The Bitterley Hoard – Part Five – Shropshire in the Civil War

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This section has been written by Jonathon Worton who is a studying for a PhD student at the University of Chester looking at the English Civil War in Shropshire.

Shropshire at War: July 1643 – March 1644

Speeds Map of Shropshire – Copyright and permission of Shropshire Archives/ Shropshire Council

Between July 1643 and March 1644, during the First English Civil War, the military situation in Shropshire changed radically as the war became increasingly hard-fought on Shropshire soil.

Since the beginning of the conflict between King Charles I and his political opponents, the king’s supporters in Shropshire had been active and by September had effectively neutralised parliament’s following in the county. On 20 September King Charles, his court and elements of his army entered Shrewsbury. Considerably reinforced, the Royal army marched from the county in mid-October – to fight the first major battle of the Civil Wars at Edgehill in Warwickshire on the 23rd – leaving Shropshire under Royalist control.

When in March 1643 the Royalist general Lord Capel took command in Shropshire, there were still no Parliamentarian forces or garrisons in the county. Whilst skirmishing and raids by both sides took place along the Cheshire border – with fierce fighting occurring at Whitchurch and Market Drayton – most of Shropshire was at relative peace. The county was, however, being increasingly exploited to provide money, resources and recruits for the Royalist war effort. In May, Sir William Waller’s Parliamentarian army captured Hereford, and Shropshire’s Royalists feared a Roundhead thrust into the south of the county. Whilst the London press reported the fall of Royalist Ludlow, in reality Waller’s expeditionary force soon withdrew back into Gloucestershire without having ventured onto Shropshire soil.

Royalist control in Shropshire was seriously threatened for the first time in September 1643, when a group of local Parliamentarian activists who had been driven into exile in 1642 returned to the county with military support from Cheshire and London. This county committee established a garrison at Wem and fortified the minor market town with earthworks and artillery. The threat to the Royalists’ headquarters at Shrewsbury some eight miles to the south was clear, and on 17-18 October Capel’s army repeatedly attacked Wem. Although greatly outnumbered, the Roundheads beat off the Cavaliers, who withdrew to Shrewsbury having suffered heavy casualties. Defeated in battle, Capel had also become unpopular with Shropshire’s populace – Royalists and neutrals alike – for whom wartime taxation, conscription and other military demands had become an unacceptable burden; after the defeat at Wem, one London news book (the equivalent of the modern newspaper) reported that Capel feared to leave Shrewsbury in case the townsmen barred the gates behind him!

Panorama View of Shrewsbury 1630 – 1650 – Copyright and permission Shropshire Museums

Whilst the situation of the Parliamentarians at Wem remained precarious – they complained they were isolated, short of arms and ammunition and had few local recruits – psychologically they held the upper hand. Lord Capel was recalled to the king’s headquarters at Oxford in December 1643, and there is evidence that without effective local leadership, Royalist support, morale and administration in Shropshire began to crumble. One Cavalier colonel described how the defences of Shrewsbury were in ‘great neglect’. By January 1644, the Parliamentarians were strongly fortified at Wem and had established lesser garrisons in north Shropshire. On the 12th, led by Colonel Mytton, they inflicted a significant defeat on the Royalists at Ellesmere, capturing a munitions convoy, routing the escorting cavalry regiments and capturing a number of high-ranking Cavaliers. To the south of the county, just over the Herefordshire border, was the small Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan Castle. Having successfully withstood a siege the previous summer, in the New Year the Roundheads at Brampton Bryan raided and plundered Royalist territory and succeeded in establishing an outpost in southwest Shropshire at Hopton Castle.

The Royalist high command at Oxford now turned to their most famous general, King Charles’s half-German soldier-nephew Prince Rupert, to restore the military situation in Shropshire. The prince is largely remembered as the most dashing of Cavaliers, famous for his good looks and hell for leather cavalry charges. In reality, Rupert was sober in his habits and suffered fools not at all; a careful administrator as well as a skilled tactician, Rupert was a professional soldier and a charismatic leader who attracted a following of like-minded energetic and ruthless young officers. Appointed by King Charles in January to the regional command that included Shropshire, Prince Rupert arrived in Shrewsbury on 19 February leading at least 700 experienced cavalrymen. Other Royalist reinforcements, from as far afield as Bristol and Ireland, were not far behind. The arrival of the charismatic prince no doubt heartened loyalists and swayed others to the Royalist cause. At Wem, Colonel Mytton feared the power of the prince’s persona, as much as his reinforcements, ‘in regard of the reputation of the man, whose name shouts loud in the ears of the country people’.

