Battle of Hoole Heath

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John Barratt's "The Great Siege of Chester" (2003) is one of the standard works on its subject.

During the Civil War the Chester endured a long and damaging siege before surrendering to the Parliamentary forces in February 1646. A battle was fought on 24th September 1645 and is generally known as the Battle of Rowton Moor (or Rowton Heath), with some of the fighting being said to have taken place on or near "Hoole Heath". Locating the "Battle of Hoole Heath" is not simple. Nathaniel Lancaster (chaplain to Sir William Brereton and the Cheshire regiment) rather unhelpfully wrote:

  • "we slew them with a great slaughter on the ground, and chased them all over the Countrie".

One hundred years ago, in 1923, the work of Rupert Hugh Morris (1843-1918) was published postumously in the Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society. This was after some editing by P. A. Lawson. Morris' paper was the first "modern" study of the details of the Siege of Chester. It contains the following semi-quotation:

  • "..a considerable portion of the garrison, with Lord Gerrard and Lord Lichfield were ordered to pursue, passing throughthe Northgate round by Flookers brook, as the direct way by the Eastgate had been blocked up. Before they could learn their mistake, Poyntz fell upon Langdale, who was then compelled to meet his assault in front as well as Colonel Jones’ attack in rear, and notwithstanding a gallant resistance, he was routed and forced to retire in the direction of Hoole Heath." (JCAS 25, Vol 25, pp 1-101)

This article looks at what is known about the "Battle of Hoole Heath" one hundred years after Morris and how more might be discovered.


Morris, a clergyman, uses Ormerod (1785-1873) as one of his sources. Ormerod in his turn probably used Edward Burghall (d.1665) whose diary was incorporated into later variants on the "Vale Royal" of Daniel King (d.1664). The quote above from Ormerod also could be taken directly from the earlier (1790) work of John Broster. Broster, printer and bookseller of Chester, lived at Brook Lodge, Flookersbrook and was an Alderman of the City as well as a local "antiquary".

Later historians such as John Barratt rely to some extent upon Morris. Fortunately Ormerod was able to correct many of the errors in Broster's original account of the siege of Chester, such as Broster getting many of his dates a year out. Morris (and his editor Lawson) were able to make further corrections based on documents available to them. Twists and turns of the process of getting from the original documentary evidence relating to Hoole Heath to modern accounts are discussed below, but it is mostly best decribed as "complicated" with later writers borrowing wholesale from earlier works and others re-issuing prior works with significant changes. An example of this is found in the account of the siege of Chester, which is printed in Ormerod's "Cheshire" and for which the un-named author is probably Dr William Cowper (1701-1767).

Broster's text on the Civil War has local connections but is somewhat less accurate than Barratt.

The people who took part in the siege are introduced below, but we can see in Morris the mention of Hoole Heath. Many modern-day history books and online sources refer to the latter stages of the Battle of Rowton having taken place on Hoole Heath. Some of these later works have a fairly carefree attitude to where Hoole Heath actually was. At least one work seemingly places it near Mickle Trafford. An examination of the original sources and later works which quote them reveals how these views have developed and that there is possibly more to be discovered.

This article looks briefly to the context of this local battle in the broader scheme of events, i.e. to the extent necessary to understand why the battle was fought. There is a vast literature on the rest of the Civil War. This article looks mostly at the various stages of Rowton Moor and the fighting at Hoole. It also looks at the evidence that the fighting at "Hoole Heath" possibly lasted for a longer duration than that at Rowton Moor and that the Hoole Heath part of the battle deserves further attention, possibly including a search for a more precise location for the fighting. In comparing the various sources for the events of the day it is evident that there are inconsistencies and indeed contradictions in the accounts given of all stages of the series of clashes which made up the day of "Rowton Moor". It argues that any further research should firstly try to avoid relying on single literary sources where possible and secondly attempt to find physical evidence. This approach has worked well for the early stages of the battle, as will be discussed in some detail below.


Morris is an excellent starting point for enquiries into the events at Chester, but is in some cases less discriminating as to his own sources. As an example he relates the details of the "Cholmondeley Rising" without criticism.

Nothing remains of the once spectacular Cholmondeley house which once stood in what is now Grosvenor Park. One of the buildings on the eastern side of St Johns was St Anne’s, a fraternity guild house and chapel. The fraternity was dissolved in 1547 and the building wa purchased by Sir Hugh Cholmondeley and converted into his town house. This house was supposedly the scene of a violent skirmish in 1641, immediately prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and at the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1641. According to the commonly told tale, at the time of the Irish rising a party of armed "Catholics" were intercepted here by the City trained band. The resulting fire fight left several dozen dead and the rebels either captured or fled. However a look at the general circumstances tends to support the view that the skirmish never, in fact, took place, and reveals a case of what appears to be "fake news".

For the further detail of the "fake news" story see the page on Cholmondeley. As reported in Tracts relating to the civil war in Cheshire, it had supposedly been ordered by Parliament that all Papists should be disarmed, but those in Cheshire refused to obey so the Trained Bands (the local Militia) were employed to search for the culprits with instructions to destroy the houses of any who declined to yield, and on 20th November 1641 :

McGahey's "Balloon View" of Chester (c.1853) shows a house on the Cholmondeley site in Grosvenor Park.
  • "..the Papists, having obtained news of this intention, gathered themselves together at the Cholmondeley mansion, and in the night sallied out and commenced to attempt to batter down the walls of the city. Unsurprisingly, this made "a very great noise" and soon drew the attention of the City Watch, who were "very much amazed" but, being mostly elderly men, retreated to the city gate where they loudly cried out "treason, treason, against the city!". By the time the Trained Bands were alerted, most of the party had escaped, but two stragglers who were captured said that the rest were running to Lord Cholmondeley's house. They were pursued and taken at the gate as the guard on duty at it had thought the fugitives belonged to the Trained Band and would not allow them to pass through to safety. The fugitives were arrested and a strong guard left at the house so that none of the Papists there might leave. After the prisoners had been "lay'd fast" the Trained Bands returned to the house and demanded admittance which was refused. Muskets were discharged at the house and when part of it had been battered down, Lord Cholmondeley escaped by a postern door which opened on to the fields. Most of the Trained Band then went into the house and searched it, and coming into a private wood-house there, to their horror came face to face with 50 Papists with charged muskets. These were discharged and 25 of them were killed. The Papists retreated through a back door out of the wood-house but were met by the remainder of the Trained Band and a battle ensued. At length the Papists were routed and "trusted to the swiftness of their feet", but 19 of them, including their leader, Henry Starkey, were nontheless shot in the back. These unfortunates were later "buried in the highway together"

There are several things which are at once suspicious about it: despite the considerable number of fatal casualties (at least 44) there seems to be no record of it in the Chester Corporation or Mayor's papers, or indeed in any other contemporaneous account. The very idea that a relatively small number of people could pull down the City Walls without being prevented seems absurd. Cholmondeley, who was in the upper ranks of the Royalist command structure, seems to have suffered no negative consequences. There is also the rather remarkable potency of the catholic weapons - 50 "papists" in a woodshed discharge a volley and kill 25 of the Trained Band (even at close quarters this is remarkable shooting, and makes no mention of how many of the Trained Band were "merely" wounded) and then, with empty weapons, all 50 "Papists" manage to scatter through a back door.

What is interesting in the present context is that this fake assault took place very close to the real assault on the walls which led to the events of Rowton Moor and the fighting at or near Hoole Heath.


The local battle at Rowton Moor is useful in understanding both the broader conduct of the first stage of the Civil War and the particular conflict in Cheshire. Early in the war, the towns of Nantwich, Knutsford and Chester declared a state of armed neutrality, and initially excluded both parties as it was hoped the conflict would end soon. Charles had visited Chester 23-28 September 1642 (three years before Rowton) to secure support and there was soon a clear polarisation between Royalist interests in the city and Parliamentary interests in the county. It was this first moderately successful visit that was depicted in the Chester Pageant 1937 rather than his later visit (1645) which was portrayed in the 1910 Chester Pageant.

Pike, Musket and Horse (see also: Militia)

Pike and shot was a historical infantry tactical formation that first appeared during the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and was used until the development of the bayonet in the late 17th century. This type of formation combined soldiers armed with initially long pikes and soldiers armed with slow-loading and hence slow-firing arquebuses and/or muskets. The proportions varied and the ratio of firearms became larger as time progressed. Bayonets were issued to part of an English dragoon regiment raised in 1672, and to the Royal Fusiliers when raised in 1685. Prior to this the primary infantry weapon had already become firearms rather than the pike by the start of the Civil War, where both sides preferred a ratio of two guns to one pike.

One purpose of pike-men was to protect the foot-troops armed with long-barreled firearms from cavalry. The cavalry were now beginning to be armed with firearms as Harquebusiers and so could ride-up discharge their pistols or sometimes short-barreled carbines at close range and then retreat. Cavalry troops made up around a third of a 17th Century army. The Royalists tended to favour a fast charge armed with swords and keeping their firearms for the melee, but the Royalists problem was discipline – after charging and smashing their opponents, the cavalry would keep riding and not return to battle until it was often too late. The Parliamentary cavalry preferred a slower pace. In order to charge the cavalry required open ground, such as a heath.

King Charles at Hoole?

It is in association with this first visit of King Charles I in 1642 that we encounter the first "Civil War" mention of Hoole Heath. This is a proclamation by the Trained Bands which begins:

Key locations in the Civil War 1644-45. The location of Chester is also shown.
  • "TO THE KINGS MOST EXCELLENT MAIESTY. THE HƲMBLE GRATƲLATION; AND Petition of the Trained Bands, and Freeholders, and others the Gentry, and Communalty of the County Palatine of Chester, whose Names are vnder-written. Delivered vpon Hoole-Heath, by the Trayned Bands, a Coppie of the same being hung upon the top of every Co∣lours; Subscribed by the severall Companies, and so Presented to the KING." (London, Printed for M. T. 1642)

The occasion of this is found in "A true relation of his Majesty's coming to the town of Shrewsbury on the 20th of this instant, September, and his passage from thence, the 23rd day, to the city of Chester, with the manner of his entertainment there. Together with the L. Grandison's surprising Nantwich, and the plundering of divers houses thereabouts" which informs us (on 24th September 1642):

  • "This day all betwixt the age of sixteen and sixty years, of the trained bands of the county, are summoned to appear before his Majestie, at Hoole Heath, two miles from Chester." (quoted in Parry, pg 335)

Membership of the Trained Bands was compulsory for freeholders, householders and their sons (well to do people, men with some money, etc). In Cheshire, for example, there was a Nantwich Trained Band, a Macclesfield Trained Band and so on. The Chester (Cheshire) Trained Bands of 1638 consisted of 599 men armed with 359 muskets and 240 corslets (body armour, signifying pikemen). However the Parliamentary side had many supporters in the county and it is likely that many of the Trained Band members joined them.

It is easy to assume that the king was himself at Hoole Heath for the presentation of the "proclamation", but this is nowhere explicitly stated. It may well be that the heath was simply a mustering point for the forces and that there was a symbolic presentation. What this does tell us is that the existence of the heath was known to the forces and that it was a suitable place to gather. En-route to Chester for his visit the king had met with other forces on heath-lands at Milton Green and elsewhere.

One consequence of the king's visit was the explulsion of parliamentary supporters from the city. The king's orders survive in the form of a letter:

  • "These are to will and require you and euery of you, takinge unto you or euery of you the Assistance of the Sherriffs of Our Citty of Chester, and such other Power of Our sayd Citty as the sayd Maior thereof, Earle of Darby, Earl Rivers, Lo : viscount Cholmondeley, Robert Brerewood, Recorder, William Gamull, Charles Walley and Thomas Thropp, Aldermen of our sayd Citty, or euery of you shall thinke meete, as soone as conveniently you may to search the seuerall Houses of S ’r William Brereton, Baronett, William Edwards, Alderman, and Thomas Aldersey, Alderman, the Red Lyon and the Golden Lyon, scituate in Our sayd Cilty, Wherein you or euery of you shall suspect to bee any Armes or Amunition intended to be used against vs or any Person or Persons deriving authority from vs, or against any Our lotting subjects : And all such armes and Amunition that you or euery of you shall find vpon yo’r sayd search, to seize and take into yo’r Custodies for the vse of vs, to be disposed of as Wee shall appoint. Giuen at Our Court att Chester this 26th of September in the Eighteenth yeare of Our Raigne [1642]."

