Images of flood on the day of the battle
12 panoramas of the battle site
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What did the vegetation look like?
The evidence suggests that the vegetation has changed little since the time of the battle. Two detailed analyses have been done. The first was on Fulford Ings.
“.. the pollen grains present and the respective percentage assemblages suggested little change in vegetation between 1720-1860 A.D. and 1060-1080 A.D., at which time the Battle of Fulford took place on the site. The landscape, in both cases, was dominated by Gramineae (grasses), Cyperaceae (sedges) and Typha latifolia (bulrush), with relatively little tree pollen, similar to present day cover.”[i]
“When the percentages are expressed as total tree pollen plus Corylus it is apparent that Salix (willow) and Fraxinus (ash) account for most of the tree pollen at the base of the profile [1000CE], whilst Salix, Betula (birch), Alnus (alder) and Corylus (hazel) are important at the top [1800CE]. There is no Fraxinus pollen found at the top of the core. Quercus (oak) and Pinus (pine) percentages are similar throughout the profile.”[ii]
This suggests that the landscape along the Ings has become drier since the time of the battle which is consistent with the drainage that followed the enclosures discussed earlier.
The second area which has been subject to a detailed analysis was in the central section of the beck. Samples were taken at various depths in the 2.6m deep layer of peat using an excavator because the ground was unstable. In the top layer,
“The fauna consisted of aquatic and waterside species, including rather abundant Plateumaris sp., typical of emerging vegetation. This deposit may have formed in a swamp, perhaps representing an early stage of terrestrialisation of the more fully aquatic conditions seen in [the lower contexts]”[iii]
The same work notes an absence of dung beetles which, given the lack of evidence for fauna typical of grazing land, suggests that this part of the Beck was not used for animal husbandry when the peat was growing.
At the base, an alder twig was dated to 2060+_35BP ( 73BCE) and a sedge nutlet from the top sample gave a date of 1385+-35BP (636CE) [iv]. This timescale spans the late Iron Age to the Anglian or mid Saxon era. It is possible that the peat continued to grow after that time but the later layers could have been removed by cutting. However, the terminal date of around 600CE matches the model for flooding. Around this date the growth of the peat might have been checked by the influx of alluvium from the Ings.
This suggests that in the four centuries before the battle, the basin of the beck was transforming from a growing peat bog to a swamp. The channelisation of the beck along the southern edge of the peat has covered the peat with the spoil that is removed whenever the ditch is maintained. If this modern 20+cm layer is scraped back, it is possible to tread on the peat which will support a person’s weight when moving but one will slowly sink if standing still.
This would have been the soft surface of 1066 that separated the two armies. As this area is adjacent to the fording area it would have been hard, but not impossible, to cross, as the interpretation of the battle proposed later suggests.
Although the sampling of environmental evidence is limited, the data is consistent with the story derived from the literature which suggests that this was relatively open land. There is no suggestion that woodlands played any part in the battle. However, the landscape did support many hedgerows as one would expect in a landscape where livestock were grazed.
The enclosure acts of the late 17th to 19th century led to the planting of many hedges and produced the chequered pattern of hedged-fields which are still common in the British countryside today. Hedges were used because they were cheap, effective and largely self-maintaining fences. Hawthorn was the most widely planted species because of its dense growth of thorns. However, in time, any hedge develops to incorporate mixed species where the seeds are deposited by the wind or wildlife.
Figure 3.12 Pattern of trees: This 1891 OS map seems to show field boundaries are marked with trees or hedges. Many of these can be traced today. The modern landscape suggests that it is individual trees that are marked, rather than hedges, although the latter might be implied by the boundary. Many of the trees along Germany Beck can be identified. Very few native species can expect to survive 1000 years but it is believed that replacements would be encouraged along the existing boundaries so they can be taken as an indicator of an ancient pattern. Also shown on this map are the extensive gravel workings just north of St Oswald’s Road along the line of the putative road. The railway that carried the gravel to a landing at the southern end of the Ings remained in use to supply the army Ordnance Depot but has, in the last decade, been covered by alluvial build-up.[v]
Following suggestions by Max Hooper in 1971, it was hypothesised that the number of woody species might indicate the age of a hedge. There is no strict, biological reasoning behind this rule, but studies, mostly in the east of England, suggest a good correlation between the number of species and the date when the hedge was planted. There were 72 hedges in the sample he used that could be traced back to the 10th century through written records.
