Press Q&A produced for the Jorvik festival in February 2013.
In a few weeks, the site of the first battle of 1066 at Fulford could be buried below a road. This will happen unless central and local government can be confronted. They must recognise a decade of failures to address the available evidence.
The planning system has ignored the overwhelming evidence which locates this key battle. Yet all informed observers including English Heritage’s Battlefields Panel, who wanted to designate it, recognise Germany Beck as the location of this prelude to the battle at Hastings.
Now, they are preparing to cover-up years of their failures and bury the battle below many meters of hard-core. The shieldwalls were only 500m from flank to flank and the access road will fill the ditch that divided about 10,000 warriors where the battle was fought. The surface where the warriors stood will be lost for ever.
We like to believe that no public official, or any elected representative, would knowingly destroy such an important piece of our heritage and ignore clear evidence. So I have worked patiently with the authorities, trusting in their integrity. But I was naïve.
There is something systematically wrong and the media alone have the power to identify the guilty parties. Please investigate now before it is gone. This Q&A attempts to answer the most obvious question but I am happy to address anything else you want to raise.
Surely this has gone through all of the proper planning processes?
Indeed: There was a public inquiry in 2006 and it was given ministerial approval in 2007 (The release was postponed and released the day that Tony Blair announced his intention to step down as PM.) The developers and planners have more or less followed the planning procedures. (It can be argued that the application has time-expired).
The problem is not about ‘process’: The developers have presented misleading and wrong information which the public officials have not just accepted it but they even helped the developers justify wrong information.
The other key issue is also not about planning ‘process’ but about buck-passing: Nobody will take responsibility for the impact of the false information. The responsible minister, Mr Pickles, says it is for local government. Local government says central government has already decided all matters archaeological so prohibit discussion.
Back in 2006, when the planning was decided, things were different: The banks, for example, worked within the rules. They ignored inconvenient facts and criticisms and almost went bust. This story is about ignored evidence, not whether the authorities have gone through all the right motions.
Didn’t they know it was the battle?
They certainly did. Not surprisingly the developers have blocked all attempts to look for evidence. They promoted a ‘story’ that the beck was probably not even there in 1066! The planners were asked by a senior officer at English Heritage who was responsible for battlefields (Dr Paul Stamper) to recognise Germany Beck as the probable site: In 2003 he wrote to the planners saying “While the available evidence is insufficient to allow the inclusion of the site on the Register of Battlefields, your authority may still be minded to conclude that on the balance of probability it has a significance as the most likely site of this important event.”
But this is selectively quoted by those who want to bury the site. They take the first part of the sentence out of context and say “The available evidence is insufficient to allow the inclusion of the site on the Register of Battlefields” which misrepresents what English Heritage were saying. Dr Stamper was aware of the exciting Lottery project to locate the battlefield and the evidence that was being collected. He had also seen a very critical report prepared by the Battlefields Trust (by Dr Glenn Foard) about the developer’s archaeology. But even early in 2003, years before the formal planning process began, EH was saying this was the battlesite. They have chosen to ignore the evidence that has mounted during the last decade.
Are English Heritage saying that there isn’t any actual evidence?
Bear with me as this needs a ‘techie’ answer: There are many categories of evidence. For ancient battles, location is normally based on a study of literature and landscape. Nobody thought any physical evidence would survive - nothing has been found at Hastings or Stamford Bridge. The battle of Fulford took place at a tidal fording place, lasted just a few hours and nature has had nearly 1000 years ago to degrade any physical evidence. That’s what we thought, but we were wrong: Fulford shows battle evidence can survive.
EH have always accepted that physical evidence from ancient battles is not to be expected. So their designation rules recognise that we have to rely on the literature and the landscape. However during 2004 we could tell EH, and the planners, that we probably had found physical evidence for the battle. So writing at the start of 2003, English Heritage already felt able to say that ‘the balance of probability’ placed the battle at Germany Beck. In late 2004 we announced our exciting news that we had physical evidence to confirm the other strands of evidence. When I inspected the EH files it came as no surprise to discover that EH were strongly opposing the development, telling the developers that they had not done relevant work to look for the battle and their work was “inadequately specified”. EH were saying the developers had not done any work to find the battle.
