The present day calm of the area belies a past that has, at least on two occasions, seen significant bloody battles in this strategically important area north of the crossing point of the River Mersey at Warrington.
St. Oswald’s Well, about 1.5km to the east, on the outskirts of Hermitage Green, reputedly marks the site of King Oswald’s death at the Battle of Maserfelth on 5th August, 642. He was an early Christian King of Northumbria and there is local tradition that he had a ‘summer palace’ in the area. The pagan King Penda of Mercia invaded and although the site of the battle is unclear, where Oswald fell mortally wounded, water began to rise as he clawed at the ground with his right hand. Thus was started the sacred ‘Well’ with great healing properties visited by pilgrims for hundreds of years. In fact many of Oswald’s dismembered body parts became venerated and were thus worshipped at various locations, such as Oswestry (Near Telford), Lindisfarne, Bamburgh, Durham, Worcester, Peterborough, Gloucester and York!
A thousand years later another internal conflict again tore the country apart with the advent of the English Civil War in 1642. By 1646 King Charles had been defeated in battle and was Parliament’s prisoner on the Isle of Wight.
However, the Royalists still had much support in the north of England and the Duke of Hamilton’s Scots army invaded during the summer of 1648, hoping to win over locals loyal to the King. But at Preston they were routed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces and over the following days the larger part of their army were harassed by Colonel Pride down the main route southwards (now the A49), via Wigan.
On 19th August, here at Red Bank (the battle is sometimes referred to as Winwick), they decided to stand and fight in one last desperate attempt to shake off the pursuing Roundheads. Along the river valley formed by Newton and Hermitage Brooks, they mustered a large body of pikemen and lined the hedges with muskets. For many hours ‘push of pike’ and fierce hand-to-hand fighting ensued but eventually they broke, leaving 1000 killed and 2000 prisoners.
Major John Cholmley is the only known individual buried locally, being interred at Winwick Church. The remnants of the Scots and Royalists were chased to Warrington Bridge, where Lieut. General Bailey surrendered his infantry. The Duke of Hamilton and 3000 cavalry escaped to Nantwich but eventually surrendered at Uttoxeter, Staffordshire on 25th August. With defeat at Preston and finally at Red Bank, the King’s cause was ended and he was executed in London on 30th January 1649.
The Ranger Service patrols and manages the local area and is based at Mesnes Park, Newton-Le-Willows. If you require any further information, please call 01925-229021.