Hooper’s Rule is popular with landscape historians, but has evoked scepticism among botanists and it is clear that this dating method needs to be used in conjunction with other evidence.
“Hooper's Rule can distinguish hedges of the Enclosure Act period from those of Stuart or Tudor times or of the Middle Ages. We cannot expect it to date hedges more precisely, especially as many of the documents which form the primary evidence record the existence rather than the date of origin of a hedge. At present the rule seems not to extend back more than 1100 years; it does not differentiate Anglo-Saxon from Roman hedges.”[vi]
Figure 3.13 Hooper’s Rule chart: This working chart was complied from various sources and correlated the number of species in a given length with the possible age of the hedge. The grey area indicates the degree of uncertainty that attaches to any estimation.
Our work might also challenge the rule as there seems to be a limit to the number of species found in very ancient hedges in this are. There are a number of explanations for this. Disease, and removal of some species, might distort the figures for older hedges.[vii] However, even allowing for any distortions or margins of error, a study of hedges yields some useful information.
During the original desktop study on behalf of Hogg the Builders, 23 hedgerows were surveyed. The geology suggested that Germany Beck is a very ancient waterway and it is interesting to have this confirmed by the hedgerow survey. The mature ash and sycamore trees located within the survey area were estimated at 200-300 years old. “Some of the oldest species recorded were found to the north and south of Germany Lane.”
“There is no evidence of hawthorn which is the predominant species for hedge-row laying, but its general appearance suggests antiquity. This is further highlighted by the fact the modern dyke [Germany Beck] which runs parallel to hedge 1 totally respects it.” Using Hooper’s rule, the author of the desktop study suggests that the hedges along the beck range from at least 800-500 years old.
“Hedge 5 forms the western boundary to East Moor Field and Mitchell's Lane. There are nine species established in this hedge. The presence of Field Maple indicates its antiquity as this species, common in Lowland England, is often found in old hedges. Both the Ash and Willow were also of a well-established age, greater than 200 years old. Hedge 6 and 16 follow the course of Germany Beck and, as expected, suggest the antiquity of this watercourse and its associated hedgerows.”[viii]
Figure 3.14 Hedge dating: This data gathered using the Hooper’s rule methodology indicates that this is an ancient hedge and it is possible to suggest that in 1066, the forces would have encountered a hedge in this location. The interpretation provided later in this report suggest this hedge lay by the left flank of the English army and might have afforded them protection when they were obliged to retreat along the beck in the final stage of the battle.
‘Hedge 16’ was re-surveyed as a part of the project by Laura Winter and Ken Gill. Their work revealed the diversity among the surviving hedges near the beck in August 2004, 10 years after the original survey. This allowed the age to be quantified following Hooper’s Rule.
The hedges were analysed in 30 yard sections and the species counted. The 305 yards assessed provides an average of 6.27 species which would suggest that the hedges date back to the 14th century. The authors noted that some sections appear to have been disturbed and taking only the central section (B-I) the average is 7.13 species. Using Hooper’s Rule, this would move the date to the century after the battle although the provisos entered earlier should be noted.
It was also noted that few elms had survived because of Dutch elm disease and this might in places have distorted the model. There has been a substantial amount of damage done to this hedge at either end so it is legitimate to look at the peak central section rather than the average species count. All these indications strongly suggest that this hedge beside the beck is of great antiquity and could date back to the time of the battle.
It was also suggested that the present bend in the beck near the confluence and the brick bridge was not the original course. The observation was that sections J and K were younger (less species rich as well as less mature) which led to the suggestion that the beck formerly continued directly into the adjacent section.
Figure 3.15 Hedge locations: The 30 yard sections are marked on this section of the beck and the letters relate to the species table above.
Trenches dug by MAP along the line of the Beck indicate that the flow has indeed ‘wandered’ a little but has stayed within the clearly defined moraine bounds since the last geological upheaval. The land is covered by between 0.2 and 0.6 of a metre of silt and modern topsoil. Fluid sand prevented deeper or more extensive work in some trenches.[ix]
Other techniques to provide dating evidence for the hedges, such as carbon dating, are likely to be defeated by the biological process of decay and regeneration. Some investigations were carried out to see if any ‘ancestral’ material could be identified without success.
