Westhoughton History Group : Civil War
       The Battle of Houghton Common



In the 17th Century Lancashire, the west coast and Fylde were mainly agricultural and conservative in loyalty and religion with a strong Roman Catholic landed gentry.  The east and southeast of the county was more industrial, commercial and strongly Puritan, especially around Manchester and Bolton.

Civil War – Battle of Houghton Common 1642

The outbreak of Civil War in 1642 between King Charles I’s supporters (Royalists) and the Parliamentarians provided an opportunity for the settling of old scores, religious or otherwise.

Westhoughton’s sturdy independence found expression in the Civil War when the would-be Royalist, Squire Hulton, summoned his tenants to the King’s cause.  Some obeyed and some refused and one of the former, after a short period, came back to Hulton Hall, threw down his arms, and said he was “going for Parliament”, though the Squire said he would hang for it.

According to the late Mr Robert Walmsley, an authority on Westhoughton, during the Civil War, at the time of the Battle of Westhoughton Common, some of the Royalist soldiers were quartered at Snydale Hall and some at Lostock Hall.  Wigan was a famous Royalist town and Bolton a Parliamentary town, and the tall building of Snydale Hall would probably act as an observation post for the troops.

A contemporary account reports that in December 1642 a “Plundering Array” issued out of Wigan (the Royalist Garrison) “to stir up the courage of the neighbourhood”.  About this time James Brown’s house at Brinsop was plundered, so that was probably their objective.  As a result of this, the local Parliamentary commander sought help from the Manchester garrison and two companies under Captains Venables and Bradshaw were sent to reinforce Captain Risley Brown’s company and “to plunder another Papist’s house” (possibly the home of the Andertons of Lostock).

However, as Venables and Bradshaw approached Houghton Common on December 15th or 16th (different accounts give different dates), they found a thousand horse and foot of the Wigan forces drawn up “on a close of ground on the side of the Common” that is on Warcock Hill.  During the fight, which ensued “God fired their magazine” so, the Parliamentarians decided to surrender.  There is no report of the dead but the three companies were taken prisoner, the three Captains (one of these, being Captain Peter Rylands, who was said to be a member of the Rylands family of the old Westhoughton or Daisy Hill Hall), were taken to Lord Derby’s home at Lathom, the rest to Wigan where they were lodged in the homes of Royalist gentry.

It is recorded that 160 of the Bolton men were taken captive to Wigan; there is a list of prisoners and letters of exchange in the papers of Mr Hugh Anderton in Wigan Record Office.  The exchange began early January 1643 and amongst these was Captain Peter Rylands who was exchanged for the recently captured Royalist Lieutenant Philip Morris.  This exchange was concluded by the beginning of March.  The correspondence between Mr Anderton and Major General Bradshaw of Bolton is most gentlemanly and shows concern for the sick and wounded.

The Contemporary James Browne appears to have been caught in the crossfire, for in December 1647, General Blair of Wigan ordered that all the property looted from James Browne be restored to him.


Battle of Westhoughton Common -1642

Information about the actual battle is scarce.  A contemporary account says that on the 15th December 1642-Parliamentary forces under Captains Bradshaw & Venables marched from Manchester as far as Houghton Common, where “in a close of ground upon the side of Houghton Common they met the enemy with about a thousand horse and foot”.  Local legend sited the battlefield on Warcock Hill and Commercial Fields.

If the Parliamentarians came along the present A6, the Manchester Road, they would come upon a close (land already enclosed from the Common) which would include Warcock Hill, Corner Brook and Commercial Fields.

The “Enemy” were detachments of Lord Derby’s force from the Royalist garrison at Wigan.  The Stanley papers include an excerpt from Lord Derby’s diary with a mention of the battle; and a soldier, giving evidence on oath later said that Lord Derby was present at the battle.

The Parliamentarians were routed “God fired their Magazine” and they were forced to surrender.  Besides Captains Bradshaw and Venables, Captain Risley Browne was taken.  He was the Browne of Brinsop.  His Lieutenant was Peter Rylands of Daisy Hill, later Parliamentary Sequestrator for this area.

Sequestrator - n.1.(Law) One who sequesters property, or takes the possession of it for a time, to satisfy a demand out of its rents or profits.

Earl of Derby, (Baron Strange), James Stanley, Royalist, 1607-51

James Stanley, born on the 31st of January 1607 at Knowsley, was known as Lord Strange until he inherited the family title to become the 7th Earl of Derby. His family was powerful and influential in Lancashire, though not well liked for their tough autocratic ways. In 1625 Lord Strange was Member of Parliament for Liverpool, and later was made Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire and Cheshire. A solid Royalist throughout the Civil War, his troops seized many northern towns for the Royalist cause, though Manchester was one of the few to resist capture. An attempt was made to seize an arms storehouse in the city by Strange’s forces in 1642, but the local population rose up and fended off the attack.

At that time Manchester was staunchly Puritan and supported the Parliamentarian forces of Cromwell. During this raid, the first death of the Civil War occurred - one Richard Percival, a local weaver. Later, in September that year, a second massive attack was made by Strange and 4,000 troops on Manchester, but by this time being more organised and prepared, the Manchester defenders, led by Colonel John Rosworm, beat off the assault and within the month the Cavalier forces lifted the siege and withdrew in disarray.

Manchester remained one of England's fiercest Parliamentary enclaves, and was never taken by Royalist forces.

Further northern skirmishes ensued, while in the meantime Strange had become Earl of Derby, and defeat followed upon defeat for his forces, until in 1644 he and his family were forced to flee to the Isle of Man.  His wife Charlotte stayed behind to hold the family home at Lathom, and did so through 2 sieges in 1644 and 1645, it being one of the few remaining Royalist strongholds at this late stage in the war.
Lathom finally fell to the Parliamentarians in December 1645, by which time Charlotte had secretly fled to the Isle of Man to join her husband.

Stanley returned to the English mainland in 1651 to help King Charles II, fighting at Wigan and at Worcester. During this time he was captured and court-marshalled on the grounds of High Treason. He was sentenced to death at Bolton and was executed on 15th October 1651, outside the "Man & Scythe" pub, where a plaque still marks the spot. His body was buried at Ormskirk.

Compiled by Pam Clarke for Westhoughton Local History Group