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Mr John Humphrys

Today Programme
BBC Radio 4
Room G630, Television Centre
Wood Lane
London W12 7RJ


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 many ways:

·         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 shores.

·         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 true.

·         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 housing.


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 crime.


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 ceremony raise.


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.


Most sincerely


Chas Jones




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

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