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Proposed Development at Germany Beck, Fulford, York:

Archaeological Comments


This proposed development site lies to the east of the village of Fulford between the site of Fulford Comprehensive School to the north and Germany Beck to the south. The site includes a link to the A19 which cuts across Fordlands Road and land adjacent to Germany Beck. The site also includes land to the south of Germany Beck where it is proposed to locate a series of linked ponds to store flood water.

Apart from some hedgerows, Germany Lane, and the course of Germany Beck, the site is devoid of any above ground historic features or earthworks. The site lies outside the Area of Archaeological Importance. There are no scheduled ancient monuments or listed buildings on the site. The site is not listed in English Heritage’s non-statutory Register of Battlefield Sites. There are no other heritage designations which apply to the application site.

In assessing the impact this application will have on archaeological features deposits and landscapes on this site, I have taken into account the separate archaeological reports prepared by MAP Archaeological Consultants and supplied by the applicants, the Environmental Impact Assessment submitted as part of the application, information placed in the public domain by the Fulford Battlefield Society, papers submitted by the Battlefields Trust, and other published material relating to the course of events leading to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and on battlefield archaeology in general.

The Evaluation Process

The archaeological evaluation process started in 1995 (the desktop assessment), at a time when the Parish of Fulford and this site lay within the District of Selby and the archaeological jurisdiction of North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC). The applicants had had discussions with the North Yorkshire County Council Archaeologist and had been advised in March 1995 that an archaeological assessment and evaluation of the site would be necessary. No archaeological specification, brief, or scheme of investigation was produced by NYCC for this evaluation. As of April 1996 the site fell within the new unitary authority of the City of York. In January 1996, there were informal discussions between the City of York Council and MAP concerning the content of the fieldwalking, geophysical and archaeological trenching phases of the evaluation. These discussions led to agreement on the overall scale and design of the on-site archaeological work.

As a consequence of these discussions, an extensive archaeological evaluation of 16ha of land immediately to the south of Fulford School (SE55504900) was undertaken between April and August 1996. The evaluation consisted of fieldwalking, geophysical survey (carried out by Geophysical Surveys of Bradford) and the opening of 64 separate trenches. All work was funded by Persimmon Homes (Yorkshire Ltd) and Pilcher Developments. An Interim report on this phase of evaluation has been prepared and deposited with the City of York Council.

In 2001a local historian developed a hypothesis relating to the possible site and course of the Battle of Fulford which was fought in September 1066. As a consequence of his work, the City of York Council requested that a further evaluation of the area between Germany Lane, Fordlands Road and the A19 be carried out. MAP submitted a Written Scheme of Works in October 2002. This was agreed by the City of York Council and the work carried out in November 2002. Four trenches were excavated during this second phase of archaeological evaluation. A report on this phase of evaluation has been prepared and deposited with the City of York Council.

The current planning application for the site includes, for the first time, an area of land to the south of Germany Beck. This area includes part of a cropmark site (SMR no 5718). The applicants were therefore requested to carry out a third phase of archaeological evaluation in order to assess the impact of the proposed in-line ponds on archaeological deposits in this area. The work was carried out in October and November 2003. A report on this phase of evaluation has been prepared and deposited with the City of York Council.

In order to further evaluate the possibility that the application site might have been the location of the Battle of Fulford, the applicants were requested to undertake an Historic Landscape Appraisal of the site. MAP Archaeological Consultants carried out this work and a report has been prepared and deposited with the City of York Council.

All the above documents are available for inspection in the City of York Sites and Monuments Record.

It has been argued by English Heritage and the Battlefields Trust that further evaluation work is required before this application can be determined. However, it is the view of this writer that the applicant has carried out an extensive and reasonable archaeological evaluation of this site. This evaluation process has provided sufficient information to make a recommendation on the acceptability of the impact this application might have on archaeological features, deposits and the possible site of the Battle of Fulford.


The desk top evaluation identified that this site had significant archaeological potential. It suggested that the site of the Battle of Fulford may have occurred "on the site or very close to the eastern boundary of the site". It recommended that a programme of further evaluation work be carried out consisting of geophysical survey, fieldwalking and excavation.

The first phase of archaeological field evaluation carried out in 1996 has been the most extensive piece of work on the site. The fieldwalking survey indicated that there were flint artefacts and prehistoric and later pottery present on the site. The geophysical survey indicated a series of north-south linear features and possible enclosures. The trial-trenching consisted of 64 trenches of varied size. The trenches were in general located over areas of archaeological potential as indicated through fieldwalking and the geophysical survey. The site was broken down into a number of separate areas: land next to the A19; the allotment area; Area G; the Western Block; and the Eastern Block.

