike many others in the gang, Fairall had never trained for any "civilian" work, he´d been "inured to smuggling from his infancy",  and even described himself as the most evil smuggler living. No one who crossed him was safe and he was guilty of several brutal killings of those who had tried to arrest him, or testified against him.

William Fairall
Move   Def   Hits  Str   Agility   Int   Morale
6         3       2       4     3          7     7
The Red Mist  Fairall still has to take Moral tests, but the results are different. If he passes he automatically attacks the nearest enemy, if he fails he merely carrys on as normal.

Richard Perrin was a  former carpenter who turned to smuggling after he lost the sue of his right hand. Somewhat older than most of the gang at 36, Perrin also suffered from rheumatism and couldn´t carry goods as well as the rest. Nonetheless Perrin was not a handicap to the gang, he was vitally important having two unique qualities - contacts in Guernsey to fence the goods, and a reputation as a very honest man. This last is of course rare in any criminal gang, and valued accordingly. You would expect that he would have sat out any battles but he seems to have been in the thick of it, despite the loss his death would have been to the gang.

Richard Perrin
Move   Def   Hits  Str   Agility   Int   Morale
4          3      2       2     2          8     8
Perrin may only use one hand (his left) and may never run
Too important to lose (optional) One idea would be to place him under the control of the Militia player - he may not attack gang members under any circumstances, but his death counts as victory points for the Militia side.

Smuggler (x40)
Move   Def   Hits  Str   Agility   Int   Morale
6         3      1      3     3          7     7
In it for the money    Smugglers always use their own morale level for tests, not that of their leaders

Members of the gang may chose from the following weapons may close from the following weapons, though of a total gang size of 40, only up to 7 may have muskets, and up to 25 in total may have firearms.
Blunderbuss                 6"       Str 3     Blast 2”, +1 to hit    2 actions to load
Musket                       16"      Str 3     1 action to load
Matchlock pistol          6"       Str 3     1 action to load
Cutlass              +2 in melee

Goudhurst Band of Militia

It´s hard at first sight to see how the villagers stood any chance at all. The smugglers were seasoned professionals who had already taken on, and beaten, both other gangs and even Dragoons. The answer would appear to be in the nature of the leaders involved. William Sturt was an ex-soldier with Harrison's Regiment of Foot, recently discharged. He almost certainly took part in the English raid on L'Orient in Britanny in 1746, and quite possibly was involved in events in Bexhill in 1744 when 30 men of Harrison's Regiment ambushed 50 smugglers at night, killing several and capturing 10 (who were executed). By any measure he was an inspirational leader, not just motivating, but training the villagers in just a few short days (think Magnificent seven ,but just one of him!). There is sadly little information on the other men who set up the militia, but they must have been brave. In contrast, Kingsmill´s fearsome reputation and threats worked against him. The good folk of Goudhurst knew him and his gang well, they were perfectly well aware that he would follow up on his promises to murder everyone in the village, and so surrender was not a viable option.

It´s again unclear how many villagers were involved, or how they were armed, but there are reports of the days before the attack being spent casting musket balls in the churchyard and acquiring two hundredweight of gunpowder (about 100 Kg), which implies a fair number of muskets. There is also mention of old and inaccurate "fowling pieces" (primitive shotguns for hunting ducks), but what use is an "inaccurate" fowling piece? It would surely have been either corrected or discarded.
The militia may have 6" of trenches, and 6" of barricades.

William Sturt
Move   Def   Hits  Str   Agility   Int   Morale
6         3        3      3     3          8     9
Leader (2), Luck (3)
Inspirational leader   If within 6" of militia they automaticaly pass moral tests. If he moves within "cowering" villagers (see below) they can test with his moral level to re-enter the fray.
Two matchlock pistols, but if fires both at once, 2nd is -1 to hit.

Village Foreman (x1)
Move   Def   Hits  Str   Agility   Int   Morale
6         3       1       3     3          7     7
Leader (1), Luck (1)

Militia (x40)
Move   Def   Hits  Str   Agility   Int   Morale
6          3      1       3     3          7     6
Fear the smugglers, however if they fail a test they cower behind their barricades rather than run away (there is no where to run to). If Sturt can reach them later they can test again using his stats and return to the fray.

There is little information on the numbers involved, so perhaps the best option is to allow the same numbers on both sides, balancing the lower capabilities of the militia with better cover and leadership. Perhaps 15 of the 40 militia can have muskets, 15 with fowling pieces (see below) and the rest with scythes etc.
Fowling piece                  10"    Str 3     2 actions to load

If you would more background on the Hawkhurst gang, and smuggling in general, there is a very good resource at