tanged arrow from Fulford

Previous archeology
 Recording the events of September 1066
yorks releif map
Previous archeology
Soil survey
The Ford
Landscape model
Adjusting dates
Tide predictions
Size of the armies
Weather and light on the day of the battle
Still to do



The Final Report

Finding Fulford cover

The Fulford Tapestry

Experts have their say


The location of Fulford in 11th Century

Other archaeologists have also investigated small sections of the Fulford landscape. This allows an accurate reconstruction of the land-use on which the battle was fought. The shape of the landscape and its use are obviously closely related and allow the interpretations to be cross-checked.

While most detailed interpretation provided here is focused on Germany Beck, because that is where the geological evidence suggests the battle was fought. However, evidence was gathered and assessed from the surrounding landscape and some issues arising are discussed when looking at the alternative sites proposed for the battle.

This work is more discursive than factual as it deals in the interpretation of words rather than things that can be measured. The literature provides two 12th century writers who refer to the place of the battle as Fulford (Fuelford/Fuelforde). Were the writers referring to the extensive estate, a general area or some small collection of dwellings? 

First we need to attempt to define the size and shape of the place that is referred to as ‘Fulford’ in later literature about the battle. Ultimately we have to synthesise the landscape data from diverse sources and combine it with the geological evidence to obtain an understanding of how this land has been used before and after the battle because this will provide a picture of the way the landscape looked in 1066.

Prehistoric occupations

The Fulford area, and Germany Beck in particular, have revealed late-prehistoric and Romano-British features. The earliest activity that the project encountered along Germany Beck took the form of worked flints, probably from the Neolithic/Bronze Age transition. This is similar to the finding from the work undertaken by MAP in 1996:

"..although no structural evidence [on the north side of Germany Beck] could be clearly assigned to these periods. The earliest features are more likely to be of later Iron Age date, in the form of ditches, and there were some indications that these may have continued into the early Roman period. One curvilinear feature has variously been interpreted as the ditch for a barrow, a roundhouse eaves-drip gully or a small enclosure. No internal features were encountered to support any of these interpretations."

So Germany Beck may have been a base for hunting and agricultural activity from pre-historic times and the possibility of habitations is not ruled out by the evidence. The earliest surviving features near the Beck are ditches that mark-out fields and enclosures dating from Roman occupation, starting in the 2nd century with some later 4th century pottery present which allowed this to be dated. A scatter of Roman ceramic building material suggests that a building stood in the vicinity.

An archaeological evaluation of the proposed site of Fulford School Sports Hall also identified ditches cut into the natural, sandy sub-soil. These features appeared to be from prehistoric and Roman dates and they lie below the remains of medieval ridge a furrow.

Post-Roman developments

In AD 866 Anglo-Saxon York fell into Viking hands and within a decade it formed the capital of an Anglo-Scandinavian kingdom. Security or social organisation might have precipitated a withdrawal from ‘suburbs’ developed in Roman and post-Roman times, such as Fishergate and Fulford, into the city, favouring development of sites such as Coppergate.

This trend has been noted in London, where the riverside settlement (Lundenwic) along The Strand appears to have been abandoned, and the walled Roman city was reoccupied during the Norse raiding period which only ended when Cnut established his control over the land in 1015.

So the area we now recognise as Fulford might have emerged as an Anglian settlement but it was built on an agricultural landscape cultivated since Neolithic times. There was good farmland lying on the ridge of high ground parallel to the River Ouse (the route of the modern A19). The Ings provided good hay and grazing and the wetlands would doubtless have provided a good habitat for fowling.

The ridge of dry land that we recognise as Fulford suggests itself as a ‘kitchen garden’ for the adjacent population in York. But such activities leave few traces that can be analysed. The farmers and pastoralists might have lived here but they have left few clues that present archaeology can identify to discover where they lived or what they did. Did the early farmers deploy to the fields in the spring and return to the security of the city after harvest time and the autumn cull of livestock? This might have postponed the establishment of satellite settlements and help explain the rather diffuse development in Fulford that is revealed in documents and by studying the vegetation.

One possible locus for any dwellings in Fulford extends down to the river at the end of St Oswald’s Road where there is a church which predates the Conquest. St Oswald was a Saxon saint and the excavation of the floor at the base of the tower points to the site as an ancient place of worship. Following decommissioning of St Oswald’s church, a YAT archaeological investigation was able to date parts of the structure to the late 10th and 11th century.

There is much more to be discovered about St Oswald’s Road. Not only does the church lie on the line of a conjectured road (discussed earlier) but the present road also marks one place where the river’s edge can be reached because the underlying geology has created a high point, marking the northern end of Fulford Ings. Other feasible river-landings were possible near the modern Millennium Bridge, Water Fulford, Bishopthorpe and Naburn.

During the 11th and 12th century, several churches were established in the Fiscergate area.

" [The modern Fishergate] area, demonstrates the growth of the 'ribbon suburb'. There is very limited evidence for development of the southern suburb apart from ecclesiastical sites such as the Gilbertine Priory of St Andrew which was established between 1195 and 1202."