In the area adjacent to the A19, five trenches were mechanically excavated to what has been interpreted as the top of natural; no archaeological features were observed. In the allotment area four trenches were excavated. A single ditch of possible medieval date was excavated. In Area G twelve trenches were excavated. Seven of these were adjacent to Germany Beck; all these trenches produced a deposit of peat varying from 600mm to 1.65m in depth. The peat produced Roman pottery and a single Mesolithic(?) flint. These peat deposits are important in that they provide a significant opportunity to explore and characterise the palaeo-environmental development of this part of the Vale of York.

Twenty-six trenches were excavated in the Western Block. Ploughed out medieval ridge and furrow was observed in most trenches. Trenches 5, 6 and 43 were eventually joined together to provide a large open area excavation of some 3165m2. The excavator identified two main phases of activity: an early ring-ditch of uncertain function; and a series of linear features of Romano-British date. Finds included a flint knife of a straight-sided double-edged bi-laterally flaked form of probable Early Bronze Age date, and an almost complete Huntcliff jar indicating a date later than the mid-4th century for that particular ditch-fill. Trenches 11, 41, 46 and 47 produced evidence for land use over a considerable period of time. The earliest activity, as evidenced by pottery and a flint assemblage suggestive of flint working, might have been Neolithic settlement in the immediate vicinity. Iron Age pottery and a substantial assemblage of mid-late second century AD pottery indicate further phases of activity in this area. The archaeological evidence points towards the exploitation of this area of the site from at least the Neolithic onwards and the eventual regular division or compartmentalisation of the land to the north of Germany Beck in the late prehistoric/ Romano-British periods.

A total of fifteen trenches were excavated in the Eastern Block. Trench 56 produced a small assemblage of Iron Age pottery and flint flakes. Further flint flakes and an end scraper came from trenches 58-60. In general, the evaluation trenches in this Eastern Block confirmed the results of the fieldwalking and the geophysical survey: that this part of the site is far less productive than the Western Block.

No objects or deposits dating from the 11th century were identified or recovered.

The second phase of evaluation involved the excavation of four trenches on the line of the proposed access road from the A19 to Germany lane. These trenches failed to locate any features other than those of a modern date.

The third phase of evaluation consisted of seven trenches designed to evaluate the area of the proposed on-line ponds located to the south of Germany Beck. Trenches 1-3 lay within the proposed area of the ponds. Trenches 2 and 3 produced evidence for a build of silt deposits below the 9m contour suggesting this material might have been derived from the scouring of dykes or from flood deposits.

The results of the Historic Landscape Appraisal are considered in the following section.


Battle of Fulford

It has been written that "Battlefield sites are difficult to locate accurately and there is rarely anything to see on the ground"; the site of the Battle of Fulford is no exception. The Battle of Fulford was fought on Wednesday 20th September 1066 and preceded the Battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings. It forms, therefore, one of the critical events in the run up to William the Conqueror becoming King of England in 1066.

The archaeological field evaluations have failed to produce any archaeological evidence for the Battle of Fulford. No deposits or objects have been identified which could be of 11th century date. There have been no finds of any human remains, either articulated or disarticulated, from the site. Standard archaeological investigation has so far failed to locate and map the site of the battle. However, we do have an interpretation of the historic sources and analysis of the topography which has been used by the Fulford Battlefield Society to locate the battle firmly in the area on both sides of Germany Beck from the River Ouse on the west to Fulford cemetery and beyond on the east.

If this interpretation is accepted the main issue is not about the impact of development on 11th century archaeological deposits. Rather, it is the acceptability or otherwise of any impacts the development may have on the historic landscape as detailed in the Fulford Battlefield Society’s interpretation of the historic sources and the existing topography.

In interpreting and evaluating this historic landscape one will have to

(a) locate and describe the landscape within which the battle took place

(b) assess the extent to which development down to the present day has impinged on and prejudiced a visual and conceptual understanding of that landscape and

(c) assess the extent to which proposed developments may further prejudice the visual and conceptual understanding of the landscape.

This approach formed the basis of the Historic Landscape Assessment which the City of York Council asked the applicant to carry out.

The location of the Battle of Fulford rests on interpretations of a number of historical sources. These are usefully summarised both by the Fulford Battlefield Society on their website (http://www.battleoffulford.org.uk/evidence.htm) and in the Historic Landscape Assessment report.

