Cannon ball found on Battle of Northampton site could be UK’s oldest

The oldest surviving cannon ball in England
The oldest surviving cannon ball in England

A lead ball found at Eagle Drive, on the site of the Battle of Northampton, is believed to be the oldest surviving cannon ball in England.

The battle was fought between Yorkists and Lancastrians on 10 July 1460 in the area now known as Delapré Park and the 50-60mm diameter ball was originally found on farmland in the area of Eagle Drive, Northampton, part of the English Heritage-registered battlefield.

Mike Ingram, historian, author and chair of Northampton Battlefield Society said: “This is a find of national significance and confirms the battle as one of the earliest in England where cannons can be shown to have been used. It also shows that the Eagle Drive area of the registered battlefield is crucial to the understanding of the whole site.”

The ball was actually found several years ago by the late Stuart Allwork, but had been believed lost until last year.

Since its rediscovery the cannon ball has been subjected to detailed analysis by Dr Glenn Foard, one of the UK’s leading experts on medieval artillery and noted battlefield archaeologist from Huddersfield University.

Dr Foard also led the team that found the true site of the Battle of Bosworth. A programme of research and scientific testing of the ball is ongoing,

Dr Foard has concluded that: “It is highly likely that the projectile was fired during the battle in 1460”.

The Eagle Drive cannon ball itself has suffered massive impact damage from at least two bounces, and one gouge still contains small fragments of Northampton sand and ironstone.

Experts say that the damage is testimony to the immense forces in play as the shot ricocheted across the battlefield.

Other damage may have been caused by the cannon ball hitting a tree.

The battlefield is also the site of a Roman villa or settlement.

The Battle of Northampton itself is also unique in British military history.

It was the only time a fortification was assaulted, the last time protracted negotiations proceeded a battle, and the only time a whole army was excommunicated during the Wars of the Roses.

Contemporary accounts suggest as many as 12,000 men could have been either killed during the battle, or trampled to death or drowned in the rout as the defeated Lancastrian Army tried desperately to escape.

Both the Yorkist and Lancastrian armies are known to have had cannons available during the battle, although some contemporary accounts suggest that the Lancastrian guns failed to fire because of the rain.

Therefore, the ball most likely originated as the Yorkist gunners targeted Lancastrian troops in their defences.

Thus the find of the Eagle Drive Cannon Ball supports current theories about the position and orientation of the battle which form the basis of Northampton Council’s Conservation Plan for the site which was adopted in 2014.