Battlefield Archaeology of Basingstoke Common

This year there were lots of different research projects being carried out on site whilst we were excavating in the New House. Many of these were being carried out by postgraduate students. One of these students has written a blog post about his research.

The Trustees of Basingstoke Common kindly granted us permission to survey the Common using various techniques. Sam, Richard and Colin visited us at Basing House to support the survey of the Common, led by Dom Barker, University of Southampton. Dom has been directing survey work on the Common using magnetometers to try and locate features associated with the parliamentary siege works, thought to have been located in this area. Initial results are promising and will hopefully be clarified in the future by possible excavation. Sam, Richard and Colin were using metal detectors to see if they could identify patterns from 17th century find spots.

We were delighted to have along with us this season some locally based metal detectorists who were fantastic and took the time to talk to some of our students about how their equipment works and explained the kinds of signifiers that are important when carrying out a survey. Some of the volunteering detectors looked over our spoil heap for us over the course of the excavation, which brought up some interesting metal finds!

The team would like to say a big thank-you to both the local metal detectorists who came to help us with the survey, and also to the team from the University of Huddersfield. We can’t wait to see the results of the survey!

The Battlefield Archaeology of Basingstoke Common

Working in conjunction with the staff and students of the University of Southampton, Hampshire Museums Service, the University of York and the Basingstoke Archaeological and Historical Society as part of the Basing House Project 2014 season, myself and two colleagues from the University of Huddersfield undertook a systematic metal detector survey of land surrounding Basing House. We were searching for evidence of the fighting during the Civil War. The methodology used has previously been successfully utilised on numerous British and European battlefields. Pilot work in 2009 had recovered a number of 17th century military artefacts including lead musket and artillery shot and powder flask fittings. The recent survey returned to this site and vastly expanded it.

Walking the Common, Photo by Richard Leese

It is well documented in contemporary accounts that some form of Parliamentarian siege work existed on the Common, the location of which Dom’s team were gathering evidence for as part of the magnetometry survey this summer. Numerous, often unrecorded skirmishes took place in what was effectively the ‘no mans land’ between Parliamentarian siege lines and Royalist defences around Basing House. The defenders may have sallied forth to slight the besiegers’ works and disable their cannon, or the attackers may have sent an infantry force to probe for a weakness in the House’s defence. Any such engagements will leave a unique artefactual signature on the battlefield, most commonly in the form of lead shot and items which may have been lost or broken in combat. General military activity in the area will also result in similar finds of items which have been dropped, lost or discarded.

Richard and Sam working together to systematically cover an area. Photo by Richard Leese.

Richard, with Basingstoke on the horizon. Photo by Richard Leese.

The metal detector survey that was carried out involves the systematic recovery of artefacts through archaeological means, and their accurate plotting with GPS so that distributions and patterns can start to be analysed. Such plots enable a unique view into an event which may have only lasted a few minutes.

Colin finds an artefact. Photo by Richard Leese.

The finds and digital data from the survey are still to be examined in detail but already it is clear that the survey was a resounding success. The recovery of large numbers of lead shot, of calibres ranging from pistol to small artillery, perhaps indicates less damage by amateur detecting than previously thought. Such a discovery is certainly encouraging and is a strong testament to the fierceness of the fighting that took place around the House. Large numbers of the shot show evidence for having been fired in anger, perhaps taking life or limb.

Flags mark the survey location. Photo by Richard Leese.

The flags and tiny surveyors give an idea of the scale of the work done this summer! Photo by Richard Leese.

With the recent and rather moving commemorations of the start of the First World War, is it not only right that we remember the men who fought and died for their cause in the 17th century? The passage of time has been greater but bravery in the face of your enemy calls for great courage in any historical period. The quiet fields and towns we now call home were once bloody battlefields and the final resting place of many hundreds of brave men. The sites of their final moments, that battlefield archaeology has the ability to re-discover should ultimately be recorded, remembered and protected.

University of Southampton student, Richard, learning how to use the equipment. Photo by Richard Leese.

Sam Wilson

PhD Candidate, University of Huddersfield
Battlefield Archaeologist, Cotswold Archaeology



  1. Warwick Louth · · Reply

    Hey Sam. Good survey material, would be extremely interested to see the survey results for this πŸ™‚ My question is-are there any plans for looking into the other side of the village towards the church and Oliver’s Battery. We know there were a number of sallies by members of the garrison to take the hornwork for the supposed gun position outside the church. Equally, although previous archaeological investigation has been undertaken at the battery and been proved to be Iron Age rather than 17th century activity-the fact that it has the big dig in the middle, similar to other sconce like defences for holding a powder magazine, along with two flanking linear earthworks either side of (possible rampiers) mean that this feature was merely reused during the siege. It’s not unheard of (e.g. Old Winchester Hill). Equally would like to ask if there was any plan to expand this study and look at isolated earthworks between the house and nearby parliamentarian strongpoints e.g. Basingstoke, Odiham etc. acting as stop lines from allowing the house to be relieved. There is evidence of this occurring between Alton and Farnham along the Meon valley and as we know that the garrison was salleying out to North Warnborough, Winchester etc. whether there might be evidence for this occurring here. Anyway keep up the good work πŸ™‚

  2. Sam Wilson · · Reply

    Hi Warwick, many thanks for the comment and questions which I will do my best to answer! Firstly, it is my intention to publish the results in the form of a journal article (journal tbc) once we have undertaken full analysis of all the artefacts. Hopefully, we should start to see some interesting distributions emerging. At this stage the survey is going to remain focused on the Common as this is where detecting is easiest. We have also only begun to scratch the surface in terms of ground coverage so there is much more that can still be done there. However, never say never! Oliver’s Battery is originally a Motte and Bailey fortification so although it may have seen activity during the Civil War, this may complicate things. Although personally, like a lot of places associated with Cromwell (there’s another Oliver’s Battery in Winchester for example), I doubt they were actually used as such – they have become associated with the Civil War at a later date because they had ‘lumps and bumps’ and people weren’t sure what they were. Also, why put your guns that far away when you hold all the ground right up to the walls of the House? With regards to the church detecting is something that I don’t think is really possible in the area, although I suspect that Church Lane itself is in fact a creation of the Civil War, or at least was expanded/deepened, as a way of defending Parliamentarian positions in the church. This theory needs a bit more following up, so there is possibility for some more work there, perhaps combined with a study of the church fabric itself (that which was present in the 17th century at least). Up towards Cowderys Down, there is the issue of modern development and potential re-enactment contamination (from the area used as the plastic camp). Neither of which make surveying that area impossible, but are issues that need to be faced before hand. As you suggest, there is extensive documentary evidence for outlying skirmishes between garrisons – searching for potential evidence of this on the ground is an interesting idea, although at this stage I think sadly out of the scope of the survey. With such large swathes of landscape to cover, one would have to have an initial idea of where to look I think, or perhaps a theory about an ‘unidentified earthwork’ recorded in the HER. I fear I may be waffling, but I hope that at least answers your questions in part. Do keep in touch – hopefully next year we will be able run a longer survey so there will be plenty of opportunities to get involved!

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