Lead Shot of the English Civil War:
A Radical Study
D.F. Harding


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From War History Online.
Review by Dr Wayne Osborne.

'The core of this book is an intensive analysis of 1,800 projectiles that were fired in practice in a Northamptonshire deer park during the English Civil War.'

The book covers several forgotten types of multi-ball load which was intended to improve the chances of an effective hit at a distance, several kinds of elongated shot designed to pierce plate armour at very close range and several forms of distortion that all lead shot can undergo within a gun barrel and on impact which can be very informative to the archaeologist and firearms expert. As well as munitions evidence found at the training site a skirmish site fifteen miles away at Wood Burcote yielded all of the same types of unusual shot. This time the munitions had been used in action.

On the face of it this is a book for those who are interested in antique firearms and their uses in the English Civil Wars. It is highly technical and detailed in its approach. However, speaking as a Great War historian with more than a passing interest in the Civil Wars it is a fascinating and thought provoking read. The author David Harding is very well placed to undertake this study of the spent munitions discovered by the painstaking work of archaeologists Peter Woods and Roy Turland. David Harding's experience as a British Army soldier and small arms expert are vital to the research.

Historians like me naturally tend to examine the skirmishes, battles and sieges of the civil wars, sensibly using the written accounts of the time. Where archaeological information is available we tend to use the data to fix the positions of units and stages of engagements rather than asking questions of the individual objects found on the site. David Harding's approach is to examine the spent munitions themselves. By doing so he has uncovered munitions that have either been forgotten or not even recorded. His findings, after examining the small arms munitions that the archaeologists have found sheds new light upon these munitions, the weapons and the men who used them in combat.

David Harding does make the case that different branches of historical research into the same subject often fail to take each other's findings and conclusions into account. He is absolutely correct. All too often we historians ignore the work of our colleagues from other disciplines. This book seeks to redress that balance.

That there were training exercises for civil war soldiers and cavalry troopers is often over looked although it should not be. Wherever there are armies training takes place. In civil war terms training in the early days of the conflict can take on a poor connotation. The Trained Bands of the early days were not always 'trained', some were almost untrained. Their training differed in quality and content depending upon their geographical location and in modern, regular army terms there is that all too familiar smell of the 'Saturdays and Sundays' about them, which is unfair to the TA and was probably unfair to some of the Trained Bands.

This Northampton site that has yielded the spent munitions appears to have been a temporary training ground, used just once. It begs the questions are there other training sites and were there any permanent training areas available to both sides? If that is the case then these sites are waiting to be discovered by archaeologists and metal detectorists.

The conclusion that the site was used by a troop or two troops of Parliamentarian Horse is compelling and the arguments are valid and logical. However, one would add that as the war progressed, cavalry regiments on both sides were often vastly under strength because of the high maintenance costs. Often regiments could be as small as two troops in number. The theoretical strength for a cavalry regiment was some 500 troopers but some regiments only mustered about 100 men. This training area could have been the training ground for a regiment. This historian would be interested to know the size and composition of the cavalry units for the local area. It could have been the training ground used before a local unit went off to fight a major battle. Civil War cavalry men were often already accomplished riders and many rode to the hunt, they were used to riding over uneven and through rough, tangled terrain at speed. Horsemanship was not usually an issue with troopers, using firearms and discipline often was. Perhaps our troopers from the deer park were not only learning to use their weapons but also learning fire discipline as a unit as well.

We should not be surprised that our military forebears experimented with weapons and projectiles, nor should we be surprised that there was research into armour piercing rounds. Archers had been doing that kind of research and development for years, why would firearms men abandon that line of enquiry while still faced by targets in armour?

In conclusion, David Harding's book is excellent and it should grace the book shelves of those who are interested in antique firearms but more importantly it should feature on the shelves of those who read about and research the English Civil Wars. It is one of those books that should and given time will, change the views of Civil war Historians and push our knowledge and understanding of that conflict in the right direction.

From The Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research Spring 2013 (Vol.91 No.365).
Review by Bill Harriman TD FSA.

