Mr John Humphrys
7 May 2007
Dear Mr Humphrys
Congratulations on the deserved Sony
Radio Academy Awards and the generous words you expressed in your
acceptance of your unsung colleagues and your criticism of the celebrity. I hope
you don’t mind if I use celebrity as the link to the subject of my letter.
The reporting of history also has it celebrity. My particular
subject is celebrity battles. Hasting is the one battle of 1066 that everybody
knows and it is proving very hard to insert into our national story a battle of
similar size that took place just a few weeks before Hastings, at Fulford.
The story of the forgotten battle of 1066 can be told in so
It could certainly be about some celebrities of the time. The
invaders were led by the greatest warrior of that era, king Harald of Norway.
And this mighty warrior was facing the young grandson’s of Lady Godiva.
The story could be about the events that led the brother of
king Harold Godwinson to be the instigator of the invasions from north and
south. Indeed a strong case can be advanced that Tostig Godwinson choreographed
the two invasions in order to split the powerful defenders of the English
Yet another line would be to challenge the accepted tale that
the Norman invasion fleet had been stranded in port because there was no wind
when there is enough evidence to suggest that it was an English fleet that kept
them at bay until they were tempted out by the cunning disclosure by king Harold
that the southern English army had been sent home.
Was William’s first attempt to invade actually defeated by
the English navy in the same patch of sea where Drake would ambush the Spanish
Armada centuries later? If William’s invasion had gone as planned, the Norse
and Norman invasions would have arrived simultaneously. That is quite a story.
One could also find an interesting modern resonance.
William’s army was later deemed to have been taken to war on a lie and
individual penances were ordered by the church. William was rather flexible with
the facts. Nothing changes.
Another dimension would be the public inquiry that was held
during last summer to decide the fate of the site. The fact that ordinary
members of the public were facing QC’s for the developers, with the latter
enjoying many privileges of access that were denied to the objectors, is an
affront to natural justice. It is also very stressful and the death of one of
the objectors at the inquiry just after presenting their evidence did not manage
to make any news editor’s agenda.
The story could be about the community group that has worked
so hard investigating the site and, with enormous help from academia, have
produced compelling physical evidence of the battlefield. This is all the more
remarkable because the site at Hastings has not provided any physical evidence
so far. Our work explains why this is so.
But any story about the archaeology would have to tell how
the developers have done their best to frustrate the battlefield work,
incorporating areas where we found things into their plans as ‘community
woods’ and ponds.
Actually, the ponds are not such a bad idea as the 700 houses
are planned for an area that floods regularly. Flooding is the reason the site
has not been much disturbed over the intervening 940 years. Flooding is also why
the road that is planned to be built along the whole length of the battlesite
has to stand so high. Perhaps the flooding story has been ‘dealt with’ and
the news agenda has moved on. Sadly, housebuilders still want to build on this
delicate and unsuitable ecosystem.
It might appeal to your sense of irony that the would-be
developers propose to incorporate a Fulford battlefield trail on their building
site even though they like to deny that the battle took place there. Strange but
If there were some hard questions to be asked could we find
out why the developers would not allow us access to the ‘English’ bank of
the battle meaning that half the site has yet to be surveyed. It would also be
nice to find out why they will still not let us return to continue our
successful work which was started before their plans.
But there are also questions for the media. Why have you all
ignored the story? I hope it is not
the way I tell it. But I may be wrong. When I was given a slot of Libby
Purvis’ Midweek to talk about the Preface in the style of the Bayeux
Tapestry we are preparing to help set the record of 1066 straight, reporters
from the Independent and Guardian both contacted me to wonder why
they had not covered the story about the battle, but they have continued to
ignore the story. I have worked closely with the Times on three good
stories but, much to the frustration of the journalist and myself, they have all
been spiked. Why?
If I was talking to Today’s editors, I would want to know
they have also ignored the story. When the programme was looking for
undiscovered gems a few weeks ago I suggested Fulford which is crossed my many
public paths, is bounded by SSSIs, and is within easy walking distance of a York
City Park & Ride. But like the many emails to your programme over the years,
this information also passed unacknowledged. It is a shame. Please tell your
editors that there are thousands of us out here with great stories. I wish they
would read our emails.
Celebrity is useful and we have employed it. Peter Snow and
Prof Richard Holmes have been reliable supporters of our work and willing to
write a stiff letter when asked to do so. Only when they write does the story
get any coverage. But Fulford is suffering because it is not a celebrity. The
battle at Fulford is very important to the understanding of 1066, indeed it
invites a complete reassessment of ‘The Conquest’.
There is a political story hiding behind all this. At the
time of the inquiry I was told by John Prescott’s old department that the new
heritage bill would be published ‘in the late summer’ of 2006. When Ruth
Kelly took over that reorganised portfolio English Heritage tell me that all
mention of the bill, which would for the first time give some protection to
battlefields, is off the present agenda after years of careful consultation.
I have written to Ruth Kelly (my letters are on the website) to ask about
the fate of the bill which did not feature in the Queen’s speech but get a
reply saying the contents of my letter have been noted without actually telling
me about the fate of this necessary and overdue bill.
My politically astute friends also told me that there was
some significance in the delayed publication of the report form the public
inquiry. It was due in April just before the recent elections. It will now be
published this week (10 May), just after the local elections. The same friends
told last summer me that the results would only be published after Gordon Brown
and his new team took over as high on their agenda is solving the cost of houses
by increasing supply on places like the battle of Fulford site. They cling to
the mistaken ‘supply side’ solution promoted by the house builders (and
misquoting the Kate Barker reports) in
spite of the fact that many new-builds stand empty, and have not even been put
on the market, in York. There is a whole new story about the way the developers
are managing the property market in a very sophisticated way.
That story was completely missed in Evan Davis’ recent series. He also
missed the academic studies (by Rowntree Trust) suggesting that it is the supply
and cost of money that are much more significant in determining the cost of
I would be very happy to send your editors a long list of
contacts if they wanted to pursue any of these story strands which have a
bearing on the fate of the battle of Fulford as a new national icon or planning
If I sound a trifle demoralised, I hope you will understand.
I passionately believe that the site, into which so many small people have
invested their hard work, should not be lost because of my failure to alert the
public. But I am at a loss to know what more I can do. Fulford is not a
celebrity. Perhaps that really is the story that your remarks at the award
I have written many similar letters over the years and sent
out at least a dozen news stories to all the media but to no avail. I would very
much appreciate a brief acknowledgement so that I would know that this letter
has been read and did not suffer the fate of my many emails.
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