The First Battle Of Middlewich

The Loss of over Five hundred prisoners and the flight of Sir Thomas Aston – The making of Sir William Brereton

AND

A Great Victory by John, 1st Lord Byron

A Presentation of historical snippets from initial research into the Civil War at Middlewich, an arrangement of our resources and places of further information.

On The First Battle of Middlewich

Aston was told unmistakably that he must prevent Brereton from spreading his power:  he broke up one parliamentary rendezvous at Tarporley and when Brereton rode off with his horsemen to recruit in Northwich he followed to Middlewich.  There he had three cannon, his own horse and over a thousand of the trained bands of the Broxton and Wirral hundreds, and hoped to bring in more from the tenants of Lord Brereton, whose main estate lay a little to the south-east.  But he was in an open town and Brereton, sensing an opportunity, sent to Nantwich for foot to co-operate in a two-pronged dawn attack.  At the appointed hour on 13 March they were not there; nevertheless Brereton probed with his horsemen all-round the western approaches to the town.  He was easily held but when, a few hours later, the Nantwich foot came marching up Booth’s Lane from the south, the effort to change front to meet a fresh attack was too much for Aston’s inexperienced forces’. 

R N Dore, the Civil Wars in Cheshire pg. 26-27

 

A very personal account… This was handwritten from Castle records by P Cowper.

This stands as a primary source account from Sir Thomas Aston himself and his contempories

“On Fryday, March the tenth, Sr Thomas Aston came out of Chester, with some Troops of Horse, and several Companies of Foot, and the next morning came to Middlewich, and endeavoured to make that Town as defensible as could be done in the space of twenty four hours.  On Sunday Sir William Brereton, with his Party, went from Northwich, and approached the lodgments of the advanced Guards of the Chester men on Spital Hill, within Stanthorn, near to Middlewich and, after some firings, returned to his Quarters, having dispatched an Express with his Orders, to the Commanding Officer at Namptwich.  On Monday early he came again from Northwich, and having forced the outguards from their post just before mentioned, proceeded to the Heath, within Newton, near to the west side of Middlewich, where a smart engagement began, and continued nearly equal as to advantage, till about ten a clock, when eleven hundred Horse and Foot from Namptwich arrived at the Southern entrance of the Town, from towards Booth Lane, in which approach, Sr Thomas Aston had planted a piece of brass cannon, and made as good dispositions as the situation would admit of.  This numerous reinforcement, to avoid the cannonading, got over the Fences on each side of the lane, and many very sharp vollies were exchanged between them, and the Defendants, who at length began to give way, when the Namptwich men pushing on very vigorously, beat off the Gunners and took the Piece of Ordnance, and then made their way up to the middle of the Town, meeting but with faint resistance from their scattered adversaries, Sr Thomas Aston perceiving his men rousted, and the Place lost, He, and Colonel Leigh of Adlington, then High Sheriff of Cheshire, made the best retreat that they could, up Kinderton Street, towards Hulmes Chapell, in which they met with little opposition from the Enemy, who were busily employed in plundering the Houses, and securing and stripping the Prisoners, among whom were Sr Edward Mosely of Lancashire Baronet, Colonel Ellis, Major Gillmore, Captains Corbet, Morris, Lloyd, Eaton, Massie of Coddington, Hurleston, Jones, Horton, Starkie of Stretton, and Davenport of Woodford; Lieutenants Dod, Chorley, Jennings, Hosier, and Manley; Ensigns Ward, Proudlove, Norreys and Davenport; three Cannoniers, Hardinge, Gorton and Yates; Corporals Lea and Gleave; two Quartermasters and about four hundred private men.  Besides one hundred Horse, there was likewise taken two pieces of Ordnance, four barrels of powder, and two barrels of matches, and Arms for between four and five hundred Soldiers, the number of the slain was not great and near equal on both sides, and no Officer fell in this Action; but the Townsmen were great sufferers in their properties.  They were despoiled of their moveables, and the Church was robbed of its Plate, and whatever else was worth taking.