David Harding will be known to many readers of this journal as the author of Smallarms of the East India Company 1600–1856, for which he was awarded the Society's prestigious Templer Medal. The third volume of his magnum opus covered ammunition and performance, which has been the foundation for this new book. Lead Shot of the English Civil War is a detailed analysis of about 1,800 lead pistol and carbine shots recovered by two archaeologists using metal detectors from an English Civil War smallarms firing range at Easton Maudit in Northamptonshire. In recent years, battlefield archaeology has been enhanced by the application of forensic ballistics to show the ebb and flow of battle from the deposition of ammunition components, whether projectiles or spent cartridges. Hitherto, little detailed study was undertaken of ammunition components found on battlefields; today, these objects are treated with the scientific rigour afforded to all archaeological finds.

Mr Harding's study breaks new ground, as it concentrates on projectiles fired during training rather than in battle. This large group of recovered bullets does not exhibit the damage often associated with those which have hit the flesh, bones or armour of opponents. Consequently, much more information can be deduced about them, especially in terms of their dimensions and weights. Equally the lack of human impact damage has tended to preserve subtle markings which have allowed the author to be very specific in attributing individual projectiles to specific practices, e.g. those balls fired from breech-loading pistols with turn-off barrels or those large pellets used in a combined buckshot and ball loading.

The first chapter is a mise en scene which explains the topography of the site and puts it into its social and military contexts during the Civil War. It gives an in-depth analysis of the surface distribution of the shot and deals with the range of muzzle-loading military firearms, ricochets, light cavalry tactics and the likely angles of elevation for firing in both battle and during practice. It concludes by describing the finds area and offers some thoughtful conclusions on the way that the firing practice was conducted, including an element of fire and manoeuvre whilst mounted. Although firearms and military tactics have evolved greatly, in the intervening years, the need for individual soldiers to be trained to fire their weapons as part of a collective unit and without endangering their comrades has always been a prerequisite of gunpowder-based warfare.

The second chapter covers the statistics and the finds database. It explains the broad categories and shapes of projectiles, including linked or "dumb-bell" shot, multi-ball loads, "bobbin" shot and lead plugs. The presence of the latter two types of what are described as "elongated" shot predate the long, round nosed rifle bullets of the 19th century by some 200 years. The author's conclusions that they were designed to defeat armour and to increase the amount of kinetic energy in the target are wholly sustainable. He deals with a potential objection that such projectiles are ballistically unstable when fired from an unrifled barrel by reminding us that the recommended optimum range of cavalry firearm usage was very short; often troopers fired whilst in physical contact with their opponents or less than six feet apart. At such close distances, ballistic stability was irrelevant.

Chapter 3 explains the loading procedures for 17th century firearms. Chapter 4 shows how various features on the shot can be interpreted to draw conclusions about its manufacture, use and effect. It begins with manufacturing features such as seams, mould sprues, rings and casting cavities. Next, deformation marks caused by loading and firing are explained including the phenomenon known as "set up". This occurs when the compressive force of the combustion gases causes a bullet to be squeezed outwards towards the barrel walls. It gives the bullet a tyre-like appearance. The erosive effect of the gas on the bullets is described, as are dimpled marks characteristic of either cannon hail-shot or buck-and-ball loads.

Chapter 5 covers multiple ball loads using full calibre balls. This was done to maximise the impact on the target. Tests show that there is only a modest loss of kinetic energy in each projectile in multiple loads, making it an effective practice. Chapter 6 looks at elongated shot; plug, bobbin and dumb-bell; and concludes that these projectiles were an early attempt to provide improved armour piercing capability in cavalry firearms. It is significant they do not appear in musket bore, strongly suggesting that the energy and knock-down effect from infantry firearms was already considered to be more than adequate.

Chapter 7 deal with firers, tactics and armour. Three possible groups are considered, pre-Civil War "Trained Bands", Civil War and post-Civil War troops. The decreasing use of armour poses significant questions concerning the potential reduction in the use of elongated shot.

Chapter 8 lists the conclusions drawn by the author. He shows without doubt that not all undamaged bullets can be classed as dropped or lost, as many will have fallen to earth having reached the limit of their range. He also gives useful caveats about the reliability of traditional classification of weapon types by bullet weight and diameter. He concludes that despite all the potential advantages to be gained from the new types of bullet, 75% of discharges were still made with single round balls, 15% with elongated projectiles and a mere 10% with multi-ball loads. He suggests that the Easton Maudit troops were some 150 men, light horsemen plus a small number of dragoons or musketeers operating probably early in the Civil War, perhaps in 1643. The balance of probability points towards Parliamentarian troops as Easton Maudit lay in a staunchly Roundhead area.

