Fulford Battlefield Research Website


The evidence
 Recording the events of September 1066
tanged arrow from Fulford
yorks releif map

The Fulford Tapestry Website

Simply shocking
A19 in Flood
Questions for CYC
Finding Fulford report
Maps of battle of Fulford 1066
The evidence
Planning Inquiry
Designation appeal
Media releases

York City Planning documents online


YouTube videos


The Final Report

Finding Fulford cover

Kindle edition of Finding Fulford is now available

The Fulford Tapestry


Visiting Fulford

Map York


Unlike most archaeological investigations, we knew that no single piece of evidence was going to be conclusive - One sword or axe head cannot define a battlesite. And because no sites of this antiquity have yielded any weapons, or recognisable fragments, we had no reason to believe that Fulford would be any different.

Little did we expect that Fulford would explain why battle sites from this era were not littered with broken weapons. Many metal re-processing sites have been found along the ditch that  divided the armies: So we were right to expect to find no weapons. There is an exciting project in prospect to investigate these metal working areas properly since we were prevented from re-visiting them during our project.  

There were really two, logical stages to the project:

  1. The first task was to understand the area so we could identify possible candidates by referring to the literature and applying some simple rules about where battles would be feasible.

  2. Next we had to investigate all candidates and see if the body of evidence favoured one location ( and ideally excluded the others). 

So the 'finding' objective meant that we had to look at an extensive area and gather whatever it had to offer. Once we had a candidate site the collected material from that area could be interpreted. But it was invaluable to have material collected in the same way from the other areas for comparison.   

So we devised a broad project to discover where that battle took place.

The Methodology employed is outlined.

Below are the sections which roughly correspond to the methodology that was planned. These are the components of the research that are reported in 'Finding Fulford' which contains the analysis and conclusions.

1. The literature

  • There are several references to the battle in the AS Chronicle. Limited data emerges from this primary source except that there was a battle on Wednesday 20th Sept 1066 (Julian Calendar) along a ditch to the south of York. 
  • 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. It is useful to understand how the process of recoding history in a written form replaced the oral tradition. 
  • Symeon of Durham and Geoffrey Gaimer provide the two earliest namings of Fulford as the place of the battle.
  • John of Worcester also includes a mention of the battle.
  • William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon and Orderic Vitalis provide some contextual information
  • Vita Eadwardi Regis which provides a history of the Godwinson family is sadly silent about Fulford
  • 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 to help understand the dynamics of a battle from this era.

2. Landscape studies allowed the surface on which the battle was fought in 1066 to be reconstructed

  • LIDAR provides an accurate picture of the local landscape, making ancient channels visible. These helped understand the descriptions from the literature.
  • The Ings provided hay and grazing during the post-conquest period. Analysis of surviving pollen indicates that before that it was marshy at the time of the battle so not a candidate for the battle.
  • But the work also produced a model for the way the level of the Ings has risen and that allowed the development of the Ford to be understood - In the centuries after the departure of Roman influence, tidal flooding reached through the breach in the the moraine and the ford developed.
  • 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 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.
  • There is a discussion of the oldest maps and how they allow us to interpret the evolution of the place we call Fulford. The location of late Saxon settlements found during other archeological work suggest that the land along the Beck was not built on which matches our view of the land where a battle might be fought.
  • The many other maps plot the likely evolution of Fulford. 
  • 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. 

  • The non-ferrous material has provided much evidence of how the land has been used over the years but no article or fragment could be related to the battle. This is what we expected.
  • Similarly, a sample of pottery was collected from each area to help date human activity in the areas visited. This confirmed the dating derived by studying previous archeology and charters covering the area of Fulford.
  • The overall pattern of metal finds was also conjectured as significant but there is no methodology available yet to assess this. But we are working to develop such a model in case the distribution indicates hotspots of fragmentary metal. And, so far, it looks promising with the metal working sites all identifiable from the statistical analysis as 'hot spots'..
  • In line with the plan we set out for the project, the ferrous items were collected and conserved before a sample was selected for Xray and examination. This would not happen until all of the collecting had been completed.
  • Initially 1/4 of the iron material was inspected
    • The most significant find was evidence of metal working. 
    • The metal finds included hearth bottoms, metal working tools and billets.
    • These metal working sites could also be related to slag and ceramic hearth debris.
  • Subsequently, the areas that had yielded the metal working material were re-inspected. The sorters were able to identify many more billets. Equally important, the other collections from areas which had not yielded any metal working, did not produce a single billet.
  • This can be interpreted as an indication that there was a lot 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.

All of the material recovered has been subjected to XRF examination. This has confirmed that none of the material contain any modern alloying elements but there is an intriguing pattern of trace impurities which might indicate that the iron comes from a number of discrete sources.

This pattern of finds appears to be unique. Why should tools and finished material be abandoned? The explanation offered is that the metal workers were forced to flee 5 days after the battle of Fulford when the Norse invaders were not simply defeated, but apparently almost wiped out, by King Harold at Stamford Bridge and their base at Riccall. Flooding and the remoteness of this site has allowed much of this material to survive. 

The importance of this site cannot be overstated because in archeological terms it offers the prospect of a 'Pompey' moment with the activities of the metal workers frozen in time. 

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. The location of a significant ditch, with associated wet lands, is important because it is identified in the literature.

One key finding was the steady deposit of alluvial material caused by tidal flooding as it allowed the development of the fording place across the beck to be understood. This tidal flooding has added over 1mm each year. It should be of concern to planners that even though the lock at Naburn now prevents the tide reaching up river, the rate of deposition soon recovered as exceptional flood events brought alluvial material onto the land and has maintained the historic rate of deposition. This has been ignored in the flood planning for the proposed development.  

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 and were just as wet and so an unsuitable place for a battle. 

The geology therefore precludes much of the area of our research as suitable locations for fighting.

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. A community walk along a new footpath from Riccall to Fulford took 2 hours.

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.

5. Military

  • The ford is a 'choke point' where routes to the city from the south converge. So this was the perfect, and only, place to block the advance of the invaders.
  • The location has very good flank protection. There was no easy way for the invaders to bypass the blocking force.
  • This site provided the defenders with a natural barrier in the form of the banks which were very steep in places.
  • 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.

So what did all of this produce...... 

Evidence presented to the public inquiry:

  1. Summary

  2. Archaeology

  3. Precautionary principle

  4. The ecology

  5. Supervisory failures and defects in the work done

  6. The potential of the area

  7. The impacts that will flow and what the rules say

  8. The exclusion of the community and their rights and role in the planning process

  9. Script for the presentation

  10. Closing statement (with call in letter for reference)

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The author of the content is Charles Jones - fulfordthing@gmail.com   Last updated June 2014

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