Sir Thomas Aston, in a few days afterwards, though not without difficulty, got back to Chester, where he was much censured concerning the Affair at Middlewich, was put under an Arrest and ordered so to remain, at Pulford a small Town or Village in Cheshire on the confines of Denbighshire, and about the midway between Chester and Wrexham: whilst he was in that situation he drew up a State of his Case, by way of a vindication of his Conduct, and addressed the same to the Lords, and others of the Garrison at Chester, which Piece, literally transcribed from a manuscript:  Copy is as follows:

                “To the Right Honourable, the Earl Rivers, the Lords Viscounts Cholmondeley, and Kilmurrey; to the Hon’ble Thomas Savage, etc. etc. etc: My Lords!  Though I know not what it is to apprehend feare of any mans threates, nor know any cause given for them against mee in particular, yet I must thanke your care of my Person, and shall have more cause to acknowledge your sense of my Honour, if you will receave and divulge a true Accompt of this unfortunate business, wherein I desire noe favour, but that truth may be knowne, and let that quitt or condemne mee.

          “Your Lordships know how our progresse was retarded at our setting foorth; the Soldiers mutininge for pay on the Fryday; and Mr Bavand haveinge not issued it out on Saturday, nor the provisions, ‘till it was soe late, I was forced to leave two troops of Horse on the fforrest to guard it to Over, though they lay in danger that night.

          “At our arrivall at Midellwich, a letter overtooke us from the Governour, recommendinge to us certaine Propositions from the Lord Brereton, which were,

          “That he might have a convoye for his Ladie, children and Goods to Chester, and then he would bringe in his Men.  Upon consultation had with the Sheriff, Sr Edward Fytton and Colonel Ellis, it was held for a considerable addition, and that it was worth our stay, and thereupon sent him a letter under all our hands, desiringe though it were Sunday, he would provide carriage for his goods and come away, for that further delays would not be safe for him, nor could our Designs admit it; yet his Lordship did not accordingly, but came on Sunday himselfe to Midelwich, to confer further with us.  Of this Notice was very speedilie given to Northwich (as by intelligence since from them) which occasioned the suddaine attempt upon us, to prevent him from joyninge  with us, whose intentions were judged by this appearance.

          “The accommodatinge this, togaither with the Sherife’s desire to summon in the Country, with theire contribution and assistance, necessitated a joynte consent to stay there on Monday, the rather hopeinge diversion of danger from Namptwich, by prayinge the Governour, that they, at that place, might receave an allarum from Whitchurch Forces; but in steed of a support or countenance from that Quarter, the Forces there were disbanded, and to whatever accident we studie to impute the miscarriage of this Designe, that was the ruine of this, and (I pray God it prove not soe) of both Counties.

          “Theire whole force and power, beinge therebye let loose upon us, to assaile us on three sides, in an open towne, and where it was impossible for Horse to doe service, yet the imputation of the misfortune must be laid upon the Horse.

          “Theire dutie was not neglected.  On one passage to the enemie a Party of Dragoniers under Captaine Spotswood’s command was ordered to give them an alarum at Northwich (though with more caution than it was executed), the Lieutenant improvidently engageinge himself where he was expressly forbid, soe that way was secured.

          “Captaine Prestwich was lodged at the other passage, and his scoutes discovered them, though they followed soe close that they fell upon some of his Men, ‘ere they could cleere theire scattered quarters; but he chased them back to theire foote, rescued some prisoners, at the Bridge he wheeled aboute, and kept them at a stand, ‘till the Foote came down.

          “At theire approach before the Bridge from Northwich, the Welsh Forces advanced so unwillingly, though it were but to line hedges, that two troops of Horse, the Major’s and Captaine Bridgeman’s, were sent down to face the enemie in a narrow passage within half musket shott, where several of them were shott, otherwaies the Foote would not have advanced, nor stayed by it.  Bridgeman’s troop being called off to face the enemie from Namptwich, the Major’s Troope and the Gentlemen’s still made good the place, ‘till such time as all our foote beinge of the Welsh did, by Major Gillmore’s command, quit the passage***, and the Enemie’s musketeirs advanced on bothe sides of the lane, beyond the hedges, where they could not at all engage, and beat them back, that streete end beinge guarded by musketeirs in a breastwork, after oure discharging at random, quitt the work and runne away.

          “Another part of the Enemie approaching another passage called the Wallinch Bridge, Captaine Prestwich’s troope was commanded thither, to stay by the Foote, which was of Captaine Massie’s Company, which he alsoe did, ‘till all those Foote likewaies were commanded off, and made good theire retraite.

          “Upon the approache of the third Partie from Namptwich I appointed the two trayned Bands of two hundred Men to make good that avenew, being the streete end towards Booth Lane, which was well advantaged by ditches and bankes on bothe sides, which, with the addition of some small trenches, that they presentlie made, were convenientlie defensible, but those that would have stayed in them.

