Saturday, June 18, 2016

I have been to...Lansdown Hill

I've been meaning to re-visit and write up my experiences of having visited Lansdown for ages now, and I think this is my second or third visit, but when the current Mrs Steve the Wargamer announced the other day that she was off to Bath for the day to visit an old old friend who she hadn't seen in ages, I immediately booked myself a day off  and told her I'd go as well..  not to cramp her style, but to visit the aforementioned battlefield, and also drink some beer in one of the finest pubs I know in Christendom...  result!!  

So... 1643, and the focus of the war is in the west of England, with Charles manoeuvring to take Bristol (vital sea port, source of trade/supply, and also handy for his reinforcements in Ireland). The King's commander is Hopton, he has recently been reinforced by the Kings less well known nephew, Maurice, and his force comprises about 4000 foot, 2000 horse and 300 dragoons

Against him the Parliamentarian army is commanded by his old friend Sir William Waller, Major General of the Western Association. Waller is outnumbered, having only about 1500 foot and 2500 horse.

The best site I have found when preparing for a battlefield visit is the Battlefield Trust site [clicky] - I would recommend a visit there, rather than me regurgitating it here - but in essence the battle is in 3 stages

1. Waller takes position in the edge of the Lansdown escarpment - the Royalists are across the valley on Freeze Hill (and Tog Hill behind it). During the day he launches attacks with his cavalry and dragoons (in which he has a slight advantage in numbers) into the valley and on to the opposite hill. Initial results are promising but the Royalists counter attack and force the Parliamentary troops back to their front line..

2. Hopton launches assaults with infantry on either flank, and also launches a full assault up the hill in the centre...  the attack of the Cornish Regiment (surely classed as veteran/elite in any set of rules you want to use!) under the command of Sir Bevil Grenville causes them to take huge losses but forces the front line...

3.Waller withdraws to a  secondary position, and then under cover of dark leaves lit matches on the wall and retreats via Bath...

Some is possible to visit the battlefield on public transport, but it is a bit of a walk...  catch the 31/Lansdown Park and Ride bus service..  when I went it was £3.30 return..  bargain..  At the Park and Ride come out of the car park and turn left/north; the battlefield is about a mile and a half up the road..  took me 30 minutes but it's a busy road, and there's only a footpath for part of it,... just step into the curb when a car approaches and you'll be fine...  

So to the visit - four seasons in one day but an absolute belter of a day... the following will help orientate the pictures..

Walking up from the Park and Ride, and I took this about a half a mile away from the battlefield..
1. Waller's front line runs roughly along the line of trees, his second line is the wall in the mid-picture
...having had enough of the road, I took a bridle path that allowed me to cross the field leading up to the wall..
2. South side of the wall - Waller's troops took up position behind this wall after having been forced back...
...although there is some doubt that this was the actual wall that Waller's army took cover behind, most sources seem to agree that it was..  it's position is perfect..  it's about 200 yards back from the original position..

3. Is it me or is there a dish shaped cutout in the wall that has clearly been repaired? at a later date?
It's not 100% confirmed but there are a number of indications in this wall of cut outs being made..  the assumption is that it was for Waller's artillery..

4. North side of the wall, looking from the main road => east..
Having climbed the wall, I was then on to the footpath leading to the Monument to Sir Bevil Grenville [clicky] - this was put up by one of his later relatives, and sad to say it is in a poor state of repair and needs some love and attention...  he surely deserves it...  my reading of military history turns up any number of "big men" but he was surely one...

This was not Nature’s courage nor that thing, 
We valour call which Time and Reason bring, 
But a diviner fury fierce and high, 
Valour transported into Ecstasy.
William Cartwright "Elegy on Sir Bevil Grenville"

5. Note the marker flag - of which there are several - that mark the front line of the battle...

The family name changed from Grenville to Granville at a later date hence the discrepancy...  click to embigen
Having paid my respects, I then moved into the wood north/behind the monument - it's generally accepted that the monument actually marks the spot, or very close to the spot, where Grenville was mortally wounded and fell, so it also marks the spot where the Cornish infantry charged up the hill into the mouth of Wallers artillery...