It is only possible to state that it is probable that there were hedges on the English left flank. Another hedge would probably have marked the right flank of the opposing army. In battlefield terms, both of these are significant obstacles especially as they are at the edge of a bank and a water-filled ditch.
Figure 3.16 Ancient hedge recovering: The oldest hedge, identified in the first desktop study, undertaken when a housing development here was first considered, was subsequently removed but some of the more determined species are recovering. This willow is adjacent to one area where extensive metalworking material was found (area 9); it is retaining the soil that has been built up in ‘40 Acre field’, east of the ford. Although most of the species were either grubbed out or cut back, many of them have recovered during the decade of the Fulford investigations.
Willows across the Ings
South of Stone Bridge there is a group of willows that were investigated. Because this area is subject to regular flooding, few plants survive. Consequently it was not possible to make direct comparisons and use Hooper’s Rule. There is a line of mature willows and there were strong indications that the willows were ‘related’ to each other. This relationship could be followed by tracing branches that had become submerged as the surface rose. These have sprouted roots to form a separate tree.
Two willows had been cut and it was possible to count the rings providing an age of 220 years for the older tree.
Figure 3.17 Buried willows: There is a group of willows running parallel to Landing Lane. These appear to have been pollarded. However, as the level of the Ings rose, the head of the tree became submerged and the branches, in time, took root and developed into a new tree. It is possible to trace this process on the modern surface. They have been neglected for many decades. Ken Gill is standing on the old crown of the willow that will soon be buried by the rising mud.
Without any rule to date these trees or models to assess how willow trees develop when the ground is rising, it can only be offered as a suggestion that a number of willow trees existed at the time of the battle. The defenders might have decided to cut the branches from the trees to deny the invaders any cover that the lush foliage of September would have afforded them. Wartime air photos suggest that this tree line was cut back and the line is only evident as a hedge.
The present line of the willows does not follow the current course of Germany Beck across the Ings. However, early OS maps show the Beck alongside the first of these willow trees. It is probable that at some time in the past the Beck conformed to the line of the willows and this line in turn defines the south side of the delta that it is believed marked the path of the Beck across the Ings towards the Ouse.
The place where the water from Germany Beck sliced through the moraine was identified earlier. It is located immediately to the west of the Stone Bridge. The ancient channel passes directly beneath the bridge and almost perpendicular to the line of the bridge. The depth of this cutting was impossible to determine without some specialised drilling equipment. Any suggestion that this is a man-made cutting can be dismissed.
Of relevance to the battle are the ‘walls’ at this place where the water flows through the moraine. It is more like a canyon than a valley. The depth of the channel is greater than 3.8m below the 7m contour so it is well below the surface of 1066 (2.35m below present). The banks at this point would have allowed the two armies to face each other with about 20m between them. But the bank on the north (English) side would have been too steep to allow them to launch an assault at this place. This would provide Morcar with excellent right-flank protection (with Edwin guarding the delta and Ouse bank which could also been referred to as the right flank but is termed within this report as the river-flank).
Our soil survey work, and the Ings level-rise model, was discussed earlier. This work indicates that sometime around 550 BCE, the flooding of the Ings would have begun to reach through the moraine and towards the land to the east, reaching the peat area regularly about a century later.[x] The reason for this change was the annual deposit of alluvial material deposited by the river Ouse which built up the level of the Ings, reducing its capacity as a flood reservoir. But once the level of the Ings reached the boulder clay threshold at the narrowest point in the moraine, near the modern A19 crossing point, Ouse water would have flowed along the Beck whenever the former was in flood.
This area has been scoured and eroded by the Beck as it adjusted its course to pass though the gap. The precise sequence of geological events which shaped the basin to the east of the moraine gap is not obvious. The modern cemetery, classified as sand/gravel, provides the eastern bank of the basin at the ford while it is the moraine material which forms the western flank of the basin. There was a stream between these two which has been buried in a duct since WWII as it is visible on early maps and air photographs. This duct now emerges near the Stone Bridge.