The accounts of the battle recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles give little detail. They simply record that the battle was fought near York and that a great number of English were slain, drowned or driven in flight. It is Symeon of Durham in the Historia Regum, written after 1129 but surviving in a manuscript dated to around 1164, who first records that the battle was fought at Fulford. The most detailed account of the battle appears in the Heimskringla, a cycle of 16 sagas about the Norwegian kings which provide a history of Norway from earliest times to 1177. The sagas are attributed to Snorri Sturlson and seem to have been written between 1230 and 1241. It is generally accepted that Snorri cannot be regarded as a reliable historian and that his work is as much literature as history. This is unfortunate as his account has been used as the main evidence for describing and interpreting the course of the battle by the Fulford Battlefield Society. Therefore, all that can usefully be drawn from these sources is that a large battle was fought near York at Fulford close to the river Ouse.

The Battlefield’s Trust in their submission dated 21st October 2003 argue that, when one has applied Burne’s principle of "Inherent Military Probability", the Germany Beck site is the one strong candidate for the site of the Battle of Fulford. However, they further comment that the "character of the archaeology of battlefields of this [early medieval] period is at present wholly undetermined". They go on to criticise the evaluation techniques employed on the site, notably the lack of any metal detecting and the inadequate mapping of the historic landscape.

At this late stage in the evaluation process it was considered unreasonable to request a full metal detecting survey of the application site. This view was reinforced by the observations during the third phase of evaluation that a significant amount of soil had been recently deposited adjacent to Germany Beck. This will mask any potential 11th century deposits and related agricultural soils.

However, an Historic Landscape Assessment (HLA) was requested and subsequently undertaken by the applicant

The HLA concludes that the "modern day landscape is greatly changed from the landscape of 1066". It highlights the reclamation of low lying swampy areas into large arable fields; the construction of housing in Fulford village and at Fordlands Road; and the creation of Fulford cemetery and the recreation ground to the south of Germany Beck. It further suggests that "the proposed development would not appear to impact on the battlefield location due to the total lack of evidence to support the battle having taken place on the Germany Beck site". (This latter conclusion is markedly different to the conclusion drawn in the 1995 desktop evaluation where it is stated that the "available evidence does suggest that this event may have occurred either on the site or very close to the eastern boundary of the site).



The archaeological evaluation works at the Germany Beck site have demonstrated that there is a relict late prehistoric and Romano-British landscape preserved on this site. This landscape consists of regular fields and other agricultural features enclosed by ditches. The sequence of peat deposits adjacent to Germany Beck is also important for the palaeo-environmental evidence which they will preserve. However, the evidence for this being the site of the Battle of Fulford is more difficult to evaluate. It has not been possible to locate and describe features, deposits or indeed the landscape within which the Battle of Fulford took place with any reasonable degree of certainty or accuracy. However, it is inherently likely that the Battle of Fulford was fought in this area.

This suggests that the archaeological features and deposits at Germany Beck are not of national importance and therefore do not merit preservation in-situ. However, the features and deposits do provide a significant context for the development of York in the Roman period. These deposits must therefore be recorded prior to development taking place.


Proposed Mitigation Measures

It is recommended that the following mitigation measures should be put in place:

  • No development to take place within the defined archaeological zone along the north side of Germany Beck;

  • A pre-development metal detecting survey of the site;

  • the archaeological excavation of a sample of the peat deposits adjacent to Germany Beck;

  • archaeological supervision of the construction of the access road and A19 junction combined with the archaeological excavation of revealed archaeological features and deposits;

  • archaeological supervision of all topsoil removal for structures and internal roads combined with the archaeological excavation of revealed archaeological features and deposits;

  • archaeological supervision of all topsoil removal for the creation of the in-line ponds combined with the archaeological excavation of revealed archaeological features and deposits;

  • a programme of access for the community to the archaeological excavations

  • a programme of archaeological analysis, publication and subsequent deposition of the archive with a registered museum of the material from the evaluations, excavations and watching briefs

  • the design and construction of an interpretative trail explaining the possible course of the Battle of Fulford in this area.


Conclusions and Recommendations


In conclusion I consider I can recommend this application for approval subject to the mitigation measures set out above being implemented. These measures should be covered by the following conditions:

Standard Conditions

ARCH 1 and ARCH2

Non Standard Conditions

No development shall take place until the applicant has submitted a detailed mitigation strategy (covering excavation, watching brief, metal detecting survey, analysis, publication, archive deposition, and public involvement) and this has been agreed in writing by the Assistant Director (Planning and Sustainable Development)


this development will have an effect on important archaeological deposits which

are preserved within the site

Prior to the occupation of the first dwelling the applicant shall submit details of and a programme for the implementation of an interpretative trail detailing the possible course of the Battle of Fulford, such details and programme to be agreed in writing by the Assistant Director (Planning and Sustainable Development)


this development may lie on the site of the Battle of Fulford

(City archaeologist)  29th April 2004

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The author of the content is Charles Jones - fulfordthing@gmail.com   Last updated April 2015

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