The Course of the War

After an indecisive clash near Edge Hill in Warwickshire on Sunday, 23 October 1642 it became clear that neither side had well-organised forces and that the roughly equal numbers could mean the war would drag on ruinously for years.

A "Cheshire" treaty of sorts was actually signed on the 23rd December 1642 after discussions at Bunbury. This envisaged a cessation of conflict, exchange of prisoners and destruction of the "lately built" fortifications of Cheshire towns. There was too much local distrust for the treaty to last and it was entirely unsupported by either the King or Parliament. An essentially local war ground on in Cheshire through 1643 and at the end of that year the Royalists appeared to have the upper hand but their efforts collapsed and Chester was besieged for the first time. In fits, starts and occasional withdrawls the siege slowly tightened on Chester with the war in the south of England being a largely separate conflict.

Further details of the conduct of the Civil War in Cheshire can be found under Brereton.

A conjectural plan of the Civil War defences of Chester (other versions exist with slightly different lines for the fortifications), which included a salient to protect parts of what was then Flookersbrook and is now Hoole. Flookersbrook Hall is indicated by the number 24. By the time of the battle of Rowton Heath the outworks to the NNW had been abandoned. During 1645 Colonel Jones of the Parliamentary forces successively took the defences at Boughton ("The Mount") and at The Bars (14). Nothing of these earthworks is known to survive today, although the portway for guns survives between Parkgate Road and Liverpool Road.

In July 1644, a Parliamentarian force under Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell secured control of Northern England by victory at Marston Moor. However, this was offset first by defeat at Lostwithiel in September, then lack of decisiveness at the Second Battle of Newbury in October. At the outset of 1645, the Royalist high command was divided on strategy. Prince Rupert of the Rhine, recently appointed senior commander, wanted to link up with his brother Prince Maurice at Chester and from there retake the north, a key source of recruits and supplies. A faction headed by Lord Digby considered the New Model Army a major threat to their capital at Oxford, and wanted to use the limited resources to counter that threat. A third group preferred to consolidate control of the West Country where Parliament had a stronghold at Taunton. Prince Rupert moved north to attack Leicester and his scouts encountered the Parliamentary forces at Daventry. This led to the Battle of Naseby (14th June 1645) which was a disaster for the Royalists.

After Naseby the 1st Civil War was effectively over, but Charles would fight a few relatively "minor" battles of which Rowton is often described as being one. However, the battle was part of a series of events that would have far-reaching consequences.

The king would surrender on 5th May 1646. A Second English Civil War took place between February and August 1648 in England and Wales. This led to the execution of Charles and the establishment of the Commonwealth.

In Scotland, Charles II became the new king, the resulting tensions leading to the Third English Civil War in 1650-52. After in-fighting between factions in Parliament and the army, Cromwell ruled over the Commonwealth as Lord Protector from December 1653 until his death in September 1658. In 1660 Charles II returned from exile initiating the Restoration.

Civil War Hoole

With the growing prospect of a civil war and an invasion by the Scots, measures were taken to improve the city's defences as early as 1640. On 18th September 1640 the corporation ordered repairs to the Eastgate, Newgate, and Bridgegate, as well as a few weeks later seeing to the provision of arms, and in 1641 it allocated all customs duties on wine imports (prisage) to the renovation of the walls. An additional assessment of 100 marks was granted in 1642. From the later 16th century the Assembly controlled a growing number of charities, many founded to benefit freemen or their families, and some of which also provided for payments to the mayor, aldermen, or officers, or endowed a civic feast. By the outbreak of the Civil War the city had spent over £2,000 of the capital sums belonging to one particular type, the loan charities, on defensive works and munitions.

A plan of the Civil War defences of Chester as given Ormerod but based on the work of William Cowper. This shows a different version of the fortifications including Flookersbrook Hall.

In February 1643 work had begun on protecting some of the suburbs of Chester by banking-up an earth rampart to adsorb artillery fire. At this time the seige was not particularly close as the Parlimentary forces were insufficiently strong to hold off a relieving army or enforce a total blockade. The besieged at times grazed their cattle in Hoole, and at least one ship landed stores of powder and match. A major salient was planned to enclose Flookersbrook Hall which made little sense in military terms and was simply an attempt to protect what someone of influence considered valuable property. Just who was involved in this decision is not known. The land at Flookersbrook was held by the Massey family of Kelsall prior to 1450 and later passed to the Bruens of Tarvin and the Sneyds before being bought by Sir Lawrence Smith (or Smythe) of Hough, 1516–82 (1st MP for Chester 1545). He built the first Flookersbrook Hall, slightly to the north of the present Hall, which land remained in that family until just after the Civil War, but was at lease at the time of the fortification (to "Shingleton", according to Morris). The relations of the Smiths and the gentry of Cheshire show the usual complexity.

The extent to which these works were completed is unknown but by late 1643 the Royalists were under increasingly heavy pressure and the extensive outworks could no longer be defended. The "Great Siege of Chester" (John Barratt) states that on 16th November Sir Abraham Shipman the deputy governor of Chester decided the present outworks could not be defended. The reasons for this are quite understandable: on Sunday 12 November 1643, Royalists sallied out of Chester towards Tarvin — which was garrisoned by Parliament under the command of Captain Gerard — but the Royalists were intercepted at Stamford Bridge on the River Gowy and prevented from crossing it. The two sides skirmished all the afternoon but then Parliamentary reinforcements from Cholmondeley arrived to assist Gerard and they drove the Royalists back, following them to Boughton and into Gorse Stacks, where the Parliamentarians killed some of the Royalists right under the city walls. The Parliamentarians' only casualty was one man wounded.

The same defences on a modern map - this is highly speculative and is only intended to give a general impression.

Shipman therefore gave orders to a tough, non-local veteran of the Irish Wars (1642-3), Colonel John Marrow, who commanded a Regiment of Horse (previously Lord Cholmondley’s Regiment of Horse, later Colonel Robert Werden’s Regiment of Horse), to burn "unknown to the Mayor", the suburb of Handbridge. The next day Bache and Flookersbrook Halls were both burnt, as part of a "scorched-earth" policy by the defenders of Chester as the Royalists retreated from Hoole to a defensive line now followed (roughly) by the canal. However within a year Marrow's career would come to an abrupt end when he was shot retreating from Tarvin towards Chester. While he was carried alive to Chester he died the next day (for further information, including an abstract of his will, see the Cheshire Sheaf (3rd Series), vol. i., p. 78.). As for Shipman, he would serve briefly as governor of Chester and would survive until the Restoration, when he would be granted the govenorship of Bombay. A series of disagreements and misunderstandings with the viceroy on-site prevented his taking-over Bombay from the Portugeuse, and Abraham died of fever on 6 April 1664 on the island of Anjediva together with over 300 of his 500 men.

In February 1645 the Royalists had been defeated at Christleton and William Brereton established his headquarters there. Prince Maurice arrived in February/March with a relief force and the Parliamentarians retired to their forfified camps elsewhere in the county, such as at Tarvin. Christleton was burnt by the Royalists, with the only surviving buildings from the time before the Civil War being the church, the glass house, the manor house and the Old Hall. Maurice left the following month taking 1200 veteran Irish troops with him and leaving just 600 regular troops and some armed citizens as garrison, much to the chagrin of the local Royalist commaander, Lord John Byron. The situation in early September was therefore that the City of Chester and its outworks were under a loose siege with a route still open to Wales across the River Dee.

At some point the Parliamentary military commanders in Cheshire evidently decided on a a rather more determined assault on the City. At the time Brereton was in London, dealing with the issues raised by the Self-denying Ordinance, under which all members of the House of Commons or Lords who were also officers in the Parliamentary army or navy were required to resign one or the other, within 40 days from 3 April 1645. Brereton was still a contraversial figure as some on his own side considered he was a poor commander. It may be that there were those in the Cheshire command who wished to see the City taken before Brereton's return.

The Prelude to Rowton

In mid-1645 the Royalist troops had been badly mauled at the Battle of Naseby (14 June) and Langport (10 July). Charles believed he had supporters in Scotland but had been prevented from joining with them and thereafter maintained a stronghold in Wales. He had retreated from most of England, but still hoped to link up with his allies in the north, bring in further troops from Ireland and then perhaps drag victory from the jaws of defeat. Bristol had fallen (10 September) and so King Charles's only port for Ireland was Chester, then besieged by Parliamentary forces after much fighting for strategic control of Cheshire.

King Charles took a route north from Hereford through Wales via Presteigne, Newtown, Llanfyllin and Chirk, before reaching Chester.

Many accounts state that bad news from Cheshire - that the city might be about to fall - arrived while Charles was still in South Wales. These sources argue that Charles gathered what men he could and marched north along the Welsh border in the hope of relieving Chester and consolidating his forces with those of his supporters in Scotland, particularly Montrose. His course northward was paralleled by parliamentary forces under Sydnam Poyntz who had been instructed to prevent Charles from breaking out into the Midlands. It is not known to what extent Poyntz was aware of the royal progress through Wales or when the Parliamentary forces in Cheshire had any knowledge that Charles was heading in their direction in an attempt to reach Scotland.

Slingsby's diary records how food was short and other difficulties were encountered on the King's march:

  • "By ye wayes we took through ye almost inaccessible mountains of Wales, yt we heard no more of Poyntz, nor did he trouble us much till we got to Chester; and though he troubled us not, yet found we both loss and trouble in our passage: loss in our horses, many of ym tireing so, yt ye Troopers were fain to forsake ym. In our Quarters we had little accommodation, but of all ye places we came to ye best at Old Radnor, where ye King lay in a poor low chamber, and my Lord of Linsey and others by ye Kitching fire on hay: no better were we accommodated for victuals: which makes me remember this passage; while ye King was at his supper eating a pullet and a piece of cheese, ye room without was full but ye men’s stomachs empty for want of meat. Ye good wife troubled wth continual calling upon her for victuals, and having it seems but ye one cheese, comes into ye room where ye King was, and very soberly asks if ye King had done with ye cheese for ye gentlemen wthout desired it. But ye best was we never tarried long in any place, & therefore might we more willingly endure one night’s hardship in hopes that ye next might be better." (Slingsby pg. 167ff)

The most trustworthy account, The Diary of the Marches of the Royal Army During the Great Civil War by Richard Symonds states that only while at Chirk Castle, did Charles learn that Boughton had been overrun and that Chester itself (whose walls had been breached) might soon fall. He hastened northward to the beleaguered city, arriving on 23 September 1645.

Other accounts state that Charles first heard of the potential fall of Chester at Raglan Castle on the 18th September, on the River Wye or at Presteigne when a messenger arrived to inform Charles that "part of the outworks of Chester were betrayed to the enemy", possibly leading to a decision to march on Chester on 18th September, although these accounts seem mistaken as at that time Chester had not actually even been assaulted.

A further theory is that Charles "diverted his planned course" to come to the aid of Chester. This may be true to some extent. The presence of Parliamentary forces in Cheshire had not stopped Prince Rupert moving through the eastern part of Cheshire en-route to his Lancashire campaign of the previous year and retreating via Chester itself after his defeat at Marston Moor. There is certainly no evidence that Charles planned to cross from Chirk to an east-coast route to Scotland.

An earlier map shows how Charles' route through Wales to Chester used roads which are not marked on the modern map given above. His stopping places are marked as red dots.

Discrepancies between dates and times in the various contemporary and more modern accounts of the battle confuse matters considerably as regards what happened where and when, both in the days leading up to the battle and on the day itself.

From the "Diary of Marches" we are given the following:

  • Mon 15th Sept - the King is at Hereford;
  • Tue 16th Sept - still at Hereford;
  • Wed 17th Sept - En route
  • Thu 18th Sept - King reaches Presteigne in Radnorshire;
  • Fri 19th Sept - Marched to Newtown in Montgomery
  • Sat 20th Sept - Rested
  • Sun 21st Sept - Arrived Llanfyllin in Montgomery
  • Mon 22nd Sept - Charles arrives at Chirk, much of the Horse makes a night march to Holt

As noted above and as indicated by the map much of this journey was over mountains (although older maps show that at least some roads were available), and both the troops and their horses would have had little rest as well as problems acquiring supplies along the route. This is about 20 miles a day which is acceptable for cavalry with rest days, but possibly pushing it for foot-soldiers and any baggage train.

On The Day

Whatever the reason for his decision to head north, when Charles left Chirk on the 23rd September he was aware that the situation in Chester was dire. This is where the various accounts of the events can start to get particularly murky with many earlier works (and even more modern texts) containing what are most likely errors as they disagree in substance. Several local history writers have Rowton Moor taking place on the 27th September when the Phoenix Tower carries a plaque which reads: "KING CHARLES STOOD ON THIS TOWER SEPT 24th 1645 AND SAW HIS ARMY DEFEATED ON ROWTON MOOR".

