King's Lynn Under Siege English Civil War Archaeological Project

Whilst a skirmish or battle lasted 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 an investigation of a battlefield site. Yet, such investigations are rare and many of the fortress and siege-sites that have been investigated have been because of a more general project rather than primarily focusing on the siege. This is a key driver for King's Lynn Under Siege English Civil War Archaeological Project. 

Specific aims would include:

• Developing an understanding of the extent, character, and purpose of the militarisation of the location.

• Exploring the relationship between contemporary military theory and the reality of improvised militarisation within the constraints of landscape, resources, and human ingenuity in practice.

• Exploring the human experience of soldiers and civilians during the siege through historical documents, the excavation of defences, camps, and contemporary settlements, and the recovery and analysis of artefact and ecofact assemblages.

• Educating schoolchildren, students, local volunteers, and the wider public in the history and experience of the Civil War through hands-on archaeology and a range of print, online, exhibition, and public-presentation opportunities.

• Publishing results in the following forms: a) full professional archive reports on all fieldwork within a year of completion; b) regular summary interim reports in the county journal; c) eventual full monograph publication of the project as a whole; and d) regular popular publications in various formats accessible to a range of general audiences.

King's Lynn... under siege

In 1643 the important North Sea port of King’s Lynn was hit by the full force of the English Civil War.

Following a bloodless coup in the summer of that year, the town become Royalist. But just weeks later, blockaded by sea and besieged by land, the town was captured by the forces of Parliament who immediately went about re-fortifying the town, transforming it into the strongest fortress in East Anglia.

King’s Lynn shows the scars of the conflict, even after 375 years. In some places, the vestiges of war are very apparent, in others, harder to see, and elsewhere, they have vanished almost completely.

But the fact that King’s Lynn had pre-Civil War fortifications, was besieged and then re-fortified means that, from an archaeological perspective, King’s Lynn offers considerable potential.

Unlocking the town’s Civil War past is the aim of King’s Lynn Under Siege (KLUS), a long term archaeological research project, involving professionals, academics, students, volunteers and the local community. It will deploy a full range of techniques and approaches to the understanding of the lived human experience of the Civil Wars and its impact upon the people and fabric of King’s Lynn.

King's Lynn under Siege in 2019

Since its formation in January 2018, KLuS has firmly established itself in the local, and wider, ‘landscape’: there are local groups involved, and it enjoys the active support of Borough and County Councillors. Strong links with the local heritage community have been established, including the town’s excellent museums, and with both the Borough and County Councils themselves.

The project has attracted attention from the local media, including local and regional newspapers, and from BBC local radio. Further afield, KLuS has appeared in national magazines and has been featured by internationally-renowned organisations including the Battlefields Trust, the Fortress Study Group, the Pike and Shot Society, and the Royal Historical Society. In so doing, KLuS has raised the profile of English Civil War King’s Lynn both locally, and nationally.

KLuS has been involved in the project to re-interpret the town’s historic South Gate, and in March 2018, launched its own newsletter (Siegeworks: issue 1; issue 2; issue 3; issue 4). In September 2018, KLuS participated in the town’s heritage weekend, presenting an illustrated talk and a having an information stand in one of the town’s museums.

As well as creating the project itself, KLuS has already undertaken some key research, including into the life of Richard Clampe (who designed the town’s post-siege defences, and later went on to plan the Parliamentarian siege-works around Newark upon Trent). This has just been published in Fort (volume 46), the journal of the Fortress Study Group.

The project has just undertaken a geophysical survey in an area considered to be the location of part of the town’s southern fortifications. The results of this will be published shortly. Other activities will be somewhat dependent on the outcome of the geophysical survey.

One of a number of other areas worthy of investigation is the identification of the Parliamentarian siege works constructed during the siege of August to September 1643. In addition, KLuS is continuing its on-going work ‘mapping’ the town, identifying sites, remains and traces associated with King’s Lynn’s Civil War.

For further details can be obtained via e-mail or by visiting King's Lynn Under Siege.