By: Kate Rodger Gomez
In July 1403, two knights who lived on opposite sides of the River Trent set out on the same day to fight on opposite sides at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Sir William Handsacre’s allegiance was to the rebel Sir Henry Percy, whilst Sir Robert Mavesyn was loyal to Henry IV. Inevitably, it was not long before the two men encountered one another en-route and a combination of political differences and an ongoing rivalry between the two men, soon led to violence. The fight took place in a meadow near to the old High Bridge which spanned the River Trent. At the time of this mini battle, the bridge would have been constructed from timber. During the 17th century it was rebuilt in stone and this structure was in turn replaced in 1830, by a cast iron bridge designed by Joseph Potter and constructed by the Coalbrookedale Co. Ltd of Shropshire a little way upstream from the site of the older bridges. Interestingly, the not so neighbourly encounter may not have been the first time High Bridge had been the scene of trouble. When a group of nobles led by the Earl of Lancaster led a revolt against Edward II in 1322, records show that a bridge in this location was destroyed to prevent the King crossing the river.
During the skirmish at High Bridge, Sir William Handsacre was killed and although his final resting place is unknown, it may have been his skeleton which was uncovered in a stone coffin in the north wall of St John the Baptist in Armitage when it was rebuilt in the mid 1800s. Although the 17th century tower of the church survived the restoration work, very little remains of the original medieval building. However, there are a number of original stones restored and reused in the south doorway and the font has been described by the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland as ‘perhaps the finest and certainly the most alien-looking piece of medieval sculpture in the county’.
Sir William’s residence was Handsacre Hall, to the south of the River Trent. The hall was a timber framed building constructed in the 14th century and altered in both the 16th and 19th centuries. The hall collapsed in 1972, and the following year, what could be salvaged was taken to Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings the following year, where it remains in storage. Although nothing of the hall remains, the moat which surrounded is survives and the site has been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Whilst Henry IV and his army were eventually victorious at the Battle of Shrewsbury, it cost Sir Robert Mavesyn his life and his final resting place is marked by a monument in the family chapel at the church of St Nicholas in Mavesyn Ridware, describing him, ‘standing with the king and fighting by his side even unto death’. After his death, his estate passed to his daughters and with Margaret, the younger of the two, marrying the son of Sir William Handsacre it seems the fatal family feud between the two houses eventually became water under the bridge.
The Ridware Study Group. 2006. The High Bridges: Crossing The River Trent between Handsacre and Ridware