A history hunter has discovered a 400-year-old cannonball in a field on the outskirts of Darlington, along with some musket balls and a lovely gunpowder flask.

The finds could give credence to a story about there having been a skirmish between Scots and English troops on the southern banks of the Tees just months before the English Civil War broke out.

On his first metal detecting session of the year, Mark McMullan was trying his luck in a field at Stapleton – as always with the landowner’s permission – when he came across the treasure.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Mark McMullan's Stapleton finds

“After many fruitless hours of digging up modern day scrap,” he said, “a little beauty popped up – a Civil War era cannonball, probably from a Falconet cannon, likely fired in anger just over 370 years ago,” he said. “Could this be hard evidence of a rumoured skirmish in 1640?”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Re-enactors load a Falconette cannon, like the one which fired the ball at StapletonRe-enactors load a Falconette cannon, like the one which fired the ball at Stapleton

On August 28, 1640, a 20,000-strong Scottish army beat 5,000 English soldiers at the Battle of Newburn, to the west of Newcastle. This victory allowed the Scots to occupy County Durham.

In 2010, Memories found a story in the records of Croft – just three miles to the east of Stapleton – which told how during this troubled period, Scottish soldiers burst over the Tees at Stapleton and encountered a group of English soldiers. The English had chased them along the riverbank to Croft, where they found more Englishmen guarding the bridge.

The Scots were therefore trapped: Englishmen on the bridge in front of them and more Englishmen coming up hard on their rear. So they jumped off Croft bridge into the water to escape and several of them drowned.

The invasion led to the Treaty of Ripon, signed on October 28, 1640, which allowed the Scots to remain in control of the North East and the English even paid them £850-a-day for their trouble.

This was a major embarrassment for the English king, Charles I, and his weakness was part of the reason the country slid into Civil War in August 1642.

There were some Civil War encounters between Royalists and Parliamentarians in this area –the Battle of Piercebridge on December 1, 1642, and the Battle of Yarm on February 1, 1643, were fights to control the crucial crossing points of the Tees – but none of them are as rooted in Stapleton as the story of the Scottish skirmish.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Mark McMullan's Stapleton findsMark found the top of a gunpowder flask - the lid, at the top of the picture, also doubled as a gunpowder measure

“Cannonballs can be identified from their size and weight and this cannonball fits a cannon of a very specific bore that was used at this time, a Falconette,” says Mark. “My searches in adjacent fields uncovered further evidence of a skirmish in the form of multiple lead musketballs and a beautiful lead powder measure. This served as a lid for a gunpowder flask that was hung from a shoulder belt and as a measure to ensure the correct amount of gunpowder was used for the shot!”

Mark found other treasures during his detecting at Stapleton which may go deep into the village’s history.

There has been a settlement near a bend in the river since at least the 9th Century, probably connected to the ford, ferryboat and then bridge that allowed people to cross from Yorkshire into Durham.

A family called de Stapleton, who came over with William the Conqueror, owned the area. They had a moated manorhouse with a fishpond and a private chapel dedicated to St James – these diggings may explain the deeply intriguing field at the heart of the village which is full of lumps and bumps that provide tantalising glimpses of a possible past life.

Villagers worshipped at a second chapel dedicated to St Leonard, but when Stapleton was incorporated into the parish of Croft, both of its chapels fell down in the 18th Century. Then, in 1820, the ancient manorhouse was pulled down and lost.


Darlington and Stockton Times: Mark McMullan's Stapleton findsThe giant key with a 50p piece for comparison

“I also found an intriguing and very large Bridge Ward type medieval key, which must have once been the key to a huge door!” said Mark. “Wouldn't it be great if it that was linked to the old manorhouse or one of the early chapels?”

Mark gives all of his finds to the landowner. He records his searches on his Facebook - search for him as the "History Hunter".

Darlington and Stockton Times: Stapleton on May 17, 1965, two days after the opening of the A66(M) took all the traffic awayStapleton on May 17, 1965, two days after the opening of the A66(M) took all the traffic away. The Bridge Inn on the left may well be named after a bridge over the Tees that was swept away ina flood in the 14th Century