Quite often, when scanning glass plates, one comes across a puzzle.  The thing to remember, with glass plates, is that it took the photographer some time to set up and expose his glass plate.  He (I haven’t found any ladies yet) would only have around a dozen emulsioned glass plates with him.  This meant that the photograph was intentional, not accidentaly taken or frivolously snapped.  Also there are seldom any written clues as to why the photograph was taken.

One of these puzzle images shows what I took to be part of one of the exterior walls of Salisbury Cathedral.  As you can see from the image here, there is not much to go on.  If you look carefully you can see some marks in the wall.  Now, you need to know some local history about Salisbury and the English Civil War.  Having been born and schooled in Salisbury, I knew the tales about musket shot marks in the Cathedral wall.   In recent times these musket ball marks have been attributed to target practice.

Civil War

A friend of mine took the two following images, shown here, to add to the museum records.  All the previous images are black and white, so I thought you, the reader, would like some colour images for a change.  These two images do show the marks more clearly.  In fact some of the old black and white images had almost been discarded as nothing of interest, which would be true to the untrained eye or non-historian.

Civil War1Civil War2

A retired ballistics expert friend thought the marks could be the result of a firing squad.

If you go to this site, you will find this extract:


Soldiers were being executed by gunfire in this country as early as the seventeenth century. A notorious case occurred following the siege of Colchester in 1648, during the English Civil War. The town was held by the Royalists, and the Parliamentarians, under General Fairfax, found it a long and arduous task to break through the fortified positions. Eventually, the defenders surrendered. Fairfax pardoned all the rank-and-file, but decided to make an example of the four Royalist commanders. Sir George Lisle, Sir Charles Lucas, Colonel Farr and Bernard Gascoigne were all sentenced to death at a drumhead court-martial. Gascoigne was reprieved because he was a foreign national, while Farr managed to escape. The other two men were shot by a firing squad in the grounds of Colchester Castle, on the evening of 28 August 1648. An obelisk now marks the spot where the so-called Royalist Martyrs met their death.”

This acts as a piece of supporting evidence that the musket ball marks at Salisbury Cathedral could be from a firing squad.  If you search the web you can find other evidence of firing squads used in the English Civil War where the prisoners were stood against a church wall.  As to the spread of the marks on the Cathedral wall, one needs information on the dispersion of shot from English civil war muskets, and lots more information, such as how many made up a firing squad, and what was the distance from the prisoner etc.  A fascinating piece of research starting from an almost discarded black and white glass negative.

Alan Clarke