Life after the Battle of Dunbar for the Scottish soldiers

Tests revealed skeletons found in Durham City UNESCO World Heritage Site are 17th century Scottish soldiers taken prisoner at the 1650 Battle of Dunbar.
Tests revealed skeletons found in Durham City UNESCO World Heritage Site are 17th century Scottish soldiers taken prisoner at the 1650 Battle of Dunbar.

Durham University researchers are starting to piece together the fate of Scottish soldiers taken prisoner at the 1650 Battle of Dunbar.

The battle was fought between the Royalist-supporting Scottish Covenanting army and Oliver Cromwell’s English Parliamentarian army. Around 3000 Scottish prisoners were marched to Durham, where it is estimated that 1700 died as prisoners, and their final burial place was only discovered in 2013 when a mass grave was found during construction work on Durham University’s Palace Green Library café in November 2013.

After establishing that the remains were those of the Scottish soldiers researchers then wanted to trace the lives of the Scots who had been imprisoned at Durham and survived.

It turns out that some of the surviving soldiers were sent to work at sites locally, including the salt pans in South Shields, others were sent south to help drain The Fens in the east of England or on to France and Ireland for military service while others were sent to the USA and Barbados.

Through records from both sides of the Atlantic, Dr Pam Graves, senior lecturer in the Department of Archaeology now has a deeper understanding of the life that awaited these men and the university has published her paper which looks at the fate of the survivors.

Dr Graves said: “There is a wealth of information about the fate of the Scottish soldiers during and after their imprisonment in Durham, but it is only when you draw all this together that you get a real sense of what became of these men.

“Many were sent as indentured servants, to work for a contracted length of time in order to earn their release.”

The university is planning a commemorative event in late 2016 to dedicate a plaque to the memory of the soldiers.