Rowton Heath and the Siege of Chester
On the 373rd anniversary of the battle, it's only right and proper to visit, isn't it? Well that's my argument for going, and I'm sticking to it.
Civil War window, St Chad's
1645 the war is going badly for the King, Rupert has just surrendered Bristol to Parliament and is now in disgrace. Charles has pinned his hope on Scots and Irish troops bolstering his army. Unfortunately he only has one port left under his control - Chester, and Chester is under siege.
Charles marched into Chester with 600 soldiers, whilst the remains of the northern horse, under the command of Sir Marmaduke Langdale, were ordered to camp outside the city. Charles believed that he had outwitted his pursuer Poyntz, and had out run him to Chester. Big mistake.
Poyntz met Langdale in the early hours of 24th September. Langdale originally repulsed Poyntz, but Parliamentarian reinforcements from the besieging army arrived and Langdale retreated to Rowton Heath to await his own reinforcements. They were prevented from meeting up with Langdale, and his force was attacked on two fronts. The Royalists suffered considerable losses, including Charles's cousin Lord Bernard Stuart*, and were driven from the field by evening. Charles was reported to watch the destruction of his forces from Phoenix Tower on Chester city walls. Charles left Chester the next day, retreating to Denbigh.
The battlefield today is no longer open heathland - now a mixture of agricultural land and upmarket residences. The battlefield is easily accessed by a number of footpaths, but bears little relation to the seventeenth century landscape.
A recent memorial erected in the centre of Rowton is the only recognition of the battle.
Local legend says that a ruined building by the A41 was used as a field hospital during the battle, but was hidden by vegetation when I visited.
Locally, St Chad's church in Farndon was used as a Parliamentarian barracks, but is now more famous for the Civil War window, which was commissioned in 1662. Postcard representations of the window available from the church.
Chester had been besieged for most of 1645, and there are many areas of interest on the city walls.
Starting at the Water Tower corner: Bonewaldesthorne's Tower is the tower on the walls circuit (the adjacent Water Tower is closed off to public access). The tower still bears the marks of musket balls.
Walking in a clockwise direction, you'll see a badly weathered eighteenth century plaque marking the restoration of the Civil War damage to the walls at Goblin Tower.
Next up is Morgan's Mount which was used as a gun platform.
Carry on to Phoenix Tower, or as it is now known King Charles's Tower. Charles is supposed to have watched the defeat of his army at Rowton at this tower, he must have had excellent eyesight and a very long neck as it is impossible to see the Rowton battlefield from here. The Tower is open to the public, but has somewhat erratic opening times.
Carry on in a clockwise direction to the Roman Gardens. Here you'll see where the breach occured. Small people will enjoy lining up the interpretation panel with the restored walls (purists will shudder at the musketeers wearing morion helmets).
Staying at ground level, carry on through the gardens towards the river. Here you'll find yourself at the base of Barnaby's Tower which was damaged by Parliamentarian cannon fire. This damage is hard to distinguish from the natural weathering of the stone now.
You'll find several references, online, to the Grosvenor Museum exhibiting a number of period military artefacts - sadly these are no longer on display. The big ticket item at the museum is clearly the Romans! Nor does the Heritage Centre have a stunning Civil War display as the Centre doesn't exist anymore.
Outside the walled centre of the city is Rock Lane, or Prince Rupert's Great Trench.
Cut into the bedrock the trench allowed the Royalist defenders to move artillery pieces out of sight of the besieging army.
Due to it's close proximity to the University there are parking restrictions everywhere, parking is available on the main road about a kilometre away close to a kitchen shop (CH1 4AJ).
Finally a gun emplacement called Brewer's Hall Mount. Located on the 7th tee at Chester Golf Club, the location is best approached from the Riverside Promenade walk. Walk to Chester Race Course, and aim for the railway bridge.
A footbridge goes alongside the rail bridge over the river. Be warned - express trains thunder past, and they will rattle your fillings. On the other side of the bridge, the footpath turns right into the golf club's car park. The footpath (a lane) goes to the right.
Follow the lane to the groundskeepers' buildings. Walk past the first building, there are more buildings a little further on, and a yard on your right. Turn left here off the lane towards the golf course. Cross the drainage ditch by the little bridge, and you'll see the marker stone erected by the golf club. Please be respectful of the golfists, and allow them to take their shots before approaching the tee.
The Parliamentarian besiegers installed a gun emplacement here from which to bombard the city. I really struggled to find this, and had to ask one of the groundskeepers for directions: he told me that he had been involved in some of the work improving the 7th tee, during which they found evidence of the emplacement.
* Portrait of Lord Bernard Stuart and his brother can be found in the National Gallery; my photo of the portrait can be found in an earlier post here (Lord Bernard is the one on the right).
The Great Siege of Chester J.Barratt, History Press
Postcodes for SatNavs
Rowton Heath memorial CH1 2DD
St Chad's Farndon CH3 6RX
Rock Lane (Prince Rupert's Trench), Cheyney Road end CH1 4BR