The influence of the prince was soon felt, with a series of Royalist successes. On 23 February he despatched one of his protégés, Major Will Legg, with a task force of cavalry and infantry to seize supplies of food and fodder from the countryside around Wem, thereby denying it to the Parliamentarians. On 4 March a Roundhead supply convoy was captured near Tong, and the next day Rupert led a raid on Market Drayton, taking by surprise and routing a Roundhead cavalry force encamped there, including a regiment from Yorkshire. Around 18 March the Parliamentarians had established a garrison at Apley Castle near Wellington, but on the 24th a Royalist force, including a Welsh regiment, occupied the town and captured the castle. The following day at Longford, near Lilleshall, 600 Parliamentarians under Mytton were defeated by a similar number of Royalists. With their last mobile force defeated, the Parliamentarians were pinned down in their garrisons. On 24 March Hopton Castle was surrendered after a hard-fought siege, and the Roundhead garrison massacred. In co-operation with Royalists from Cheshire led by Rupert’s deputy, Lord John Byron, the prince’s forces took the minor enemy garrisons in north Shropshire; and by 30 March at Ellesmere, 600 Royalist soldiers from Shrewsbury had joined forces with Byron’s men to threaten Wem. The same day another Royalist officer wrote from Shrewsbury, with obvious enthusiasm, that ‘we shall not be long troubled by our neighbours of Wem’.

By the end of March 1644, Royalist supremacy in Shropshire had been largely restored, and the Parliamentarians were contained in their garrisons at Wem, Tong and Longford, and over the Herefordshire border at Brampton Bryan. These remaining outposts soon came under Royalist pressure, and by the end of April, Wem remained once again as parliament’s sole stronghold in Shropshire.

Marshall Prospect of Shrewsbury – a view of the town in the restoration?
Copyright: Shropshire Museums

Reflections on the Bitterley Hoard – from a County perspective

From the above, it is difficult to attribute the deposition of the Bitterley hoard to a specific military event during this period. Whilst the Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan was stubborn and determined, it lacked the manpower and resources to range widely into south Shropshire, and would have been checked by the Royalist garrison at Ludlow. For this period of the Civil War in the county most of the fighting occurred in the northern half. Thus, with the exception of the perceived influence of the Parliamentarian garrison at Brampton Bryan – and that of the lesser, short-lived outpost at Hopton Castle – and the ‘scare’ engendered by the brief Parliamentarian occupation of Hereford in May 1643, for much of the period July 1643 to March 1644 south Shropshire must be considered to have been relatively safe for Royalist supporters, with the direct threat of Parliamentarian military action fairly minimal – although of course it is easy to state this with the hindsight of history!

There may have been Royalist soldiers from Shropshire who had served in the garrison of Bristol since its capture in July 1643, and later returned to serve in the county. A locally recruited regiment – Colonel Richard Herbert’s – had fought at the capture of Bristol, and may have been part of the garrison for a while. After fighting at Newbury in September, it returned to Shropshire and was, at least in part, in garrison at Ludlow from October. Prince Rupert’s own regiment of foot had been part of the Bristol garrison, and marched from there to Shropshire when the prince assumed command at Shrewsbury. Rupert’s ‘Bluecoats’ may have been in action at Hopton Castle, but were more likely at Brampton Bryan. An officer of the regiment who having been quartered at Bitterley and had hidden his monies there, before leaving to be killed or fatally wounded at Brampton Bryan? –  tenuous, perhaps! Bristol was also a source of Royalist war materiel that found its way to Shropshire via Monmouthshire and Herefordshire.