The Royalists

On the final approach to Chester Charles had split his forces. Some accounts (see for example the BCW Project) state that "before dawn" on the 24th, Sir Marmaduke Langdale brought his scratch army of 3,000 Royalist horse across the Dee at Holt Bridge. As will be seen this timing is suspect. Other accounts say that Langdale crossed the Dee using a bridge of boats somewhere between Chester and Holt. This was the vast majority of Charles' force and Charles himself had only taken about 500 on to Chester including his Lifeguard of Horse and Lord Gerard's cavalry. Langdale's plan was to concentrate near the city and fall upon the rear of the Parliamentarians besieging Chester, crushing their smaller force between his larger Royalist cavalry and the Chester garrison, while preventing the besiegers and their siege-train (guns etc.) escaping to a defendable base at Tarvin.

Holt Castle, near where Langdale crossed the Dee.

However, this Royalist plan to relieve Chester failed to take into account Sydnam Poyntz and his 3,000 cavalry. Evidently, the Royalists assumed Poyntz had lost track of them during the Royalist march through Wales. This assumption was mistaken, and as Charles entered Chester, Poyntz's shadowing force arrived in Whitchurch, approximately 20 miles from Chester. Here Poyntz was found by two messengers which Jones had sent out from Chester. After hearing about the situation, Poyntz promised to advance on Chester "with a considerable body of horse", which encouraged the Parliamentarians around Chester to continue the siege. Poyntz would undertake a night march which left Whitchurch just after midnight. However, a message back to Chester, sometimes said to have been intercepted by Sir Richard Lloyd (governor of Holt Castle), revealed to the Royalists that Poyntz would be coming up the Whitchurch Road (A41) and Marmaduke Langdale therefore changed his plans and deployed to intercept Poyntz. Exactly when and where the Royalists heard of Poyntz approach is unclear, but it seems that Langdale must have already been somewhere south-east of Chester. Barratt in "The Great Siege Of Chester" (2003) has Langdale bivouacked for the night of the 23rd/24th on Hatton Heath, about five miles south-east of Chester. Confusingly, other accounts have Poyntz breakfasting there in the morning before encountering Langdale. It is a reasonable assumption that the messengers sent out by Jones were returning to him with news from Poyntz and that one of them was intercepted.

Notably, Langdale changed his plans about who he was about to attack without imediately informing king Charles. It would only be later, after the initial contact, that he would send to Chester with news. However those in Chester would have been aware when and roughly where fighting started as the firearms of the time produced copious quantities of gunsmoke which would have been visible from the city in roughly the direction of Beeston Castle.

The Parliamentarians

The location of the besiegers to the east of Chester on the day of the battle is not known with certainty. The majority could have been at Boughton or they could have been at The Bars or even closer. On 20th September 1645 Parliamentarian Colonel Michael Jones had led a determined surprise assault on Chester's outer defences with 700 infantry and 700 horse and dragoons and stormed the eastern suburbs of Boughton. At the time the breaching of the outer defences at Boughton, the subsequent attempt to relieve Chester leading to the rapid arrival of other forces and a battle were seen as a single connected set of events: something which is often forgotten today.

Special signage in the Roman Gardens explains how the walls were breached but fails to give the important context that Charles arrived in Chester later the same day and the day after that fought the Battle of Rowton Moor.

The initial assault is described in the contempory document "Three Great Victories", which has every appearance of being a verbatim report collected in Chester, and reports events thus:

  • "On Friday last September 19. 1645. We called a Councell of Warre in the Leaguer before Beeston Castle, to consult a∣bout the marching to Chester, to storm that Garison, and and concluded that it should be done forthwith: So we stole away from the Leaguer that night, the Enemy within the Ca∣stle knowing nothing at all of the businesse; and drew off a∣bout 1300. horse and foot from the Siege, Collonel Jones commanded the horse, and Adjutant Generall Louthany the foot, and the next morning before the Enemie were awake, we came upon them, having marched all that night through the Moores, passing over the River at Hupley, and so on by the way of Wareton, nor so much as staying at Christleton to refresh our selves, lest by our stay we should lose the oppor∣tunitie, or be discovered. We marched that night about eight miles, and passed before break of day between Christleton and Huntington, and so on to Boughton, all which we carried on so private, that the Enemy had not so much as an alarme in the City. We came before the City on the North east side thereof, where we made no stop, but presently fell to storming, and by break of day were got upon their Works, and many of us got over in severall places, before they heard any thing of us; we took all their workes betweene Cowland and Boughton, quite to the walles of the City, the enemy still flying before us, we pursued them to the inner works which they shut up against us, but we forced open the gates at the barres, and still fol∣lowed them, driving them into the East gate, which we had prevented them of, had we not been stopped by the fastning of the gate which they did to gain opportunity to flye into the city; we lost in all this, not above 2 men killed many wounded, the enemy carried away their dead all but one body, many of note on their side are wounded, and we believe many slain, two of their great Workes we have taken, and all that side of the Suburbs, and doubt not but in short time to give a good ac∣compt of the whole Town. The Enemie within we hear, are about 1000. many Malignants are in the Town, we hope we shall be able to go on, if the Kings whole strength come not against us, and we have no relief to oppose them, or relieve us. Money our souldiers want much, yet will not our Comman∣ders in chief, suffer any of them to plunder the Inhabitants of any thing, nor to drive away their Cattle. One part of the Enemie fled into S. Warburge Minster some at the East Gate, and some at Newgate; we have gained all between the Rack and the Gate going to S. Warburge, for the Northgate we doubt not but we shall soon determine that, and are sending in a summons for the surrender of the Citie and Castle, which we hope to give a good accompt of. We have taken the Barres, and the inner. Workes there, and the Majors House, where we took his Sword, and his Mace."

The "gate going to S. Warburge" is presumably the Kaleyards Gate (although the Cathedral had not been "St Werburg" since before the Reformation). The dead from the first skirmish are said to be buried in St Giles Cemetery. As noted above the "mayor's house" on the corner of Dee Lane and Foregate Street was captured (and with it the civic sword and mace) and later became Brereton's forward headquarters. There are amusing descriptions of the mayor fleeing in his night-shirt leaving behind not only his regalia but also his wife.

Following this, cannon were set up at and near St Johns (including in the church tower) and a steady pounding of the walls began. It appears (according to Malbon) that this ordinance was brought up from Tarvin. On 22nd September a breach some 25 feet wide was made near the present-day "Roman Gardens" with thirty-two cannon shot. The subsequent Parliamentary assault on the city walls was repulsed by Lord Byron. Given that a "sniper" seemingly remained in St John they cannot have been repulsed far. Clearly there is some minor disagreement between when the various defences were breached and when Charles could have learned of these events, but the overall picture is fairly clear.

For reasons unknown Broster tells a completely different story to the apparently first-hand account in "Three Great Victories". In Broster's version Jones announces his arrival and asks, under a flag of truce, to speak to the major. He even provides a written summons to surrender! It is while the mayor is being found that:

  • "Before the Mayor could remit an answer, they privately divided into four squadrons, stormed the out-works and got possession, in some parts, even before the garison were aware of them, who erroneously placed confidence in the honor of the enemy, expecting them to wait for the Mayor and citizens' reply. They then, with triling loss, made themselves masters not only of Boughton, but likewise of Foregate-street, St. John's church, St. John's-street, Love lane, Barker's lane, and all the eastward suburbs in the Foregate-street."

Why Broster's text should very so much from other accounts (as given below) is not known, but serves as a useful illustration of why conclusions should not be based on a single document if alternative sources are available.

Navigation at the time would have been somewhat haphazard. This is a 1608 map showing Golborne brook connecting the Gowy and the Dee.


Clarendon's pro-Royalist account (published 1702-04) runs as follows, claiming that the King only arrived at Chirk in time for a battle by chance after deciding to head for Scotland some four days before:

  • ".. but rather to take a more secure passage through North Wales to Chester, and thence through Lancashire and Cumberland to find a passage into Scotland, unobstructed by any enemy that could oppose them. This counsel pleased; and within four days, though through very unpleasant ways, the King came within half a day's journey of Chester; which he found in more danger than he expected or suspected; for, within three days before, the enemy, out of their neighbour garrisons, had surprised both the outworks and suburbs of Chester, and had made some attempt upon the city, to the great terror and consternation of those within, who had been without apprehension of such a surprise. So that this unexpected coming of his majesty looked like a designation of Providence for the preservation of so important a place: and the besiegers were no less amazed looking upon themselves as lost, and the King's troops believed them to be in their power."

Taken at face value Clarendon suggests that Charles was unaware of the assault on Chester when he began his journey north.

Randle Holme another Royalist, gives an account of the approach of Jones quoted from Harl 2144 by Morris:

  • "who without any noise, by bywayes through the country in the dead of the night came undiscovered neer our cittj' and by break of day, September 20, 1645, stormed the suburbs. But more truly (if not by treachery) received into the possession a small mount neer Dee side at Boughton. From thence they set upon the main outgard, slew Ll. Aldersey, Captaine of the Watch, and put the rest, about sixteen men, to flight, and having possessed themselves by that means of all the mounts on that side the city, they with instruments which they had brought with them broke open the Turnpick gates, through which their horse and the remainder of foot eiitred with loud shouts crying "a Town, a Town", which utterly daunted the enemy: which is a manifest untruth, for the guards at the Barrs afterwards so long made good that post against all the opposition that body of rebells could make till they through the backsides of some house near thereunto in the fforegate Street fell upon their rear; at which tyme and not before they made an orderly though somewhat hasty retreat to the citty"

We also have a good account of things as known to the Parliamentary side from the "True Account" as written by George Booth, Philip Mainwaring and Roger Wilbraham somewhere in the Chester suburbs on the afternoon after the battle:

William Mainwaring from the Barnston Window at St Chad's Farndon. He would be dead within a few weeks of the report on the battle. Many families in Cheshire had close relatives on differing sides during the Civil War.
  • "IT pleased God upon Saturday morning, Sept. 20. 1645. about break of day to de∣liver into the hands of the Cheshire forces, though few in number, under the command of Col: Michael Iones, and Adjutant Louthian, The Suburbs of the city of Chester, formerly accounted for to Sir Wil: Brereton; in which expedition (though by storm) we lost but one man; the Enemy fired most part of the Suburbs; Cow-lane, St. Johns lane, and the street without the North gate; our care was to hasten to the taking of the City, without which the diseased county could never be cu∣red. Vpon the Lords day we brought in our Artillery, fixt a battery, & upon Monday made a great breach in the wall, resolving to storm it at night, which we endeavoured in 3. or 4. places, but the Ladders proved too short, and the breach too high on the inside, so they made their retreat with the losse of two men, and some wounded. The Suburbs were en∣tred by Captain Gimbert, the breach by Captain Finch, both of them stout and trusty men; though God deferred that mercy we hoped for, in gaining the City, he gave us a better, the utter Routing and spoiling of the Kings Army; which was thus performed."

The account has a sad sequel as just a few weeks later on about the third of October 1645 (William) Mainwaring was killed in fighting on the city walls: his monument in the Cathedral gives the wrong date of 13th October 1644.

Finally, another account, taken from "Historical Collections of Private Passages of State"(Volume 6, 1645-47. Originally published by D Browne, London, 1722) also indicates the sudden nature of the attack by Jones:

  • "The King after the Retreat of the Scots visited Hereford, and continued there and at Worcester and Ludlow, till about the 20th of that Month, Poyntz with considerable Forces lying between him and Oxford. Sometime before this the Parliaments Forces Besieging Beeston-Castle, not far from West-chester, on a sudden Col. Jones who Commanded the Horse, with Adjutant General Louthian, who Commanded the Foot, drew off thence a Party of 1300 Horse and Foot about Eight a Clock in the Evening, and advancing all Night with a Still-march, came the next Morning about Four a Clock before Chester on the East Gate side, and divided their Forces into four Squadrons to Storm the Works in so many several places, and got upon the Works in some places before the Guards discovered them, and so with little loss made themselves Masters of the Forest-Street, with the Bar, St John's Church, Barker's Lane, &c. with the Mayor's House, Sword and Mace, and thereby much assrightned and straitned the City; before which they continued, expecting daily Sir William Brereton with more Forces to joyn with them;"

From the above it is clear that the battles at Rowton Moor and Hoole were unexpected less than a week earlier. Jones and Lothian were busy besieging Beeston Castle when they evidently made a decision to march on Chester. There may be an untold story here as Richard Symond's diary mentions:

  • "That part of the out workes at Chester were betrayed to the enemy by a Captain and a Leiftennant, both apprehended"

However, despite the brief arrest of the Captain, William Barnston, it appears that Byron's later accusations of treachery was unfounded. Barnston was particularly unlucky, in 1650 this "staunch royalist" had to pay £580 to get his estates back after they were sequestered by the Parliamentarians. He did, as small compensation, feature in a church window at Farndon. There was some side-changing involved in the taking of Boughton as some of those who took part in the assault were from the same firelock company who had captured Beeston Castle for the Royalists the previous year and shortly afterwards changed sides. It was these practiced infiltrators who, under Captain Gimbert, sneaked along the river bank and scaled the walls of the emplacement at "The Mount": near to the modern-day pub of the same name.

