Civil War in Wigan

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On Saturday, while we were in town, we went to watch a display by the Lieutenant-Colonel John Lilburne’s Regiment of Foote, part of the Sealed Knott Society, based around the Battle of Wigan Lane,which took place on 25 August 1651, during the third phase of the Civil War. It wasn’t a major battle, but the outcome was significant. The Parliamentarians led by Robert Lilburne, the older brother of John, one of the leaders of the Levellers, defeated a force of Royalists under the Earl Of Derby. According to the BBC History website:

In August 1651, King Charles II arrived in Worcester with a mostly Scottish army and summoned all royalists to join him against the new republican government of Oliver Cromwell. The Earl of Derby raised about 1,500 royalists in Lancashire and the Isle of Man and set off south.

The Earl was met at Wigan on 25 August by the parliamentarian army of Robert Lilburne, who had about 600 infantry and 60 dragoons, but who was expecting another 3,000 men to arrive very soon……..

……….. The defeat of the royalists at the battle of Wigan Lane cut off the supply of volunteers going to join Charles II at Worcester and ensured that he would be heavily outnumbered when confronted by Cromwell a few days later. And indeed on 3 September Charles was crushingly defeated.

The Earl of Derby was wounded, but escaped. His major General, a member of the local gentry, Sir Thomas Tyldesley, was captured and executed. A monument in his memory was erected on Wigan Lane in 1679, and still stands today on the corner of Monument Road.

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So, on Saturday Wigan was “invaded” by a small force of Parliamentarians who occupied the lawns on The Weind

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marched behind the drums onto the old Market Place

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demonstrated their pike drill

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the use of their muskets

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(there were even musketeers stationed on top of the tower of the Parish Church)

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and mingled with the crowd, answering questions about the Civil War, the troops, their costumes and their weapons.

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The event climaxed with a skirmish between a small force of Parliamentarians and a group of Royalists on the piazza in front of the new Wigan Life Centre

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The Roundheads, led by Colonel Robert Lilburne,

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were victorious, and Sir Thomas Tyldesley was captured

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and then executed by firing squad.

The victorious Parliamentary forces then marched off the battlefield


During the Civil War Lancashire was very much a rural backwater under the dominance of the feudal lords who formed the backbone of the King’s supporters. There were some towns, like Bolton, which were Parliamentary strongholds, but Wigan was stoutly Royalist and the town’s motto – “Ancient and Loyal” – was allegedly awarded by the king in recognition of this support. Despite this Wigan was the home town of Gerard Winstanley, leader of the Diggers one of the most radical movements to emerge during the Civil War. Today, the popular sentiment is pro-Royalists, based on a simplistic, romantic admiration of the “Cavaliers”. And that was reflected by some cheers amongst the crowd for the Royalists .

Personally, my sympathies lie unreservedly with the “Roundheads” and the Levellers, the radicals in the New Model Army, led by men like John Lilburne (Robert’s Brother) and Thomas Rainsborough, and the Diggers. No “divine right of kings” for me, where everyone knows their place and thanks God for it. Without the victory of the parliamentary forces, England, and Britain, would have remained a feudal backwater. And the Levellers and Diggers are part of a true radical tradition that laid the foundation of the democratic rights we hold so dear today.


I desire that those that had engaged in it should speak, for really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he”

Thomas Rainsborough, at the Putney Debates October 1647


“Was the earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease, and for them to bag and barn up the treasures of the Earth from others, that these may beg or starve in a fruitful land; or was it made to preserve all her children?”

Gerrard Winstanley The New Law of Righteousness, 1649

8 thoughts on “Civil War in Wigan

  1. Good article, photos and comments especially concerning Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers, who were also known as the ‘True Levellers.’ They called themselves this to distinguish themselves from John Lilburne’s ‘Levellers’ who had a big following in the Parliamentary army, but who were nowhere near as radical as Winstanley’s group, and did not for example, call for the common ownership of the land.

    You may be interested to know that the spirit of GW and the Diggers is actually very much alive and well in Wigan these days btw, despite the apparent support for Royalism on the day of the Roundhead regiment’s visit to the town. So much so in fact, that we will be staging our 2nd Wigan Diggers’ Festival at The Wiend (in which some of your photos are taken) to celebrate the life and ideas of Gerrard Winstanley, and the 17th Century Diggers’ movement, on Saturday 8th September from 11.00am to 8.00pm.

    Diggers’ from Wellingborough in Northants, London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and elsewhere in the country will all be joining us, for what the Festival organisers are aiming will be a fun packed day involving an array of activities, including an audio visual presentation, exhibition, food and other stalls and live entertainment over two stages, featuring a range of bands, acoustic artists, and radical poets.

    There will also be a repeat showing of the film “Winstanley”, a symbolic 17th Century Diggers’ re-enactment, and more, as a great deal has yet to be finalised. A special commemorative ‘Diggers 1649 Ale’ is also to be commissioned for the Festival.

    Performers so far confirmed include:

    The Shook Ups
    Dead Shores
    Claire Mooney
    John The Baptist & The 2nd Coming
    Class Actions
    Alun Parry
    Kieran Devlin
    Michael Buchanan
    Laura Taylor
    Planet Al
    Bob Kettle
    Pauline Blackburn
    James Quinn
    Scotty Hertz
    Solomon Scribble
    James Wilson
    Steven Durrant
    as well as actor John Graham Davies who will provide the voice and play the character of Gerrard Winstanley at our proposed symbolic digging re-enactment in The Wiend at 11.30am.

    See our website at: for further info.

    Map of location at:

    Would be great to see there, especially since you say in your article that your sympathies unreservedly lie with the likes of Gerrard Winstanley and The Diggers as opposed to the Royalist side. We would also be more than glad for you to be directly involved in the event if you are interested in being so.

    Best wishes
    Stephen Hall
    07724 139278

      • We’re great believers in people using their own initiative concerning promoting the Festival, and any help in that direction would be much appreciated, especially via your blog, facebook and twitter (if you use them) and the Internet in general. If you can let me know your e-mail address, (mine’s and postal details I can send you an electronic copy of the festival poster which you could circulate by e-mail to your friends and other contacts, and even pop you some glossy printed ones in the post.

        The next meeting of the Festival committee is next Monday at The Anvil Pub, Dorning Street, Wigan (adjacent to the Bus Station) at 7.30pm, and then fortnightly thereafter at the same time and place. There are quite a diverse crew of people involved. Hope you don’t mind me using some of your photos to help promote the event.

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