BRITAIN'S FORGOTTEN BATTLEFIELDS ; as Planners and Archaeologists Fight over the Site of a 1066 Confrontation Which, Experts Say, May Have Changed the Course of History, Ian Herbert Reports on the Places That Shaped the Nation ++ Enmities Ancient and Modern

By Herbert, Ian | The Independent (London, England), April 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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BRITAIN'S FORGOTTEN BATTLEFIELDS ; as Planners and Archaeologists Fight over the Site of a 1066 Confrontation Which, Experts Say, May Have Changed the Course of History, Ian Herbert Reports on the Places That Shaped the Nation ++ Enmities Ancient and Modern


Herbert, Ian, The Independent (London, England)


Students who write essays about England's great battle of 20 September 1066 invariably have their dates wrong. They mean 14 October, when King Harold's men were up against the Normans at Hastings - or the engagement at Stamford Bridge, near York, just before it.

The September date does have a significance, though. It marks the Battle of Fulford - the third, forgotten great conflict of that year - and campaigners believe they are on the brink of winning a battle of their own to preserve its site against a 700-home development plan.

Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Local Government, is due to rule next month on the outcome of a public inquiry on plans by Persimmons Homes to build on the site of the battle between King Harold's Anglo-Saxons and a Norwegian army, on the outskirts of York.

The developers, backed by archaeological research, say there is insufficient physical evidence to show its specific location at Germany Beck in Fulford. But Scandinavian weapons experts have confirmed that metal objects found there include axes and a Viking sword and arrow heads. This could be the evidence identifying this site as the former swamp where Harold's northern reserves were annihilated by the Norwegians, who stepped across their bodies in their haste to cross the river Ouse.

The defeat forced Harold to march north with his elite troops to face the invaders at Stamford Bridge, before returning, victorious but exhausted, to face William of Normandy at Hastings.

The archaeologist Mari Wickerts, of the Gothenburg Museum in Sweden, said the discoveries looked like fragments from a stabbing sword that Norse warriors carried. "They were more brittle than the normal sword so would be more likely to be broken," he said. Dr Arthur MacGregor, curator of antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, confirmed that other objects discovered at the site were Scandinavian arrowheads, while Peter Lindbom, a Swedish expert at Uppsala University, also agreed it was of Scandinavian origin.

Michael Rayner, the Battlefields Trust's co-ordinator, considers the lack of awareness of Fulford to be a tragedy and believes the toll taken on Harold by this northern distraction to be a significant factor in his army's eventual defeat at Hastings. In effect, Fulford changed the course of history, they say.

"[The new finds] are the 'smoking gun' we have always been looking for," said Chas Jones, chairman of the Fulford Battlefield Society. "We told the inquiry inspector that only the slightest suspicion that this could be the site would be enough under the relevant legislation to stop the development. Now we have much more than that."

York Council said it was "inappropriate" to comment as the plans are subject to a public inquiry. But Peter Morris, commercial director of Persimmon Homes Yorkshire, said he did not accept the Battle of Fulford took place at the site. He said: "We would be interested in viewing any remains that may have been found on site ... along with specialist analysis to find out exactly where they were found, as we understand that the land is privately owned."

Where: Maldon, Essex.

Who: Saxons under Ealdorman Brihtnoth vs Vikings, probably under Olaf Tryggvason.

What happened: Brihtnoth raised a militia of 3-4,000 men in Essex to fight the Vikings, who had just attacked Ipswich and threatened the rest of East Anglia. Brihtnoth was killed and the Saxons abandoned the site in droves, but so many Vikings died that they did not hold Mal-don. There is no monument to the site and no information on-site, though the National Trust has erected a small plaque near the causeway. The Battlefields Trust believes it should be better preserved.

Where: Hastings, East Sussex.

Who: English under King Harold vs Normans under William of Normandy.

What happened: William attacked with cavalry while Harold's men, possibly weary after travelling to Yorkshire and back to fight the Vikings, were on foot.

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BRITAIN'S FORGOTTEN BATTLEFIELDS ; as Planners and Archaeologists Fight over the Site of a 1066 Confrontation Which, Experts Say, May Have Changed the Course of History, Ian Herbert Reports on the Places That Shaped the Nation ++ Enmities Ancient and Modern
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