If Byron's account is to be believed then it seems remarkable that the suprise attack was a success at all, as a Royalist sentry is said to have seen the approaching attackers and shouted, with evident sarcasm. to ask if they:

  • "..had brought their dear bretheren [meaning the Scots] with us, to take the Citie" (The Narrative of Nathaniel Lancaster)

It seems strange that at that point no alarm was raised and may mean that probing patrols testing the defences of Chester were so common that they could be ignored.

A summary of the overall action on Mordens map from around 1690: maps had got better but it still has Golborne Brook linking the Gowy and the Dee, and "Flookersbrook" flowing between the Gowy and the Dee as well. Much earlier in the year Jones had taken Christleton but on the 20th Sept was besieging Royalists at Beeston. He made a night march to attack Boughton and breached the defenses of Chester. On the 22nd the walls of Chester were under attack. Charles came up from Chirk to reinforce Chester and detached Langdale to attack Jones in his rear. Unknown to Charles, Poyntz was at Whitchurch and made a night march to clash with Langdale. Jones went to assist Poyntz, but Gerard sallied from Chester to attack Jones. Lothian then moved to block Gerard. After a clash at Rowton, Langdale was scattered and there was further conflict in the area of Hoole.

Given the rapidly moving events it is not clear what Jones' intentions were at all times. It may well be that he considered retreat from the suburbs of Chester when he first learned that Charles was approaching from Chirk with a relief force and that he later decided to stand fast when he became aware that Poyntz was marching to his assistance from Whitchurch.

Beeston would fall in November as Captain Vallet, Governor, and his 56 men were not only occupying a site of little benefit but were also starved out. By this stage the garrison had apparently been forced to eat any cat which strayed within their grasp. The victorious Parliamentarians found that: "theire was neither meate, Ale nor Beere found in the Castle, save only a peece of Turkey pye, Twoe Bisketts, a lyve Peacock and a peahen."

Summary of the lead-up

To summarise the events leading up to the battle the documents from the time repeatedly confirm that the breach in the wall at the Roman Gardens was made on the eve of Charles arrival in Chester. We can therefore construct the following timeline for events:

  • In September 1645 Jones and Lothian were beseiging the Royalists at Beeston Castle, and detached a force on Friday 19th to make a night march to Chester where they attacked the outworks at Boughton. Charles is already travelling northwards, probably with the intention of reaching his allies in Scotland with a minimum of fighting on the way.
  • On Saturday 20th September Jones took the outworks and started to occupy the suburbs along Foregate Street and bring in artillery. Charles is resting at Newtown;
  • On Sunday 21st the Royalists burned the buildings St John Street, Cowlane (Frodsham Street) and St Thomas (near Canal Street). This would have been to deny cover to the Parliamentary forces and was probably done with torches cast from the city walls. Charles arrives Llanfyllin in Montgomery;
  • On Monday 22nd the Parliamentarian bombardment made a breach in the city walls near what are now the Roman Gardens, and opening on to what is now Park Street . That night they assaulted the breach but were driven back. By this time Charles is at Chirk;
  • On the evening of Tuesday 23rd Charles arrived at Chester having detached the bulk of his horse under Langdale at Holt to advance on Jones' rear the next day. Late in the same evening Poyntz, with the Parliamentary horse, leaves Whitchurch to make a night march in the direction of Chester. At some time before dawn Langdale learns that Poyntz is approaching.
  • On the Wednesday Langdale and Poyntz fight at what will become known as the Battle of Rowton Moor.

Speculating on "what-ifs" is always dubious, but with Poyntz coming up and and Langdale having been deployed with the bulk of Charles' forces to the south-east of Chester, Charles could not continue his "escape" to the north and Scotland. Exactly when Jones and Lothian made the decision to attack Chester isn't entirely clear but the consequence of their assault and the arrival of Poyntz was to be that Charles was forced to give battle. It was almost certainly a fight which the King would rather have avoided. However it is unlikely that Jones and Lothian were setting a deliberate trap.

Issues: The Start of the Fight

An early OS map (from long after the Civil War) showing the relative positions of Hatton Heath and the Golborne brook on the Whitchurch road. Some modern theories argue that the fire-fight started at Golborne Bridge where Langdale ambushed the head of Poyntz column who were strung out on the march.

With much of the detail of what happened on the day there are issues over places and times. These do not change the overall picture but are of interest to the local historian. Indeed it is the efforts of local historians in Huxley and Hargrave which have clarified the events towards the beginning of the day. The first issue arises in locating the start of the fighting on the day of the battle. Many textbooks suggest that the day's fighting on 24th September started at Hatton Heath or Miller's Heath. This is the view taken by Historic England in their "Battlefield Report" (1995 - see sources and links).

Documentary evidence from specific narratives relating to battles is not the only approach that can be applied. Further light can be shed by the study of landscape, including its historical use as determined by sources such as Tithe Maps, field and place names, and properties such as soil types and drainage. Topography can also be viewed from a military perspective, considering both natural and man-made features which might provide cover or influence movement. Finally, there is direct archaeological evidence for battles which can range from arrowheads and shot-scatters to bodies with what are obvious battle injuries.

What is a heath?

"Heaths" are sometimes defined as areas of uncultivated or un-tilled land or "wasteland" - the word is said to come from the Old English "hæð" and is cognate with Old Norse "heiðr". Perhaps the people who lived on heaths were heathens. In Hoole, the heathlands were typically pelo-stagnogleys: non-alluvial, non-calcareous, clayey soils with a relatively impervious, subsurface horizon. The nutrient-poor, often heavily acidified soil is poorly aerated and is not suited to arable use on account of the poor growth performance of cultivated crops. They were however put to agricultural use and are often associated with "common land" used for rough-grazing, and the relevance here is that they present open ground suitable for cavalry actions. Heath should not be thought of as "desolate wastelands": heath requires human intervention as otherwise it will revert to woodland.

There is a good example of this slowly reverting landscape between Guilden Sutton Lane and Hare Lane. Here, "Far Heath Piece" and "Heath Field" lay on either side of what was probably the original course of Hare Lane and which was also the boundary between the parishes of "Plemstall and Chester St John" and "Guilden Sutton". At one point in time this was marked by a boundary hedge placed such that the root of the hedge was four feet inside the boundary on the Guilden Sutton side (the usual "4ft R. H." being marked on the map), which possibly indicates the direction from which enclosure was proceeding. The development of Hoole Hall cut out part of the lane between Long Lane and Hare Lane but at first left the boundary intact. Historical imagery shows that the hedge was visible on photographs from 2003 but over the next 20 years the hedge has now gone as a recognisable boundary and the field is slowly reverting to a mixture of heath and woodland as pioneer species move in.

What was once a parish boundary hedge between fields rapidly reverts to heath and eventually woodland if left unmanaged. Such changes of topography can effectively hide a potential battlefield. This part of Hoole Heath is not suggested as part of a battlefield but given as an example of how landscape can change.

Golborne Bridge

An alternative theory to Millers Heath as the start of the battle is that Langdale set up an ambush some distance further south on the modern A41 at Golborne Bridge, just north of Milton Green. For details see "The Battle of Rowton Moor", Bob Burgess, Cheshire History (61), 2021-22, pp 97ff. The now tiny Golborne Brook, which is named for its marsh marigolds that tell of boggy ground, flows from the Peckforton hills into Aldford Brook and thence into the River Dee. Like the River Gowy, it may have been a much more significant watercourse before the extraction of water from the sandstone at Peckforton, making the bridge something of a bottleneck. However there is evidence from Parry for open ground suitable for a cavalry action. This is found in accounts of the earlier visit and troop review by Charles which states:

  • "When we came to Milton Green, there was Mr Richard Egerton, of Ridley, with some six hundred musketeers.."

The modern bridge, which is easy to miss if driving through, is late 18th Century but has a cutwater and a separate flood-arch, indicating there is considerable flow at times. Enough artifacts, such as scatters of musket shot, have been found in the area to indicate that considerable fighting took place there. There is a slight possibility that Langdale, despite presumably having access to local knowledge, could have believed (erroneously) that the Golborne was a branch of the Gowy as old maps from near the time of the Civil War depict this topographical mistake. So it was either a significant watercourse or percieved as one. As noted above, the Royalists had come this way during Charles' earlier visit to Chester and so may have been familiar with the ground.

The Royalists under Langdale appear to have had their entire detached force of 3000 horse present whereas the 3000 Parliamentarians would have been strung out on the march from Whitchurch. Langdale could therefore hope to concentrate his fire on the head of Poyntz' column, and apparently did so with accounts stating that contact and a fire-fight started around dawn. The potential for surprise was aided by the fact that the moon had set before dawn (at about 06:00). Langdale's objective was most likely to kill or injure as much of the Parliamentarian force as possible before they could form up.

Given the distance from Holt Bridge to Golborne Bridge Langdale must have left Holt well before the sometimes quoted "dawn on the 24th".

Fighting at Millers/Hatton Heath

An early OS map (from long after the Civil War) showing the relative positions of Miller's Heath and Hatton Heath on the Whitchurch road. Older theories for the location of the first fighting hold that Poyntz came upon Langdale at Miller's Heath and that there was a two and fro between Miller's Heath and Hatton Heath. Langdale eventually decided to retreat to Rowton Heath where attempted to make a stand using his cavalry on open ground. By this time Jones may well have arrived either via Saighton or Christleton to assist Poyntz.

Surviving accounts from the time provide a somewhat confusing picture of the start of the fighting. Colonel General Poyntz, on the day after the battle, supplied the Speaker of the House of Commons, William Lenthall, with a brief summary of what had taken place:

  • "Yesterday we discovered the enemy on Millers heath within three miles of Chester, whereupon I sent to Chester for some foot, which was very seasonably sent me, and in my advance towards them we unawares met a body of them in a narrow passe on the top of the heath, where we had a very violent encounter, wherein we cut off many of the King's Life-guard and routed the rest, then we retreated to our maine body, and toward foure of the clock in the afternoon we advanced toward them, and finding the enemy ready for battell we presently fell upon them, kild, tooke, wounded, and routed the whole army, and I am confident they never received a greater blow"

There are some problems with this description. The location of Millers Heath is by no means certain. Some early OS maps place it very close to Rowton (at the end of Eggbridge Lane), which would almost fit with the "within three miles of Chester", but Hatton Heath, where others have the engagement starting is at least around four and possibly closer to five miles from Chester. Poyntz also states that he "sent to Chester" for support as soon as "he discovered" the enemy: meaning that he was not surprised. He then suggests that the King's Life-Guard were present whereas they were evidently with the King at Chester.

A rather different version of events is given by Colonel Laurence Parsons, at that time Poyntz' Quartermaster General:

  • "After a very hard march all night, on the 24th of this instant in the morning, his [Poyntz's] Van curriers discovered the enemy on a moore within two miles of Chester called Rowton-moore, whereupon immediately he drew into Order, and advanced upon them (though all his force were not then come up) for he supposed to take the enemy at unawares, it being probable they could have no intelligence of his being so neare, though it proved otherwise, for his Letters (written that night to the Commander within the out-Lines of Chester, giving notice of his advance) were intercepted and the enemy being possessed of the advantage of ground, and in order confronted our van led by Colonell Hugh Bethell in the middest of a Lane betwixt two Moores covered with the armed men of both Battaliaes, where was given a very sharp and gallant charge by bothe parties, for after Pistolls were discharged at halfe Pikes distance, they disputed the matter with their Swords a full quarter of an houre, neither yielding ground to the other, till at length the enemy were forced to retreate, whom, our men pursuing were re-encountred by a fresh reserve at the Lanes mouth, and they were likewise discomfited, and a third, but being over powred were in the end forced to retreate in the Lane, uncapable of receiving a Reserve to second them: here wee had some losse, the enemy pursuing to the Lanes end, but were beaten back, for there were space for our reserves to advance."
Burdetts map from the 1770's shows several heaths still existed at the time of its publication. The numbers marked along the road are miles from Chester.