6. Always difficult to show steepness in a picture but that's the line of the new road down there..  this is a steep hill.. now imagine you're carrying a 18 or 20 foot ash pole tipped with a couple of feet of  spearhead with protective collar, wearing back and breast plate, morion/helmet, sword tangling up your legs, and with 17th Century foot wear (no tread on your shoes) - oh, and then some dude at the top of the hill is pounding you with shot and shell...  now tell tell me you don't look at your little metal men with a little more respect...  
...the front face of the hill is covered in trees now, but at the time it would have been much more open - even so I still left in awe at what those men had done...

Coming up on to the open hill top again this shows what was probably Waller's front line - he'd have had his artillery here...

7. Front line looking east - the monument is behind me...
Walking back to the main road there are a couple of information boards here..

8. Click to embigen..
Artillery representation is good..  they would definitely have been on the light side...

8. Click to embigen
Close up of the corner of the panel showing where I was about to go next - the quarry pits..
Having crossed the main road, I then took the private road to the Fire Training School - this runs alongside the footpath (the Cotswold Way) and runs in front of Wallers front line...
9. The quarry pits.. either old earth works, or a place where stone has been quarried, either way Waller put infantry in here..
Having walked through the woods you then come out in to the open - this would have been where Waller's left flank was..  much more open still here..

10. Parliamentary left flank looking west... Hanging Hill wood in the distance then started to absolutely chuck it down - positively torrential ..

11. The Royalist musketeers attacked up this hill - in the far distance - through the rain - is Bristol
Having got to the far end of the Parliamentary line I took shelter in the woods under a tree for a while, read up on the battle on my Hudl, slurped some coffee from my flask, and when the rain cleared made my way back..  there's another information board here..

12. Click to embigen..
Looking north east - Freezing Hill in the distance, Tog Hill in the gloom in the far distance...
13. Freezing Hill..
14. Valley between Freezing Hill and Lansdown..
...made my way back to the road and walked back to the Park and Ride to complete a truly brilliant battlefield visit and walk...  worked out afterwards I'd walked 5.5 miles..

Visit to the Old Green Tree afterwards was well deserved...  as was the pint (or three...  oh go on, four.. ) of Pitchfork - I love this pub, one of my all time favourites, and the beer is an absolute classic...

Brilliant day - none better....

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  1. Replies
    1. Ray - even as I write I can see the Rejects charabanc pulling up into the car park, Postie at the front with an umbrella in the air.. "follow me".... you know you want to... :o))

  2. Replies
    1. Tony - got soaked, but it was beyond excellent.. :o)

  3. well done, the last time I visited it was boggy in quite a few places. I'm back to Bath next week and I might get chance to pop in to the Old Green Tree. Although I might pop into my old stomping ground of the Saracens hHad instead.

    1. Will, apparently it's been the wettest June on record, and certainly some of the paths were a bit muddy (especially in the woods below the monument), but nothing serious... as to pubs, go to both.. :o)

  4. I remember reading about this battle in one of Nicholas Carter's ECW novels. I have friends in Bath and we always drive through the battlefield on the way from the M4 but I have never stopped and looked at it. Really excellent post!

    1. Legatus, well worth stopping next time you go through.. there are a couple of side lanes where you could park, last time I drove I parked in the race course car park... the views from Hanging Hill both to Bristol and to the east of the battlefield are astounding.. and it makes it all the more clear why Waller positioned himself as he did...

  5. Great stuff Steve - I visited the site myself some years ago and it was excellent.

    1. CK - I remember it... didn't you do an article on it? ended up in the Volunteer Riflemen's Arms?

  6. Fantastic blog post Steve. I love history, and this taught me something new. Looks like a beautiful place to visit too. I might have to take a trip soon!