So what is the evidence for the battle?
The local archaeological trust (YAT) brought together interested parties in 2001 and in 2002 we were granted the maximum Lottery amount allowable for an exciting project to try and find the battle of Fulford. After work by volunteers, professional archaeologists, and with help from many universities, during 2004 we were able to confirm Germany Beck as the battle’s location. We drilled over 100 soil cores, some as deep at 7metres, to reconstruct the land surface of 1066, and we found the 1066 landscape matched the descriptions of the battle in the literature really well. We could say that Germany Beck was the only feasible location because the project had looked at all the alternative sites that had been suggested. Then the Hydrographer to the Navy calculated the level of the tides for the days around the battle. The exceptional tides made even more sense of the descriptions of the battle and matched the model of the 1066 land surface at Germany Beck.
A few months later, the physical finds reinforced all of the other evidence as it was a third, independent stand of evidence that pointed to Germany Beck. It is a disgrace that the re-cycling find areas have been ignored. And all of this happened before the planning application was considered.
But I thought there were lots of finds of weapons from the battlefield?
We did indeed find a great deal of iron that we can relate to the battle. Not quite weapons though. What we found were the places where they were making new weapons from the battle debris. (3 sites published but 7 ‘possibles’ identified). What makes our tale is even more interesting is not just that it was completely unexpected but it also explains why nobody has found physical evidence on medieval battlefields from this era – The victors quickly gathered and recycled all of the metal. Therefore there is no weapon evidence for Hastings or from the Scandinavian battles of this era.
Towards the end of 2004 we announced the evidence for one metal, recycling area. After touring six Scandinavian Universities in 2007, several more hearths and hearth material were identified. We have compelling evidence that the victors set about recycling the iron at Fulford. This could explain why debris is not normally found on ancient battlefield. It certainly makes sense that the victors should clear the valuable metal. But Fulford is the first place where we have found proper evidence of this post-battle recycling.
Why did physical evidence survive at Fulford?
Probably because the Norse victors at Fulford were not only defeated at Stamford Bridge but they were almost wiped five days after the battle at Fulford. Their sagas explain that it was too hot for armour. But this sounds like an excuse to explain their crushing defeat. The Viking army was split up. The King was away from the base going to accept hostages from the Northumbrians who had submitted on Sunday after their defeat at Fulford on Wednesday.
King Harold II (Harold Godwinson) arrived with his cavalry on Sunday night after defending the south coast against Duke William’s expected invasion. He was able to surprise and kill King Harald Hardrada. The literature says it required only a few ships to take the Viking survivors home, via Orkney. I suspect the metal workers fled for their lives when the news of the rout of the Norse army reached them, possibly ‘delivered’ by some vengeful locals. The rural location and the tidal flooding would have quickly buried much of the material as the surviving recycling sites are beside the beck. The land only came under cultivation within the last century. The fact that we found so many metal working tools strongly suggests that the metalworkers didn’t have time to pack up.
So you went back to excavate and explore the weapon re-cycling hearth areas?
We wanted to. Starting in 2004 we repeatedly asked for permission to go back to research these hearth finds. But the areas had now become a part of the ‘red line’ of the development. This is a flood plain and the developers had been told they had to dig some ‘ponds’ as part of attempts to mitigate the floods that surge along the beck regularly. We were denied access to the land and have never been able to pursue these unique finds. The public archaeologists have failed to demand such research which the planning rules require. They know that the outcome would very probably force them deal with their previous failures. So the hearth sites are still waiting to be explored and the public archaeologists can just about claim that there is no dateable evidence for the battle but only because they have not insisted that the sites were investigated.
But that is not how the system works! The local planners and then English Heritage make sure that important archaeology like this is properly investigated, don’t they?
