On the B6243, as you cross the River Hodder near Hurst Green, Lancashire, look upstream. You will see an older, more derelict and small looking bridge. Not in use but you can still walk over it, this bridge played a part in the Civil War of the 1600s in the build up to the decisive Battle of Preston.
If you stand on the bridge today, you need to think back to 1648. Oliver Cromwell and around 8,600 men (The New Model army), some on foot, some on horse and some pulling heavy artillery, all crossed this little bridge on the way to battle, after weeks of marching. Hard to imagine the scale and logistics involved for sure.
On 11 July, Cromwell had defeated the Royalist Pembroke Castle. However, the Scots had invaded southwards into northern England on 8 July to help the Royalists. So from Pembroke, Cromwell marched 8,600 men, most with no footwear and weary of battle, up north to meet with his northern leader, John Lambert. En route they needed to collect shoes from Northampton as well as stopping at Coventry for stockings.
In the meantime the Scots were making progress going beyond Carlisle and Penrith and taking castles such as Appleby.
Cromwell joined up with Lambert at Otley, Yorkshire and headed west to take on the enemy in battle. Back onto the march. They traversed through the pennines and valleys via places like the Chevin Ridge above Otley.
It took them 4 days to get from Otley to Preston where they took part in the Battle of Preston (17-19 August 1648) at Walton-le-Dale. A battle they won and was a precursor to winning the civil war.
So, in the grand scheme of things, crossing this little bridge (only 2 metres wide) en route, with thousands of very very tired men, horses, artillery and kit, was just a small thing to think about for them in the grand scheme of things. Cromwell is said to have held a council of war at the bridge. For it was the next day, with no rest that they went into battle.
Today, this bridge is still known as ‘Cromwell’s Bridge’. On an ordnance survey map it is noted as simply ‘Old Bridge’. In those days it would have been on an old pack horse route that is not there today. The newer bridge that you drive over (built 1819) takes the modern road route.
On the northern side of the new bridge there is a little path that takes you to be able to walk over Cromwell’s Bridge. All you can do is walk over it and a fence stops you going further, the packhorse route is no more. Still it is a remarkable place to stand, on history.
There is record of a packhorse bridge here dating back to at least 1430. It is narrow, and without sides, so that pack horses could get over easily with their loads and not be impeded.
This is also a beautiful part of Lancashire, with walks in many directions that take in beautiful countryside or muddy river walks. Great views are available of surrounding hills like pendle Hill plus the confluence with the River Ribble is only a mile or so away.
If you are even just driving through the area, perhaps on the way to the Trough of Bowland, why not take a few minutes out of your day to look back at history and Cromwell’s Bridge.