This again has Langdale's troops being discovered already at Rowton (which is described by Parsons as being within two miles of Chester - see the maps for the actual figures) and some hand-to-hand and other close-quarter fighting taking place. The "lane between two moors" might be taken that the moors were on either side of the lane or that they were at either end of it. Burdett's map even has (at least by its time) two Hatton Heaths with the road running both between and along the length of them.

"True Relation" confuses matters even more stating:

  • "Our Intelligence upon Monday Sept. 21. was, that the King was at Chirke Castle, in∣tending for Chester: Upon Tuesday, two trusty men were sent to seek Major Gen. Poyntz, who was appointed to follow the King, but we heard nothing of him; they meeting with him at Whitchurch, and acquainting him with our present condition (who were like to be Stormed that night) he hastned away, marched all night, though tired with long marches before: About six a clock Wednesday morning, he advanced within a mile of the Enemy, three miles from Chester, the one not knowing of the other; upon notice, both set themselves in a posture; Generall Poyntz upon Hatton Heath, divided from the Ene∣my on the Milne Heath by a Lane, they being betwixt him and the City: he first charged them though upon a disadvantage, because the Enemies whole body was not come up, but had a repulse, in which that gallant Gentleman Col: Graves was sore wounded, & Col: Bothell, but not so dangerously; about 20. men slain, many wounded; but we hear the Enemies losse was greater, however, upon the retreat, it was noised that Gen: Poyntz was utterly Routed, which vvas sad nevvs to our Forces in Chester; who upon consultation, at first thought it fit to quit the Suburbs, least the Army miscarrying, all should be lost; but upon Intelligence that Poyntz kept his ground and stood in a body, they re∣solved to keep what ground they had gotten for the gaining of Chester, and to assist Gene∣tall Poyntz with Horse and Foot, which he sent for, and they promised: The signall of their march from the Suburbs, was the discharge of two piece of Ordnance, at which there was great shouting in Generall Poyntz campe, who without us could nei∣ther charge the Enemy, nor make good their Retreat if need should require:..."

So here we have a distance of "three miles from Chester" although it is not clear whether it is Poyntz or "the enemy" who are at that distance.

Modern OS map showing the relative positions of Milner's Heath on the more modern canal and Hatton Heath on the Whitchurch road.

The other confusing thing about the account from "True Relation" is that it refers to Milne Heath which could be the current day Milner's Heath and which is indeed "divided" from Hatton Heath by Long Lane. It also appears to place the Royalists under Langdale on Milne Heath and the Parliamentary forces under Poyntz on Hatton Heath. This is the same disposition as is shown on the explanatory plaque at Rowton and differs from the theory that the first clash took place by the flooded quary on the A41. The Survey of English Place Names explains how Milner's Heath can be dated back to an origin as Miller's Heath.

Langdale deployed dragoons to fire on Poyntz's vanguard as the Parliamentarian column advanced along the Chester road. These are mounted troops who fight on foot, usually with firearms. Poyntz counter-attacked against Langdale's position but was driven back. The two sides were stalemated; neither could advance any further towards Chester with the other in its rear. For several hours, Langdale and Poyntz apparently faced one another at a distance of about half a mile, both reluctant to take further action without reinforcements. Perhaps the answer to the confusion over where the battle started may be that Poyntz is slightly distorting the truth due to his advance scouts having missed the ambush that was set up at Golborne Bridge.

The point of what might seem a long digression to the south east of Chester is that archaeological research in that area has shed some light on how the battle developed in the early hours of the 24th September.

Sending for help

The Royalists, while losing fewer soldiers, were now in a precarious position, since reinforcements from Chester were needed to follow up on their success and defeat Poyntz's force, which may have been being progressively strengthened by the last of the troops coming up from Whitchurch. Both sides had enjoyed little rest in the past days and were possibly poorly nourished. Langdale therefore sent Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Shakerley to report to Charles, requesting reinforcements. Shakerley crossed the Dee using a washtub (or a tub for collecting pig-blood) as a makeshift boat, rather than make a detour of 10 miles (16 km) via Holt/Farndon Bridge, and arrived in Chester and delivered his message after 15 minutes, but no orders were issued for a further six hours after that. The "15 minutes" and "six hours" are both problematic.

Shakerley's crossing point on the Dee is not exactly known and in fact he must have crossed the river twice, presumably crossing first somewhere near Heronbridge (one account mentions "Huntingdon House") and then again at the Old Dee Bridge. Including finding a tub and crossing the river he seems to have made the trip of well over four miles (together with his servant boy) with remarkable speed. However his son, writing sometime later suggests that the haste was somewhat wasted:

  • "..such delays were made some about the King that no orders were sent nor any sally made out of the city by the Kings party till past three o'clock in the afternoone, which was full six hours after Poyntz had been beaten back"

The son Peter Shakerley (c1650-1726) complained that Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion had ignored the crucial part his father had played at Rowton Moor in 1645, for which his family’s estates were sequestrated. He sought to rectify this omission by transmitting for posterity the full account his father had given him of the matter, but chose to do this by writing on the flyleaf of a copy of Clarendon' work. In defending his father Shakerley might be less than accurate as other evidence suggests that some of the garrison from Chester had in fact been moved to Rowton before the start of fighting but the evidence for this is very slight and almost certainly spurious.

Barratt in "The Great Siege Of Chester" (2003) speculates that one reason for the six-hour delay could have been the fatigue of the Royalist troops, and another the rivalries amongst the Royalist commanders: Gerard and Digby opposed each other, with Byron and other commanders disliking Langdale; and Charles not being strong enough to stop the disputes. There is also the considerable shock value of discovering that someone (Poyntz) was approaching and Langdale was about to engage what was Charles' only substantive cavalry in battle. A perhaps telling phrase is found in Fuller's account (see below) where it is implied that Byron did not want to risk the foot-soldiers needed for the longer-term defence of the City in what he may have considered a forlorn attempt to assist Langdale.

The Parliamentarians were also arranging for support for Poyntz from Jones. They sent support: at approximately 14:00 (some sources say 12:00), the Chester forces dispatched 350 horse and 400 musketeers under Colonels Michael Jones and John Booth to reinforce Poyntz (again numbers vary between sources - Brereton says 500 horse and 300 musketeers). "True Relation" states:

  • "It vvas agreed by them, that Col. Iones, a dextrous and resolute Souldier, should go out with the command of Horse & Foot, 350. and 500. The Foot were led by Col. Iohn Booth governor of Warington, who was very forward in that Expedition: Adjutant Gen: Louthian a man of known worth, was to keep the suburbs; a work of great trust & courage."

Whatever the reasons for the delays, it is clear that much of the day had passed between the first contact of the opposing forces (around dawn) and the actual "Battle of Rowton" (at four in the afternoon).

Hoole Heath: Gerard Advances, Lothian Interferes

An early OS map (from long after the Civil War) showing the relative positions of Hoole and Miller's Heath and some of what may have been early roads in the area. Colonel Jones moved through Boughton to assist Poyntz in attacking Langdale and Gerard's force attempted to skirt around the north of Boughton to assist Langdale. Lothian tried to cut off Gerard on Hoole Heath. After the Royalists were routed at Rowton a part of their force retreated back to Chester via (or at least in the direction of) Hoole Heath, with several skirmishes on the way.

The Royalists in Chester saw the Parliamentarian reinforcements under Jones and Booth on the move, and sent Shakerley back to warn Langdale's force. Jones had also fired two signal guns to indicate to Poyntz that he was on his way. Presumably at this point the Royalists had probably decided what they would do as Langdale had two possible route to Chester if he chose to "retreat", north via "Hoole Heath" or possibly west via Aldford or Holt.

As discussed at some length above the places named in connection with the start of the battle are at best confusing and more likely contradictorary if not misleading. The same is true to an even larger extent with the later stages of the battle and the references to "suburbs" and "Hoole Heath".

Gerard Advances

After receiving the message from Shakerley, Langdale withdrew nearer to Chester, reforming at Rowton Heath, an open space where he could make effective use of his cavalry. At the same time the Royalists in Chester finally began to move, with Charles Gerard advancing with 500 foot and 500 cavalry (BCW Project gives 1000 horse, Barrat gives 350 horse and 400 musketeers). Gerard hoped to attack Jones's force from the rear, but could not march directly upon them because of the Parliamentary forces in the vicinity of Boughton. It is therefore likely that he headed somewhat towards Hoole Heath to get around to the north of the Parliamentarians. Gerard's cavalry were armed with pistols and (at least some) carbines, as both pistol and carbine shot was delivered to them in December 1642. Just when this force left Chester is again unclear although Barratt says around 16:00 and this is supported by what Byron wrote:

  • "[At] about four o'clock in the afternoon the Lord Gerard marched out through the Northgate and made a long detour through the suburbs with the horse formerly mentioned (that is to say the King's guard, his own troop and the greatest part of the horse I had drawn into the Town and five hundred foot)"

"Suburbs" here actually meant very little development outside of the walls. Later maps show there was some sparse building between Foregate Street and the line of the present canal and some ribbon development along either side of Foregate Street as far as "The Bars" with a decreasing amount of building along the road to Gallows Hill. We learn a little from Morris, but he does not give the source from which he takes a specific mention of "Flookers Brook":

  • "Poyntz had now had time to rally his forces, and in obedience to his message was reinforced about noon by 500 horse and 300 foot under Colonel Jones and Adjutant-General Lowthian, drawn hurriedly from the force besieging Chester. This hasty march of the Parliamentarians was mistaken for flight, and a considerable portion of the garrison, with Lord Gerrard and Lord Lichfield were ordered to pursue, passing through the Northgate round by Flookers brook, as the direct way by the Eastgate had been blocked up." (Morris pg. 110-11)

However, we can find almost exactly the same words in John Poole's 1778 printing of Daniel King's "Vale Royal". Whether the Royalists in Chester actually thought that Jones was fleeing, or moving to support Poyntz isn't clear, but by now it must have become clear that Langdale's plan to surprise Jones from behind had fallen apart.

William Lawes (April 1602 – 24 September 1645) an English composer and musician and a member of the King's Life Guard, was most likely with Gerard's sortie. Lord Bernard Stewart was most likely also with this sortie. It appears that this body of troops would never actually reach the battlefield at Rowton.

Lothian Interferes

The Parliamentarians responded to Gerard's sally by dispatching 200 Shropshire cavalry and 200 of the remaing infantry under Major James Lothian at Boughton to cut them off and prevent this sally coming to the aid of Langdale. The horse were commanded by Lt-Col Chindley Coote and were probably the only mounted force that Lothian had left. Chidley Coote was brother of Sir Charles Coote, Second Baronet. He defended Birr Castle from 1641 until its fall in 1643. After serving in Ireland with his father and brother, Coote came to England following the cessation and served as Lieutenant Colonel of Sir William Brereton’s Regiment of Foot. In September 1644 he was attempting to raise a troop but this appears to have come to nothing and instead by December he had taken over the troop of Sir William Brereton’s Regiment of Horse raised by Francis Farrington. He claimed for pay under Brereton from 20/10/44 till 10/08/45. At this point he transferred to command the Shropshire horse being promoted Colonel on 08/11/45 and serving until 31/07/46. He then raised his Regiment of Horse for service in Ireland.

The map of the last remnant of Hoole Heath from the HUDC Handbook.

With a shorter distance to travel, this smaller force met Gerard, probably in or near modern day Hoole, and after a "confused" engagement in which Lord Bernard Stewart was possibly slain, Gerard's force was apparently prevented from marching to Langdale's aid. "True Relation" states:

  • "A memorable service was performed by the Shropshire Forces, at the appoint∣ment of Livetenant Louthiane, who were part of them that kept the sub∣urbs. When Collonel Iones was marcht out to ioyne with Generall Poyntz, there issued out after him through the North-gate (with which party its affirmed the King went) about sixe hundred horse and three hundred foote of the Kings and Queens Regiments and General Gerrards Lifeguard. Adjutant Louthiane sent after them about two hundred of the Shropshire horse, com∣manded by Livetenant Collonel Coote in chiefe, the second division by Collonel Prince, the last by Ma: Fenwicke and two hundred foote commanded by Captain Daniell, these gallantly performed what they undertooke, routed and chased the e∣nemy, slew the Earle of Leichfield and o∣thers, tooke divers principall officers and followed the execution foure miles."

