Boy digs up British Civil War cannonball in his yard

Ten-year-old Jack Sinclair discovered a Civil War cannonball when digging in his back yard in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, England. His father had dug up a tree root and Jack, an avowed digger of things, kept excavating the hole until it was two feet deep. When his spade hit something hard, he thought it was a rock at first but then realized that it was bigger and denser. He got down on the ground to pull it out and retrieved a very heavy, rusty, muddy lump. His mother was concerned that it might be an unexploded bomb from World War II, but when they cleaned off the dirt, they saw it was an iron cannonball.

His grandfather Graham Sinclair researched the nine-pound ball. Together they took to the Newark and Sherwood District Council’s Museum Resource Centre in Newark where experts examined the artifact and verified with 90% certainty that it is a 17th century cannonball used during the Civil War. They were able to compare it to many Civil War cannonballs in the Museum Resource Centre’s collection. Its weight and dimensions suggest it was shot from a saker cannon, a medium-caliber long range cannon that was widely used in the early 16th century and 17th century.

It’s the first Civil War cannonball unearthed in Southwell. Most of the ones in the Museum Resource Centre were found 8 miles away in Newark which was a Royalist city of major strategic importance repeatedly besieged by Parliamentary forces between 1643 and 1646 when King Charles I ordered the city garrison to surrender. Southwell has been overshadowed by its neighbor, but it too played a significant role during the Civil War. Charles I spent his last night of freedom at a pub in Southwell called the King’s Arms.

On May 5th, 1646, Charles arrived in Southwell disguised as a lackey. He had dinner at the King’s Arms with the Scottish Commissioners during which he deployed his awful negotiating skills to sway them to his side. The Commissioners insisted that he sign the Solemn League and Covenant granting them religious freedom which Parliament had agreed to but then ignored, establish Presbytery (a governing body of elders) in England, that he fire the Marquis of Montrose, a Covenanter who switched sides to fight for the king, and that he surrender to the Scottish army at Newark.

The next day he surrendered and was taken to Newcastle upon Tyne. Charles kept wheeling and dealing, refusing to fulfill various parts of the bargain, convinced that he could negotiate a better deal for himself even as he was captive of Scottish forces. He couldn’t. On the 30th of January, 1647, the Scots handed Charles over to Parliament in exchange for £100,000 up front (a fraction of the money Parliament had promised them before they joined the fray) with more to come.

Southwell was handled roughly by Cromwell’s troops in the wake of Charles’ surrender. They used the Archbishop’s Palace as a stable for their horses, looted graves, damaged the Minster and generally trashed the place. Legend has it that Cromwell himself made a point of staying in the King’s Arms in the very suite Charles had slept in the night before his surrender.

That pub is still standing, now called the Saracen’s Head Hotel, and visitors can stay in the King Charles Suite where he slept. Some beautiful Elizabeth era murals painted around 1590 in that room and one other were rediscovered during a renovation in 1986.

To celebrate the area’s rich history, the Newark and Sherwood District Council has secured a £5.4 million (ca. $8,240,000) grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create a National Civil War Centre in Newark. It’s scheduled to open in 2014. Jack Sinclair won’t be donating his prize cannonball to the new center, however. He’s keeping it. His school, Lowe’s Wong Junior School, is planning a special assembly dedicated to the cannonball.