Remnants of War

Remnants of War

How did two cannonballs come to reside in Bradford on Avon Museum? Gordon Phillips explains.O

On entering the museum in Bradford on Avon, the visitor is immediately greeted with a cabinet of Roman finds, largely excavated during the dig at St Laurence School. What then catches the visitor’s eye is (almost) inevitably the wonderful chemist’s shop owned by Miss Christopher in Silver Street and later moved to the museum. However, my attention was drawn to two cannonballs nestled away next to a cabinet of fossils. These cast iron objects were made for light field guns, such as those used in the
Civil War. 

Artefacts in the museum all come from the Bradford Hundred, an administrative district that formed part of the county of Wiltshire. One of the cannonballs was found at Barton Bridge, near the Tithe Barn, while the other, slightly more corroded one, was unearthed in Turleigh, just over a mile west of Bradford on Avon, along the valley. How, therefore, did the cannonballs come to be here, in such a peaceful setting? After all, the Battle of Bradford-on-Avon was in 1652, hundreds of years earlier.

The area around Bradford did in fact figure slightly in the Civil War. For example, people from the area were expected to pay for the upkeep of the local parliamentary garrison of up to 200 men and 100 horses at Great Chalfield Manor. We know that payment rates varied, but that 79% of Bradford folk did in-fact pay and that the town supplied hops, cinnamon, nutmeg, soap and sugar. Meanwhile, on the royalist side, Sir Thomas Hall of Bradford accepted a position as commissioner to press local men into the king’s army. Later he was to claim he was pressurised into this by menacing letters from the king and the encouragement of his neighbours, who hoped he would be able to exercise influence over where troops would be quartered free of charge!

The obvious question is, therefore, did soldiers on either side pass through the town and leave evidence of their presence? In fact, it is more than likely that the cannonballs were inadvertently left by royalist troops under Sir Ralph Hopton, en route to Bath. It is widely assumed that Hopton’s army, having rendezvoused with that of William Seymour, Marquess of Hertford, crossed the Avon at Barton Bridge in Bradford, 2 July 1643, and that they then followed the side of the valley. This is the bridge we sometimes refer to as the “pack-horse bridge”, although this name is actually erroneous because it was wide enough to take carts. 

We know that Hopton’s troops were then involved in a slight skirmish at Warleigh, approximately three miles east of Bath, and that they camped at Batheaston, before engaging with the Parliamentarians under Sir William Waller, at the battle of Lansdown, 5 July 1643.  

The tragic consequences and absurdity of Civil War
are perhaps all too clear when we read the letter written by Sir William Waller to Sir Ralph Hopton a few days after the battle, in which Waller regrets the two men were on opposite sides in the “detestable” war and claims; I shall never willingly relinquish the dear title of your affectionate friend. 

The museum contains many remarkable, intriguing finds and acquisitions from the Bradford area: from ancient fossils, through Roman finds to a Victorian pharmacy. If you haven’t visited already, why not call in and find out more about Bradford’s past? We look forward to welcoming you. 

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