As the Jacobites marched south via Lancaster the Hanoverians in the form of the Lancashire Militia and the Liverpool Blues marched into action – which meant breaking bridges. The bridge over the Mersey at Warrington was demolished as were several others but by the time the order came to demolish the bridge at Stockport it was too late. The Blues hurried off to join the garrison at Chester and Liverpudlians heaved a sigh of collective relief as the Jacobites headed for Manchester and Manchester’s magistrates promptly left. There was something of an exodus prior to their arrival. Such was the state of concern that Oates records that families packed their belongings and their families onboard boats in Liverpool ready to sail in the event of the army turning its attention in their direction. Not everyone felt the same about the Stuart cause apparently two fiddlers played the Jacobites into Preston – though Preston a town with a reputation of jacobite sympathies didn’t offer up many in the way of recruits.
Once they arrived in Manchester on the 29th November 1745 the Jacobites set about having the bridge at Crossford repaired, food to be foraged for and Prince Charles declared regent.
The perennial problem of recruitment remained. Eight men had joined in Preston. At Ormskirk the story was a bit different in that there was more popular support but it appeared that although Prince Charles had well wishers none wished to pick up a weapon in his cause. This was disappointing as Lancashire had the reputation for being Catholic in outlook. Oates observes that there was little correspondence between the Catholic Church in England and the Stuart court, ironically based in Rome, as the Stuarts didn’t wish the English to think of them as being a Catholic faction. Ultimately a Manchester Regiment of Jacobites was formed. Charles took this as a good sign – his officers felt that two hundred men didn’t constitute a popular uprising nor for that matter did they come solely from Manchester. They came from all over the north of England. They were in the command of Colonel Francis Towneley who had seen service in the French army. The regiment was inspected on the 30th November. When Towneley was tried for treason in London in 1746 he claimed that as a veteran of the french army he should be treated as a prisoner of war. His plea was not admitted.
The Jacobites left Manchester with their new recruits on the 1st of December 1745. They continued south via Macclesfield and Leek where they arrived on 3rd December- it is said that the Jacobites sharpened their swords on the tombstones of St Edward’s Church. The vicar’s wife either died from fright or gave the prince a flea in his ear depending on which story you chose to believe.From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to Ashbourne and Derby.
Meanwhile Cumberland decided that the prince was heading for Wales based on a feint that Lord George Murray made at Congleton so marched his forces from Lichfield to Stone south of Stoke where he waited to give battle – and was presumably very irritated when it didn’t happen. Murray’s manoeuvre meant that the Jacobites were able to march into Derby unopposed on 4th December with between six and nine thousand men depending on the source. The newly formed Derbyshire regiment commanded by the Duke of Devonshire having decided that discretion was the better part of valour and scarpered to Retford. Bonnie Prince Charlie feeling that he was on a roll made arrangements for the capture of Swarkestone Bridge which was the only one crossing the Trent between Burton and Nottingham.
There was a meeting in Exeter House on the 5th December. There are 125 miles between Derby and London – another week would have seen the army in England’s capital. However, it was decided that the army would return to Scotland as it risked being surrounded with Wade and Cumberland’s men coming around behind them and another force to their south. There was also the lack of support from the English for the Jacobite cause and in addition to which the Scots were a bit restive about the fact that the french were supposed to be offering assistance and so far there had been not so much as a hint of french boots on the ground. Lord George Murray was very clear as to his concerns.
The final straw may have come in the form of Dudley Bradstreet who presented himself in Derby as a Jacobite but who was really a spy working for Cumberland – he “let slip’ that there were 9,000 men in Northampton on the Hanoverian side. There weren’t but there wasn’t any way of checking.
So on the 6th of December Ashbourne once again played host to Bonnie Prince Charlie and his very cross army because whilst the officers didn’t fancy being pinned on three sides the men themselves were keen for a fight.
Oates, Jonathan D. (2006) The Jacobite Invasion of 1745 in Northwest England. Lancaster: lancaster University