Walk 108: Naseby Village & Battlefield Walk: The most important Battle in the English Civil War

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 4.75 miles (7.65km)

Time to walk: This is a village stroll with a visit to one of the Battlefield viewpoints. It took us a couple of hours, which also included a visit to the church. It is possible to visit the other viewpoints, but is probably safer to do so by car as you’ll have to walk on narrow country lanes & it’s quite a distance

Difficulty: All on hard paths & lanes & care is required. There are some hills, but nothing strenuous

Parking: We parked on road near the church

Public toilets: None

Map of the route:

Naseby is a lovely, sleepy village situated some 14 miles north of Northampton towards the boundary with Leicestershire. It sits on a commanding position on one of the highest parts of the Shire

In the 6th century, a Saxon called Hnaef established a settlement on the hill & called it ‘Hnaefes-Burgh’ which means ‘fortified place of Hnaef’

By the time of the Domesday Book the village was called ‘Navesberie’ & then, after a couple of variations, finally arrived at the name it holds today. Interestingly it’s thought that ‘Naseby’ comes from the old English word ‘Naefela’ which means ‘navel’ as it was thought to be the navel of England!

In 1203 King John granted the village its market charter. However it was greatly affected by the Black Death in 1349 & parts of the village were wiped out completely – as you look at the edges you can still see the mounds of where houses etc once were

However…the main thing Naseby is known for is The Battle of Naseby which was fought on the 14th June 1645 & is considered to be one of the most important battles in the English Civil War

We did this walk 373 years later almost to the day. We’ll look at the Battle in more detail when we visit the Battlefield, but firstly the village itself is well worth a stroll around so…

Let’s Walk!

1. We park up beside the small green near the Church & are immediately impressed at how lovely the village is & also how friendly the locals were…a “Good Morning” from everyone we saw

Across the road is the imposing, but now somewhat run-down looking Fitzgerald Arms, which once had a reputation for excellent food, the Beef Wellington being a speciality. Today though we were informed that this was no longer the case & it only opened in the evenings

2. Our walk around the village heads right down Church Lane…

On the left’s All Saint’s Church with it’s soaring spire. There’s evidence that there was a Saxon building here as some stones from that period are built into the walls of the present church. Most of the current church building was erected in the 13th & 14th centuries

3. The church was locked, but there was a sign saying that the key was available from the general store across the road, so we made our way there which was a real bonus…

The lady here was really friendly &, after giving us the key, was really interested in our walks & also asked whether we’d come to see the Battlefield? She also asked whether we were interested in “strange goings-on” that she & others had witnessed…of course we said “yes”

She then recounted stories of how she & others always walked up onto the Battlefield with their dogs on the eve of the Battle. She also showed us photos. One night she recalled her dog freezing & then running off before a blue & red swish of light appeared before her – and there on the picture was exactly that

She also told us of a local farmer, whose farm borders the Battlefield, waking up in the night & calling the police as he was convinced hundreds of horses were running through his farm

Fascinating &, if you do this walk, tell her we sent you to hear the stories

4. Equally impressive is the key to the church, which is huge & weighs a ton! It has the words ‘Fire Watchers 1941’ inscribed on it, a reference back to World War II

So…let’s have a look inside…

5. Look at the 17th century table on the north side. This was covered by a cloth when we visited. It’s said to have come from Shuckburgh House, which is opposite the church. The story goes that on the eve of the Battle of Naseby some of the King’s Lifeguards were sitting down to supper at the table when they were surprised by Cromwell‘s troops. Several of the royal soldiers were killed & the rest captured. Their duty done, Cromwell‘s men sat down at the table & finished the meal

6. To the left is a small display about the Battle & there have been attempts to set up a permanent information centre in the church. Look at the small area on the left which contains what appears to be a large ball. The rails are the old Jacobean Altar Rails which were part of the original rails of the church at that time. Apparently they were found in a builder’s yard & restored by a local craftsman – we absolutely love information like this so, Well Done Naseby Church!

A wonderful hand-written sign tells us that “it is said to have been used to hold 60 gallons of ale & was brought from Boulogne in 1544. It was placed on the stump of Naseby tower about 1780 & removed when the spire was completed in 1860. The copper ball fell off its base outside the church door in 1980 after which it was moved to its present (and last?) resting place” – love local history & whoever wrote that!

Look at the two headless engravings on the wall…

This is a brass of John Olyver & his wife dating back to 1446

7. We leave the church, returning the key to the shop & continue along Church Lane, passing Shuckburgh House which we mentioned earlier for its connection with the Battle…

The Vicarage is next door & they’re offering teas, but unfortunately not on the day we were there!

8. Further along the street, on the left’s a lion on a plinth! It’s actually the village’s war memorial which was designed & made by JG Pullen & Sons stone masons. The memorial was dedicated on 6 March 1921 & the unveiling ceremony was led by General Lord Horne, accompanied by his wife Lady Horne. The memorial is dedicated to the 11 local men who died during the First World War, with two names from the Second World War added at a later date. Many people have have said that it’s a smaller copy of the lion plinths in Trafalgar Square

9. Next up’s what remains of the Market Cross, also known as the ‘Whipping Cross’

A sign tell us that “In 1203, King John granted the village of Naseby a royal charter to hold a weekly market & this cross was erected opposite the Church of All Saints in what was the Market Place, now the street called Newlands. By the 1820’s the cross had been reduced to a stump & John Purcell Fitzgerald, the Lord of the Manor, had it removed to a new site at the junction of the Haselbech & Harborough road. In increasing danger there from passing vehicles the shaft & base of the cross were moved to this green in 1993 by Naseby Parish Council

