Archaeology laser project in Newark aims to uncover more about the "Stalingrad of the English Civil War"

By Richard Moss | 02 June 2014

Archaeologists are hoping to find the remains of English Civil War trenches and siege lines in an innovative laser project in Newark


An aerial view of a mound in the landscape
Queen's Sconce in Newark - earthen fort commanded by Royalist troops during the English civil war and a rare survivor.© Newark and Sherwood District Council
They were among the bloodiest sieges in the English Civil War, and left a third of its population dead. Now archaeologists are hoping to uncover more about them as part of a laser archaeology project in Newark.

Archaeologists from the new English Civil War Centre and Sheffield University are about to embark on a laser mapping project that could help find the 17th century siege works from the bloody conflict that engulfed the Royalist stronghold.

Surviving trenches, forts and redoubts in the Nottinghamshire market town are said to be the best of their kind anywhere in the UK. They date from the time when Newark was attacked by Parliamentary and Scottish forces, leading to some historians to dub the town, the Stalingrad of the English Civil War.

Today there are twelve earthworks that are scheduled monuments in Newark dating to the 17th century conflict - including the star-shaped Queen's Sconce, which still stands over 12 feet high and once provided a platform for Royalist canons to blast the besieging forces of the Parliamentary armies.

Now these monuments to Newark’s bitter struggles will be studied and understood in more detail in a scheme inspired by the eagerly awaited opening next year of Newark’s £5.4m National Civil War Centre. 

Dependent on lottery funding, archaeologists hope to use penetrating radar, magnetometry, airborne laser ranging (LiDAR) and excavations to help find other siege works lost in the landscape or threatened by development.

Dr Rachel Askew, Research Associate at the University of Sheffield, who is co-ordinating the project, described the survival of Newark’s earthworks as “a miracle” but said there were “even more sites lurking in landscape” around the town.

“Half of the siege works identified in documentary evidence have been 'lost', including a major fort,” she added.

“Newark was also partly surrounded by trenches - a so called line of circumvallation, shown on surviving Royalist and Parliamentary siege maps.  Six feet deep and twelve feet wide, only a small fraction of this trench network has been discovered. 

“The last time the siege works were scrutinised was in the early 1960s when the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments published a report.  But back then lasers and GPS were still pretty much science fiction. There is lots more to be discovered.”

A Royalist stronghold throughout the conflict, which raged in its first phase from 1642 – 46, Newark was besieged three times with the final attack coming in November 1645. By this time the town was surrounded by a sophisticated system of trenches, walls, ditches and fortresses. 

But 16,000 Parliamentary and Scots troops sealed off the badly overcrowded town, and when the garrison was ordered to capitulate in May 1646 by King Charles – who was in nearby Southwell to negotiate surrender terms – one third of the population were dead from typhus, plague or fighting. 

“Given the effort required to build the siege works and the Royalists' refusal to yield when faced with pestilence and hunger, it's clear Newark was an asset beyond price for both sides,” said Askew. “Earthen defences were important during the civil war because stone walls were less effective at withstanding cannon bombardment.”

Project chiefs hope to make an application for support for the project to the HLF in the New Year.  If the bid is successful the four year initiative will involve schools, history groups, local people and metal detectorists.  The public will also be encouraged to look in their back gardens for traces of the siege works.

Keep up to date with progress on the project at www.sheffield.ac.uk/archaeology/research/newark

Follow the Civil War Centre onTwitter: @civilwarcentre and Facebook: www.facebook.com/NationalCivilWarCentre


a photo of a woman in a parkland
Rachel Askew, heading up a new project to investigate Newark's 17th century earthworks.© Newark and Sherwood District Council
an old map showing the outline of defensive structure
A map of the siegeworks© Newark and Sherwood District Council
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