Management Assessment and Strategy
As the last battle on English soil it is arguably the best documented of all, with detailed plans showing the deployments and the action. Although the landscape has been dramatically transformed since 1685, there is excellent documentary and archaeological data to enable reconstruction of the earlier events and to enable the accurate placing of documented military events within it. Moreover the main stages of the battle appear to be clearly separated spatially. The landscape has also not been significantly disturbed except by a limited amount of ploughing and the construction of the drainage system and hence there is still the potential for well preserved archaeological evidence of both the historic terrain and the battle. Such a combination provides a rare if not unique potential in England and one which may mean that Sedgemoor offers the potential, through detailed archaeological survey and documentary research, to determine with confidence the archaeological signature of the various aspects of a 17th century battle.
The battle and the campaign are very well recorded in a number of detailed contemporary accounts and it has an exceptional series of detailed contemporary plans of the action. The military history of the battle and the wider campaign has been well researched and published in several significant modern studies and the campaign as a whole has an extensive literature. There are no major outstanding questions about the nature or location of the events although some of the finer detail of the battle does require elaboration.
Archaeology of the Battle
The archaeological evidence for the battle can be expected to survive in good condition. The area has not been subject to extensive modern disturbance by urban development, mineral extraction etc. A metal detecting survey has been conducted on an amateur basis but with mapping of the distribution of the artefacts. There is no information to suggest that there has been substantial ‘treasure hunting’ which might have substantially distorted the archaeological pattern, but this needs further assessment. Sedgemoor is exceptional in having an accurately located mass grave and there appears to be a high potential for a wider archaeological investigation of the battle. However the existence of areas of permanent pasture may make the recovery of shot and other artefacts from some area less representative. There has also been limited destruction of the archaeology by the various drainage works since the late 18th century, but it is unclear whether this also involved the spreading of the excavated spoil across a wide surrounding area but if it did then this could have both transferred large amounts of shot and other artefacts from their original locations and may in places have buried other shot beneath a covering of spoil, so affecting recovery patterns from systematic metal detecting survey. Over most of the moor this is however likely to be no more than a very localised effect.
The extensive waterlogged conditions, if not totally disrupted by the drainage of the moor, may also offer exceptional potential for the survival of artefacts made of organic materials which on most other battlefields would have decayed. Given that the pursuit continued over the fields of Chedzoy island there is also the potential here for individual or mass graves in that area, beyond the currently registered area, as well as on the moor itself.
The primary archaeological and documentary evidence for the historical geography of the battlefield landscape is good and there is already a broad understanding of the evolution of the Sedgemoor landscape. A detailed reconstruction of the pre inclosure landscape of the battlefield has been attempted but further research is needed to refine this picture.
The battlefield and its environs have suffered relatively little from modern development and there are substantial clues remaining in the landscape as to its earlier character. There is good public access to the whole area along rights of way and the only significant improvement to access would be free access to the two fields with earthworks adjacent to the monument.
There are several on site interpretation panels and a linked campaign trail described in a leaflet provided by the Tourist Information Centres. There is also a museum exhibition on the battle in Bridgewater.
Further documentary and especially archaeological study would enable more exact location of the events on the ground, especially with regard to the extent of the frontages and the positioning of the key crossings of the Bussex Rhyne, of the Pitzoy pound and the course of the tracks across the moor from the plungeons and the Langmoor Rhyne with its crossing. Comparison can then be made to the Bussex Rhyne, although the different impact of crossing a rhyne in line of march as opposed to in battalia needs to be considered.
The detailed study of the archaeology of the battle in association with such good documentary evidence for the action might also enable significant general advances in the interpretation of battlefield archaeology of the 17th century. The apparent subtly different lines of advance and of retreat/rout of the rebel army, identifiable thanks to the exceptional documentation, offer the potential for detailed study of the nature of the archaeological evidence left by an advancing force and by one conducting a fighting retreat and then collapsing into rout. This may provide important complementary evidence for that already recovered from Naseby as to the nature of shot distributions associated with different types of action. The extensive use of case shot by the artillery on both sides may also be clearly distinguishable from the musket fire of the infantry regiments and, given the detailed documentation as to the location of the artillery, this may be one of the best opportunities for such a comparative study, with potential implications for all civil war battlefields and siege sites. Sedgemoor is however relatively unusual in having been fought on a wetland landscape and this may render some aspects of its battlefield archaeology atypical.
A systematic survey of the battlefield for shot should enable the accurate definition of the extent of the frontages and allow the identification of the location and intensity of the action where Wade’s and any other rebel troops challenged the royal advance at the end of the battle. The nature of the shot pattern from the rout will also be of interest for comparison to other battlefields. It may also be possible to locate the position of the rebel and the royal artillery which, if used at close quarters are likely to have been firing case shot, on which there can be distinctive damage enabling it to be distinguished from ordinary musket shot.
No immediate major threats have been identified to the overall historic environment of the battlefield. There is however no statutory protection through Scheduling for the surviving earthworks or the buried archaeology, either stratified or unstratified, and thus these must be considered under a high level of threat from cultivation and other land use change not covered by the Town and Country Planning Acts. In particular the small area of surviving earthworks of the contemporary drainage channels including the Bussex rhyne and associated unploughed land possibly representing the original surface form of the moor and the earthworks of the probable mass grave are extremely vulnerable to cultivation, which has levelled the earthworks on much of the rest of the moor. The archaeology and historic landscape character is also vulnerable to ill thought out conservation action, as demonstrated by the what appears to have been conservation related construction of a pond and associated works on the line of the Bussex rhyne at NGR ST353356, close to the likely position of the upper plungeon. An equally if not more important threat is that of unrecorded removal of artefacts by metal detectorists but there is currently no information as to whether the site is subject to a significant degree of unrecorded metal detecting.
The boundary of the registered area should be revised now that the Langmoor Rhyne has been accurately located and there should be further revision when and if the Penzoy Pound is identified with certainty. Elsewhere the boundary seems to adequately encompass the likely area of the cavalry flank attacks and the area of the royal camp in so far as it is undeveloped. With regard to the main action it is unlikely that even systematic archaeological survey of the artefact distribution will provide evidence requiring revision of the boundary. The highest priority must however be for the scheduling of the earthworks of the Bussex rhyne, the mass grave and their associated earthworks.