Why was Longridge important in the English Civil War? | Marcus Briggs

Marcus Briggs investigates how the Lancashire town of Longridge hosted both opposing armies during a key battle of the English Civil War. 

Few people are aware of the important role that the small Lancashire town of Longridge played in the Battle of Preston, which effectively ended the Second English Civil War and led to the execution of Charles I.

The battle in 1648 was a crushing victory for Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army over a Scottish royalist force, and within months the king was dead and Britain would never be the same again.

The origins of the Battle of Preston

The Parliamentarians, led by Cromwell, controlled the country, having won the First Civil War with victory in the Battle of Naseby in 1645. By late 1647 the king was under house arrest on the Isle of Wight.

However, the king was able to communicate with his allies and he encouraged a series of uprisings across England and Wales against Parliament, as well as an invasion from the north by a Scottish royalist army.

Cromwell’s army put down the rebellions, but the Scottish invasion on July 8 penetrated a long way south, deep into Lancashire. This is now known as the beginning of the Second Civil War.

Cromwell rushes to stop the Scots

Cromwell finished putting down a major rebellion in Pembrokeshire on July 11, but needed to oppose the Scottish invasion. He rushed his army east into the Midlands and then north to Doncaster, which he reached on August 8.

His cavalry commander, John Lambert, had been harrying and tracking the Scots, and was able to tell Cromwell exactly how the Scots’ overall commander, the Duke of Hamilton had deployed his forces.

Hamilton had made a crucial error by stringing the bulk of his army along the 17 miles between Preston and Wigan to the south, and this was vital to the outcome of the battle.

As the smaller New Model Army headed west, following the Ribble Valley towards Preston, the fortunes of war were pushing Longridge into its important role.

Longridge in 1648

Longridge is around seven miles north-east of Preston and is now home to around 8000 people, but in 1648 would have been little more than a hamlet surrounded by good agricultural land.

The village sits below Longridge Fell, which rises up to an imposing 350m and provides sweeping views of the Ribble Valley, including Preston itself.

Commanders on both sides recognised the value of Longridge, and on the evening of August 13, royalist Marmaduke Langdale gathered his advance parties there. Crucially, he either did not know or did not report to the Duke of Hamilton that Cromwell’s army was now rolling down the valley towards them.

In fact, by August 16, Cromwell had brought his forces to camp at Stonyhurst, just a few miles from Longridge along what is now the B6243, also known as Clitheroe Road.

The Battle of Preston begins

Then, on the morning of August 17, Cromwell led the New Model Army through Longridge, where it is possible the first skirmishes occurred as his scouts encountered Langdale’s rearguard.

The army pushed on, down into the Ribble Valley to confront the royalist forces, and Longridge could claim to have hosted both armies in the build-up to this epic battle.

The ultimate result would be a disaster for the royalists, who were poorly prepared and deployed as Cromwell approached from the north-east. The main part of their army was dotted along the road to Wigan, far to the south and helpless to intervene in time. Other key elements were also scattered and so unable to confront Cromwell’s force.

Langdale’s troops bore the brunt of the initial fighting, first near Fulwood and then on Walton-le-Dale, the location of a vital bridge over the River Ribble. The royalists were able to escape south over the river with some of their force intact, but that just postponed the inevitable.

Pursuit across Lancashire and the Midlands

The fighting paused overnight but resumed with ferocity in the morning, and the Royalists had to flee eastwards towards the Midlands. Cromwell sent “a considerable party at the very heel of them”, which eventually forced their surrender at Ashbourne on August 25.

From the battle’s humble beginnings around Longridge, it had turned into an utter disaster for the much larger royalist forces. Around 2,000 of their men were killed and 9,000 captured, and the Duke of Hamilton was captured, put on trial and executed.

Cromwell estimated he lost only around 100 men, which was an astonishing contrast in a battle which would have consequences far beyond its Lancashire setting.

The end of the Second Civil War

The First Civil War had lasted four years and included at least three major battles, but the Battle of Preston was to be the defining and last clash of the Second Civil War.

On August 28, the war ended when the royalist surrendered Colchester, and the English Parliament was ruthless in its efforts to ensure the king would no long be able to foment rebellion.

Key leaders were tried and executed and on January 30 King Charles I was executed.

Longridge could return to relative peace, even as the country began its tumultuous 11-year experiment as a republic. Local pride remains over its brush with history, with several local business and developments named Cromwell, and the countryside remains as beautiful as ever.

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