          “And to check theire approach, I drew out a Partie of sixtie commanded Horse, the other Troopes beinge to back them, into the lane; there beinge no other ground for Horse, and to make way for them to charge, I drewe off some commanded musketiers, six score before to line the hedges, that the Enemie might not take advantage of the ditches on bothe sides to gall the Horse, in the flank upon theire charge.

          “But the Enemie advancinge with a great Bodie of Musketeirs, on either side the lane, at a great distance before theire Horse; our Musketeirs, and the Leiutenant who commanded them, after the first fire given on them, fell down, and crept awaye leavinge theire Armes;  soe that the Enemie’s foote receavinge no check, our Horse could not charge, but to be flanked and cutt off by the Musketeirs on bothe sides the lane.

          “And Colonell Ellis havinge drawn a piece of Ordnance in the rear of our Horse, they were forced to wheel off, to let his Ordnance play,finding the greatest of their force and strength to be then coming upon them.

          “I then called a Partie of Captaine Spotswood’s Dragoniers to make good the Churchyarde, and placed a Guard in the Breastworks at the other end of the Towne, drew the other piece of Cannon to the Churchyarde, and planted it there with advantage, to scoure the streete.  They attempted to approach in.  I then brought up a Companie of Musketiers of Colonell Ellis, commanded by a Captaine, whom I knew not, to assist the two trayned Band Companies, whoe were to make good that passage, but these as soone as they came up neere to where the Cannon was pointed, laide themselves all downe in a sort of a Hollowe way and theire Arms bye them, soe that I was forced to ride amongst them, and with my sworde beate them up, and myself on horseback, brought them up to the hedge, where the other Musketeirs lay, but neither these or those did, or durst put up theire heads, but shott their pieces up into the ayre, no one Ffoote Officer beinge bye them, to ranke or order them.

          “Duringe all which time, my owne troope, Napper’s, Captaine Ratclyffes, and Lord Cholmeleye’s Troopes stoode directly in the reere of them, and not a Man moved, although divers of theire Horse were shott under them, ‘till our cannon made one shott, which grased a greate way short, and mounted over theire heads, and a second shott wente into a banke, not fourtie yards from the Cannoniere, at which the Enemie made greate shouteings, and advanced fast upon our ffoote, who all instantlie forsooke theire stand, and came awaye, leaveinge the Horse, within pistoll shott of the Enemie, though there was somewhat of a trench between them, at which the Horse wheeled back, but all men there must wittness, that I staied them per force, standinge fully exposed to shott, ‘till the Cannon was brought off, and noe one ffooteman left with it, but Colonell Ellis himself, who drew it off with his own hands, some of the horsemen helpinge to bring it off to the Church.

          “Before this, upon the falling of those of Broxton Hundred and the Welsh, from the first hedge, all the whole stand of pikes in the reere of the Horse, cleerly runne away, and all the Musketiers placed for the defence of the end of the streete, leading to Boothe Lane did quitt theire trenches, haveinge never discharged a shott, nor ever seene theire enemie, or any cause of feare but theire fellow’s flyinge.

          “The Horse then made an hastie, yet an orderly, retraite, into the Lewon (or London) streete, and soe passed to the Churchyarde, expecting to have founde it made good by the Parties left there for that purpose.

          “I found all the Foote wedged up in the Church, like billetts in a woodpile, noe one man at his Arms, trusting there only to the cannon to scoure the two cheife streetes which lay, with as much advantage as was possible for pieces to be placed; and that the enemie came down Dog Lane, as well as approaching by the principal streetes, and advanced briskly upon our Horse, who were in the condition of Sheepe in a penn, and quite exposed to slaughter, and frustrated of the use and effect of our Ordnance upon the Enemie.

          “I then commanded them to draw up in a field at the end of the towne, but that entrance being barricaded by Captaine Spotswood, occasioned a separation of them, that they dispersed several waies, and by reason of distress could not meet of three field’s breadth, and ‘till they came beyonde Kinderton House.

          “I nexte repayred to the cannon, I had placed to scoure the streetes, and founde no Cannonier with them, the other drawinge the cannon off, at which, being offended, he said he could not get one ffooteman to assist him; nor could I draw out ten musketiers foorthe from the Church, would it have saved the World.

          “Amongst these was even Colonell Ellis himself, the cannon being deserted entirelie, but as I understand now howe the matter was, I shall not now proceed to censures.

          “The Enemie falling directly in three streets upon mee, and likewaise attackinge mee in the Churchyarde, and the Horse beinge marched out of sighte, I quite alone, all I could possibly hope to doe was to reallie the Horse again if possible, to wheele aboute and fall on in the reere of them, but by reason of several crosse lanes, I had lost the whole Bodie of the Horse, save some few stragglers, with which I had smal hope to repell the Enemie that had expulsed us.

