Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"An Old Battlefield" Transcript of a document from St Mary's church in Mucklestone

St. Mary
painting of St.Mary's Church, Mucklestone, by Ivor John Powell

Hanging on the western wall of St Mary's church in Mucklestone is a piece about the history of Blore Heath and the surrounding area, purportedly written by 'H.F.' in 1870. The piece is an interesting summary of the battle, and contains some other facts about the area at around the time of the turn of the 19th century.
I include a complete reproduction of the text here, with my own comments inline. The original contains some interesting sketches, Unfortunately I cannot reproduce these on the site just yet.
To the traveller - cyclist or pedestrian - few places present more diversified, quiet, rural scenery than the borderland of Cheshire, Shropshire, and Staffordshire, which rivals the sylvan beauties of Warwickshire and its neighbouring counties. But whilst this district can boast of classic Stratford, of romantic Kenilworth, of ancient Coventry and Warwick, and their many delightful associations, the locality of which I write has, comparatively speaking, few such names to recommend it to the imaginative mind. In that way its record cannot be considered a brilliant one.
In England's battles, however, Cheshire has done bold service in defence of king and country, and it was chiefly from the yeomen of Cheshire and Shropshire that Lord Audley drew his army of 10,000 men, and gave battle to the enemies of his sovereign, King Henry VI. This was in the autumn of 1459. The struggle for supremacy between the two rival houses of York and Lancaster had commenced in the month of May four years previously. When the country round St Albans was decked out in all the pageantry of early summer, and luxuriant growth of wood and flowers beautified the earth, wild internecine war waged in the hitherto sleepy town hard [sic] by, and its streets ran with the best blood of the land.
Four autumns had come and gone, and a fifth was replendent with yellowing limes and chestnuts, and on the heath the gorse blossomed fitfully, when the rival factions met again. This time the battlefield was Bloreheath, in the North of Staffordshire, close to the Shropshire borderland. From Eccleshall the Queen - the beautiful, high-spirited, though unfortunate Margaret of Anjou - and her Council issued orders to Lord Audley, commanding him to intercept the Earl of Salisbury, who was marching from Middleham, in Yorkshire, to join the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of York at Ludlow.
The latter claimed the throne in opposition to Henry VI, who now held the crown, was a descendant of John of Gaunt, a younger son of Edward III.
The road from the ancient town of Newcastle-under-Lyme, is undulating, and the country through which it passes is pleasantly interesting. Some miles from the town there is a stiff climb up the fir-covered Blore Edge, from which the battlefield is not three miles distant. The village of Loggerheads lies below, with its inn displaying an odd sign, "The Three Loggerheads".
The Loggerheads Hotel is still present. Unfortunately the old "odd sign" was removed sometime in the mid 1990s.
Beyond is the battlefield. On the left of the road is to be seen Cross Field, and about the middle of it is a stone coross, apparently of very ancient date, which marks the spot where fell the Lancastrian leader, Lord Audley. it is much dilapidated and time-stained, and the inscription upon it is very difficult to decipher.
It reads thus:
On this spot was fought the Battle of Bloreheath in 1459 Lord Audley who commanded for the side of Lancaster, was defeated and slain. To perpetuate the memory of the action and the place this ancient monument was repaired in 1765 At the charge of the Lord of the Manor Charles Boothby Schrymsher
On the far side of the cross a narrow valley stretches east and west. At the bottom of it a fussy little brook babbles through a verdant flowery croft, lazily rejoicing in having nothing to do but chatter. It is called Hemp Mill Brook, for in days long since [gone] it hurried along to turn the wheel of a hemp mill close by.
It attained an unwanted degree of importance - never since realised - the day it formed the boundary line between the armies of the two factions about to engage in mortal combat. the remains of a miniature dam may still be seen and the foundations of the hemp mill clearly traced. the millrace, too, is there, and the mill cottage, now a farm. stands close by with a plank bridge leading to it, and a garden, rich in flowering plants and perfume, surrounding it.
The homely quiet of the place contrasts strongly with the bustle and din, and the clanging of weapons and accoutrements that must have obtained on a Sunday morning four and a half centuries ago.
The date on this document is circa 1870, which is incongruous with the author writing 'four and a half centuries ago'. This puts the date of writing at around 1910.
It was close to the hemp mill where the thickest of the fight was and the noisy rivulet ran blood for three months - so the country people say. This is, of course, an absurd tale but the exaggeration is perhaps pardonable. Accounts of the awful carnage would be handed down through many generations - each succeeding decade finding the details more and more harrowing.
The standard version of the legend states that the brook ran with blood for 'three days and three nights'.
Lord Audley chose a very strong position on the rising ground south of the stream, but he indiscreetly allowed himself, by the old trick of a feigned retreat on the part of his opponents, to be cheated of his advantage. He crossed the stream in pursuit of the retreating Yorkists, but on the opposite slope paid the penalty with his life for his rashness deceived by the tactics of the wily enemy. The battle was lost, and many brave Cheshire yeoman knight and esquires lay dead upon the marsh.
Bloreheath no longer exists. It is enclosed and comforable farmsteads may be seen, here and there, dotting what was once a wide stretch of moorland.
As I passed along the road which branches to the right, almost opposite the "The Three Loggerheads", I overtook a countryman. We fell into conversation. Up the hillside to the right lay a large whitewashed dwelling, and after pointing this place out as having been the scene of the blood-curdling murder of a rich man whose property was coverted by others, he went on to tell the popular legend of the old battlefield. Almost every place has its ancient tradition, to be had for the seeking, and the tale, substantially the same, was afterwards detailed to me more than once. Far away back these legends have their roots, and the growth of centuries clings tenaciously to them. Whether true in all details or not matters little. It may be well not to inquire too closely into this particular tradition, and after all, perhaps in regard to matters of this kind the practice of a little self-deception is a harmless sort of luxury.
H.F. probably had his conversation on the Loggerheads to Mucklestone road. Therefore it is likely that the house which H.F. refers to is White House Farm, still present to this day on the hill roughly north-east of Loggerheads, and visible from miles around.
It is said that Queen Margaret watched the battle from Mucklestone Church - the spire of which we could see half-hidden amongst the trees which clothe the slope of the Blore Edge. When the battle was over the Queen fled over the Heath towards Newcastle, having first taken the precaution to get her horse's shoes reversed in order that the soft turf might not betray the course of her flight. The smith, whose name was Skelhorn, lived near the church, and the smithy, now a wheel-wright's shop, is still pointed out by the villagers. Until lately, comparatively speaking, the house was occupied by a family of the same name. They claimed descent from the man who assisted the escape of a queen, just as two hundred years afterwards the Penderils found means of escape for a future king.
It is very interesting that the author remarks on viewing the spire of Mucklestone church, as it has commonly believed that the spire disappeared long before that. The spire itself is key to the legend of Queen Margaret at Mucklestone, as the current tower is not high enough to provide a good view of Blore Heath.

H.F. is most likely mistaken in saying that the Queen fled to Newcastle-under-Lyme, as this would have been the town from which the Yorkists approached Blore Heath, and therefore deep behind enemy lines. If she had been at Mucklestone at all, she would have headed back to Eccleshall castle to rejoin the King.
Apart from its interesting associations, Mucklestone is a charming little village. The outlook from the church tower is very grand. A noble pine wood stretches down from the summit of Blore Edge, intercepting the view which was once to be had of the battlefield.
About three miles to the west is the delightfully quaint old town of Market Drayton, with its ancient black-and-white timbered houses, which, could they speak, would tell of many a dying straggler from the bloody field who found quiet and protection within their friendly walls.
circa 1870

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