The Siege of Lathom House & Lathom Park Chapel

This Summer I visited Lathom House. There’s not much there now- just one wing of an 18th and 19th century mansion. As I walked down the lane, I was passed by a number of posh-looking teenagers in fast cars; the house perhaps still retains its original function. Nearby lie the remains of an older Lathom House, a veritable fortified mansion, the home of the Earls of Derby. It had eighteen towers, including a tall keep called the Eagle Tower, commanding great views of the area. In addition, it was moated and surrounded by six-foot thick wall.

The current house; this field is probably where the older house stood

The Stanley Earls were Lancashire’s leading family and sided with the King in the civil war. In 1644, parliament besieged the house, led by Sir Thomas Fairfax. The defenders were trapped within the mansion and the besiegers dug trenches around the site. They had various canon which made little impact on the stout walls, but they then procured a mortar. This is a piece of artillery which fires high into the air, lobbing up ‘granadoes’ (shells) over the walls, exploding on whatever it lands. Yet the siege failed. Why?

  1. The royalists within arranged sorties, suddenly exiting the stronghold to attack the trenches and works of the roundheads. On one such escapade, the raiders ‘slew about 30 men, took 40 armes, one drum and six prisoners’. On another sortie, they even pinched the mortar.
  2. The parliamentary leadership was weak and divided. General Fairfax soon left to attend to other matters, leaving local colonels such as Alexander Rigby and Colonel Assheton of Downham, who fell out with each other. Furthermore, Parliament’s organisation was shambolic; the siege was badly financed and rotas for swapping men in the siege were complicated.
  3. They also had a shortage of arms. The ordinary canons only fired stones and the mortar only had four granadoes, the last one of which was fired on 4th April. Although the defenders were ready and waiting, holding ‘greene and wett hides’ to put out the flames, the incendiary was badly aimed, and glided right over the house.
  4. The wet weather also resulted in the parliamentary trenches filling with water; their men deserted and even surrendered. The siege failed when Prince Rupert relieved the house on his way to massacre the puritans at Bolton, a crime for which Lathom’s proprietor would be executed.

Lathom’s defence was managed by Charlotte, Countess of Derby, in her husband’s absence. Her temerity earned the epithet ‘the lady of Lathom’ who ‘stole the earl’s breeches’ to ‘play the man’. 

A Puritan minister at mainly royalist Wigan preached on the following text against the Countess: 'Put yourselves in array against Babylon round about; all ye that bend the bow shoot at her; spare no arrows; for she has sinned against the Lord. (Jeremiah 50.14).

Later in the war, the house was besieged again, this time successfully. So bitter were the parliamentary commanders at having been defeated the first time, they destroyed the house so it might never again offer resistance to the Parliament of England. All that is left is the little mansion now frequented by the posh teens, a row of attractive whitewashed alms-houses and Lathom Park Chapel. Surprisingly, the building predates the siege and must have been too useful for the iconoclastic Parliamentarians to demolish. The church is pretty, but its website bereft of anything resembling the gospel.

Close by the church is Cromwell’s stone, a boulder found in nearby woods in which parliamentary cannon shot was made. Cromwell, however, was never actually present at the site. Had this stone been put to greater use and more artillery shot produced, the first siege might have been successful, a bitter parliament might not have seen fit to demolish so fine a house and the national church might be more interested in preaching the gospel instead of just hiring itself our for weddings.

Cromwell's Stone

The folk band Steeleye Span wrote a song about the siege called They Call Her Babylon:

To the halls of Latham House the king he did proclaim
That the seventh Earl of Derby, James Stanley was his name,
Should resist the Scottish force bound for the Isle of Man,
So he gathered up his fighters and obeyed the king's command.

The Countess was of noble blood, though not of royalty,
Yet brave and as intrepid as any man was she.
So the house became a fortress, with her good Lord now gone.
Her name was Lady Charlotte but they called her Babylon.

Chorus:
So put yourselves in line against Babylon.
All ye that bend the bow against the crown.
And train the gunner's sights against Babylon
Till the eagle tower does fall and the walls they are thrown down.

Both the puritans and Fairfax, together they did call
For this one last royal stronghold in Lancashire to fall.
So the garrison she strengthened and the eagle tower was manned
And refusing all conditions, it was then the siege began.

Chorus

Twas in two good months when those rebels did retreat
They were cast out from the earthworks and driven to defeat.
With dishonour and in shame their siege came to an end,
They were routed by a lady and two hundred loyal men.

Chorus

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzurqNNBa5g 

 

 

Alms Houses

Lathom Park Chapel