The English Civil War

The Battle of Heptonstall 1643

Wednesday November 1st 1643, the early hours of the morning. Sir Francis Mackworth led a royalist army of around 400 musketeers and 400 cavalry out of  Halifax. At Luddenden they marched up the hillside through Midgley eventually dropping into the valley below. They would have gathered at the river’s edge, at the bridge over the river Hebden, before dawn. The previous few nights had witnessed astronomical events that would have been interpreted as omens by both sides. At first light the royalists advanced but they did not know the terrain and continuing rain had swollen the river. They may well been surprised by the steepness of the hill. It is reputed that the parliamentary army in and villagers in Heptonstall had built barricades across the buttress. 

Photos: Chris Sutton; Bruce Cutts; Chris Sutton

At any rate it is accepted that the royalist advance was confronted by a cascade of rocks  raining down on them. In such circumstances the cavalry was useless, arguably a hindrance. The matchlock muskets would have been soaked and sixteen foot long pikes difficult to manoeuvre. The fighting down the buttress would have been hand to hand – club-men from the village carrying sickles and hatchets joining soldiers.  As Mackworth’s men were driven back, men and horses were drowned in their efforts to escape. The stone bridge at  Hebden would not have been wide enough to permit an ordered retreat and many would have entered the water where they could. Retreating royalists were pursued for miles and may have been killed some distance  away from Heptonstall.

Above left the presumed site of the parliamentary army camp at Royds Farm Heptonstall. Above right, local military historian John Spencer, equipping a member of the lecture audience with armour – photo Bruce Cutts.

The number of dead is not recorded. But though the leader of the parliamentary army Colonel Bradshaw was later to die of his injuries sustained during the battle, the defenders would have suffered far fewer losses than  the royalists  whose casualties of killed, injured and captured may have reached several hundred. The Battle of Heptontall was a much smaller affair than the well known battles of the Civil War and is referred to by some as a skirmish rather than a battle.  However as an event, it is more typical of the protracted conflict than the larger and more decisive battles as each army attempted to seize one town or village after another.  The failed attack was to lead directly to two further local armed engagements, at Sowerby Bridge and again at Heptonstall.

The Battle of Heptonstall – a community play 2019.

In June of 2018 Sky Arts commissioned local playwright and director Michael Crowley to write a stage play ‘The Battle of Heptonstall’ to be produced in March of 2019. There were four performances – three at St Thomas the Apostle Heptonstall and one at Halifax Minster. The play was produced by a voluntary group – The Brutish Multitude – established for the project. Local composer Katie Chatburn was commissioned as musical director. There was a cast of sixteen local people and the four shows drew an audience of over 500. The play was warmly received. Photos by Bruce Cutts.