Borough Hill

At the weekend I made use of one of the few sunny August afternoons to take a walk on Daventry’s Borough Hill with WD and Battlefields Trust luminary Tony Hawkins.

Borough Hill lies to the east of Daventry and is over 200 metres above sea level.  It commands 360 degree views and dominates the Watford Gap and the old Roman road (Watling Street).

Borough Hill before the radio masts

Remains have been found on the hill of an Iron Age hill fort, and of a Roman villa and farming settlement.  Traces of the presumed earthworks of the hillfort survive, but the Roman remains have been covered over.   From 1925 to the 1990s, the hill was used as a transmission station and antenna field – but now just one mast remains, and most of the hill is open to public access.

In the Naseby campaign, the King’s army used Borough Hill as a base in the week before the battle.   Then, outmanoeuvred by the Parliamentary advances, Rupert drew in his forces to the hill on the 12th of June and spent the night under arms, wary of an attack.  Early on the morning of the 13th, with covering forces sent out,  the army moved off towards Market Harborough.  Intending to fall back on Melton and Newark, the final phase of the campaign began.

Borough Hill as it might have been, early June 1645

Our interest in the position was stimulated by the recent ‘Battle of Northampton’ Conference (see this post on Ancients on the Move …), where reference was again made to Borough Hill, this time as the Lancastrian army moved from Coventry towards the Eastern counties in the build up to battle.  Clearly it is an important site in the military history of Northamptonshire and the midlands – we thought we should see for ourselves.    Although not marked on road maps, or graced with any signposting, you pick up the location pretty quickly as you approach Daventry from Northampton.   You can’t miss it … but it has a lone remaining radio mast just in case.

There are some selected areas still used and sectioned off, otherwise the access is good.   There are remnants of ditches and ramparts around some of the southern slopes, which I have seen refered to as part of the Iron Age fortifications.  I have no idea how reliable that assumption is: the Royalists are reported as enhancing the earthworks in 1645 (summoning ‘the County to bring in shovels and Pick-Axes …’).   Otherwise the landscape is mostly 20th century … cable anchorages and platforms from the radio station etc.

commanding views from Borough Hill

The area is enormous, and the all round view striking.  This feels a very safe place, and there is certainly room for an army from almost any period of history.  Both Tony and I remarked how you could hardly imagine anyone sneaking up on such a commanding position.  Of course, that is pretty much what we assume did happen in June 1645 …   that by moving up further east than the overlooked Watling Street, Fairfax managed to get to Northampton largely undetected … even that patrols were able to surprise the Royalist guards on Heyford bridge as they probed towards Daventry …

Looking a little harder

With its prominent lift tower, you can see Northampton very clearly … further on, I was amazed, as my focus adjusted, to see on the horizon, the wind turbines on the A6 near Burton Latimer.  That is without the aid of field glasses, of course.   As the crow flies, Northampton is about 9 miles, the A6 more like twice that.   I have zoomed into the landscape, so the hazy picture feintly shows what the eye can easily see.

A worthwhile and instructive visit.  An imposing vantage point with a controlling view of England’s main North-South arterial route.   As for not spotting the enemy until he was within a few miles … well they can’t have been looking particularly intently.  It is perhaps less of a surprise that they completely lost track of the enemy as soon as they left the high ground.

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