As mentioned, Royalist military taxation became increasingly oppressive. Although in March 1644 Rupert reformed the system set up by Capel, if anything the demands became greater; and doubtless Rupert’s tax collectors were not adverse to seizing what they thought was due and considered had not been paid under the formal collection process. Parliamentarian sympathisers would of course have been under closest scrutiny for concealed wealth, but neutrals and Royalist supporters would not have been immune from these demands, the grinding financial severity of which should not be underestimated. Perhaps the Bitterley hoard is a classic case of wartime tax avoidance?

A summary of Jonathon’s current research can also be seen here:

Peter Reavill

29th June 2012


The Bitterley Hoard – Part Three – The Coins

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The coins in the Bitterley Hoard were analysed by Dr Barrie Cook and Henry Flynn of the Department of Coins and Medals, British Museum.

The summary of their report can be seen below.

The hoard comprised:

Edward VI, silver: 1 shilling


Elizabeth I, silver: 46 shillings




James I

  gold: 1 Britain crown;






silver: 4 half-crowns and 20 shillings







Charles I,

  Tower mint, silver: 31 half-crowns and 33 shillings






Charles I, provincial mints, silver: 1 half-crown

Charles I, Scottish coinage, silver: 1 30-shillings and 1 12-shillings

In total there are 1 gold and 137 silver coins. The gold was of the crown gold standard, 22 carat fine, and the silver of the traditional sterling standard over 90% fine metal. The face value of the silver coins was £9 6s., including the Scottish coins in English value terms; the single gold coin was originally worth 5s. but was later re-valued to 5s.6d., giving a total for the hoard of £9 11s.6d.

The latest coin is the Bristol half-crown dated 1643, produced between July 1643, when Bristol fell to Prince Rupert for the king, and March 1644. This places this group among the large number of hoards that were deposited in the early years of the English Civil War, never to be recovered until modern times.

The range of coins present is entirely consistent with such a date, with the appropriate representation of Tudor and early Stuart material. Apart from the gold coin, there are only two denominations present, the half-crown and shilling, making this a batch of quite highly selected material, without even sixpences, usually the third denomination present in large numbers in mid-17th century coin hoards.

The full Catalogue can be found here:

Further Reading:

Anyone interested in coin hoards from this period should have a look at the excellent study by Edward Besly.

E. Besly, 1988 English Civil War Coin Hoards British Museum Occasional Paper: 51 British Museum, London.

Peter Reavill

June 2012

Medieval & Post Medieval artefacts from the River Wear, Durham City

Shakespeare’s  famous line; ‘Once more unto the breach‘ taken from Henry V, Act III, 1598 captures my #dayofarch 2011 quite nicely! For my breach is also associated with a gap in a high city wall or perhaps more accurately a 850 year gap that still to this day forms the main  thoroughfare in to the heart of a historical medieval city.

I  am actually talking about Elvet a medieval bridge built around 1160 by Bishop Hugh Du Puiset; once guarded by gate and tower protecting the historic City of Durham. Why once more? Simply because it has been a three year exploration by me of the River Wear as it flows under Elvet Bridge and around the stunning peninsular that forms the World Heritage Site. The sole purpose of the explorations many often undertaken in extremely challenging conditions using sub-aqua diving equipment is to recover medieval and post medieval artefacts  from the river bed.

My #dayofarch should have actually been much different but for a late cancellation I was due to be some 270 miles south in the study rooms of the British Museum in London researching their collection of lead cloth seals. As it happened Friday 29th July started quite early enough as I had to take my daughter Sarah to Newcastle airport to catch an 8 a.m.  flight. Then followed a 74 mile drive south for a hastily re-arranged family day out in another historic city this time York. Fortunately my detour from archaeology was not terminal as I was kindly  allocated 60 precious minutes to take in the Roman and medieval splendours of the Yorkshire Museum.

Arriving back in Durham City where I live at 6.p.m. was actually quite good timing as it meant that the bulk of the river traffic – tourists on hired rowing boats, Durham University peeps with their torpedo like super fast 8s and the dreaded Prince Bishops river cruise boat with its huge propeller should have pretty much vacated the stretch of river I am currently excavating.

Strangely for this time of year I had not actually dived for the best part of three weeks. My previous dive was done with TV cameras following my every move both above and under the water not to mention spending much of the day discussing medieval river artefact’s with the delightful historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes! And so as any diver will tell you pulling a diving drysuit on after a prolonged spell of inactivity is no easy nor pleasant task.

