The Battle of Powick Bridge, fought on September 23rd 1642, was the first military action of the English Civil War – though it was more a skirmish rather than a battle. Powick Bridge is a few miles to the south of Worcester and about forty miles to the west of Edgehill, the first main battle of the civil war.
In August 1642, Charles I marched from Nottingham, where he had raised his royal standard, to Shrewsbury, where he planned to meet up with royalist recruits from the west and Wales. His nephew, Prince Rupert, was some fifty miles to the south of Shrewsbury and intent on taking Worcester. Parliament dispatched the Earl of Essex and his men to march on Worcester to ensure that it did not fall into Rupert’s hands.
As he neared Worcester, Essex sent ahead of his main force ten men commanded by Colonel John Brown. On September 23rd, Prince Rupert and eleven of his men (who were scouting for Essex’s army) suddenly came across Brown and his men on the opposite side of the River Severn. Brown ordered his men to cross the Severn at Powick Bridge. Prince Rupert allowed them to do so and the Parliamentarians crossed in peace. However, within the vicinity of Powick Bridge were about 1000 Parliamentarian troops and an equal number of Royalists.
The Royalist force attacked first and fired the first shots of the English Civil War, which was immediately countered by a charge by Parliamentary horsemen led by Captain Nathaniel Fiennes. This charge into the Royalists was successful but a breakdown in communication led to other Parliamentary horsemen withdrawing from the area around the charge leaving Fiennes dangerously exposed to a counter-attack. He lost 150 of his men.
The ‘battle’ at Powick Bridge, more a skirmish, could have had a greater impact for both sides if the attack by Fiennes had been better exploited. Essex ordered better communication among his men while Rupert worked on ways to defend against a full-blown cavalry charge – in the case of Powick Bridge, his men attempted to counter Fiennes by remaining still thus setting themselves up as easy targets.
After Powick Bridge, Rupert decided to join the king at Shrewsbury and left Worcester for Essex to occupy.