Tuesday 13 December 2011


THE CANNON BALL - Photo: Cliff Astles

by Dave Roberts

Cliff Astles has lived in Middlewich for most of his life.
He is now retired and spends a great deal of his spare time working with Middlewich Town Council and  Cheshire East-CVS as a volunteer photographer for the local Mid Cheshire community, covering local events and activities and  providing quality digital photos for their future marketing, promotion, press articles  and web pages.
In 2010, while Cliff was working with Middlewich Town Council during the build-up to the Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival, and also taking pictures of local places of interest for the “Do YOU Know Middlewich?” competition, which would take place during the Festival, he found a cannonball, sitting on the surface of the soil on the banks of the Trent and Mersey canal, near its junction  with the Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch.
The cannonball was  half in and half out of the ground, and  sitting on the top soil surface below some leylandi trees planted to form a boundary between Pochin's head office car park and the canal. 
The cannon ball was just under three inches in diameter and the top part, where  it had been out of the soil  for a time, was quite clean.  This may have been due  to its having been exposed for a short time when the trees were planted.
The bottom half was slightly pitted due, perhaps, to the chemicals in the soil, but was in very good condition considering how long it had been in the ground (Had in really been there since March 1643?).
Cliff takes up the story: 
'I had been taking photos for the competition and when I'd finished, I turned around to climb back up the canal  bank, which is quite steep at this point, to the line of leylandi trees, when I put my hand down to steady myself and placed it on top of the cannonball. 
Thinking it may have been a 'corky' cricket ball of the type used in my school days, I went to pull it from the soil, only to find it was not a corky ball, but a cannon ball! I was able to recognise it for what it was from my own visits to museums over the years.
I took it home,cleaned it  under the cold water tap, and later showed it to Kerry Fletcher, Middlewich Town Council's Heritage Officer. 
Kerry confirmed it was indeed a cannonball  and said she would need to have it properly authenticated by sending it to Chester Museum. This she did some time later.
It was quite exciting to find such an historic item, purely by luck, and just sitting there waiting to be found.
I decided to find out more about it, and why it was found where it was, and read up on the history of the Civil War as it affected Middlewich from a variety of sources, both local and via the Internet.
At one of the two Battles of Middlewich  two Royalist Cannons were set up behind a barricade, probably at the junction of Booth lane and Sutton Lane, to deter troops from entering the town via these two roads. 
From behind this barricade the Royalists fired at the Roundhead (Parliamentarian) troops advancing from Nantwich, which was at the time in the hands of the Roundhead army, to take Middlewich.
My understanding is that a cannon of the time ( circa 1643 )would only have a range of fire of some 300 yards (approximately 275 metres) from the cannon gun.
Therefore, my guess that the cannon ball I found was indeed fired from behind the barricade at the road junction  (the Cheshire Cheese pub stands there today, and may well have been there at that time as well ).
From additional material I have read, it would appear that either side of both roads were “sodden ground”, very wet and muddy, and  it is very probable that the cannonball would have been quite deeply buried when it landed, and thus had remained hidden for all those years.
But it's more likely that the cannon ball  remained hidden where it landed  until the canal era began and the new 'motorways of the eighteenth century' were constructed. The Trent & Mersey Canal was built in 1776 and it may have been that the cannon ball  was unearthed by the navvies then and deposited where it was on the banks of the canal, which are quite high at that point.
It was probably unearthed again and  deposited on the soil surface when the leylandii trees were planted by Pochins in the 1970s and lay there waiting to be discovered once more by me in April / May 2010.
I understand  that Kerry Fletcher and the  Middlewich Town Council, along with Middlewich Heritage Society, plan to have the cannon ball mounted so that it can be  displayed at Cheshire Heritage Exhibitions in the future. There may well be more civil war cannon balls to be found in the same area. For obvious reasons it's highly unlikely that this would be the only one,  but please remember that  permission must be sought from the Pochin Group, who now own this very important civil war battle ground if you should  wish to look for other such items.'
Story and photograph © Cliff Astles 2011

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