A medieval gatehouse, which may date back to the 13th century, has been discovered by archaeologists in central England. It was part of a manor and was attacked during the English Civil War.
The discovery was made by Wessex Archaeology as they were exploring the site of Coleshill Manor in Warwickshire as part of the HS2 high-speed railway project. The extent of the gatehouse was unknown before work began, as the only documentation of its existence was a passing mention in 17th-century records. Not only was the gatehouse a defensive feature of the manor, it also highlighted the importance of its owner. The gatehouse to the manor likely opened to a drawbridge over the moat. It featured a large stone building to the back measuring about 10 metres by 10 metres with two heavily fortified angular towers, constructed of fine ashlar masonry and expertly-carved stone blocks. It went out of use in the 1650s before being demolished in the late 17th century to make way for a newer, more modern manor, courtyard and gardens.
The archaeologists also found that the gatehouse had come under fire, with around 200 impact marks from pistol shots and musket balls on its outer side. Over 40 musket balls were removed from the nearby soil, which would have been a moat around the manor’s gatehouse, further suggesting that a skirmish had taken place. The team believes this damage would have connected to the first recorded battle of the English Civil War. Known as the Battle of Curdworth Bridge, it took place in 1642, and was only a short distance from Coleshill Manor.
“As the excavations at Coleshill for HS2 wrap up, it’s timely to reflect on the extraordinary archaeology we have discovered and recorded,” says Stuart Pierson, an archaeologist for Wessex Archaeology. “Although we knew there was a manor house at the site, we had no idea that we would uncover such rich and revealing archaeological evidence. From one of the most impressive Elizabethan ornamental gardens in the country to the remains of what could be the first skirmish of the Civil War, these findings – not recorded in historical records – would have been lost to time, had it not been for the expertise and hard work of the team.”
This discovery was one of several archaeological finds made during the HS2 Project, which is building a high speed railway in parts of England. Helen Wass, HS2’s Head of Heritage, explains:
“HS2’s extensive archaeology programme, which has involved hundreds of people, has provided unparalleled insights into the history of Britain and the discoveries at Coleshill Manor are a major part of that. 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. Although fieldwork between London and the West Midlands is largely complete, detailed post excavation study will begin shortly and we will continue to share the incredible pieces of our past discovered during this once in a lifetime dig.”
Top Image: Remains of Coleshill gatehouse towers during excavation – photo courtesy HS2