Alongside our collection of artefacts, photographs and documents, the maritime centre also has a large library of maritime books, including some old and rare editions. A brand new book has just been added to our collection entitled ‘Lawson Lies Still in The Thames’. The author, Gill Blanchard, donated the book after we helped her with some research for it. The book recounts the story of Vice-Admiral Sir John Lawson. He was born in Scarborough in 1615 and went on to be an important historical figure when he blockaded the Thames with ships.
He lived in West Sandgate, at the bottom of Eastborough, and by his early 20s he was an experienced and successful collier, sailing coal from Newcastle to London. In 1642, King Charles I challenged Parliament over his and its rights and powers. What followed was a twenty-year civil war. The abolition of the Monarchy, House of Lords and Bishops gave way to a Republic that John Lawson supported.
When Royalist forces held Scarborough castle Lawson helped blockade the port and the coal trade to London. When the Royalists surrendered Lawson became a leading citizen in the town.
In 1653 Lawson was commanding ships for the navy and fought the Dutch, capturing several of their vessels. Oliver Cromwell promoted him to Vice-Admiral. Lawson was very popular with the navy’s sailors as he campaigned for them to get regular pay and stop pressganging.
In 1659 Oliver Cromwell was overthrown by a military coup and Lawson took 22 ships to blockade the Thames cutting off vital supplies to London. The blockade worked and led to a move to re-establish Parliament and put Charles II on the throne. In 1660 Lawson was knighted for his work.
Lawson was later involved in the battle of Algiers and in Tangier a street was named after him. Lawson also signed the Treaty of Tunis. He then oversaw the building of a defensive mole at Tangier.
In 1665 Lawson was involved in a naval battle against the Dutch off Lowestoft. He received a musket ball wound to his knee that became infected with gangrene and he died a few weeks later. He left £100 to the poor of Scarborough. Lawson had six daughters but three had died of typhus and meningitis.
Scarborough historian, Dr Jack Binns, said that Lawson was a hero of his time coming from humble origins. No others rose so high in the land or played such a decisive and courageous role in history.
Sadly there is no blue plaque to remember this important man by, but hopefully with the publication of this new book we hope to place him firmly back in the spotlight.
The maritime centre currently has an exhibition about Lawson which runs until the end of October. Opening times are 11am to 4pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Entrance is free.
The Maritime Centre is run entirely by volunteers and public donations. Visit www.scarboroughsmaritimeheritage.org.uk for more information.