‘First shots’ fired in English Civil War unearthed by archaeologists on HS2 rail line

Prof Alice Roberts at Coleshill Manor, where it is believed the first shots fired in the English Civil War may have been discovered - HS2/PA
Prof Alice Roberts at Coleshill Manor, where it is believed the first shots fired in the English Civil War may have been discovered - HS2/PA

It is long believed that the Battle of Curdworth Bridge was the start of the bloody English Civil War which claimed thousands of lives and ended with King Charles I losing his head.

But now, “extraordinary” finds of what could be the first shots fired in the war have been unearthed by archaeologists - and may cause historians to reassess the centuries-old conflict.

A dig at Warwickshire’s Coleshill Manor, a 13th century site in use until the 1650s, by archaeologists working on the HS2 rail line showed the front of the gatehouse was pockmarked and “clearly shot with muskets”.

A total of 40 musket balls found at the site, home to Royalist Simon Digby as tensions between the Crown and Parliament escalated, appear to pre-date the Battle of Curdworth Bridge in 1642.

One of the musket balls found at the site - HS2/PA
One of the musket balls found at the site - HS2/PA

While Prof Alice Roberts said the musket balls could have been used “for target practice”, she added: “There’s also an intriguing possibility that we’re looking at evidence of the earliest skirmish of the civil war.”

Experts believe it may have been the very first clash of the conflict, as troops would have passed Coleshill Manor on the way to Curdworth.

Speaking about the discovery, Helen Wass, HS2’s head of heritage, said: “Whilst we may never have all the details of the battle that took place in Coleshill, our investigations help historians weave together the complex pieces of information to increase our understanding of events.”

Stuart Pierson, an archaeologist working on the HS2 site with Wessex Archaeology, said that the dig had unearthed “extraordinary” finds.

Pockmarks on the wall of the gatehouse at Coleshill Manor - HS2/PA
Pockmarks on the wall of the gatehouse at Coleshill Manor - HS2/PA

Debate still rages over precisely when violence first broke out in 1642.

In April of that year, Royalist forces had been forced to abandon a siege of Hull after troops under Sir John Hotham, its Parliamentarian commander, saw them off.

In mid-July of 1642, a weaver called Richard Percival died in a street clash in Manchester between opposing parties in the civil war, which many have counted as the first official death in the conflict.

The discovery is the latest in a string of finds made by archaeologist digs conducted along the HS2 line. Rare Roman statues and an Iron Age “dual carriageway” have also been found.