Civil war skirmishes around St. Luke's

Last edited by webmaster on 22 August 2012 - 5:25pm


Bullet impact scars on the medieval sandstone tower of St Luke’s Church are believed to date from the English Civil Wars of the 17th century. Several theories for the origins of the impact scars have been advanced, such as the potential use of the church as a strongpoint in a skirmish as the Royalist army fell back from Middlewich in 1643, or an attempt by the Parliamentary garrison to break out from the Royalist encirclement of Nantwich.

New PhD research by Amanda Wynne at the University of Huddersfield aims to develop a methodology for the recording and analysis of bullet impact scars as a new form of archaeological evidence for the study of past conflict.

A team comprising Amanda Wynne and Anna Kolano (University of Huddersfield) linked with Alan and Griselda Garner of the Blackden Trust and with the assistance of Jenny Reddish, made an archaeological survey of the bullet impact scars at St Luke’s Church on Friday 23rd March. The team used high quality photography and 3D laser scanning to record individual bullet impact scars on the north wall of the church tower. The 3D images are currently under analysis at the University of Huddersfield to accurately measure the dimensions of each impact scar to gain insight on how they may have been created. For example, were the scars made by bullets of different calibre, or are multiple calibres represented?


Initial results will be presented at Holmes Chapel later this spring and a fuller interpretation will be available later this summer after test firing experiments. These will use various types of salvaged building stone as targets (not St. Luke’s church tower!!) to investigate the effect of bullet speed and calibre on formation of bullet impact scars.

update letter from Amanda Wynne, University of Huddersfield, lead researcher - August 2012

Investigating a Civil War firefight at St Luke’s Church, Holmes Chapel

Bullet impact scars which are believed to date from the English Civil War have been identified at churches such as St John’s Church (Devizes), castles like Old Wardour (Wiltshire), and even surviving houses such as the ‘Siege House’ in Colchester. It is only recently that impact scars have begun to be systematically recorded as archaeological evidence. The number of bullet impact scars can give an idea of how many soldiers were involved and the position of the impact scars on buildings suggests the direction of attack. However, the best way to record them and what more we may potentially learn is still unclear. At St Luke’s Church in Holmes Chapel a new method of recording bullet impact scars using 3D Laser Scanning was trialed in March of this year.

The impact scars at St Luke’s Church may result from conflict in the area in December of 1643 when a Parliamentary force marched to relieve Nantwich, which was besieged by Royalists. There are over 30 impact scars within the lower 2m of the north wall of St Luke’s Church tower. There appear to also be several high up on the north wall, however these present a logistical challenge to get to at this stage! In addition, there are further impact scars by the steps on the south wall of the church tower. Of the impact scars on the north wall 20 were selected for laser scanning and analysis.

A new method of analysis using the interior ‘bowl’ of the impact scar was developed. This is because it appears that the outer facing of the impact scars are more susceptible to weathering, and previous experimental firing has shown that flakes of stone sometimes shatter from the wall surface on impact. Using computer aided design software a sphere was mathematically fitted to the bowl of the impact scar. This sphere was then measured to give the maximum possible diameter of the round bullet which caused the impact scar. This process was repeated for all the scans and has yielded some interesting results.

The most striking finding is the variability in the impact scars, which suggests that a range of weapons such as muskets and pistols may have been present at the conflict. The largest impact scar falls within the size range for small artillery, but it is more likely that differential weathering has caused the original impact scar to increase in size. In some cases the analysis showed two distinct ‘bowls’ of impact indicating multiple bullets may have hit in the same place. The latter finding is particularly interesting, as the ‘double impact’ was not always obvious to the naked eye or in photographs. These initial results are promising, but at present the relationship between the original fired bullets, and the impact scars they leave behind is poorly understood.

The majority of bullets for hand-held firearms in the English Civil Wars were spheres of lead. The relatively soft lead of the bullets distorts on impacting a stone surface, sometimes forming something more akin to a pancake than a sphere, and this will affect the dimensions of the impact scar. A key question is whether we can work back from the impact scar to reconstruct the distorted bullet, and by extension the original dimensions of the bullet. There are many additional questions with regards to bullet impact scars such as the effects of powder charge in the original weapon or the behavior of different stone types to both bullet impact and subsequent weathering damage. To begin to address some of these questions experimental firing will be conducted later this year, the results of which will be used to evaluate the data collected at St Luke’s Church.

It is expected that much future work will be required to adequately address the archaeological potential of bullet impact scars. However, the recognition and recording of impact scars is a key first step. The 3D images and photographs taken at St Luke’s Church will provide a permanent record of the dimensions of the impact scars, whatever future weathering may bring!

If anyone has recognised similar markings to those found on the tower of St Luke’s Church, any information would be gratefully received at I would like to express my thanks to Churchwarden Steve Smith, Alan Garner, Griselda Garner, Jenny Reddish and Anna Kolano who made fieldwork at St Luke’s Church possible and also to Paul Bills for his work in analysing the 3D impact scar data.