The survival of St Oswald’s as the only church serving the area further south of Fishergate might indicate that it served a small assemblage of dwellings around St Oswald’s church, perhaps from as early as the 10th century. This church stands near the mid point of a route between the ford across Germany Beck and the walled city limits of York.

Work at Connaught Court

In 2004 On Site Archaeology Ltd carried out an evaluation on another site in Fulford that had been identified for potential housing development on St Oswald’s road. Although the work did not reveal objects or ‘constructions that are deemed worthy of conservation’, it sheds some light on several aspects of the battlefield investigation.

"With the exception of a single Roman ditch…no other archaeological features were encountered during the evaluation. All of the trenches contained evidence of medieval and post-medieval agricultural activity, indicating that throughout this period the site was occupied by arable fields."

The work at Connaught Court did not identify any ‘conurbation’ or village although the report recognises that domestic constructions would leave little archaeological evidence. So we do not have any model for where the land-workers in Fulford lived or how any habitations might have been distributed. Bur, this work provides clear evidence that this was a farming area before, and after, the Conquest.

Work at St Oswald’s School

The picture of Fulford as an agricultural suburb in medieval time is reinforced by the work undertaken before the primary school, which is about 500m from Germany Beck, was rebuilt.

"The medieval period is represented by a number of furrows, which had formed parts of a ridge and furrow field system, from which later 12th to early post medieval pottery was recovered. The site also contains medieval ditches, which appear to form divisions within this agricultural landscape, although it has not been possible to ascertain a detailed chronology.

"Perhaps the most significant remains encountered appear to relate to the English Civil War siege of York, which took place in 1644. These remains comprised a single stretch of a shallow defensive earthwork, from which an assemblage of mid 17th century clay tobacco pipe bowls was retrieved. This feature also contained several lead musket balls, iron objects, at least one of which was a large axe head, and a glass lens, from either a pair of spectacles or a telescope."

"The site produced no evidence for Post-Roman activity prior to the Norman Conquest. Medieval material, in the form of pottery and tile, has probably come onto the site during manuring of arable fields. These fields are represented by the still partially-visible ridge and furrow. The pottery dates from the later 12th century through to the early post-medieval period and indicates that the site was covered with fields for most of the medieval period. The presence of a small number of medieval ditches, predominantly on the same alignment as the ridge and furrow, is also very likely to relate to the agricultural land use of the site. The site [of the new school] is situated outside the occupied part of the medieval village of Fulford, but close enough to have been easily worked."

So we have no evidence of any building in the area that we know as Fulford after the decline of the Romano-British settlement and before the creation of the village of Fulford that we know today and where the medieval pattern is still clearly visible.

Interpretation of the 11th century use of the Fulford landscape

There is no model to describe the pattern of settlement that led to the development of the existing village of Fulford but it has evolved to fit a recognisable pattern for post-conquest settlements. If we assume that the old St Oswald’s church was located near the centre of population, the identification of earlier agricultural activity during the Connaught Court work creates the impression that any settlement in the 10th or 11th centuries was well north of the ford. There is no evidence of any buildings near the ford before 1066.


Size of the area of Fulford: Some estimations

When seeking the location of Tostig’s estates:

"..it is tempting to equate that part of Gate Fulford township that lies north of Germany Beck with the estate recorded in the Domesday Survey. The dimension given, 1 league long and ½ league wide (c. 1 ½ miles x ¾ mile), approximate to the size of this land block"

Since a hide is defined as the area capable of supporting an extended family, a direct area conversion is not possible as the area depends on the type and fertility of the land. However, various authors, including Stenton, suggest that a hide represented about 120 acres.

The notional conversion (10 carucates /hides -1200 acres) would encompass much of the recognised farming land for the 1066 area of the Fulford parish, extending to the city boundary in the north and Naburn and Pool Bridge in the south.

The use of the term hide or carucate implies that the land was capable of being ploughed and this reinforces the suggestion that the area of Fulford was cultivated land at the time of the battle. It is unlikely that such an extensive area could have been brought into cultivation between 1066 and 1086 so it was probably agricultural land in 1066, rather than wood, swamp or scrubland.

If one makes the assumption that there was a steady increase in the land that was brought under cultivation through the various drainage and forest clearance (assarting) schemes, then the 1200 acres held by Tostig might represent the whole of the ‘ploughable’ land of pre-conquest Fulford.

This all suggests that Fulford was a cultivated area at the time of the battle, therefore largely clear of trees, and that Earl Tostig was the former holder of this land so he, or his staff, probably knew the area well. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle suggests that his hall was the other side of York in the area of Galmanhoe (off St Mary’s Road). Such detailed knowledge of the landscape might have allowed him to advise King Harald about the tactics to adopt in the battle that was to come.


We can conclude that the administrative area known as Fulford was the large, cultivated area south of the city of York. The identification of the location for the battle as ‘Fulford’ in the literature, rather than York, does not provide much more information than statements that the battle was south of York because Fulford was significantly larger, in terms of its area, than the walled city of York. So the charters only tell us that this was cleared land, whose layout was known to Tostig.


Last updated May 2012