A fantastic free event is coming to Chester over the August bank holiday. I spoke to Mike from the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote to find out more
“We’re going to be setting up a huge historical encampment on Chester Racecourse and then re-enacting the 1645 Battle of Rowton Heath on the Sunday and Monday of August Bank Holiday. There’s going to be around 4,000 members of the Sealed Knot descending on Chester, with more than 1,500 pikemen, musketeers, cavalry, and cannoneers on the battlefield – it’s going to be huge!” He says the event will be ten times bigger than last years event which took place on the Deans Field next to the Cathedral. “The people of Chester have been so welcoming and enthusiastic at our smaller events over the past two years that this is our chance to say thank you – a great weekend of activities for the whole family”
“On the Saturday, we’re going to be marching through the city centre at around noon on our way to the Roman Gardens, to unveil a plaque commemorating those who died during the Great Siege of 1645-1646, when the city was the last great stronghold of King Charles. Then there will be dramatic recreations of Chester’s English Civil War history around Eastgate, the Market Cross, and the Town Hall bringing the siege to life.” The event is supported by the council, the racecourse and Marketing Cheshire and organised by the Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote, a Parliamentarian regiment from the Sealed Knot society . On the Saturday scenes from the siege will be brought to life from 1 til 3. The battle itself will take place at 230 on the Sunday, and 2pm on bank holiday Monday.
Chester’s civil war heritage is often overlooked and overshadowed by the Romans. Mike explained Chester’s key role during the this turbulent period of our history. “Chester was vitally important for King Charles for two reasons – firstly, it covered the roads to Royalist North Wales and also the route up to Scotland; secondly, it was a port. All the way through the first Civil War, Charles hoped to bring across troops from Ireland. These English troops had been in Ireland for some time, putting down an Irish rebellion. They were experienced and battle-hardened, and Charles believed they could turn the tide of the war in England and Scotland. To bring them across he needed a port and, after the fall of Bristol, Chester – with its strong Roman walls and secure position – was his last remaining stronghold. Unfortunately for him, the dribble of troops that came across from Ireland was never enough to have a major effect. Chester resisted more than one siege and successfully held off Parliament’s forces. Indeed, it held out to the very end. In September 1645, Charles watched from the city walls as his last significant army was destroyed at the chaotic Battle of Rowton Heath.” After the King fled, Chester endured a 4 month siege before eventually surrendering, with the residents starving in January 1646.
Mike has been a member of the Regiment of Foote for almost ten years. “ I’ve always been fascinated by history and particularly English Civil War history. It’s such an incredibly important moment in our history and often criminally overlooked .. I really enjoy the performance of re-enactment, taking part in the battles is utterly thrilling and unlike any other kind of hobby. But I think the best thing is the great friends I’ve made – the social side of being in a big group like the Sealed Knot is that you have mates all over the country, and some amazing parties!”
The Sealed Knot is the biggest re-enactment society in Europe and takes part in a range of events from May to October. Of his regiment, Mike says “ The Earl of Manchester’s Regiment of Foote re-enacts the personal infantry regiment of Edward Montagu, the second Earl of Manchester. He was one of Parliament’s leading generals during the first Civil War of 1642-1646 and his army not only fought at Marston Moor in 1644 but also formed the backbone of the New Model Army, England’s first ever standing army.
“We have members in Cheshire, Manchester, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire, and Cambridgeshire. Despite our name though, there’s no historical connection with Manchester as we know it. The Earl of Manchester is named after Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire, but his father – the first Earl – considered it boastful and blasphemous to be called Lord God!
“What’s great about it is that whatever your age, gender, background, or abilities there’s a place for you in the regiment, plus all roles are open to men and women – we’ll have a recruiting stand at Chester Racecourse, I’d really encourage everyone to chat to one of our members about it, you’ll never find a better hobby!
Ed Abrams of Chester Civil War Tours is looking forward to the event. He says that Chester’s role in the civil war fills him with pride and that the re-enactment is a fantastic way of bringing history to life.
” The Battle for Chester, incorporating the Battle of Rowton Moor was hugely important for both sides and the outcome of the loss of Chester had such a dramatic impact for all who played their part in England’s bloodiest and only Civil War. The very last time King Charles Ist left England as a free man was on the 24th September 1645 when he rode over the Old Dee Bridge into Welsh Handbridge, the loss of Chester really was the beginning of the end for not only the King but also the country as people had known it for close on a thousand years. 3 years later England became a Republic and had lawfully executed its Head of State.” Enthusiastic Ed says: “Our streets will be full of men, women and children all reliving our 17th century past and we encourage the whole city to get behind the event and come out and support it. We really do have a wonderful opportunity to make this an annual event.”
The Siege of Chester takes place 29-31 August
With big thanks to the Regiment of Foote and Ed Abrams (Chester civil war tours)