Tuesday 1 July 2014

The Battle of Cropredy Bridge - 370th Anniversary Walk

An excellent information signboard on Cropredy Bridge
 with illustrations that will be familiar to many of us

For many years I have wanted to walk the battlefield of Cropredy Bridge.  It's really a local battlefield to me as it is less than an hours drive away and in the same county, so to have neglected a visit for this long has been very remiss of me.  So having looked for a suitable weekend this summer, I was amazed to find that the best weekend for me was actually the 370th anniversary of the battle to the day, 29th June - quite a remarkable co-incidence!

 Ghosts?... or had others remembered the anniversary too?

A view over the side of the bridge of the now tranquil River Cherwell

Having walked the battlefield of Roundway Down on the way back from the 'Attack' wargaming show in 2012, my regular wargaming opponent Ian and I both felt that walking the battlefield was enormously useful in understanding the battle.  At Roundway Down in particular, the sudden drops off the sides of the battlefield were very impressive, even catching me out, who despite being on foot, managed to loose my footing and slid 12 feet down before stopping my rapid descent.  No wonder the steep slopes were the end of Haselrigge's cavalry there!

A good bunch of guys from the Tower Hamlets Regiment of the Sealed Knot
who gave up their Sunday to educate passing members of the public 
and to commemorate the battle

So armed with map,compasses, binos (primarily for spotting hidden stiles in distant hedgerows), battlefield books and lunch we set off on a circular walk starting from Cropredy bridge itself.  

I don't aim to present a history of the battle here other than to say that this is a particularly fascinating battle. The Parliamentarian Commander, Sir William Waller, watching the marching Royalists columns getting strung out (rather like the French at Salamanca) noticed a large gap appear and decided to attack and defeat the Royalists piecemeal.  The plan however, didn't survive the execution, and despite it's brilliance his army took the worst of the encounter.  There are excellent descriptions of the battle on websites and of course so many books.  This account is more a brief description of the walk and how it enhanced my understanding of the battle from the context of a wargamer.

 We aimed for Slat Mill first of all to the point where the Parliamentarian cavalry crossed and attacked the rearguard.  Finding an old disused mill and a crossing point, we took this, but alas on reflection I think that it was actually Cropredy Mill.  It was still an important part of the battle but it seems that the Parliamentarian cavalry crossed there also to attack the Royalist main body in conjunction with the forces crossing Cropredy Bridge. We should have headed further south to reach Slat Mill.

An advantage of crossing at Cropredy Mill was that by following the track and crossing a busy road, we were then able to cross join a footpath that went right across the centre of the battlefield.  This is below the ridge to the west of the village of Wardington.

Map of battle. Original source unknown (happy to acknowledge source when discovered!)

The village of Cropredy taken standing on the road between Cropredy and Williamscott. This field would have seen the Parliamentarian main force advance and then be repulsed back over Cropredy Bridge by the Royalist cavalry.

 Looking East towards Williamscott

The distant church tower very helpfully shows the location of Wardington.

Most of the action appears to have happened in the lower ground below the ridgelines, sloping down towards Cropredy. There is almost a bowl formed between all the main points of the action, and the footpath goes right across the centre, so you know that you are walking right in the middle of where it all happened.

Crossing near the centre of the battlefield and looking west towards Cropredy.
  This wouldn't have been the place to stand 370 years ago!

Crossing the battlefield we decided to walk to the most northerly part of the battle at Hays Bridge.  This is where the Royalist vanguard overturned a wagon and prevented Haselrigge's cavalry from making further attacks on them before driving the Roundheads off.

 The photo from Hays Bridge looks so peaceful but behind me its the the A361 and cars are going past my rear at 50mph plus with little room to spare

 A side view of Hays Bridge. It was a relief to get off the busy road.  There is no indication whatsoever of what happened on this bridge all those years ago. No signage - nothing. How can something so historic be so ignored?

The first view of the author on this blog!  The compass, book and maps were so useful.

A few pics of beautiful Cropredy which I took on the way back into the village.

The wonderful church which houses a small display about the battle. Also displayed is a replica of a pikeman's armour replacing an original which was stolen from the church three times (the third time being the last time it was ever seen sadly).

It was really nice to see that The Battlefields Trust and the Sealed Knot had left wreaths on the bridge to remember the fallen.

A bit more about the bridge.  Sadly the actual bridge at Cropredy standing now is not the one which stood during the battle. The Bishop of Lincoln must have been a strong fellow to have built it, but I guess it must have been a nice change from the church job (!)

I have to say that it was an excellent walk and I thoroughly recommend it. The countryside is beautiful and it's amazing that so much of the battlefield is accessible.  This must be pretty rare in this country!  It was quite easy to match the lie of the land to the key points and it was also possible to see where things could go wrong.  Topography played a major part in the battle.  The ridgeline to the west behind Cropredy gave Waller his view of the Royalist error and also formed the position where his army drew back to watch the Royalists on the opposing ridge at Wardington.  

It was quite something to see what both sides would have seen and get an understanding as to how things happened.  The command and control element must have been very difficult, especially in regards to the attack on Hays bridge.Units would have disappeared out of sight and Waller must have been blind to how things were on various parts of the battlefield.  When things started going wrong, they would have started going wrong quickly and the bridges formed natural choke points.  

I'm not so sure the whole battle is playable in 28mm without some some serious scaling down or a much larger table than the one that I have.  Slat Mill could probably be left out of a re-fight and just allow Parliamentarian cavalry to appear from the table edge from that direction, this would probably work quite well.  There are some interesting quirky unusual items required for this battle.  The Parliamentarians had 'two barricadoes of wood which were drawn upon wheels, and in each seven small brass and leather guns charged with case-shot'.  This sounds awesome - it would be great to field these on the board!


  1. Great visit report. I'm glad to see the re-enactors there on site for the day. I always come away from a battlefield visit with a much fuller understanding of the events.

    Handsome author pic, too! :-)

    Tell me a bit about the locks seen at Copredy?

    1. I'm glad you liked the visit report. I bought the 'Explorer's Guide to the Battle of Lansdown' book and it arrived yesterday. Guess where I will be heading soon :-)

      As for the locks, I must admit I did stand and watch them in operation for a good 15 minutes. It was quite fascinating to see. These are on the Oxford Canal which runs alongside the River Cherwell at Cropredy. Other than raising the canal levels to allow boats to go uphill I don't know too much about them (and I may even have that wrong!).

  2. Nice report, great looking pictures of the area andof the reenactors...

    1. Thanks Phil. It was good to see the re-enactors there. I truly didn't think I would find anyone else at the site who knew it was the anniversary. It turned out that the Battlefield Trust had organised a tour of the battlefield that day too - I wish I knew before as we could have tagged along with an expert guide.

  3. Really interesting post! Having attended the Cropredy Festival many times, it's good to have a better understanding of all the important historical stuff in the area :) Perhaps you could set up a tiny stage on your game board? And some tiny stalls selling tie dye trousers and 'festival' hats?
    PS more author pics please!

    1. I'll have you know good lady that the battles on my table are fought fairly and in a decent manner - some of the music at the Cropredy Festival could be classed as a weapon of massed destruction. (Didn't you once accidentally insult Nick Kershaw there?) ;-)

      As for more author pics - I want to get more readers, not scare them off! :-)

  4. Wonderful scenes and the reenactors are cool - that one guy in half armor is tall!

    1. Hi Dean, It was such a great day out and I learned so much. It's quite unusual to see UK re-enactors taller than they are round ;-)
      Best wishes,