The book has useful appendices including an interesting study of bullet moulds of the period. These are rarely seen and differ from the later iron pincer type mould by having copper alloy blocks in iron handles. The inclusion of what are termed "intrusive projectiles" including a Martini-Henry rifle bullet, revolver bullets and 20th/21st century air gun pellets remind us that firearms have been discharged over the English countryside for many centuries.

The addendum to this book's title describes it as "A Radical Study". This is an accurate assessment; it has not only enhanced our knowledge of 17th century military firearms and their performance but has deflated myths and dispelled 'conventional wisdom'. Mr Harding is one of a few people in this specialised field who could have produced such a detailed and thought-provoking analysis. His rare combination of the skills of scholar, practical firearms user and forensic examiner gives this book great authority. It will be read to their great enjoyment and benefit by all 17th Century military historians, forensic ballisticians, archaeologists, muzzle-loading firearms users and English Civil War enthusiasts alike. It will become an essential guide to those who wish genuinely to understand the complexities of ammunition analysis in an archaeological context.

The reviewer, Bill Harriman TD FSA, is a consulting firearms forensic examiner and a practical user of muzzle loading firearms of 40 years standing. He is a professional member of the Forensic Science Society, a journalist and President of the Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain.




From Treasure Hunting magazine, March 2013.
Review by Peter A. Clayton.

Lead Shot of the English Civil War is a remarkable book, and rightly deserves its subtitle, A Radical Study. Lead shot found by metal detecting is usually disregarded and termed "scrap", but properly recorded and analysed it can produce invaluable information.

For example, in the USA after the disastrous fire that swept the site of the Little Bighorn (1876, "Custer's Last Stand"), careful recording in 1984/85 of metal detected cartridge cases identified the specific location of participants in the battle. Closer to home, recent work at Bosworth, recording the location of musket shot (at that period a rare use of firearms), has relocated the focus of the battle roughly a mile away from the accepted norm.

So, what we have here is the result of 12 years exhaustive study and recording of metal decetcted lead shot at a site in Northamptonshire by Peter Woods and Roy Turland, two experienced detectorists and archaeologists. Some 1,800 projectiles were recovered at Easton Maudit Park, fired in practice in a deer park in the Civil War. David Harding, a former Gurkha officer, an authority on small arms and member of the Arms and Armour Society, was apprised of their work and realised its wide potential.

Hitherto the general consensus of opinion about Civil War small arms was that only large lead balls were fired and small ones as buckshot. Easton Maudit has turned this on its head with the undoubted evidence of at least nine different types of projectile.

David Harding has brought his extensive experience to bear on Peter and Roy's dedicated work and recording to open a whole new vista on Civil War small arms and their use. Eight detailed chapters with many internal subdivisions first examine the site and its use. Then follow descriptions of the shot data, loading procedures and reading the marks on the shot (modern police forensics often rely heavily on such data from fired bullets), the forms of shot, the firers, tactics and the prevalance of armour in the Civil War. These are all accompanied by excellent photos of the shot (much better in black and white and easier to "read"). Nine appendices may appear excessive but they are full of useful supplementary material on such things as ball moulds of the period, the motion of shot fired from a smooth bore barrel (rifling to achieve greater accuracy is a later 18th century invention),** the different kinds of shot, experimental firing with black powder, etc., together with a number of useful analytical graph charts.

This study has been produced to the highest academic standard with full notes and references, a useful glossary and a detailed bibliography.

** In fact some projectiles fired from rifled barrels and probably of Civil War date from Easton Maudit and known Civil War battlefields are covered in the book. (Comment by Foresight Books.)




From Classic Arms and Militaria Magazine, Dec 2012 & Jan 2013 issue.

David Harding will be well known to many readers as the author of the four volume magnum opus, Smallarms of the East India Company 1600–1856. He is an authority on muzzle-loading firearms and combines academic knowledge with extensive practical skills obtained from test firing many different types of blackpowder firearms.

