Battlefields Trust Stow-on-the-Wold Survey

The location of the battle of Stow on the Wold (1646) is unknown. Historic England registered an area around 2 kilometres north of Stow on a ridge beside the village of Donnington as the battlefield area in 1995, but questioned this in a paper to its Battlefield Panel in 1999.  In order to settle this, the Battlefields Trust wanted to organise a metal detecting survey to find the battlefield’s location.

Stow survey Oct 2015
Stow survey Oct 2015

The survey at Stow was originally conceived as part of a wider Heritage Lottery funded project, but this was rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Alternative finance needed to be found and the Mercia Region of the Battlefields Trust, in which area the battlefield fell, made a grant application to the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust and funding of £2460 was generously made.  A further £500 was set aside from existing regional funds for the project.

The grant was used to purchase a set of surveying equipment – ranging poles, surveyors tape measures, transects and finds marker flags and finds bags.  This set of equipment is now available for wider use in the Battlefields Trust.  It was also used to pay a qualified archaeologist to lead the survey, for accommodation and subsistence for the survey team and to cover travelling expenses.

The survey was conducted in October 2015.  Sample areas several hundred metres in length and breadth were detected at 10m intervals and the finds collected, bagged, marked and location recorded in advance of them being cleaned, measured and recorded on a spreadsheet.

Areas over the possible battlefield area were examined, though no battlefield related finds were discovered over a six day period. This provided useful negative information about the battlefield location and has led to the development of a new hypothesis that the battle was fought much closer to Stow than has hitherto been considered.

Further archaeological work was undertaken in 2018 using the equipment funded by the Arms and Armour Heritage Trust as well as the residual part of the original grant and additional funding from the Battlefields Trust.  This located an area of fighting at Stow and further work is planned to establish whether it represents part of the rout or the initial stand of royalist forces.

1 thought on “Battlefields Trust Stow-on-the-Wold Survey”

  1. This was a challenging order. Astley had to cross the river Avon to reach Stow and Parliament’s garrisons at Stratford and Evesham were in the way. Unknown to Astley, Parliament was also aware of the King’s plans and had ordered the governors of Hereford – John Birch, Gloucester – Thomas Morgan, Evesham – Edward Rous, and Sir William Brereton, the most senior of the four and who was at that time besieging Lichfield, to combine their forces by 18 March to intercept Astley. Brereton also managed to put a spy into Astley’s camp at Worcester, so when the royalist began their advance on 17 March he was forewarned. There remains, however, a mystery about precisely where the battle of Stow was fought. The traditional site places the battle on the ridge at Donnington village north of Stow and this follows a suggestion from Atkin’s 1712 history of Gloucestershire that the battle was fought at Donnington. Proponents of the site argue that the strong defensive position offered to the royalists by the location and the fact that the Salt Way – an ancient route from Chipping Campden toward Stow via Donnington – offered Astley the best route, making it the most likely location. The alternative site is a ridge to the south between Donnington and Stow. This is preferred by those who judge that Astley was more likely to have fought his way up Broadway hill and used the modern Stow to Evesham road, which can be interpreted as being in existence at the time based on Ogilvy’s 1675 map, thus avoiding the Salt Way which passed close to Campden. By using this route and being caught in line of march, Astley, they argue, would more likely have used the southern ridge to deploy as the northern ridge was too far from the road and was, in any case, too precipitous for the parliamentarians to have made an attack. Space to deploy and the shorter distance to the town, where fighting is reported to have continued after the main battle was fought, also favour the southern ridge. Separately, Atkin’s reference could be to the fact that Donnington was the nearest place of habitation to where the battle was fought at either the traditional or alternative site.

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