Musket ball holes may rewrite English Civil War history

Archaeologists have discovered the ruins of a late medieval gatehouse riddled with holes from musket and pistol shots that may be evidence of the first clash in the English Civil War, one that does not appear on the historical record.

The site in Coleshill, Warwickshire, is being excavated because it is on the route of the new HS2 high-speed rail line. It’s pasture land now, but a medieval manor house, Coleshill Hall, once stood there. It was built in the 14th century and expanded in around 1600 with a grand formal garden, the remains of which were discovered by the HS2 team last year.

The gatehouse was still standing in 1628 — it was recorded in an inventory of the house — but was demolished by the end of the 17th century to make way for a new manor house. The excavation revealed the remains of the gatehouse ground level. Made of massive sandstone blocks, the gate featured a monumental building flanked by two massive octagonal towers. The manor house was encircled by a defensive moat. A drawbridge in the gatehouse opened to allow authorized people access over the moat.

The front gatehouse walls are pockmarked with 200 holes from a barrage of shots. More than 40 musket balls were recovered from the former moat around the gatehouse.

The English Civil War began in August 1642. The conflict was between the Royalists who were loyal to King Charles I, and Parliamentarians, known as the Roundheads. The first recorded battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Curdworth Bridge, took place in 1642, and was only a short distance from Coleshill Manor.

The Manor was in the hands of Royalist Simon Digby as the Civil War approached, after the estate was transferred into his name following the execution of its previous owner, Simon De Montford, for Treason.

Coleshill Manor, next to a bridge over the River Cole, would have been a strategic position that the Roundheads would have wanted to control. Experts believe that the Roundheads would have passed close to the Manor on their way to battle. It is entirely plausible that a skirmish took place on the way to Curdworth Bridge, especially given the Manor’s strong Royalist connection. Historical records of the Civil War are confined to famous major battles, so details of the exact events will never be known, but these marks exposed as part of HS2’s archaeology programme provide a rare glimpse into the impact of war on the lives of those not recorded in the history books.

4 thoughts on “Musket ball holes may rewrite English Civil War history

  1. Great post with great pictures as always. But my first thought seeing the distribution of impacts was vandalism of a family crest or royalist badge above the entry. “Bet you can’t hit that from here!”

  2. Commenter MK may be on to something. If shooters were aiming for center-of-mass hits on people in or in front of. the entry way, why are nearly all the bullet marks high? Also, the lack of steps behind the entry and the blank wall at the top of the ramp make me wonder if this was a dumping shaft for a jakes on an upper floor. Just speculating. But it’s an interesting find.

  3. Not every shot is a hit. Remember the weaponry, consider the placement of the attacking force. I suspect the “misses” seen in the stone were a fraction of the shots fired.

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