Fulford battlefied under threat

July 2014 dig

The Fulford Tapestry

The evidence

Summary of published report

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REPORT ON THE TRIAL TRENCH ADJAC
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Sunrise 20 Sept 1066
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Locating the battle
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Images of flood on the day of the battle

12 panoramas of the battle site

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The Fulford Tapestry

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Summary of Evidence for the site of the Battle of Fulford 20 September 1066

No single piece of evidence is likely to be conclusive.  Faced with this challenge, we devised a broad project. This is what we set out to do.

Methodology outlined  and the report on a decade of work

1. The literature

  • The only firm conclusion is that there was a battle on Wednesday 20th Sept 1066 along a ditch to the south of York. There are 4 references to the battle, but not by name, in the AS Chronicle.
  • Heimskringla or Saga’s of the Nordic Kings, was written in Old Norse, about 1225 by the poet and historian Snorri Sturluson. This provides a rare narrative of the battle.
  • Symeon of Durham and Geoffrey Gaimer provide the two earliest namings of Fulford as the place of the battle.
  • John (aka) Florence of Worcester also includes a mention of the battle.
  • The place name of Fulford and Germany Beck indicates that the location can be closely linked to this area.
  • You can read a description of a contemporary battle in the Song of Maldon
  • The only academic article by Guy Schofield (History Today Oct 66) looks at the likely numbers involved. Based on the face off between the Mercian and Northumbrian Earls and the Godwinson's from Wessex a few years before, in which the former forced the latter to back down, he concludes that the northern army was substantial. The decision of Harold to rush north to oppose the Viking force might also indicate that the invading army was huge and this is supported by the literature on the size of the fleet.
  • Article by Chas Jones
  • There are some impressive resources for those wanting to conduct on-line research.

2. Landscape studies allow much interpretation relevant to the battle (Model)

  • LIDAR provides an accurate picture of the local landscape making ancient channels visible.
  • A likely location for the late Saxon settlements suggest that the land along the Beck was not built on.
  •  The landscape to the east that has been revealed during the investigation matches the Nordic literature remarkably well. In fact the soil survey evidence makes more sense of Snorri's account.
  • The many maps shed light on the evolution of Fulford. There is a discussion of the oldest maps.
  • The arrival route of the Norse force is documented and makes sense from a landscape and hydrological point of view. The likely approach march from Riccall can be plotted.
  • The work undertaken by core sampling confirms the stability of the course of Germany Beck at the centre of the battle site. The course of the beck has been altered by the two bridges and the route across the Ings has moved as the alluvial mud has built up. 
  • The Ings provided hay and grazing during the post-conquest period. Limited analysis of surviving pollen indicates that before that it was marshy.
  • This has been interpreted as a 3D tabletop model.

3. Finds

Work began in 2001. Over 5000 metal items were recovered during the monthly fieldworking during 03/04. This has provided much evidence of how the land has been used over the years.

Half of the material has been examined and the most significant find was evidence of some short-term metal working. This can be interpreted as an indication that there was a lot of short-term glut of metal in the area. It was hoped that this can be further investigated but the developers have repeatedly refused access so much more work remains to be done.

But the sample recovered during our work have yielded some exceptional results. The metal from the areas of the identified metal-working areas have been subjected to XRF examination.

The overall pattern might also prove significant but there is no methodology available yet. But we are working to develop such a model in case the distribution indicates hotspots of fragmentary metal. And, so far, it looks promising.

· A search of much of the site has not yet been permitted. There have been no existing finds to tie this area to the battle. Battlefields of this era have not yielded any significant finds. The evidence of metal working we have uncovered might explain this.

There have been two digs - these have produces some impressive finds and also given us the vital dating evidence for all the recycling work

3. Geology

The subsurface structure is revealing. It explains why the Beck breaks through to the river at that point. The geology does not reveal any other drainage ditches in the vicinity of Fulford or indeed between Fulford and York. No drain could have existed for at least a kilometre north or south of the proposed site.

Core samples have plotted the line of the Beck which can be traced back to the retreat of the last ice sheet. The alignment of the paleo-channel explains the current route that the Beck takes towards the river.

There is environmental evidence that the Ings existed in 1066. The geology therefore precludes much of the area as suitable for fighting.

A geophysics plot was uncovered in the EH archive which confirmed the location of the hearths.

4. Topography and Maps

  • The suggested site at Fulford is on the direct route from Riccall to York. The location of the old roads is far from certain. However, there are a limited number of identifiable routes. However the modern routes linking modern settlements follow the underlying geology south of the site suggesting that these are the 'natural' routes.
  • Apart from periodic flooding, the area has seen little change. The silt deposited by the regular flooding would have been matched by the flushing effect from the catchment area, extending as far as Heslington, drained by the Beck.
  • However, heavier material gradually built up along the bank beside the river, creating the alluvial plains behind this dam. This embankment provided a causeway between the river and the Ings.
  • The only significant change to the area under examination was when spoil from construction of the Ring Road was dumped to raise the area between the cemetery and the A19 above the flood level. This area is at the very centre of the suggested battle site and the previous layout is consistent with the literature which describes weaker elements of King Harald of Norway's army being sent into a swampy area against which Earl Morcar's troop made some progress before becoming bogged down, surrounded and destroyed. The cores taken in this area confirm the interpretation of the battle given on this site.
  • There is a discussion of alternative sites and why they don't work!

5. Military

  • It is a 'choke point' where routes to the city from the south converge
  • It has very good flank protection
  • This site provided the defenders with a natural barrier in the form of the Beck

No other site in the area has suggested itself to the experienced military eye.  In military terms, it is easy to envisage the course of the battle given in the narratives including the encirclement of part of the army if the flank on the riverbank was lost.

6. The environment

Most of the Ings, with the exception of the area of the suggested battle site is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) managed by English Nature. Consultation with them did not yield the hoped for soil profiles which might allow the age and history of the area adjacent to the river to be plotted. English Nature is concerned with the surface. But in their view, this environment has been stable for at least 1000 years with the drier parts of the Ings providing summer grazing for sheep.

7. Size Matters

A collection of the various strands of evidence about the number of troops taking part in the battle.

8. The Tidal Ouse & York as a tidal port

Colin Briden has kindly let us reproduce his work on the tide in the Ouse. The ebb and flow of the river is relevant to any interpretation of the battle.

  •  The tide would affect when and how far king Harald's army could travel up the Ouse towards York
  •  The tide might affect the significance of the river as an effective flank. In living memory the river has been fordable at Fulford. The battle took place at a time of very high tides.
  •  As items might have been flushed into the Ouse, it is relevant to study the pattern to see where there items might have been carried.

 

 

Related sites Facebook  Twitter (@ helpsavefulford)        Visiting Fulford        Map York

There is a site devoted to saving the battlesite: The site has the story of the process that has allowed the site to be designated an access road to a Green Belt, floodplain housing estate.

And another website for the Fulford Tapestry that tells the story of the September 1066: This tells the story embroidered into the panels.

The author of the content is Chas Jones - fulfordthing@gmail.com  last updated February 2015

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