Note that there is no express mention of Flookersbrook, Hoole or Hoole Heath. However, the "four miles" would encompas a radius of action that could take in Hoole Heath. Given that Lothian's force was less than half the size of Gerard's it might be assumed that Lothian's smaller force made effective use of the topography to both pin Gerard down and chase him. Lothian's own Company may have also taken part.

There is a clear conflict between sources as to whether any of Gerard's men made it to Rowton. As noted above Byron states and Shakerley implies that Royalist sortie from Chester only departed at around 16:00 however "True Relation" states (of Jones force):

  • "When these forces joyned with Gen. Poyntz there was great joy in the camp, the Enemy formed themselves into a body upon Routon Heath, two miles from Chester, and stood in Batalia, being about 5000. as their own par∣ty confesse, having drained their Garrisons: We hastned towards them in the best posture we could, the Horse was the Battell, because many, the wings were Foot because few; they had the Wind and Sun; we had God with us, which was our Word, counterpoi∣sing all disadvantages, and countermanding all strength; a little before 5. a clock, we joy∣ned in a terrible storm, firing in the faces of one another, hacking & slashing with svvords neither party gain'd or lost a foot of ground, as if every one vvere resolved there to breath their last: Whilst the dispute vvas so hot and doubtfull, our Musquetiers so galled their horse, that their Rear fled, perceiving their losse by them, upon whom they made no Execution: Their Van perceiving that, faced about, and fled also: We had nothing then to do, but to pursue and make Execution, which we did to purpose, for though the ways were strewed with Arms, Portmantles, Cloak-bags, and Horse, vve left those to any that vvould pillage, and fell to Execution: Some part vve chased to Holt bridge, the most tovvards Chester; some say the King vvas in the field, others that he vvent out with a par∣ty, next after mentioned; but certain it is, he vvent out from the City by the North gate, and thither retreated, for that gate is vvithout our Works."

The "5000" may however be an overestimate and the statement that they had "drained their Garrisons" may refer to the collection of forces prior to the day rather than to the garrison of Chester.

LIDAR relief map of places mentioned. King Charles Tower is the green dot, Boughton is yellow, Hoole Heath orange, Bridge Trafford blue, Golborne Bridge is red and Rowton is pink.

Routes Taken

The explanatory plaque at Rowton (see below) shows possible routes for the movement of troops through the region between Chester and Hoole. For historians concerned with Hoole the routes taken by these troops are of particular interest. There are roughly two sets of movements to be considered: the advance of Gerard's forces to attempt to cut-off Jones, and the later pursuit of the remains of Langdale's forces retreating towards Chester. There is also the route taken by Lothian/Coote in his attempt to cut-off Gerard.

Hoole Lane (St Anne's Rake) might have been a logical route for Lothian to advance on Gerard's relief force to cut it off. Less likely alternatives include the old Brook Lane (roughly along Barkhill Road) or even Green Lane (which still exists). It is also possible that his route may have included what is now Crawford's Walk and the Narrows Park. Gerard left Chester via the Northgate and so may have advanced along what is now St Anne's Street and possibly some way towards Newton Hollows. Where the forces met is uncertain, and while the area around Pipers Ash is a possibility, that would mean a very wide and time-consuming swing around the besiegers, and it is likely that Gerard mostly stayed somewhat closer to Chester than the current A55. Clearly there were options for a route through modern day Hoole, but the exact route is unknown.

Byron states that the Royalists under Gerard:

  • "..marched out via the Northgate and made a long detour through the suburbs.."

Broster (writing in c.1790 and living at Flookersbrook at that time) mentions Hoole Heath in his "Account of the Siege of Chester", but gives no source:

  • "Now Sir Marmaduke having to engage Poyntz in the front, and Jones's reinforcement having fallen upon his rear, after having fought bravely was at length overpowered, roạted, and forced to retire towards Chester. Poynts pursues his victory, following most of the horse even to the walls of Chester, near which Lord Gerard and the Earl of Lindsey were drawn out with their troops, who charged and repulsed him; but those disordered horse which fled with Sir Marmaduke, had crowded up all the little passes and narrow lanes between Hoole Heath and the city, a ground quite unfit for a horse to fight upon" (Broster pgs 95-96)

The source for "a ground quite unfit for a horse to fight upon" is again tracable - it is in the 1778 version of King and is from there the rather elegant phrase is copied by Broster (1800), Hanshall (1817), Hemingway (1831 and 1836), Ormerod/Helsby (1882), and Tucker (1958). The problem of course is how it finds its way into King - one theory is that King was originally quite a short work and that supplements were offered by printers and later incorporated into reprints.

Another issue here is how Gerard could ever have hoped to catch up with Jones and Booth if leaving by the Northgate (Eastgate was blocked up with a huge pile of dung) and looping around to the north of the Parliamentarians at Boughton via Hoole Heath. Jones had at least two hours head-start and possibly only 3-4 miles to cover even if he (as some suggest, without quoting sources) took a less than direct route by heading in the direction of Sandy Lane towards Saighton to outflank Langdale and join-up with Poyntz. If Jones had taken this western route it makes Gerard's loop to the north even more pointless and, as will be seen, there is evidence to suggest that Jones took a route which would outflank Langdale on the east.

Tracing the actual route taken by the various parties involved is complicated by a lack of maps from the time. Some later maps are provided in the links below, but these may not reflect viable routes at the time of the Civil War, as there have been changes to the topography brought about by enclosures, the development of turnpike roads and the construction of the canal. Later maps help, but are only one source for determining how troops may have moved.

Christopher Greenwood's map of 1819, which is after the canal but before the railway, covers the area in which the third stage of the battle was fought. It may well be that many of the roads shown on this map were in existence at the time of the Civil War, at least as drovers routes.

The HUDC Handbook of 1947 gets completely confused at this point, starting off by getting the date of the battle wrong by a year (see page 14, where a date of 1646 is given), and then going on to state that King Charles actually took part in the fighting at Hoole Heath. The Handbook evidently gets its information via Ormerod from the works of Edward Burghall an English ejected minister and a Puritan who supported the Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War. Burghall is known for a diary called "Providence improved", which describes the state of Cheshire throughout the English Civil War. What the Handbook (and Wikipedia) does not state about him is that parts of the supposed "diary" are a virtual copy of the diary of Thomas Malbon (1578-1658) of Nantwich (actually written in 1651) and Edward Burghall (who died in poverty) is essentially a forger/plagiarist as regards parts of his supposed diary. See Hall's "Memorials of the Civil War" (written in 1889) for a comparison between the two works and an exposure of the forgery. Burghall, an unreliable witness, notes that:

  • "The Kinge in p'son [person] beinge then sometymes in the Citie and sometymes in the Battell ; for hee mighte w'th'out hinderance goe from the Citie throwe the Northgate to Howe [Hoole] Heathe, wheire his owne Regim't was in fighte."
The approximate last remnant of Hoole Heath as shown in the HUDC Handbook "parchment" drawn onto a c.1840 Tithe Map.

However the same information is present in Thomas Malbon's document, so it appears this was not an addition by Burghall and that Malbon is the original source of the reference to "Howe Heath". It is nowadays considered highly unlikely that Charles played any personal part in the fighting on Hoole Heath. His Lifeguard of Horse was there and this may have been the reason he was assumed to be present. However, "True Relation" does have him leave the city (perhaps briefly) via the Northgate and later return:

  • "some say the King vvas in the field, others that he vvent out with a par∣ty, next after mentioned; but certain it is, he vvent out from the City by the North gate, and thither retreated, for that gate is vvithout our Works."

It may well be that this was simply a rumour circulating at the time, or the king may have accompanied the troops under Gerard briefly. Notably, none of the Royalist sources mention the king leaving the city at any time on the day of the battle.

The HUDC Handbook does however provide a reproduction of a map which shows the final enclosure of Hoole Heath some time after the Civil War. This can be transferred onto the Tithe Map which shows the location of Hoole Rake (Hoole Road), St Anne's Rake (Hoole Lane), Mannings Lane, Hare Lane and Long Lane. Indications of where the heathland was are helpful in considering where a cavalry action might have been fought but not determinative.

Rowton Moor: The Main Event?

Back on Rowton Heath Jones and Booth linked up with Poyntz, giving a combined Parliamentarian force of 3,000 horse and 500 musketeers against a Royalist army of approximately 2,500-3,000 horse. Had the 500 foot and 500 horse relief force under Gerard arrived the forces would have been more or less equal. Therefore the 400 troops under Lothian/Coote potentially had a significant effect on the outcome of the day by holding-up Gerard in Hoole.

According to some accounts at approximately 16:00 Poyntz' cavalry advanced, covered by the musketeers firing a full volley. Despite Langdale's attempt to counter-charge, the Royalists were soon outflanked. Again the timings are confusing. If Jones and Booth had arrived in time for the battle to start at 16:00 then there was little point in Gerard leaving Chester at around the same time to try to head them off, unless to cover a retreat. The timing is important as it was already late in the day and the time left before darkness fell would clearly influence the distance over which the forces could manouver. "True Relation" (as quoted above) perhaps suggests that some of the garrison of Chester had already arrived and the fighting at Rowton actually started around 17:00:

  • "being about 5000. as their own par∣ty confesse, having drained their Garrisons.. ..a little before 5. a clock, we joyned in a terrible storm".

The slight evidence that Jones took the north-eastern route to reach Rowton is also provided in this passage, which states:

The approximate last remnant of Hoole Heath on a modern map.
  • "they had the Wind and Sun"

This implies that the Parliamentary forces being discussed were facing into the westering sun, which would by now be to the south-west. This is also the direction from which the prevailing with blows although nothing else is known of the weather on the day. The Historical Collections of Private Passages of State: Volume 6, (1645-47) appears to confirm this:

  • "..on Routon Heath within some two miles of Chester, began to Engage with his Majesty's Forces, who Charged with such Resolution that they routed the Major, and were in pursuit of him, when at the same; Instant Col. Jones and Adjutant Louthian having drawn out 500 Horse, and 300 Foot from their Leaguer before Chester, came up to his Assistance, Charging the King's Troops on the other side, which gave Poyntz's Men an Opportunity to Rally, and then there began a most furious fresh Encounter, wherein at last the King's Forces having to deal with Poyntz in the Front, and Jones in the Rear, were discomfited, five or six hundred of them slain upon the place, among whom was the Lord Berty Stuart Earl of Litchfield; many Officers and Persons of Quality, and above 1000 Common Soldiers taken.."

Again this is largely consistent with other accounts but whereas the earlier one quoted has Poyntz carry the field at once, he is here apparently routed and has to rally his men with the timely arrival of Jones. There is some confusion in this account as to whether Jones was accompanied by Lothian (who was still probably at Boughton) or Booth. One problem with this passage is that it places Bernard Stuart at Rowton during the clash between Jones/Poyntz and Langdale. This is further discussed below.

With the Parliamentarian musketeers firing into the flank or rear of Langdale's force, the Royalists broke, some escaping via Holt Bridge and others "running towards Chester" (presumably many had been unhorsed). Some Royalists appear to have crossed the Dee by the locally-known ford at Boughton/Dee Banks to return to the city across the Earl's Eye an along the south bank, but others found themselves heading towards Hoole Heath. The route taken to Hoole Heath may well have involved a retreat through Christleton, Littleton with a final approach along Hare Lane, or something closer-in through modern day Hoole. Again, this line of escape seems to suggest that Langdale was aware of the "relief" troops under Gerard were thereabouts and he may well have seen the smoke from the fighting at or near Hoole Heath. He was also presumably informed of the Royalist plans by Shakerley.

The signage at the Rowton battlefield: north is to the right hand side. The original Hoole village is indicated on the right-hand edge. The arrows show considerable troop movement across the area between Hoole and Chester, much of which would have crossed modern-day Hoole. The layout of roads on the map is reasonably accurate while not perfect, but it provides a useful starting point for a discussion about locations and movements.

The signage at Rowton gives an interpretation of the routes taken in the troop movements north of the battlefield site. The site of the original Hoole Village is marked with reasonable accuracy in relation to the modern Hoole Road, the original Hoole Lane, Chester and Guilden Sutton. It is clear from the plaque that its designers considered that the final stages of the battle took place in or near modern Hoole. However, the signage shows no fighting at Golborne Bridge.