          “Perceaving that the Enemie had possessed the Towne, and hearinge that our Horse had turned towards Warrington, I sent a messenger after them to order them to reallie to Rudheath, intendinge to goe by Brereton, and with that convoye, to redeeme, and receave the addition of the Lord Brereton’s Forces.  But they were advanced (by whose conduct I know not) past recall;  yet I went to him, myself, bothe to give him an accompt of the Action, and to know his resolution.

          “Findinge his Lordship fixed, and that the Sheriffe and Sr Edward Fitton were gone towards Whitechurch, I repayred thither to see if the Gentlemen of that Countie were in a condition to lend any considerable assistance, whereby I might joyne with them; but there I found the trayne Bands disbanded, and a few Dragoniers in feare of dailie surprise, so hopeless of any present reliefe, I returned to trye to reallie my Men, desiringe, if I can be conceived to be noe further usefull, according to his Majestie’s command, I may repose in a quiett quarter to recreute my Men, and repayre to the Armie.

          “Where, or how, the occasion of this Disaster can fix on me, I shall gladlie be informed: The Designe, surely, was approved, and desired by All.

          “The staye at Middelwich was not occasioned by mee, it was necessarie, and was assented to by All, as the principal business, viz: the Lord Brereton’s Men, and his Magazines, lay there.

          “The intelligence fayled not, but was seasonable, though raw men, and unreadie Officers were long in answeringe the alarum, and drew out, without either powder or shott.

          “The Horse could doe noe more, unless there had beene a place for it, nor coulde anie horse suffer with more unmoved courage, ‘till they were cleerely deserted by the Foote; and I think noe man there will denie, but that I was, to my best, assisting in every parte of the Action, I came in the reere of the Horse, and was the last Horseman in the towne.

          “This is the plaine truth, the Enemie haveinge no diversion, but at libertie, with theire full power to fall on us from all partes, were much too hard for us, in a place not defensible, and without some more experienced foote officers, I must freely say, noe number will be found sufficient to withstand readie men.

          “If the event of  an enterprise must condemne the man who is not successfull in it, I may very justly affirm that the service of this Countrie will be but a very uncomfortable undertakinge.

          “But I cannot believe that clamour or malice will soe far prevail as to take any impressions with your Lordships, untill you are satisfied of some particular wherein I have failed of my Dutie, more than that it hath been my unhappiness or improvidence, or bothe, to expose myself to play an after-game, soe oft for the redemption of my Countrie, to which extremitie, your Lordships can witness, that it was not brought by the consent, or default of your humble servant

                                                                                                                Thomas Aston

Pulforde, March 17, 1642

 

As written out from records by P. Cowper, Battle of Middlewich Civil War AD 1642, record kept by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies

During our research we discovered that the timeline was not straightforward, as a different calendar was used in the 17th century. The New Year fell on March 25th, so the first battle was 1642 but the second battle of 1643 was in fact only nine months later.

BATTLE OF MIDDLEWICH – MARCH 1642

Extracted from copies of original documents and letters to the House of Commons, by Allan Earl

Many churches, throughout their long history, suffer damage by natural causes, death-watch beetle and lightning, other churches less fortunate have the ravages of war as well, and the accompanying degradation inflicted upon them.  Middlewich Parish Church is one of the latter cases.  The man made destruction occurred during a battle centred on Middlewich and particularly the Parish Church, in the Civil War of 1642.

During the period from 10th March to 13th March 1642, Sir Thomas Aston and his Royalist forces occupied Middlewich, they plundered the town generally, taking all moveable’s, the Church plate was stolen and anything else from the Church that was worth taking.

The Royalist forces had marched from Chester without provisions and without having been paid that particular week, resulting in two troops of horse waiting to guard provisions and money through Delamere Forest.  The Parliamentary Forces, with Sir William Brereton in command, appeared before the town on 12th March, having ridden from Northwich with several troops of horse and dragooners.  Sir William Brereton was waiting for foot soldiers to march from Nantwich to join him.

On 13th March, the town was attacked on three sides, the skirmishes beginning at 6 o’clock in the morning, several passes being made from the Northwich end of the town (Wheelock Street) by Sir William Brereton’s horsemen, together with some shots being discharged from the Parliamentary cannon. Some four hours later at approx. 10 o’clock in the morning, the reinforcing Parliamentary forces from Nantwich arrived, the horse skirmishes ceased at this point, light casualties only having been inflicted, and the battle began in earnest.

