THE site of a 17th-century fort used to launch the brutal Siege of Colchester has been discovered by archaeologists, it is believed.

Digs at the former Colchester Garrison barracks have unearthed the likely site of Fort Needham.

It was used by Parliamentarians at the height of the English Civil War as they tried to seize control of the town from Royalists in 1648.

The Colchester Archaeological Trust has uncovered distinctive star-shaped trenches.

They suggest the line of forts and trenches was far closer to St John’s Abbey, where many of the Royalists were holed up, than previously believed.

Trust director Philip Crummy says a map of the siege published after the 11-week conflict might not be accurate. He said: “We think we have found part of Fort Needham.

“The map isn’t that accurate, but we knew the siegeworks ought to be coming across Abbeyfields somewhere.

“We thought there was a good chance they would be crossing Hyderabad and Meeanee barracks. Although everything fits, it seems a bit further north than expected .”

The siege followed a battle along Maldon Road as Lord-General Fairfax’s Parliamentary forces tried to seize the town from Royalist troops led by Sir Charles Lucas.

Afterwards, the Royalists retreated to the town, so their enemies set up a trench and dug in cannons.

Rob Masefield, from RPS Planning and Development, which has been co-ordinating the archaeological work for developer Taylor Wimpey, suggested Fort Needham may have been the spot where cannons were fired at St John’s Abbey until it fell into their hands.

He said: “We think at the beginning of the siege they started with a line a little bit like a First World War trench.

“The small fort here was presumably there to pound the town with cannons. Presumably, there was some close-quarters fighting for a few days before the abbey was overrun.

“That could have been the position from where the abbey gatehouse was destroyed – this fortlet would be in range of that.” After weeks of starvation, when it was reported some people in Colchester were reduced to eating their pets, soap and candles, the Royalists laid down their arms on August 28, 1648.

Sir Charles Lucas was found guilty of high treason for his role in the siege and a monument marks the site behind Colchester Castle where he was executed.

Investigations of Hyderabad and Meeanee barracks this year also unearthed the remains of two soldiers, which could be late Roman, and a hoard of 1,247 Roman coins.

Taylor Wimpey last year won planning permission to build 438 homes on the former Hyderabad and Meeanee Barracks.

Work is expected to start soon.