Hoole Heath (again)

On or towards Hoole Heath the "retreating" Royalist soldiers apparently met with part of Gerard's force and together these made an initially successful counter-attack. "True Relation" states the following:

  • "After we thought the worke was ended, the enemy made head againe, and they that escaped in the field and about Che∣ster, ioyned in another body, fell upon part of our forces with advantage (for they were desperate seeing they had lost the day) drave them to our mud walls, where the guards made execution on them, and some small measure upon ours in the reare, through mistake: so they fled towards Bridgetrafford being ignorant of the Foote, where they were driven into deepe dit∣ches, and boggy places. The Country men set on them there, tooke one hundred horse and sixty persons. Others fled into the forrest where they are met with. Whilst wee were thus engaged in the field the enemy taking advantage of the small number left in the suburbs attempted the regaining of them in many places; but were every where gallantly repulsed with losse by adjutant Louthiane."

Once again this does not have a specific mention of Hoole Heath. Bridge Trafford is about four miles from Boughton and it is likely that the ditches and boggy places are a reference to the lower reaches of the River Gowy. The "forrest" is presumably a part of what is now Delamere. Note that the True Relation refers to "our mud walls" which means the outworks at Boughton and not the city walls. Clarendon's history omits the word "mud" leading some to place the conflict up against the stone walls of the city. Evidently there was some issue with "friendly" fire indicating that it was now either becoming dark or their was general confusion.

Parsons (Poyntz' Quartermaster General) gives a similar account from the Parliamentary perspective, again refering to some form of rally of the Royalists on a "great moore" (which he does not name) and a confused melee near the outworks, where the Royalist defenders seem to have shot indiscriminately into the mass of troops:

There have been several attempts to depict the progress of the battle over the years. While these broadly agree they differ considerably in detail, such as timings and the locations of the start and latter stages of the fighting. This map, taken from "The Civil Wars in Cheshire" by R. N. Dore (1966) shows the fight starting at Miller's Heath and ending on Hoole Heath, with a "3rd Fight" taking place somewhere near Vicar's Cross. Hoole Heath on this map seems to be somewhat to the north of where it was probably located.
  • "the enemy ralied in a great moore wide of Chester in two vast bodies a great distance asunder, the first (not without some dispute) were again routed, and the other likewise, who retreated upon the Warwick Regiment with such violence as bore them away confusedly, intermixed with the flying enemy up to the outworkes of the Suburbs, the Musketteers within were never the lesse liberall of their Gunshot, but the Divine Providence appeared much in the distribution of the impartiall Bullets, few or none lighting upon our men, though many of the Enemy were found there expiring."

Given the date of the battle sunset would have been 17:54 hours and the moon, a couple of days past full, would have risen around that time. The fall of darkness would only have only confused matters further, especially as moonlight is insufficiently bright for colour vision. For the Royalists their plans for the day had now become a complete shambles.

The King in the Field?

Parsons also gives a report that the king was acually present in the field:

  • "A body of horse all the while of these last disputes appeared, fixt on the top of a hill a little distant on that side Chester, wherein the King was very confidently reported to be; for confronting whereof, a party of foot winged with Col. Bethells and Col. Lidcots Regiments, were drawn into a convenient close in the bottom as a grand Reserve; but the night by this time falling, the body on the hill appeared not, and those in the bottom returned to their Comrades, satiate with the slaughter, Prisoners and booty of the vanquish∣ed Enemy: "

It is only possible to speculate on the location of the hill which Parsons mentions. It could have been in several places. One candidate is the slope leading up from Cow Lane Bridge towards the Northgate, the height of this being notable from the drop to the canal at Northgate. This could at least reconcile the presence of the king in the field with other statements. Another recent source places the hill in Littleton although this seems unlikely. Perhaps the idea of the King tentatively venturing out from the city and then failing to attack appealed to Parsons as propaganda.

Parsons continues:

  • "While these things were thus agitated in the field, the remainder of Foot left with Col. Louthian in the Suburbs were not idle, for the Enemy made a strong falley upon them out of the City, and were more strenu∣ously repulsed. The number of the slain, of the Priso∣ners, and horse taken, is not yet known, but it is generally conjectured Eight hundred slain, One thousand five hun∣dred men, and Two thousand horse taken: There was brought in that night, the underwritten list of the consi∣derable men taken and slain in the Fight; the King was seen with a party of about five or six hundred horse to march into Wales."

Thus, Gerard's force had possibly (assuming they did not break through Lothian's force) been on "Hoole Heath" from well before the battle at Rowton Moor started in earnest (16:00 or 17:00) until well after it ended. Presumably they were involved in at least sporadic fighting for much of this time, i.e for above two hours with some 1400 men initially involved in the fighting who were later joined by those "retreating" from Rowton. Though more were involved in the much shorter clash at Rowton, one might expect that archaeological remains of the fighting at "Hoole Heath" could be found. Unfortunately there are very few areas that are contenders to be this "Hoole Heath" that have not been built upon or where modifying groundworks have not taken place.

Thomas Fuller is the only original source on the death of Lawes at "Chester".

The Death of William Lawes

That William Lawes (born c.1602) was killed in the Civil War is attested in many elegies and laments of the time, many of which are found in Henry Lawes's "Choice Psalms" of 1648. Henry (1596–1662) was William's older brother. However, there is only one clear extant source which places William's death at Chester (a second may exist in Thomas Jordan's "An Epitaph of Mr Will Lawes"). This single primary source is Thomas Fuller's "The History of the worthies of England" published posthumously in 1662, but existing in various manuscript forms from 1644. Fuller had been at Oxford with the king in 1643-5 and knew Henry Lawes. Fuller writes of William:

  • " these distracted times his Loyalty ingaged him in the War for his Lord and Master and though he was by General Gerrard mad(e) a Commissary on designe to secure him (such Officers being commonly shot-free by their place, as not exposed to danger), yet such the activity of his spirit, he disclaimed the covert of his Office, and betrayed thereunto by his own adventurousness, was casually shot at the Siege of Chester, the same time when Lord Bernard Stuart lost his life."

While Fuller insists that he has been careful with his sources, he does get some things wrong. For example, he writes that Charles made a halt at Rowton Heath before marching into Chester. This would have not been possible given that Jones was occupying Boughton. However, as he is the only source Fuller can probably be used where related elements of his account can be corroborated from other accounts. There are several sources which confirm that while Langdale's Horse was detatched to cross the Dee, the king was accompanied directly to Chester by his mounted Lifeguard. These sources include Richard Symonds, the diarist, who confirms that Charles entered Chester with his Life Guards, including the "Earle of Lichfeild's" and Charles Gerard. Fuller writes of the aftermath of the clash at Rowton as follows:

  • "Immediately after, a considerable party of Horse (the Lord Byron Gouvenor of the City being loth to part with any Foot), as kept to secure the King's person came out of Chester, too late to succour their defeated Friends, and too soon to engage themselves. Here fell the youngest of the three noble Brethren, who last their lives in the King's service, Bernard Stuart Earl of Lichfield, never sufficiently to be lamented."

Thus, Bernard Stuart was one of the commanding officers of the king's Lifeguard of Horse and he, together with Gerard's own Lifeguard (with Gerrard himself) took part in the sortie from the Northgate. It is almost certain that this sortie never reached Rowton. One source for this is the Parliamentary "True Relation" which in describing the action of the "blocking" force sent out by Lowthian under Coote et al states:

  • "these gallantly performed what they undertooke, routed and chased the enemy, slew the Earle of Leichfield and others, tooke divers principall officers and followed the execution foure miles."

Reading Fuller literally Lawes was with the sortie when Bernard Stuart was killed and not with Langdale's command at Rowton.

After the Battle

The ending of the battle presents a further mystery, as Poyntz appears to have been decieved into leaving the scene. According to a report from Brereton's chaplain Nathaniel Lancaster:

  • "After this necessetie required some refreshing for General Poynts his Army. He intended his quarters neere to the City that night, and the next day to compass it on the other side of the river, not only to distress the City but to encompasse the King in it, or pursue his leane reversion if escaped thence. But two men of seeming quality (not yet discovered) told him, as messengers from the Cheshire Gentlemen, that he was to take up his quarters at Northwich, by which plot they tyred his Armie and took him off his intended enterprize"

The records are not clear as to whether Poyntz went as far as Northwich or not. He would certainly have needed to reorganise and probably needed supplies. The supposed deception worked as it left a route open for Charles to leave the City towards North Wales. Poyntz appears to have based himself for a while at Christleton.

Lord Bernard Stuart died in the fighting. He gained the rank of Commander in the King's Guards and was designated Earl of Lichfield, but was killed before the creation took effect. Given he was in the King's Guards he probably died in Hoole. Byron suggests that the body was held for ransom, but Booth denies this. The body was returned, emmbalmed and kept in Chester until after the siege when it was taken to Oxford for burial.

Charles had only 500 horse with him when he departed Chester on the 25th September. He expected the city to fall soon, meaning he would probably leave as few troops behind as possible and certainly not cavalry of which he was now desparately short. He is said to have instructed Byron "to hold out for ten days (some say eight) and then surrender if there was no prospect of relief", whereas the siege actually dragged on into the winter. Even allowing for any that fled Rowton towards Holt or were otherwise scattered, Charles had lost a significant part of the 3000 horse which had crossed the Dee with Langdale at Holt and the 500 he had sent to Hoole Heath. Unless the bulk of the casualities were at Rowton the losses at Hoole Heath must have also been significant. Barratt states that Langdale managed to rally 2500 horse over the next few days, and this presumably included those who had fled from Rowton towards Holt and the crossing of the Dee. Confusion between figures is probably the cause of some statements that Charles left Chester with 2400 horse. Wherever Poytz was in the meantime, he was back at Chester on the 27th September as his presence was noted by Byron. The surviving Royalist cavalry were eventually destroyed in their entirety when Poyntz ambushed them at Sherburn-in-Elmet on 15 October 1645. A Royalist force commanded by Lord Digby and Sir Marmaduke Langdale attacked and initially defeated the Parliamentarian garrison then based in the town. However, another Parliamentarian force, under Colonel Copley, counterattacked and routed the Royalists.

Those who did not leave with Charles included the dead. The Parliamentary losses were heavy but unknown, but the Royalists seem to have lost about 600 dead and 900 captured. Relatively few sources from the Civil War relate to the fate of the dead after battles, although there were instances of the Parliamentary attempting to ransom the bodies of more notable Royalists, including (according to some) that of Bernard Stuart at Chester. There is nothing in the surviving church registers to indicate a spike in recorded Church burials due to the battle, and no other record of where those who fell in battle were interred. Some "high worth" individuals might be transported over some distance for burial, but for many their last resting-place would be near the battlefield. As yet, no burial site has been identified.

Although the position in Chester was now essentially hopeless, the first summons to surrender on 26 September was rejected, the garrison was reinforced, and the damaged walls were repaired. The Parliamentarian forces responded by occupying the northern suburbs, and by supplementing their battery at St. John's with newly acquired siege guns placed in Foregate Street and opposite the battery on the north wall, where the defenders' large cannon was soon destroyed and a breach made; breastworks were built near the gates for musketeers, and the besiegers used the captured outworks for their own protection. Bombardment of the city continued, starvation took hold, and the death-toll rose. When the fighting was over plague would complete an apocalyptic quartet.

The guns at St. John's were turned on the Dee Mills, the Bridgegate waterworks, and the south-east corner of the walls. On the Welsh side the Royalists still held the fort at Handbridge, from where they assailed Parliamentarian troops in the villages beyond. In response the parliamentarians built a battery for a large artillery piece on Brewer's Hall hill, and linked their positions on either side of the river with a bridge of boats from Dee Lane to the Earl's Eye, protected by gun emplacements at the south end. The articles of surrender, were agreed on 31 January and 1 February. On 3 February Byron and those in the garrison who had chosen to stay with him marched out, and Brereton's forces marched in.

William Lawes probably died in the fighting at Hoole. He is said to have been "casually shot". Lawes spent all his adult life in Charles's employ. He composed secular music and songs for court masques (and doubtless played in them), as well as sacred anthems and motets for Charles's private worship. He is most remembered today for his sublime viol consort suites for between three and six players and his lyra viol music. His use of counterpoint and fugue and his tendency to juxtapose bizarre themes next to pastoral ones in these works made them disfavoured in the centuries after his death: such that they have only become widely available in recent years. Lawes' body was lost or destroyed and his burial site is unknown.