The building behind the cross is the Baptist church

10. Continue along Church Lane past the Royal Oak public house which gets some pretty good write ups. The pub was built during the 1600’s with a thatched roof & had to be totally rebuilt following a fire in the 1960’s. As the name suggests, it was a Royalist pub during the Battle of Naseby & this is reflected in the decor/memorabilia found inside

11. Turn left up Nutcote…

…& at the top turn left along High Street – take your time walking down here as there’s some beautiful properties to look at

12. On the right’s the lovely Caton Cottage…

There’s numerous beautiful cottages & houses along here including the Old Post House which is now a B&B

13. Keep straight on past another fabulous property, Cromwell Cottage on the junction of High Street & School Lane. It probably dates back to the mid 18th century

At the top of the road turn right & then left at the junction at the signpost towards the Naseby Obelisk…

14. The Obelisk’s about a quarter of  mile outside the village & whilst most visitors find the Cromwell Monument, many miss the obelisk which marks the original location of the Naseby Windmill & is where the New Model Army rendezvoused prior to the battle. The view to the north was obscured so the Royalists could not see the Parliamentary army gather

15. We now turn round & retrace our steps back into the village…

…turning right at the junction & walk along Newlands with its Victorian cottages dating back to around 1870

16. On arriving back at the small green where we started this walk, it’s time to take the right turn & visit the battlefield itself. A word of warning…much of the remainder of the walk is on small country lanes with no paths, so care’s required regarding vehicles

We rather liked the property on the right with the grass growing over the top of the garage…it reminds us of a Hobbit’s house!

17. The road soon leaves the village, turning downhill & reaching a sign telling you to turn right

Now it’s a 3/4 mile up & down walk to the battlefield, crossing the busy A14, which luckily avoids the historic site

18. Although this is country lane walking it’s quite beautiful & the surrounding fields are traditional, gentle, English rolling countryside…

19. After 20 minutes or so, we arrive at the viewpoint, indicated through a gate on the left side of the road

Walk into the field & up the hill to reach the Cromwell Viewpoint

…& there straight ahead, in a bowl-like arena, lies where one of the most significant battles of the English Civil War took place. There are some excellent information boards which are well worth taking the time to read

20. The Battle of Naseby was fought on a foggy June 14, 1645 morning, between the Parliamentary New Model Army under Oliver Cromwell & Sir Thomas Fairfax & the royalists under Prince Rupert of the Palatinate. The Civil War between King & Parliament reached its climax here with Parliament’s New Model Army scored a convincing victory, dashing Royalist hopes. Within a year the King, Charles I, was a prisoner of his enemies; the battle having largely decided the first phase of the English Civil Wars

Soldiers on both sides of the conflict were largely inexperienced, with only their officers having had some exposure in Europe to warfare. Despite several Parliamentary victories, its army was unable to deliver the knockout blow required to end the war. In January 1645 Oliver Cromwell proposed to Parliament that a new army be set up, modeled loosely on his Ironsides, who first saw success at Marston Moor. The New Model Army was to be raised through conscription & paid for by taxation. Around 22,000 strong, its infantry would consist of twelve regiments & 14,000 men; the cavalry, eleven regiments & 6,600 men; & 1,000 dragoons or mounted infantry. All these men were to be properly trained & dressed in a red uniform, the first time the famous “redcoat” was seen on the battlefield. This new professional force overcame the reluctance of the local militias to fight outside their own counties, & soon became a highly mobile, motivated army

After a brief truce over the winter, the war resumed in May 1645 when the Royalists captured Leicester. The New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax ended its siege of the Royalist stronghold of Oxford & moved north to challenge the Royalist army, where Cromwell’s cavalry joined it. The two sides met near here. As at Edgehill, the Royalists, led by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, the King’s nephew, drew up on a ridge, the Parliamentary forces taking lower ground to their south. Again, as before at Marston Moor, both sides placed their infantry in the center with cavalry on both flanks, the Parliamentary dragoons hiding behind a hedge to the left. The land between the two sides was waterlogged, so Cromwell advised Fairfax to withdraw to higher ground. Mistaking this movement, Prince Rupert decided to attack. His cavalry on the Royalist right flank broke though the cavalry & dragoons on the Parliamentary left flank but instead of turning back to confront the infantry, rode on in pursuit of the enemy cavalry, just as Rupert had so impetuously led them to do at Edgehill. The Royalist infantry then overwhelmed the Parliamentary infantry

At this point, Oliver Cromwell stepped in with a decisive move to exploit Rupert’s reckless blunder. With Rupert’s cavalry off the field, Cromwell’s cavalry carried out a disciplined charge against the Royalist left flank that broke through their cavalry. He then charged the Royalist infantry in the center, who were also under attack from the remnants of the Parliamentary cavalry & dragoons from the left flank. Many of them surrendered, while Rupert’s returning cavalry refused to re-engage

After Charles was dissuaded from risking his reserves, he fled to Leicester. The outcome was decisive. Within months, the remaining Royalist strongholds in the south & west of England fell to Parliamentary forces, while Charles’s army met its final defeat not far from Oxford. On 5 May 1646, Charles surrendered, circumspectly handing himself over not to Parliament, but to its Scottish allies, in the hope of dividing his opponents & saving his skin. The first civil war between King & Parliament was thus brought to an end

Losses were: Parliamentary, 400 of 13,500; Royalist, 1,000 dead & 5,000 captured of 8,000. We’ve visited several battlefields & you can definitely “feel” the history here

21. To get back to Naseby & where we began this walk, there’s no other alternative than to simply retrace our steps the way we came, again being careful of the traffic

So that’s the end of our short look at what’s a very lovely village & in some fabulous rolling Northamptonshire countryside. It’s well worth a visit & don’t forget to call in at the village store & ask about the strange goings on that have been seen over the years – you’ll be made very welcome

Go Walk!