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Naming the battle
 Recording the events of September 1066
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AngloSaxon Chronicles
Naming the battle
Symeon of Durham
Geoffrey Gaimar
Henry of Huntingdon
John of Worcester
William of Malmesbury
Orderic Vitalis
The Life of King Edward
Sagas compared
Origin of sagas
Song of Maldon
Finding Fulford
Harald's army
Third Battle of 1066

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Naming the battle

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle provides names for York (C, D, E), Stamford Bridge (C, E) and Hastings (D) as sites of battles. The naming of the latter two places might account for their adoption as the popular names for the battles of 1066.  But if one follows this hypothesis, the first battle of 1066 should be called the battle of York.

The authority of the ASC does not explain why York was omitted from the popular memory as the first name for this trilogy of battles since York is mentioned by three chroniclers. We must look for another explanation to explain why York is not recognised as the name of the first battle of 1066.

Stamford Bridge was, according to one chronicler (C), a battle of several parts with Stamford Bridge providing the location of the opening stage. References to Battle Bridge are common in the later literature and there is still much work to be done in order to localise the fight that followed Fulford.

Hastings is recognised as the operating base for the Normans and historians all agree that the battle took place some 10 km away on Senlac ridge, which is now know as Battle, and is the site of William’s Abbey. But historians were already referring to the battle of Hastings in the century after the battle and that has been the name accepted ever since.

However Symeon of Durham and Geoffrey Gaimer provide the two earliest namings of Fulford as the place of the battle. It is argued in the report that the place we know as Fulford evolved after the battle and refers to an extensive area; so little significance can be attributed to the omission of the name of Fulford from the ASC nor, alas the the naming of Fulford by later chroniclers.. 

There is also much fascinating, cultural archaeology to be done to explain why and when battles adopted their popular names. It must also be the work of others to explain why popular history has generally overlooked the first of the battles of 1066.

Even though some early writings identify Fulford as the place of the battle, this not sufficient to locate where the fighting took place. Much greater precision is needed for this project to succeed. A close-quarter battles of this era, needs the equivalent of a ‘street address’ rather than just a village name to locate the site. Therefore, it is worth exploring the historic development of the place called Fulford in order to understand the wider environment in which the battle took place because this is relevant to the finding of the battle site. This motivated an extensive inquiry into the historic record to see how the land we know as Fulford had evolved.

The place name of Fulford and the location of Fulford in 11th Century

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. Much of this work required a review of previous archeology in the area.

In common with most places, the name attached to Fulford has changed, or perhaps evolved, over time. We find Fuleforde (currently indexed by the National Archive as Foleforde/Fuleford/Fuleforde) and Fuletorp mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086. If ‘torp’ represents the suffix ‘thorp’, (Norse derivation – hamlet) then the existence of a settlement, as well as a nearby fording place might be a reasonable conclusion. If one follows this conjecture, the settlement of Fueltorp has a Scandinavian origin.

This interpretation suggests that there were two separately named locations in Domesday, one was the place of the ford and the other a housing settlement. So looking at the naming of the fording place, the earlier form of the word ford, (wœd) wade, is seldom found in English place names, although the Scandinavian form has survived in Wath and Langwith. We also find no mention of a Fuelwœd in Domesday. This suggests that the place name for the ford itself is Anglo-Saxon. Are we looking at one Anglian and one Norse settlement in the area we know as Fulford?

Around 1110, Gaimar and Symeon refer to this place as Fuelford. In her History of Fulford, Britton notes that Fulleford in still used in 1260, and Foulesutton, Foulforth, Fowforth, Magna Foulford, Fuleford Parva, Overfolforth have also been recorded by Britton as well as other researchers. In 1828 the two townships were given the name Fulfords Ambo, that is ‘both Fulfords’. But in the following centuries there is a bewildering catalogue of prefixes for the area we know as Fulford.

The reference to a ford or ‘forth’ is common in all these names. Since the Ouse was tidal and turned sharply to the west, deflected by the underlying geology, a ford might also have given access to Middlethorpe on the west bank of the river. We cannot rule out that the suffix ‘ford’ did not relate to a unique location. The place name ‘Fulford’ might have been associated with more than a single fording place.

Fulford provided many crossing places of Germany Beck for those heading to the south. It was noted in the previous chapter that a reinforced fording place was found at most points where field boundaries or the topography reached the Beck. Perhaps some of these represented detour routes that were used whenever a combination of tide or rainfall forced travellers to find a better fording place. Perhaps their prime purpose was to benefit the pastoralists moving their cattle between pastures.

In addition, Fulford might also have provided a place to cross the Ouse for those travelling east or west, especially when the river system was still tidal. The work by Colin Briden demonstrates that the Ouse near York can alter its depth by moving tens of thousands of tons of alluvial material. Repeated flooding of the Ings could have created, and relocated, crossing places for the Ouse. In living memory, cattle have crossed the river near Fulford Hall (part of the old Water Fulford).

So the area that can be identified as the ancient Fulford, might have been an area noted for its many muddy, fording places rather than pointing to a precise crossing point. Apart from the Ouse and Germany Beck there are no other identifiable rivers requiring fords since most of the land of Fulford is on the high ground of the moraine which stands above the wetlands and rivers.

"Ford, is one of the commonest topographical place-name elements, as indeed we might expect in view of its importance to the new settlers in any area. It is also well-represented in English documents recorded before 731 and it is likely to have been used to form place-names from an early stage in the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain".

"Further, most names [ending] in -ford must have had a local significance and it has been pertinently said they can only reflect routes by which villagers communicated with their neighbours".

Cameron goes on to postulate that -ford was so common that it came to be understood as a settlement. The name was not often compounded with the river. Rather, it was the type of tree or animal associated with the ford provided names such as Ashford and Gosford.