What if and What next

Given the timescales and distances it is difficult to see how Charles and Langdale could have arrived at Chester any sooner in response to Jones' sudden attack on Boughton. They did have the forces to crush Jones but were at first unaware that Poyntz would make a night march to his aid. Had Poyntz not made this march it is possible that Jones would have been at best scattered and at worst wiped-out. Poyntz was at first as unaware of the disposition of Langdale as Langdale was of the approach of Poyntz. If the Royalists had sent Gerard out earlier to pin-down Jones and Lothian it is just possible that Langdale would have been able to defeat Poyntz or at least drive him off. If Jones somehow knew that Poyntz was not marching to his aid he may have been able to retreat to Tarvin. Possibly Jones would have lost his artillery on the way, if not worse.

Of course Charles had started his journey northward with the intention of reaching Scotland before Jones attacked Chester and what could happen if Rowton never took place or was not a Royalist defeat is open to very broad speculation.

In October 1645, King Charles arrived at Newark where he appointed Lord Digby lieutenant-general and sent him north with what was left of Langdale's Horse in a last desperate bid to salvage the Royalist cause in Scotland, which failed. After reducing several Royalist strongholds in Nottinghamshire, Poyntz initiated the final siege of Newark in November 1645, where he was joined by Lord Leven and the Covenanter army from Scotland. By this time Charles had fled to Oxford. The Parliamentary forces at Newark would reach 16,000 against less than 2000 Royalists. Even if Rowton had turned out differently the New Model Army was closing in on Oxford and the only likely effect would be to prolong the sieges at Chester and Newark.

As for the commanders, during the Second Civil War, Poyntz supported the King's alliance with the Scottish Engagers. With the defeat of the Engagers (and Langdale) at the Battle of Preston, the projected Royalist uprisings and invasions in England came to nothing. In 1650, Poyntz sailed with Lord Willoughby to the West Indies where they declared for the King in the English colonies. The Commonwealth responded by sending a force under General-at-Sea George Ayscue, who succeeded in quelling the Royalists in January 1652. Willoughby returned to England, but Poyntz's movements after this date are not known for certain. According to one account he fled to Virginia. Langdale had fled to the Continent and continued his military career fighting for the Venetians against the Turks. After the Restoration, he recovered his estates in Yorkshire and died in 1661. Gerard would also go into exile but at the Restoration would again command the life-guard rode at their head in Charles II's progress to Whitehall on 29 May 1660. Lothian simply vanishes into history. The impetuous Colonel Michael Jones did not survive the Civil War. He died of fever on 10 December 1649 at Dungarven and in a letter reporting his death to Parliament, Cromwell wrote "What England lost hereby is above me to speak". After the siege Byron retreated through north Wales to Caernarfon. His undisguised contempt for civilians had made him extremely unpopular and an attempt was made to assassinate him when he tried to enforce his authority on Angelsey. He sailed away into exile in June 1646 where, after the failed Royalists campaigns of the Second and Third English Civil Wars, he died in Paris in 1652.

Summing Up

From the above it is apparent that "Rowton Moor" could have come out very differently if the timings of events were changed by perhaps one day or even a matter of hours.

Much of what was written at the time about the battle was "propaganda" and therefore needs to be treated with some caution. However thie above document is believed to be genuine.

The somewhat unexpected Battle of Rowton Heath helped to destroy the tattered remnants of the royalist Northern Horse and ended Charles hopes of uniting with Montrose’s forces in Scotland. Though unbeknown to Charles, prior to Rowton, Montrose had already suffered a crushing defeat on the 13th September at Philiphaugh, and thus the Royalist cause was already doomed. There is some argument as to how completely the defeat at Philiphaugh was in destroying Montrose’s army. However, even if he did manage to salvage the core of an army about which he could potential recruit a new force, the defeat had shattered the Montrose aura of invincibility. This was perhaps more than anything else the most important outcome of Philiphaugh.

Charles would only learn of the defeat of Montrose the next day (when leaving Chester). Perhaps if Charles had not been turned-back at Chester he would have continued northwards to disaster in Scotland and a collapse of his supporters in the south. After Philiphaugh Montrose found it impossible to build another army capable of challenging the Covenanters in open battle; all he could do was to maintain a guerrilla war through the winter. Hence Philiphaugh has been described as the decisive battle of the Civil War in Scotland, and marked the end of any slight chance that Charles still had, in the autumn of 1645, of salvaging something by force of arms in the Civil War anywhere in his three kingdoms.

Other than the rather short battle at Rowton the fighting stretched over a whole day and several miles, and both the start to the south of Rowton in the early morning and finish in the late evening at Hoole Heath are very poorly understood. Indeed, while several sources mention action in and movement through "the suburbs" there are very few specific references to Hoole Heath. There are clear suggestions that troops may have crossed it (in the direction of Bridge Trafford) and ranged far enought to reach it ("four miles"), and that there was some form of rally on a "great moore" but the only direct reference is in Malbon/Burghall ("Howe Heath") which we know to be the work of a single author and in error as regards the presence of the king in Hoole. Morris (writing in 1923) however appears quite certain that parts of the fighting took place in Hoole:

  • "..a considerable portion of the garrison, with Lord Gerrard and Lord Lichfield were ordered to pursue, passing throughthe Northgate round by Flookers brook, as the direct way by the Eastgate had been blocked up. Before they could learn their mistake, Poyntz fell upon Langdale, who was then compelled to meet his assault in front as well as Colonel Jones’ attack in rear, and notwithstanding a gallant resistance, he was routed and forced to retire in the direction of Hoole Heath."

It cannot be stated with any certainty that "Lothian's 400" decided the day by protecting the rear of Jones and Booth as they raced to support Poyntz at Rowton, and holding up Gerard's force on Hoole Heath. It is also possible that the "Battle of Hoole Heath" was a critical element in the overall outcome as it may have prevented Langdale making an ordered retreat or reforming after Rowton.

The problem here is that the only specific mention of fighting upon Hoole Heath appears to be in Malbon. All the contempory references are circumstantial, but later historians are happy to copy each other and state that there was fighting on "Hoole Heath", without giving any consideration to where Hoole Heath might be.

There are few clues as to which part of Hoole Heath the fighting took place on, although we have some descriptions that suggest passage through the area was hampered by the land having already been enclosed. This might provide further clues, for example there are a cluster of field names near the Crawford's walk Newton to Boughton route now occupied by "Narrows Park" which contain the elements "Bunbury" (or "Bunberry") and Hay" possibly indicating that they were already enclosed by the Bunbury's who appear to have left Hoole around the time of the Civil War (Hoole Hall was burnt or ransacked during the conflict).

James Stanley also stopped at Hoole Heath. He was on his way to a last drink at the Ye Olde Man & Scythe in Bolton.

There is another reference to Hoole Heath in matters relating to the Civil War, and that is the departure of James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, from Chester on the 14th October 1651. He stopped near Hoole Heath "about half a mile out" to pray. An extract from the full quote reads:

  • "Then his Lordship took leave of Sir Timothy Featherstone, much in the same words as at night. When he came to the castle gate "-the gate of Chester Castle, his journey to Bolton being now begun-" Mr Crossen and three other gentlemen which were condemned came out of the dungeon (at my Lord's request to the Marshal) and kissed his hand and wept to take their leave. My Lord said : 'Gentlemen, God bless and keep you. I hope now my blood will satisfy for all that were with me, and you will in a short time be at liberty. But if the cruelty of these men will not end there, be of good comfort. God will strengthen you to endure to the last, as He hath done me. For you shall hear I die like a Christian, a man, and a soldier, and as an obedient subject to the most just and virtuous Prince this day living in the whole world. So the prisoner and escort rode forth, accompanied by the two young Ladies Stanley in a coach. After we were out of town" - near Hoole Heath, it would seem "the people weeping, my Lord, with a humble behaviour and noble carriage, about half a mile out, took leave of my Lady Katherine and Amelia, upon his knees, by the boot of the coach (lighting to that end purposely from his horse), and there prayed for them, and saluted them, and so departed. This was the saddest hour I ever saw, so much tender affection on both sides."

If this is a reference to half a mile outside of the city bounds at Flookersbrook this would place both Derby and the edge of the Heath somewhere in modern Hoole.

Are Further Finds Possible?

As noted above Local Historians have done much to help clarify the location of the start of the day's fighting and metal-detectorists have discovered scatters of shot around Golborne Brook. Could the same be done in Hoole?

Relics of the Civil War might still be found in Hoole. The firearms of the time were muzzle-loaded and it was commonplace for pre-measured charges of around nine drams of black powder to be carried on a bandolier or "collar of charges". The turned wooden charge flasks are sometimes known as "apostoles" (usually twelve were carried) and while the wooden ones are unlikely to survive they sometimes had lead caps intended to "keep the powder dry". The finer powder for priming the pan would be kept in a pear-shaped flask (or "touch box") which could be made of pewter and bullets were held in a pouch or "ball bag". The lead ball shot was often "12 bore" (roughly 18.5mm or 0.729 inches) meaning that if twelve balls were made from a pound of lead they would fit in the barrel. Musketeers might also carry moulds and nippers to make shot - if the ball didn’t roll down the barrel of the gun it would need to be nipped, clipped or bitten to make it fit. The infantry carried iron swords but these were of little use other than for chopping wood and if too close to the enemy to fire a shot, a musketeer would be more likely to use the club end of his musket to disable his attacker than his sword.

Ormerod's description of the fighting at Hoole places the fighting in lanes between the heath and the city and is borrowed almost word-for-word from Broster, but can be traced back to "suppliments" to and later editions of King's Vale Royal. The Earl of Lindsey would have been Montagu Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsey

However, finding artifacts, for example with metal-detectors, is hindered by the fact that most of what would have been fields or heath has been built upon. The surviving open area, such as parks, recreational fields and allotments may also have been modified by earlier use (such as the Royal Agricultural Show in Hoole for which a large quantity of surface soil was moved).

Some books on the Civil War mention a Parliamentary garrison in Hoole, but none give a location. Samuel Lewis in his "A Topographical Dictionary of England" (1831) writes of Plemstall that:

  • "At Trafford, in this parish, a garrison was placed for the king, by Sir William Brereton, during the siege of Chester in the parliamentary war"

The bridge over the Gowy would certainly seem to be a sensible place to station troops.


The current signage in the Roman Garden at Chester does not connect the breach in the City Walls to the Battle of Rowton Heath, although the two are clearly linked, with the breach in the wall being made on the eve of Charles arrival and the direct cause of his march from Chirk and the detachment of Langdale.

Much ink has been spilt over the question of when and where the clash of arms between Langdale and Poyntz at "Rowton Moor" began and based on the documentary evidence several views have been expressed on battle geography. Simply relying on only documentary evidence does not give a definitive answer.

Many modern works recognise that the later part of the "Battle of Rowton Moor" took place on or near Hoole Heath. Analysis of contemporary documents including that relating to the Trained Bands shows that the heath was widely known prior to the battle. Other documents relate that there was fighting at or near where the heath is known to have been located. However, the only specific reference to fighting on the actual heath from the time of the Civil War is in Burghall/Malbon and reflects the Parliamentary rumour that King Charles was actually on Hoole Heath during some part of the 24th September. This rumour is most likely untrue although it is possible that the king briefly exited the Northgate. There are copious later references to fighting between Hoole Heath and the city, but these should be treated as a single reference repeated many times.

It however seems a reasonable supposition that there were two phases of the battle which can be associated with Hoole:

  • Gerard's attempt to support Langdale at around the start of the fighting at Rowton, where a sally from the Northgate would have passed through Hoole and was blocked by Lothian, and,
  • Langdale's retreat from Rowton, which possibly ran into continuing fighting at or near Hoole and developed into the somewhat chaotic end to the dawn-to-dusk fight.

As Nathaniel Lancaster describes it: "we slew them with a great slaughter on the ground, and chased them all over the Countrie". Work by Local Historians and metal-detectorists has helped to clarify the location of the start of the day's fighting at or near Golborne Brook. Similar efforts, especially the identification of shot scatters, could reveal more about the location of the middle and end of the day's fighting in or near modern Hoole.

Sources and Links

One major problem with the original accounts of the battles of Rowton and Hoole heaths is that they differ widely as regards some of the detail. This is in part explained by the fact that differing accounts were written very shortly after the battle by parties who were supporting one side or the other and exhibit various degrees of bias. Later accounts suffer from the problem that their authors may have used differing combinations of the original source materials. Modern popular accounts frequently place almost all the fighting at Rowton and neglect to mention Golborne or Hoole. A selection of accounts available online are given below:

Related Pages

Original Documents



And for a bit of entertainment (and inaccurate history): Cromwell