Ormskirk During The English Civil War
In terms of the proportion of the population affected, it can be argued that the English Civil War was the bloodiest in the country’s history. Estimates show that England suffered a roughly 4% loss of population. The war is also unique in the countries history in that members of the same family were often on different sides. No part of the country was left unaffected by the conflict and Ormskirk is no exception.
The West Lancashire area was strongly Royalist, with the Earl of Derby at Lathom being a major supporter of the king. In 1642, Parliamentary spy, Henry Ashurst of ‘near Ormskircke’ sent messages to his colonel stating that 300 Royalist cavalrymen were billeted at Ormskirk, probably awaiting orders.
In February of 1644 the first major action in West Lancashire took place, when a Parliamentarian force numbering around 2,000 led by Sir Thomas Fairfax laid siege to Lathom House. The Earl of Derby was away in the Isle of Man, but the Countess had managed to gather a force of some 300, including many seasoned marksmen. This force, protected by the significant defences at Lathom were able to inflict significant loses on their besiegers and they held out until 27th May, when the approach of Prince Rupert with a significant force of Royalists lifted the siege.
By August of the same year the conflict had returned to Lancashire and the parliamentary forces were by now in the ascendancy. Following a defeat at Marston Moor in Yorkshire, the Royalist forces fled over the Pennines, with some undertaking a recruitment drive in north Lancashire. This cavalry force, which by the time they had picked up some stragglers numbered 2,500 was tracked by the parliamentarian general Sir John Meldrum with a force of infantry and cavalry as it attempted to make its way to Chester to meet up with Prince Rupert.
The Royalists were eventually caught on Aughton Moor and the ensuing battle was a great victory for the Parliamentarian forces. Forced to make a stand the Royalist cavalry lined up in battalia allowing the Parliamentarian infantry to advance upon them, a contemporary account states that, “upon the first charge of our Musket, they fled, whereupon our horse bravely fell upon them, and totally routed them. In the pursuit they took about 800 horse and 300 prisoners. By reason of the night we could not improve the victory as we otherwise might have done. The Lord Byron and the Lord Molyneux were forced to leave their horses, and to hide themselves in a corn field.’ In addition to the 300 prisoners it is estimated that the Royalist force suffered some 100 killed.
Following on from this victory Lancashire was largely in the hands of the Parliamentarians, meaning that the Parliament forces were able to lay siege to the Royalist stronghold at Lathom House for a second time in 1645. This time however there was no prospect of a relief force and the commander at Lathom, Colonel Edward Rawstorne, was forced to surrender in December of that year, his forces facing the prospect of starvation.
The subsequent destruction of Lathom House, on the orders of parliament, was so complete that even after the restoration of the monarchy and the return of Lathom to the Derby family they would never again live there, their seat moving to Knowsley after a brief attempt at re-establishing Lathom.
The house would later be sold to the Bootle family, who constructed the 18th century Palladian Manor House on the site of the former ‘castle’.