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Battle of Lostwithiel
Location and Description of the Battlefield
The first phase of the action occurred on the enclosed hills and heath land that surrounded Lostwithiel to the north and east. The north-south running river Fowey also dominated the landscape to the east of the town and acted as barrier to communication between the royalist forces until Restormel castle was captured on 21 August. To the south of Lostwithiel further rolling hills with steep valleys led down to the villages of Fowey, Polkerris and Minabilly with their small anchorages. Hedged fields covered these hills and to the east and west movement was constricted by the rivers Fowey and Par respectively.
There are sufficient topographical clues in the principal contemporary accounts of the battle to locate the action securely. Dawson’s 1805 map of the Fowey peninsular, although drawn over 150 years after the battle, provides a good basis for determining where the fighting occurred (see ). This shows open heath land covering Beacon Hill and stretching to the high ground to the north interrupted only by enclosure around Millham and Polscoe and a small area between Beacon Hill and the modern A390. The map also provides a location for the redoubt built by the royalists on Beacon Hill and at the bottom of the hills on the town side enclosures are shown. To the north hedged fields around Restormel castle and a passage downstream from there across the river Fowey are depicted. This appears to fit well with the terrain described in contemporary accounts of the battle, suggesting the ground to the west and north of Lostwithiel changed little between 1644 and 1805.
If this is the case, the action on 21 August 1644 can be linked directly to the enclosures around Millham, Polscoe and Beacon Hill. It also seems likely that fighting encroached toward the hedged fields to the west of this high ground which were held by the parliamentarians and this may have been an area of skirmishing in the following days as well as a target for the royalist artillery operating on Beacon Hill. To the north, Granville’s royalist soldiers would have fought around Restormel castle and across the passage of the Fowey.
Dawson’s map and a modern day appreciation of the terrain also allow the action of 31 August 1644 to be securely located. Setting aside the action around Lostwithiel bridge, the contemporary accounts indicate that the royalists only engaged the parliamentarians after they had formed up in the fields on the hills beyond the town. Both Dawson’s and Martyn’s 1748 maps of the area indicate that the main road from Lostwithiel onto the Fowey peninsular at that time was Castle Hill. This climbs above the town to about the 85m contour before dipping again around the hamlet of Castle and climbing again to the modern B3269 road to Fowey. It seems likely that it was below the 85m contour that the parliamentarians formed up to begin their staged withdrawal and it was southwards beyond the 85m point that hedge to hedge fighting commenced. This is compatible with Dawson’s map which shows all this area stretching south from Lostwithiel to beyond Castle Dore as enclosed fields.
Eventually the parliamentarians made a stand on some enclosed high ground and it is possible this was at the 109m contour around SX10264 56391. The action here, which forced the royalist back two or three fields, probably involved around 2,500 parliamentarian infantry and the 200 cavalry of the Plymouth horse. Assuming the parliamentarian pikemen were deployed to the rear of musketeers lining the hedgerows and that they were formed six rank deep for counter-marching in order to maintain a steady rate of fire, as seems to have occurred in other civil war battles in enclosed landscapes, the parliamentarians would have covered a front of less than 700m. Further fighting took the royalists forward to what Symond’s described as a ‘high hill just in the narrowest passage of land between Trewardreth parish church and the passage over the river which runs by Listithiel’. This may have been in the vicinity of Trebathevy at the 120m contour on the modern OS map around half a mile north of Castle Dore. Here and toward Castle Dore, the B3269 runs along a narrow neck of land which falls away to the east and more steeply to the west. This would probably have left most of parliament’s rearguard regiments to the east of the road. At this point Essex’s men attacked and again forced back the royalists before being counterattacked and retreating themselves.
After further fighting to the east of Castle Dore, which resulted in Weare’s and Essex’s regiments deserting their posts, the remnants of the army withdrew to Castle Dore and the surrounding area. Reports of fighting in this area may indicate the royalists also advanced along the lane running through Milltown and Lantyars to the east of the B3269 which eventually joins the Tywardreath-Golant road in order to flank the parliamentarians. This lane is marked on the Dawson’s map and it seems likely that it was present in 1644.