Battle of Preston 1648

Today marks the 368th anniversary of Cromwell's victory at the Battle of Preston. Regular readers and friends will know my interest in seventeenth century history. This summer, I decided to find out as much as I could about the battle (1648- not to be confused with another battle of Preston in 1715).

The River Ribble; the left bank is north beyond which the main battle was fought

It was fought between the New Model Army led by Cromwell and Lambert representing the English Parliament, and an alliance of Scottish Presbyterians led by the Duke of Hamilton who had changed their minds and decided to support the King, and some English royalists under Sir Marmaduke Langdale.

It’s a particularly confusing battle- each side consisted of several armies each arriving at different times from different directions; the fighting itself took place over several days in the area between Preston and Wigan.

Lancashire was the most Presbyterian of all the English counties, and the ‘Battle of Preston Moor’ offered the ministers a difficult choice. The Scots were fellow Presbyterians who were now sponsoring the Anglican King; the Parliamentary Army was increasingly republican and Independent (Congregationalist) and championing religious liberty which the Presbyterians abhorred. The Presbyerian leader in Lancashire Warden Heyrick of Manchester, therefore urged the ministers and their flocks to do nothing in support of either army.

Cromwell cleverly ensured that those Lancashire regiments that had come to his support were facing Langdale’s ‘papists’ and cavaliers rather than the Scotch. This occurred on ‘Ribbleton Moor’. My understanding of this location is North West Preston between Deepdale Shopping Park and Preston Golf Club. Cromwell’s Mound (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1016551), an earth work from the period, lies to the north of this area, and is thought to have been a raised area from which artillery fired to capture the nearby Broughton Tower. Although musket shot are found in this area, the rest of the battle site is now covered in housing and shops. The Scots refused to support the Catholic Langdale, who fought well, but succumbed to the Ironsides’ greater numbers.

Cromwell's Mound at Broughton, in a field off the main road

The royalists fled to Preston where they were run down in the streets by Colonel Harrison and then across the Ribble and Darwen Bridges on to Wigan, where the townspeople were cruelly plundered, being ‘left nothing but their skins’.  Colonel Assheton of Whalley attacked many fleeing royalists at Ribble Bridge. The battle then moved onto Winwick, with Cromwell saying he ‘never rode such a twelve miles all his life’ on account of the heavy rain, and the lanes strewn with the injured and starving.

Ribble Bridge, the main road south from Preston to Wigan

Darwen Bridge, Walton-le-Dale, which also had to be crossed

Pinocchio's Italian Restaurant, Walton-le Dale. In 1648 it was the Unicorn Inn, and the place Cromwell stayed after the first day's battle before heading south

The battle caused much suffering in the county, both north and south (Lancaster was besieged by Cavaliers). ‘Cavaliers plundered Roundheads; Roundheads Cavaliers; the Scotch all who had anything and the Irish those who had nothing’ write Robert Halley in 1872. The tract A True Representation of the Present sad and lamentable Condition of the County of Lancaster, 1649, said ‘It would melt any good heart to see the numerous swarms of begging poor and the many families that pine away at home, not having faces to beg’. Parliament’s Day of Thanksgiving ordered to mark the victory at Preston required contributions in all churches and chapels ‘for the maimed soldiers, and poor visited people of Lancashire’.

Preston effectively put an end to Royalist ambitions. Charles’ negotiations with the Scots rendered him an untrustworthy party in many English eyes; some would go further and call him a traitor as he had employed Scottish and Irish troops to thwart his own Parliament, recommencing civil war. Within six month he was tried for his life, beheaded, and the Commonwealth established. The rule of the Puritans began.

I love old battle sites, but for contemporaries, they were bloody, nasty places. Their homes were damaged, their goods seized, their livelihoods ruined. Come, Lord Jesus!