A Letter from Nantwich
August 2005 (3) ALSO AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BATTLE OF NANTWICH
See reply from Beverley Cope, Manager of Nantwich Now Market Town Project]
Town's famous conflict may be spreading
This is a scene from the Major Muster staged by the Sealed Knot at Reaseheath College over the Late Summer Bank Holiday in August.
More pictures from the summer muster can be found here.
IT looks as though one of Nantwich's major winter attractions is to get a summer equivalent - but on a much grander scale. Plans are afoot for a "major muster" commemorating the Battle of Nantwich with a change of location and duration.
In addition to the annual event featuring a battle of an hour or so, staged by the Sealed Knot as part of the January 25th Holly Holy Day event on Mill Island, the additional battle would rage over two days in what the Nantwich Guardian (August 4th, 2005, edition) describes as "an authentic full-scale re-enactment" of the battle.
The "fighting" would take place on the land where the original skirmishes occurred in January 1644 - that is, the Reaseheath and Henhull areas.
The idea is being proposed by the recently-formed Nantwich Now Market Town Project who have been talking to the Holly Holy Day Society in town and the Sealed Knot. The suggested date is the summer of 2007.
While 200 or so troops take part in the winter event, around 1,000 would be in action for what the Sealed Knot calls "a major muster". And rather than being billeted in Malbank school on the nights before and
after the re-enactment, the soldiers would be camping on the battlefields - just as the real 17th century soldiers did.
The battle re-enactment in January takes part in the afternoon as part of the day's programme, but in the extended battle proposal events would happen as near as possible to the actual time in 1644.
I am all for events which bring more tourists to this wonderful town, but I must admit to a couple of reservations about the idea. The present battle site - Mill Island, as I said - is conveniently situated off Waterlode, the town's inner ring road, just a musket
shot's distance - or so - from Nantwich Square. It is easily reached on foot in a matter of a few minutes.
But the Reaseheath and Henhull sites are on the edges of town and would need a bus service to be laid on and/or a large car park on the site.
Or a combination of the two in a Park 'n' Ride service. I am not sure that this wouldn't put off visitors.
There is an admission-by-ticket policy on Mill Island, with screens erected around the site to prevent people sneaking a free view from across the River Weaver. But many miles of screening would be needed in the proposed sites if a similar practice was followed - and these would be useless in preventing people standing on the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal from seeing what was going on, although admittedly their view would be a distant one.
I understand that the Battle of Nantwich is the only winter re-enactment staged by the Sealed Knot. It cannot be much fun putting on a show in bitterly cold weather - and standing watching it is no picnic either! - but wouldn't engaging in a full-scale fight (a bit like a rugby scrum with weapons) be equally unpleasant for the opposite reason in blazing sunshine?
There is something very fitting - not to say unique - about having a commemoration of a piece of our history when we do, in January, so I am pleased to hear that the winter event will continue.
I am not trying to denigrate the idea, and I do know that the powers-that-be have been doing a lot of work since early 1990 to try to get a "Big Battle of Nantwich" off the ground - according to the Nantwich Chronicle of August 10. Such a battle would cost £50,000 to put on, says the newspaper.
I understand that a summer "Big Battle" would be a one-off. [2016 note: A similar event has not taken place since that one.]
Background to the battle
THE Battle of Nantwich was fought during the Civil War in which Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentarian armies faced King Charles I's Royalist soldiers after the king tried to wrest control of running the country from Parliament.
The MPs of the day were having none of that and internal strife followed - often putting members of the same family on opposite sides.
Nantwich was on the Parliamantarians' side, and after a six-week siege of the town by the Royalists in December 1643, Sir Thomas Fairfax, leader of more than 2,500 Parliamentarian soldiers, brought his men in to save the town. As a mark of the great day, Nantwich people started to wear a sprig of holly in their clothing on January 25 - or Holly Holy Day as it became known.
Over the years, this stopped happening, but in 1972 a local historian, the late Percy Corry, brought back the practice. There was also a wreath-laying ceremony to remember those who died in the battle and the siege. The first re-enactment of the battle took place in 1973.
Ever since then, the battle has been re-enacted on the Saturday nearest to January 25th, and wreaths are laid for all casualties of all wars.
Cllr Howard Curran, Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council's portfolio holder for local activities, "totally" supports the idea. It would - he says in the Chronicle - "not only benefit our tourism economy but would inform the public and schoolchildren about our priceless history."
Well, that has got to be a good thing.
l See this Letter from Nantwch about an idea for a small Battle of Nantwich museum incorporating the Sealed Knot.
Beverley Cope (pictured), Manager of the Nantwich Now Market Town Project, told me: "The Holly Holy Day event will continue to be held each year on the appropriate commemorative date. We definitely want to keep it this way. The major muster will be a one-off and the timing is down to exactly what you said: the weather.
"The key reason behind the major muster is obvious – it would be a darn good two-day event and an accurate historical representation for all to enjoy. Thinking ahead though – if we can
encourage an additional 8,000-plus visitors we are more likely to
capture this market for subsequent years and therefore ensure that the
traditional Holly Holy Day event continues to be as successful (if not
more so). We also would like to promote the other Nantwich events to
this new set of tourists and hopefully increase the economic benefits
for the entire town.
"Other venues that have held such an event have attracted
over 16,000 people and in some cases 19,000 people. None of them have
made a loss, which is quite an achievement. We will endeavour to make
sure that ours follows this tradition."
"Other venues that have held such an event have attracted over 16,000 people and in some cases 19,000 people. None of them have made a loss, which is quite an achievement. We will endeavour to make sure that ours follows this tradition."
Thanks for that, Beverley. Yes, I see that
my reservations may be a little premature. Let battle commence!
lThe Nantwich Now Market Town Project was a three-year venture aimed at "bringing a wealth of additional benefits to Nantwich and the surrounding rural areas." Local people, organisations and businesses were consulted about four themes: Environment, Economy, Social and Community, and Transport and Accessibility. The project no longer exists after Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council ceased to be and was superseded by Cheshire East Council.
Picture used by kind permission of
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