“ Northants / East Midlands „
* Getting Naseby into Perspective *
The Battlefields Trust considers Naseby to have been the third most important and decisive battle in British history after the Battle of Hastings and the Battle of Britain. Whilst I'm guessing that almost everyone can trot out 1066 as the date of the former and most would recognise the latter as taking place during the Second World War, I'd be surprised if quite so many people could put their finger on the date of the Battle of Naseby - or even identify to the nearest county where Naseby is. Or perhaps that's just my lack of education.
Since the Battle of Britain took place in the skies over the country, this makes Naseby the second most important physical battlefield in the country, the only one of the three that you could consider an 'internal' conflict rather than a battle with a foreign enemy and you might suppose a pretty bloomin' important place indeed.
* Charles Meets his Waterloo - so to speak *
On the 14th of June 1645 King Charles lost this crucial Civil War battle to the New Model Army of Oliver Cromwell leading to the destruction of monarchy rule and the beginning of England's brief time as a republic. The area around where I live is steeped in the history of that time and to this day the town of Northampton is believed to have a great big black mark next to it which blocks all attempts to get upgraded from town to city status. Allegedly the Queen has commented that we'll never get to be a city because Northampton 'backed the wrong side'.
* So why don't people know more about Naseby? *
In a country with so much history all around us, you'd think that being such a significant battle site Naseby would be marked with a fanfare of publicity, a big visitor centre perhaps and recognition for its historical importance. That at least was what I imagined before I decided it was time to take a detour off the A14 after many years of driving straight past the brown heritage signs and find out what there was to see at Naseby. I'll be honest and admit that I didn't know anything about the battle that took place there, but a visit soon piqued my interest and got me looking into the local history a bit more.
* Finding Naseby Battlefield *
Naseby village is 15 miles north of Northampton and should take about half an hour's drive. From Northampton head up the A508 and turn left to Naseby just before you reach the A14. If coming from anywhere else, you'll most likely come along the A14 and the turn-off to Naseby is junction 1. The road leads initially into the village of Naseby where the puzzle begins. We wondered how such an important site could be so badly signposted as we drove out the wrong side of the village without finding anything. We turned around and headed back until we eventually found the right road. A small brown sign on the side of the road, peppered with air gun pellets, pointed towards the battle site. A small lay-by on the side of the road was all that was available for parking.
Where was the big car park I'd expected? Since there was nobody else around, we parked up and grabbed my camera.
Entrance was entirely free - in fact I don't think a living soul even realised we were there.
* What can you see? Not much *
The site at the time of our visit was quite literally a field. I'm not good at crop recognition but it was something tall and green and clearly being actively farmed. How can the second most important battlefield in the country be farmed? It just doesn't make sense. Why isn't there a visitor centre with a café and big posters, artefacts and the like? Where are the resting actor's dressed in period costume pretending to be 'living statues?
The only sign of the battle is a monument at the top of the field. It's a tall elegant obelisk which stands on the site of a windmill that would have been an important landmark on the battlefield. On top of the obelisk there's a ball and at the base there's a plinth. The stone is badly weathered and in poor condition. The monument is surrounded by a wooden fence and there's a large plaque recounting the history of the battle and showing where everything happened. You can stand at the monument and look down the gentle slope across the field and try really hard to imagine men fighting and getting slaughtered around you. However, it takes an impressive imagination to see anything more than a farmer's field.
According to what I've read in local papers the Battlefields Trust is campaigning to build a proper visitor centre with viewing platforms and walks through the battlefield. When that happens perhaps the Battle of Naseby will finally have an appropriate and fitting memorial. It's true what they say that the winners get to write the history and set history's priorities. At the Battle of Hastings the French won and became the new royalty - go to Hastings and you'll find that the battle site not only got marked but got an entire village - appropriately called 'Battle' - to mark the spot. In the case of Naseby, the winners were later deposed and the normal situation of royalty was returned and the battle site has that air of having been hushed up ever since. I can only imagine what Naseby would look like today if Cromwell's 'commonwealth' had lasted longer than the eleven years before royalty was restored.
* Recommended? *
So do I recommend a visit? That's a tough question because frankly there's not much to see BUT the place is so historically significant at both a local and national level that it really should be visited but you'll have to go looking for your own information and background details because there's very little on tap.
If you are looking for other things to see in the area, it's a short distance from Naseby to Market Harborough which is always worth a visit (check out St Dionysius Church where the royalist soldiers captured in the battle were incarcerated) and you can also visit Rushton Triangular Lodge just outside Rothwell or take a stroll through the little town of Rothwell where Holy Trinity Church has the longest nave in the country and one of only two spooky bone crypts in the UK.
I recommend another visit before you go - pop over to the Battlefields Trust website and learn about why this field tucked away by the A14 is so much more than it appears to be - http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/