England's oldest surviving cannonball resurfaces near site of Battle of Northampton

By Ben Miller | 12 February 2015

Tree-damaged ball could represent first time artillery was used on English soil, may star at new visitor centre

A photo of an ancient cannonball
Is this England's oldest cannonball?© Northampton Battlefields Society
The lead ball which was proclaimed as England’s oldest surviving cannonball, from the Battle of Northampton between the Yorkists and Lancastrians almost 555 years ago, has been rediscovered at the site of the battle and could become a key exhibit at a proposed new civil war centre.

Dr Glenn Foard, an expert on medieval artillery and battlefield archaeology at Huddersfield University, has been examining the 60 millimetre diameter ball since its reappearance on farmland in the Eagle Drive area of the English Heritage-registered battlefield in the town.

A local man, Stuart Allwork, originally spotted the ball several years ago, but it had been considered lost until now.

“It is highly likely that the projectile was fired during the battle in 1460,” suggested Dr Foard, who said the ammunition had suffered “massive damage impact” from “at least two bounces”. An accompanying gouge contains small fragments of sand and ironstone.

Experts believe the ball may have been disfigured when it hit a tree while shooting across the battlefield in the area now known as Delapré Park during the conflict on July 10 1460.

Councillor David Mackintosh, the Leader of Northampton Borough Council, called the re-emergence of the ball “significant news” for the town.

“It supports the long-held belief that the 1460 Battle of Northampton was the first time artillery was used in battle on English soil, raising the importance of the conflict as part of the story of England.” he pointed out.

“The battle was a turning point in the War of the Roses.

“In July last year, [the council] Cabinet agreed a Conservation Management Plan for the battlefield.

“This protects the site of the battle and sets out our commitment to promote the battlefield with a visitor centre as part of the renovation work at Delapré Abbey.

“This discovery would make a perfect centrepiece in the visitor centre as we celebrate our history to residents and visitors.”

The Northampton Battlefields Society said the ball showed why the battle is “unique in British military history”.

“It was the only time a fortification was assaulted and the only time a whole army was excommunicated during the Wars of the Roses,” they added.

“In its aftermath, Richard of York, the father of Richard III, laid claim to the throne for the first time, setting in train the series of violent and tragic events which eventually saw his son die on the field at Bosworth 25 years later.

“A possible Neolithic cursus of national importance and evidence of ancient trackways criss-cross the site of the find, showing the importance of the area during even earlier periods.”

As many as 12,000 men are thought to have died during the battle.

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