Battle of Read Bridge

Last week I went along those narrow, twisty lanes which so characterise our county. I was heading for Read Old Bridge, the old road between Padiham and Whalley. It was all very peaceful; the hills rolled, the brook babbled and the songbirds sang. The bridge itself seems rather larger than is strictly necessary to span so small a brook and the road is very quiet, barely used. Only one other car passed by, a farmer delivering milk. Back in April, 1643, this place was far from quiet. It was a battle ground.

I enjoy a good British battle site. They are relatively small patches of ground upon which major decisions were reached. Sadly, hundreds or thousands would have been wounded or killed as that outcome was decided, because words and reason were deemed insufficient. Nowadays, such places are calm, often serene, belying the horrors of yesteryear. Back to Read Bridge. This is the story of how a small contingent of soldiers defeated one much larger, better equipped and led by more glamorous officers.

The Earl of Derby, the Royalist leader of Civil War Lancashire, was bringing 3000-4000 troops from his estates in West Lancashire eastwards to Whalley. The local puritan gentry, Colonel Asheton of Downham, Colonel Shuttleworth of Padiham and Captain Starkie of Huntroyd, were thrown into confusion. How could they face so great a force camping in their backyard, soon to plunder their houses and farms? W.A. Abram’s 1877 History of Blackburn quotes a letter written by one ‘E.F.’ which says

that the Earl of Derby, the Lord Mollineaux, Sir Gilbert Hoghton,

Colonell Tildesley, with all the other great Papists in this County, issued

out of Preston, and on Wednesday noon [April 19th] came to Ribches-

ter with eleven troops of horse, 700 foot, and infinite of Clubmen, in all

conceived to be 5,000.'"

Other accounts suggest the number were a thousand or so fewer, but it was a formidable force. Colonel Shuttleworth, who resided at Gawthorpe Hall, wrote to all his neighbours and tenants, to arm themselves and appear at his house the next morning. 400 men with muskets and 60 horse answered the call, a paltry number compared to the encamped enemies at Whalley. As another letter of the time says:

The Earle accompanied with 2,000 (as is judged) came to Ribchester

over night, to Whalley by eight of the clocke to a green not far from

Padiham. Our side had but two or three hundred Fire-men, and four-

score or a hundred Horse, so that in means there was no possibility of

safety.'”

The Roundead captains reconnoitred the Cavaliers’ superior numbers and decided that retreat was the only sensible option. E.F. said that the musketeers were having none of it:

This pleased not the Souldiers then by, that they should turn their backs upon their enimies before they saw their faces. Therefore a many of the Musketiers, being resolut men, replyed to the Captaines boldly, bidding them take what course they pleased for their safeties, yet they would aventure them- selves, see the enemie and have one bout with them if God will. And therefore gathering themselves together mad themselves readie to receive the enemie. And belyke eyther imagyning of themselves or having intelligence from others that the enemie would pass that way, they planted themselves in fields on the highway sid, betwixt Whaley and Padiam, under the Stone walls with their muskets readie charged, being hid, to give their enemie a volley of shot if they appeared. Long they lay not before they espied some of the Earles Horse and Foot mounting out of a hollow dingle betwixt Ashterley and Read-head.

In other words, they hid themselves among the trees and in the bushes, behind the walls and under the hedgerows, so that when the enemy came that way from their camp at Whalley towards Padiham, they might there ambush them.

And so it was. Sir Thomas Tyldsley, ‘papist’ and royalist commander from Leigh, approached along the lane with his men, asking directions from a cottager.

Not long after this Discourse the Musketiers under the walls waiting their opportunitie let

goe a volley of shot against them veiy hotly, which did put such a fear into them that

immediately without delay they turned againe, and downe towards Whaley with all the

speed they could make. And {as the report was) Mr. Tildsley was soe terrified and

amazed that forgetting his way for haste tooke into that lane that leads to Mr. Shuttle-

worth's house at Ashterlee, and then forced his horse to leape over a yate and passed

down by Portfield to Whaley. The Musketiers perceiving them flee soe fearfully

pursued them hotly and took divers Foot Clubmen. Presently, upon the Report of

the Muskets, many came unto them, and some carried the Prisoners to Padiam, and

the rest joyned with the Musketiers to pursue the enemie.

Tyldesley would not have known that he was being ambushed by so few men. As he fled, he may have thought it a far bigger force. His panic will have infected the troops still camped at Whalley, who will have fled likewise. Hence, a small force of Roundheads defeated a royalist force which was perhaps ten times as large. The royalist cause in Lancashire was dealt a severe blow and the East’s puritan gentry and their estates were preserved. The discrepancy in numbers is such that some historians won’t call it a battle, but a skirmish. Still, it is encouraging to be reminded that a small but dedicated army can overcome great odds to gain the victory. Christians in Britain are few in number and often low in spirits. The forces of aggressive secularism, false religion and general indifference appear bold enemies, destined to triumph . As Solomon observes, however, in Ecclesiastes 9:11:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.

Though the British Church is feeble, the gates of hell will not prevail.

Then Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I beseech thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he looked, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. 2 Kings 6:17 (Geneva Bible)

That elusive contemporary of the Battle of Read Bridge, E.F., quoted in History of Blackburn, added to his account:

Amongst those that came in then to them [the Roundheads in pursuit of Tyldes-

ley's men], was . . Marsden, then a Lieutenant, after made a Captaine, a man of

courage and hardie spirit. He incoradged the souldiers much with manly words to

goe on, God would fight for them, and the like. So they pursuing with great shout-

ing, and the nearer that they came to Whaley the shouting was more and greater, the

hills and valleys giving the echoes, besids more comming and increasing. Whalley

standeth in a Vale, having the hills on every side on which was much people standing

and all shouted, putting amazement into the Earles Armie.

I guess that this Lieutenant Marsden was one of the men of East Lancashire who faithfully responded to Colonel Shuttleworth’s call to muster. He may have some from Marsden Hall at Marsden, now part of Nelson. Either way, I rather like his godly battle cry and ‘incoradging’ spirit.

Would that this Marsden could do the same.