Figure 3.18 Outfalls for buried streams: The old fording area has two outfalls for the streams that used to run below. One emerges near Stone Bridge and the other near Landing Lane. The area has been in-filled to create a playing field for the local community. There are pictures of the outfalls in chapter 8. The underlying shape of the land surface prior to the dumping of building spoil was worked out by drilling a number of boreholes.
It seems likely that beneath the retreating ice sheet, various drumlins and small moraines were sculpted by melt-water channels which left the high ground along the line of the A19 that spanned the York and Escrick moraines. The ford was left as an amphitheatre-shaped feature to the south of the Beck and a smaller, steeper moraine bank to the north.
The location of a ford is suggested by extrapolating five lines
1. The footpath that runs through Water Fulford
2. The line of the beck deduced by modelling the basin east of the gap
3. A perpendicular to Stone Bridge
4. Bisecting the angle of the moraines at the surface
5. The line of the road through modern Fulford
These lines suggest that the ford lies within a 15m circle of uncertainty based on the grid SE 61164871.
Near this point, no grey alluvium could be identified in the borehole that was drilled. But at this point a layer of pebbles and sand was identified above the boulder clay. Sixty metres either side of the putative fording place, a layer of the grey alluvium was identified so this was a muddy ford.
This is one of the key findings from all of the work that was undertaken. At the time of the battle there was a broad, fordable crossing of Germany Beck which is located just to the east of Stone Bridge. The ford had dense boulder clay at its base but the surrounding area was covered by grey alluvial mud which probably supported some limited marshy vegetation similar to the Ings.
The water from the beck and possibly two other channels entering the ford might have been canalised by the locals but it is equally possible that it flowed, shallow and wide, across the base clay. The latter pattern would have made it easy to provide stepping-stones or consolidated base at the crossing and this might be the layer of stone that was identified in one bore-hole.
Other streams joined the Beck flowing from the south so there could have been two or three separate crossings in the basin that formed the fording place but the impression gained from the core samples, and the surrounding land, is of a shallow bowl with hard clay at the base.
This was a broad, shallow ford so that the rising tide would make the ford broader rather than much deeper. This channel provided the eastern boundary of Water Fulford and is still visible in air photos from 1952, by which time both flows hade been canalised.
The playing fields have now covered the old ford. The bore-holes on the field revealed that there is 3.7m of mixed building debris and clay over the original surface. The theodolite survey work suggests that the ford was 4.72m AOD and the water level of a quiescent Ouse is about 2m AOD. With tides rising at least 4m above the low river level, there can be little doubt that the area of the ford would have been wide and wet when battle commenced and this is confirmed by the alluvium detected around the ford.
It is therefore possible that the water at the ford was too deep for an hour before and perhaps three hours after high tide, shortly after 09:00 on the day of the battle, to prevent the armies engaging. But there are too many assumptions about the surface level of the river in 1066 and the hydrodynamic behaviour of flood-water along the Beck to be able to define the depth and extent of the water level at the ford.
[i] Susannah Gill A palaeoenvironmental reconstruction of late Holocene changes at Fulford Ings, York, 2002 Manchester University
[iii] A Hall & H Kenward, Assessments of plant and invertebrate macrofossils from a sequence of peat deposits by Germany Beck’ 2004
[iv] SUERC 2044 & 2043. The dates were measured in 2004
[v] The area for Fulford is listed as 1651 acres. The 1892 1:2,500 edition gives the field acreages and the 1893 1:10560 edition has the arable area as 1665.054 acres. The 1% increase in the area under cultivation in the 40 years between the two survey dates might reflect the steady increase in arable land produced by better drainage or wood clearance.
[vi] Oliver Rackham The History of the Countryside (Weidenfeld & Nicholson) 0297816225
[vii] Some ancient hedge trees such as Spindle and Barberry were believed to harbour the pests that spread diseases such as wheat rust so were grubbed out.
[viii] The desk-top study produced by Hogg The Builder in 1998 assessed the date of the hedges along Germany Beck. At the eastern edge of the site they were assesses to be about 1000 years old. Sadly, much of this has been grubbed out but the good news is that many of the willow trees have survived and are remerging.
[ix] Interim report of archaeological excavations. MAP
[x] The accuracy of the survey work and uncertainly about the model of the alluvial build-up only allows an accuracy of +- 200 years in the estimates.
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org last updated June 2015