Over the last two decades there have been several examples of the successful collaboration between forensic ballistics and battlefield archaeology. Detailed examination of ammunition components allows the ebb and flow of battles to be charted with greater accuracy than was previously the case. The Little Big Horn (1876) is a case in point and several firearms have now been forensically linked to that conflict.

The author uses this approach but applies it to an English Civil War site at Easton Maudit in Northamptonshire. This is not a battlefield but was a field firing range used for target practice by a body of horse. Some 1,800 lead projectiles have been recovered and analysed. The findings are dramatic and both enhance and transform our knowledge of 1[7]th century small arms fire and training.

Nine main types of projectiles have been identified — ball, buckshot, buck-and-ball, double ball, triple ball, plug, bobbin shot, dumbbell shot and hail shot for artillery. The 1[7]th century cavalry pistols were of small bore and some of these loads show that their users hoped to maximise their effectiveness by duplex loads. The plugs and bobbin shots were early attempts to produce armour piercing ammunition and the use of such linear projectiles predates their common introduction by some 200 years.

The author properly describes his work as "a radical study". It is a fascinating account of 1[7]th century projectiles that is both academically and scientifically sound. It will appeal to students of the Civil Wars, ballisticians, firearms historians and anyone interested in the practical analysis of firearms performance."




From Black Powder, the Quarterly Magazine of the Muzzle Loaders' Association of Great Britain, Vol. 59 No.4, Winter 2012, pp.45–46.

It is very rare, indeed almost unheard of, that something really new is written today about the history of guns and shooting. It is just this, however, that makes David Harding's book so exciting. Those who know the author's monumental series of books on the arms of the Honourable East India Company will recognise the same depth of research and scholarship in his new study. The bibliography of this new book is awesome!

We should all be grateful that the evidence was brought to his notice. By a fortunate train of events, the bullets were discovered by archaeologists with metal detectors who, in turn, made contact with David, who had the knowledge to interpret their finds.

In a nutshell, it had been discovered in the 17th century that elongated lead projectiles were necessary to penetrate plate body armour — this nearly 200 years prior to the previously accepted date of invention of such bullets.

This new book is the story of the discovery and interpretation of the evidence. In its way, it is a detective story of how lead shot, that have lain some 360 years in an English field, can still tell us their story.

It is a tribute to David's skill with words that this tale is told in such a lucid and eminently readable way. You will enjoy it.




From the Newsletter of the Arms and Armour Society, Dec 2012.

(Review by David Baker, the leading author on British shotguns.)

David Harding's new book is very like the plot of a forensic detective story. Here we have a thousand or so lead bullets that have lain for more than three and a half centuries in the soil of what was once a manorial deer park, but are now brought to life to tell us their story. They remind us of the empirical knowledge of our ancestors and, yet again, illustrate that so called "new discoveries" are often nothing of the sort, but merely forgotten facts rediscovered.

The bullets in question were probably fired originally by a troop of Parliamentary Cavalry at target practice. This accounts both for the number of projectiles discovered and their concentration on one site. Fortunately, they were discovered by archaeologists with metal detectors, who were not simply treasure hunters, but practitioners who logged the exact locations of their finds and who sought expert help to interpret them.

It is our good fortune that they went to David, who was able to build on his previous experience of ballistic studies of muskets undertaken originally as part of his monumental study of the arms of the Honourable East India Company. What this cache of bullets revealed was that elongated projectiles were known and in practical use almost 400 years ago.

I found the whole saga fascinating, despite being a mere shotgunner. It is a tribute to the author that the tale is so well told and, as with all David's works, the bibliography is a history lesson in itself.

If I may venture one criticism, more a regret, it is a pity about the paper covers. Scholarship of this order deserves to be better preserved. I realise the economic implications, but I, for one, would prefer a set of sheets that I could have hardbound.

(Publisher's note: For a specialised book like this, with a limited print run, digital printing is now the only economic option, and even the largest sheets that digital printers will take are too small to be folded and sewn in the traditional "case-bound" manner. A hard-backed version of the digitally-printed pages could certainly be produced, but the pages would still be glued together at the spine in the paperback manner, and then merely pasted into stiff covers.)