My usual entry point in to the river this late in to the summer was now heavily overgrown; Himalayan balsam seed pods exploded violently all around me as I picked out a path through the now giant plants down the steep bank to the water’s edge. My usual (just submerged) rock clearly visible through the clear water was still in situ, as indeed it  has been for the last three years; it’s partially flattened upper surface proving an ideal platform to sit and put my fins and dive mask on.

The last thing a diver needs at this point is to realise that their cylinder first stage valve is not open. However, complacency is a real danger and a full kit check had been carried out back at the car park – my demand valve fed me cool air. I spat in to my dive mask and gave it a rub before rinsing it in the river water and shaking it dry and in less than 18 minutes from leaving home I slipped under the water – again!

My first thoughts were wow how warm is the water and great the underwater visibility is superb! A thin deposit of silt no more than .5 cm deep lay like newly fallen snow on the river bed, its pale brown colour suggesting a peaty origin. Heavy rain fall two weeks earlier in the area of the Pennines near the source of the river was almost certainly the culprit. I remember not being too deterred by the silt deposit I had seen it many times before, a few fin strokes around the gully I had planned to continue searching would send it off downstream.

The flow of water at my dive site is unusually slow, the current held back by a series of weirs further downstream. Within 3 minutes of entering the water I  was positioned directly above the gully I was looking for. I call them gullies for an obvious reason as they are quite simply a series of narrow channels worn in the sandstone bedrock by centuries of water passing over it. Some gullies are wider, while some gullies are deeper than the others.

Conditions this evening 2 m underwater on the river bed were as good as they probably ever get. Although the visibility is really important much of the work I do  underwater recovering the artefact’s is very physical; imagine working intensely for an average of around 140 minutes in one single location. Concentration is  essential, meticulously picking through pebble after pebble looking for artefact’s that quite often can measure as little as 1 cm. You cannot simply drift off in a day dream thinking about what’s for supper when I get out or how  many goals will Sunderland put past Newcastle when they meet at the Stadium of Light in August. Forget nitrogen narcosis or the bends the one really dangerous threat to diving in the river is the possibility of being struck by the propeller of the Prince Bishops boat. However, if you maintain your concentration throughout the dive you will pick up the faint chuk chuk chuk the boats engine makes well before it gets anywhere close, giving you plenty of time to swim off to the safe shallow river edges.

So what medieval or post medieval artefact’s did I recover on #dayofarch Friday 29th July 2011 from a single gully formed in the sandstone riverbed? In short tonight’s haul was fantastic! predominately from a 16th century origin they were in the main made up of dress accessories, items linked to trade, industry and a few pieces of broken pottery. These ceramics are just as
important as they help date the artefact’s as they come out of the stratified layers.

The picture below shows tonight’s haul – yes from only one dive! I only just managed to capture enough of the setting sunlight to take the picture so apologies if it’s not the best. As you can see the haul is predominately made up of small finds. The first artefact that I picked up was nicely decorated 16th/17th century button which was quickly followed by a lovely small copper alloy coin weight with what appears to be 3 fleur-de-lys within a shield beneath a crown. Several pins quickly followed (twisted wire  head type) as is the norm for this area, then some nice decorated mounts. The mounts  are prolific and appear to be unused. Although the majority of mounts I find are copper alloy like the star shaped one pictured; several are actually lead and the two small lead mounts found this evening show a typical five pellets on  the top.

It’s my theory that the majority of the dress accessories I am finding are new or should I say have never been used. They almost certainly were items that were once offered for sale by a trader or local merchant very possibly located on Elvet Bridge itself.  A classic example of these ‘unsold’ artefacts are the many small ‘beaded’ mounts, the stems of which remain straight – had they been pushed through a leather strap for example the stems would have been bent at right angles to effectively hold them in place.