"It has been shown that the commonest words compounded with ford are descriptive of the ford itself." So long, broad, stony, shallow and deep are all common. "The water was 'clear' at Sherford, 'slaggy' (muddy) at Slaggyford and 'foul' at Fulford, a name found in at least six counties."

While Ful- can be interpreted with a number of modern words, such as muddy, there can be little doubt that it conveyed the nature of the crossings.

The Domesday surveys identify the following names with the prefix Ful-. Fulebec (Lincs), Fuleberne (Cambs), Fulebroc (Oxon), Fulebroc (Warks), Fuleford (Staffs), Foleford (Devon), Fuleforde (Yorks), Fuletrop (Yorks), Fullobi (Lincs), Fulmotestuna (Norfolk), Fulrei (Warks) and Fulewelle (Oxon). Among these there are only three places that we would recognise as Fulford, combining the prefix Ful- and suffix -ford, recorded by the Domesday Inquests.

The two Yorkshire names can both be related by their context, within the text of the Domesday Book, to the area that is the subject of this study, not least because they mention Earl Morcar as the one-time holder of the land. This also supports the conjecture that there are two separate places which, as we will see, led to some tussles in recent centuries.

There are no other places recorded in Domesday with a similar name which enjoy any proximity to be found in 12th century literature such as might cause confusion with our Fulford.

Turning to the name-prefixes associated with the area that we recognise as Fulford, these become complicated because those recording any rights within Fulford needed to qualify the part of the parish to which they were referring within the extensive area of Fulford itself. This led to a proliferation of prefixes.

"Gate has also been prefixed to two village-names, Gate Fulford, and Gate Helmsley, in each case from their situations on a Roman road".

So the ‘Gate’ prefix might indicate that it is the settlement on the main road, now the A19, which probably formed part of a Roman connection from York to Throlam (Holme-on-Spalding-Moor) and thence to Doncaster and Lincoln. But the name Gate Fulford is only recorded after the 16th century so this neo-classical explanation is not altogether convincing.

Modern students of naming conventions prefer the Norse origin of the prefix ‘Gate’, Gade, and many of the streets of the modern city of York have the suffix ‘gate’ which is accepted as derived from ‘gade’.

Was this ‘The Street to Fulford’ which would again put Gate Fulford on the road south of York regardless of the etyomology of ‘Gate’. So it might suggest that such a place as Gate Fulford was know in the 11th century or before, but it is not recognised in any surviving literature. However, no mention of Gate Fulford has been identified before the 16th century and no mention of Fulforgade was found or suggested in any surviving document found.

The name Water Fulford is mentioned as early as the 12th century. It presumably refers to a position nearer water, but still a part of ‘greater’ Fulford. The area of Fulford is bordered by the river or wetland but fortunately Water Fulford is named on the earliest maps and it has Germany Beck marking its north boundary. The date when it adopted this name is unclear but as the smaller settlement, according to all maps created in the centuries after the battle, Water Fulford can probably be identified as Fulford Parva, a Latin word meaning little. Following this logic, Magna Fulford could be another name for what was later known as Gate Fulford.

Sixteenth century maps mark a location near St Oswald’s Road as Sutton, which in Anglo-Saxon would indicate a South-farm settlement. In 1577 Foulesutton is noted between Heslington and Dringhouses at a place which can be associated with St Oswald’s Road using the cartographic conventions of the time. There is no sign of a bridge or roads through Fulford in any of the early maps and so no ford locations can be conjectured from these sources.

The three Norse ‘Ridings’ or ‘thirdings’ of Yorkshire were recognised at the time of the Domesday book. In 1895 the East Riding County Council directed that both townships were to be known as Water Fulford and this indeed is the name that is generally used in trade listings such as contemporary trade directories like Kelly's.

Because Water Fulford appears in terms of size to have been very much the ‘junior partner’, this decision must have raised some eyebrows. The tithe maps of 1767 suggests that Water Fulford was open fields with just 6 or 8 dwellings identifiable and nothing in subsequent maps suggests that the place expanded. But this is a strong indicator that what we now know as Fulford is the place known before as Water Fulford.

Gate Fulford only acquired a church in 1866 and perhaps the archivists of the time felt that the modern village of Fulford was ‘in the territory’ of Water Fulford. If Gate Fulford was properly located at St Oswald’s Road, then the re-naming decision of 1895 could be justified – The post-conquest development of the village was nearer to Water Fulford than Gate Fulford. However, 40 years later, the East Riding Review: Order of 1935 unified the Fulfords and the prefixes were dropped altogether.

There is no reliable source for the name of Germany Beck and it was not found in any of the early charters. But in their history of Fulford a parcel of land that can be related to the land north of Germany Beck is noted as belonging to a descendant of German de Brettgate, who in turn can be traced back to the area of the city of York occupied in the 10th century by ‘Cumbrian Britons’ and ‘Irish Vikings’. I also encountered a suggestion that the name derives from a Celtic term that denotes a boundary.

The naming evidence assessed

The relevance of all the naming evidence to any debate about the battlesite turns out to be marginal. It is relevant that the area around Germany Beck was a part of an area or place that we, and the ancient scribes, identify as Fulford. The provenance of the name Fulford can be traced back to the time of the battle. It is also important that the name, Fulford, identifies this as the place of at least one significant ford. An invading army would need a crossing place to reach York and would provide the defenders with a place to block them.

Germany Beck lies within the area that can be confidently named as a part of ancient Fulford. Any association between the place identified as Gate Fulford and the battle of 1066 appears to be misplaced. Water Fulford would be more appropriate but neither prefix for the area of the battle, is documented for 1066 apart from Fuleford, which was probably separate from the hamlet of Fuletorp, which is tentatively placed near St Oswald’s road.



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

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