Whilst a 17th century skirmish or battle could last just a few hours, a siege would last for days, weeks or even months. Thus, an archaeological investigation of a siege site has the potential to offer more than of a battlefield. Yet, such investigations are rare, something the King's Lynn under Siege English Civil War Archaeological Project (‘KLuS’) aims to address.
But why King’s Lynn?
At the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, the Norfolk town of King’s Lynn was still an important port, trading with the continent, other east-coast ports, and connected by inland waterways to some nine English counties. Protected by rivers on three sides, the town’s existing, largely medieval, defences were repaired, improved and re-armed.
Following a coup during the summer of 1643, the Royalists took control of the town, but within weeks, blockaded by sea and besieged by land, the town was captured by the forces of Parliament who, aware of its strategic value as a supply base, immediately set about improving the town’s fortifications in line with current continental practice. In so doing, they created a system of defence, which, in British terms, is quite possibly unique.
375 years on, the visages of King’s Lynn’s civil war still exist. In some places, they can easily be seen, but less so elsewhere. Therefore, from a conflict archaeology perspective, where a siege leaves a far greater archaeological footprint than any battle, King’s Lynn offers considerable potential.
KLuS is a long-term community-based archaeological research project involving professionals, academics, students, volunteers and local communities that will deploy a full range of techniques and approaches to the understanding of the lived human experience of the English Civil Wars and its impact upon the people and fabric of King’s Lynn.
The specific aims of the project include:
Formed in January 2018, the project has firmly established itself in the local historic ‘landscape’: there are local groups involved, it enjoys the active support of Councillors, and has established strong links with the local heritage community, including the town’s excellent museums, and the nearby Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project.
KLuS has raised the profile of King’s Lynn’s importance during the conflict both locally and nationally, having been featured by internationally renowned organisations including the Battlefields Trust, the Fortress Study Group, the Pike and Shot Society, and the Royal Historical Society.
Since its formation, KLuS has been involved in the project to re-interpret the town’s historic South Gate, participated in the town’s annual heritage weekend, and has already published key research it has undertaken.
In the spring of 2019, the project undertook a geophysical survey of the site of the town’s south-west bastion. As this did not provide any positive results, the project has moved on to look at other sites, including the site of the town’s north-east bastion.
Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic restricted the project to little more than desktop-based research, now that restrictions are lifting, the project is now able to get back outside. In September 2021, filming will commence on an episode of Channel 4’s The Great British Dig, featuring the project. Its expected broadcast in early 2022 will herald a busy 2022 where it is intended to survey, and then excavate part of the north-east bastion site, as well as investigating a few of the towns many other sites.
To get involved in this exciting project, or just to find out more, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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King's Lynn Geophysics Report