Only pausing to remove a small sliver of glass that embedded its self in my finger I continued to recover artefacts at a rate of approximately one per minute (I wonder if  anyone else in the world found more artefacts that me today?). The main focus for me on every dive is to try to find more lead cloth seals. The reason is simple as I now have a significant assemblage of medieval and post medieval cloth seals all recovered from the same stretch of the river. Two weeks ago I was at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum researching their collection of
177 lead cloth seals mainly recovered from the water channels that run through the medieval city. Prior to this evenings dive my total number of cloth seals stood at 171 – unbelievably I found seven tonight! Who’s the daddy now! Two of tonight’s cloth seals are really interesting, one seal features a standing man possibly holding a spear and a second seal appears to be a dragon or griffin rampant to the left. Hopefully I can find some parallels in Geoff Egan’s Occasional Paper 93!

I should point out that previous to my early discoveries of cloth seals only two others had been recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database as being recovered north of Yorkshire and only one of those was in County Durham. Research to date indicates that the cloth seals in my collection appear to have arrived in Durham City from as early as the 15th century continuing right through until the 18th century. Arriving attached to cloth from locations across England and Europe for example Augsburg in Germany.

The seven cloth seals that I found this evening were clustered in a stratified layer which also contained a really strange lead alloy mount. I am only calling it a mount for  the time being as it has a bent stem or pin on the reverse. The front features a face of what could easily be described as a cherub; you may be able to see it third from the bottom right hand side of the picture, (I will add another picture of it tomorrow) any suggestions of what it could be would be appreciated.

Just below this stratified layer the finds as you would guess should be older and this may well be the case with the four or five circular form buckles (see Egan 2002, P.58 (28)) that I found. Although the central iron pins are missing many others similar in style yet complete buckles  have been found very near to this gulley and they are almost certainly dated from the early 15th Century. A lead spindle whorl was also found at the same depth as the buckles, this singular find bring the total of lead spindle whorls recovered to 32 most unlike this one most are decorated with  pellets.

The only distraction to recovering tonight’s artefacts was the need to keep checking my air contents plus some crazy person throwing stones at the point of the river where my  exhaled air bubbles hit the surface. The stones make a loud plopping noise and  fall harmlessly to the river bed around me – I never surface to see who throws the stones for the fear of being hit on the head, strangely it is something that happens more often than not!

Many small pieces of waste lead were found, a few of which were window came, other finds include; tools (possibly for working with leather), a knife, twisted copper alloy loops, lead tokens – one with a nice anchor, a solid cast (bi-convex head) button Circ. 1650, a partial horse shoe, a copper alloy rivet, a circular lead alloy pan-weight, iron nails, a fragment of a jug handle and iron key. It will take me around two weeks to clean the artefacts, bag then record them.

There is a serious side to my endeavours in the river; it is not just a crazy dangerous hobby. For the last three years many artefacts have been loaned to Durham University Archaeology Department where their MA students have researched then as part of their studies. In addition and by working very  closely with my Finds Liaison Officer  Frances McIntosh to date 350  artefacts have been added to the PAS database. All being well in 2012 I am set to undertake an MA by Research in to the assemblage perhaps focusing on the considerable lead cloth seal collection.

The finds that have been recovered so far total over 2000 artefacts and will without doubt help to re-write the history books of Durham. If you are a small finds expert and would  like to help identify many of the unusual artefacts then please do get in touch plus you can follow news of the assemblage and indeed what
my latest discoveries are by following me at

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my Day of Archaeology 2011!

River artefacts

Artefacts recovered on #dayofarch



Managing the Monster

I’m Keeper of Collections at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, in London. The collection was founded back in 1937, and has over 80,000 objects from all around the world, with a sum total of two staff to manage the monster. Mine is an academic post, so I’m expected to combine teaching duties with museum work. My day is often an eclectic mix of activities – with my lecturer’s hat on I might be writing or giving lectures, marking, meeting with students, reviewing chapters my doctoral students have drafted, revising course handbooks, attending meetings or writing papers. But with my museum hat on I might be getting objects ready for other people’s handling sessions, cataloguing backlog material in the collections, updating our databases, writing a blog post for the collections, fielding research queries, supervising visiting researchers or finding jobs for my volunteers. I never really know what the day is going to throw at me, and when I do make plans I often find they get overturned the minute I get to my desk.

Today I have four researchers booked to visit the collections, so I’m hoping this will give me some free time to work on other things. But we shall see … (more…)