The town was attacked simultaneously on three sides; in the first instance the Parliamentary forces advanced down what is now called Spital Hill to Wheelock Bridge, the road, narrow with deep ditches on either side, falling into the Wheelock, was defended by two troops of horse in front of a breast work of musketeers, entrenched somewhere in the region of the junction of Croxton Lane and Chester Road.  The Parliamentarians attacked with foot soldiers, who crept along the hedges that bordered the side of the ditch and shot into the two troops of Royalist horse, the remaining horse fell back to the breast work, but by this time this also had been outflanked by the Parliamentary foot, and in seeing this, the defending musketeers threw down their arms and fled in the direction of the town.

In the second instance the attacking forces advanced to Wall-inch Bridge (Wallange – Nantwich Road).  This particular party consisted of musketeers without horse support, and the defenders were also foot soldiers only, of Captain Massey’s company, but before a troop of horse, commanded by Captain Prestwich, could come to the rescue of their musketeers, who were being attacked with great determination, they fell back and were put to a hasty retreat in the direction of the Wall-croft – the present day King Edward Street area.

The attack from the South was by far the most savage engagement of the day.  The fighting began in Booth Lane, this being narrow with deep ditches on either side and tall hedges flanking the ditches, there was also a network of ditches – from surrounding fields – falling into the main ditches; this made this approach to the town easier to defend.  Sir Thomas Aston had 120 men with muskets in the ditches and hedges together with 60 horsemen in the lane, all this being backed by cannon and pike-men, and situated where Booth Lane joins Lewin Street.

The Parliamentarians advanced with a large number of musketeers at a great distance in front of their own horsemen, and at some distance on either side of Booth Lane.  The numbers were too large for the defenders and the first line of ditches were outflanked, at this point an unknown captain commanding a band of defending musketeers threw himself into a large hollow in the ground, his men quickly followed suit and this gave the attackers a chance to breach the defences and this they did, to fall straight into the path of Sir Thomas Aston’s cannon and trained band of pike-men, after some fierce fighting, the defenders retreated to Lewin Street, expecting to have been prepared for defence at the Church-yard boundaries, this was not so, and Sir Thomas Aston and Col. Ellis themselves pulled back their own cannon, so that it was directed down Lewin Street.

The situation was now that the Royalists were in close proximity to the Church-yard and had one cannon pointing in the direction of Wheelock Street, one pointing south to Lewin Street and the majority of horse, musketeers and pike-men defending the Church-yard and Church itself.

Sir William Brereton’s men had now advanced from Wheelock Bridge to the Church, from the Wallange to the Wall-croft and Queen Street (formerly Dog Lane) and from Booth Lane to Lewin Street.  He pressed the attack and his men fought hand to hand in the Church itself and in the steeple; a large portion of the armorial glass was smashed and there was general destruction.  It is estimated that 10 people lost their lives and the Royalists forces surrendered. Their commander Sir Thomas Aston and a party of horse escaping by way of Kinderton and King Street to Chester.  Sir William Brereton took a total of 500 prisoners, including Col. Ellis, Sir Edward Moseley, Sergeant Major Gilner and ten other officers, together with a large store of arms and magazine including cannons.

Some days after the battle Sir William Brereton wrote a letter to a friend in London describing the battle and saying:  “We could not (uphold) the Sabbath, for we were too busy preparing for the engagement and observing the enemy, so that they did not plunder the countryside.”  There was a thanksgiving service for the victory in Nantwich Parish Church.

 

Additional information on the outcome of the first battle comes from R N Dore, The Civil Wars in Cheshire pgs. 26-27.

‘The triumphant parliamentarians had come huzzaing up Booth’s Lane to swarm around the church.  Major Lothian briskly blew in the main door with a petard and the invaluable Colonel Ellis, a large number of Cheshire officers and the greater part of the trained bands surrendered.  Really the royalist party in Cheshire never recovered from this rather ludicrous disaster and was not able to take the field again except under cover of powerful forces from outside.  Sir Thomas Aston’s career as its leader was definitely over.  His second appearance within two months entirely unattended by any of the troops under his command was too much for those in Chester. 

 

As for the fortunes of William Brereton, Dore writes;

‘Shortly after Middlewich, Parliament proclaimed Brereton commander of the Cheshire forces.  Up to this time he had been only one of the deputy lieutenants and Cheshire had been grouped first in the Northern Association under Lord Fairfax and then in the West Midland Association under Lord Denbigh’.