That’s what you think. What I discovered after a whistle blower gave me the notes from some meetings in February and March 2005 was that English Heritage, the planning officers and the developers met and agreed what the notes call a ‘story’ about Germany Beck. The story claimed it was possibly dug in the 13th or 15th centuries so could not have been the location of the battle. We know for certain that Germany Beck was carved when the last ice sheet retreated about 13,000 BCE.
Their ‘story’ is nonsense and the same meeting notes record that they know they won’t have ‘a watertight case’. But this false story was used to justify the claim that the site of the battle could not be firmly located to Germany Beck although the archaeologist always choose their words carefully, speculating about rather than investigating the leads we had provided them. Further delving through the archives of English Heritage in May last year, revealed that they actually advised the developers how to improve the key document setting out the false claim about Germany Beck being man-made after the time of the battle. This is definitely not how the system is supposed to work.
There is another document detailing the ‘cover-up’ story. I will send the document which gives all the names and details related to this notorious ‘story’.
So what happened to all the hearths you found?
Nothing. The way this evidence has been ignored by all of those who are supposed to represent the public requires some explanation and answers from them since my own challenges have been ignored. The evidence has gone unreported – The city archaeologist wrote his advice in 2004. This was about the time we told him about the hearths. He has not significantly altered his carefully worded advice since then as he is smart enough to escape blame. But he has allowed the developer’s archaeologist to ignore the evidence. They know that researching the hearths would destroy the ‘story’ although it can already be dismissed using unambiguous geological, environmental and Carbon14 evidence.
But what makes this utterly unacceptable is that no work is planned to explore this unique evidence before the land is destroyed. The developers have to discharge some conditions before building work can begin. One such condition is a ‘Written Scheme of Investigation’ (WSI). I received a draft just before Christmas and it is due to be approved shortly. Although I have been assured I would be consulted since I know the site as well as anybody, there is to be no consultation. The WSI covers up these past failures and ensures no embarrassing evidence will emerge. For me, this is both shocking and distressing.
The WSI states the fallacy that because they found no evidence for the battle of Fulford, there is no evidence for the battle. Their own failure to identify evidence does not prove an absence of evidence. They fail to report the evidence that has been found by others. The WSI will not be investigating the hearth areas. They now plan to destroy the unique evidence.
If nothing like this has been found before, can you be sure this is battle evidence?
It is always difficult being a pioneer. I delayed for 6 years before finally publishing in 2010. During which time the findings were presented at many conferences, including the British Museum, The Royal Armouries and several international conferences of battlefield archaeologists. The assemblages of iron debris have been put on display for academics and images taken round Scandinavian academics. The findings have been published in a peer reviewed journal and much debated. The test will come when the hearth areas are examined - It is hard to understand the motive of the developer in blocking this work unless they feared the result. So long as the developers and the public archaeologists prevent the follow-up research it is just about possible for them to ignore this unique evidence. But it is shameful and unethical that professional archaeologist should behave in this way.
There are three more reasons that give me real confidence in the evidence for the hearth. Recently even more support has emerged since publication.
1. Following one of my presentations (I conducted many of these talks like a court trail using the audience as a jury to see if the evidence proved the location of the battle), a member of the public told me that they had found similar material on the north side of the beck. They took it to the Portable Antiquities Service (PAS) who identified it as hearth debris.
2. In May 2013 I obtained access to the files of English Heritage and among the papers was a geophysics plot from one of the hearth areas. I was not shown this. Several areas of iron are noted on the geophysics and these areas perfectly match one of the hearth areas we published.
3. Last summer we opened a trail trench near Germany Beck and found a quite exceptional amount of iron. It is too soon to say what we have found except that one item looked like another anvil to add to our collection, providing more support for the post-battle recycling.
In archaeological terms, it is a scandal that people are conspiring to destroy the evidence without investigating it.
But English Heritage examined the case and decided not to designate it. So they don’t agree with you about the location.
This is not true. English Heritage invited me to apply for designation after some senior officers had seen the evidence which I presented at my Royal Armouries lecture. The matter was put to their expert panel. The briefing notes for the Battlefields Panel told them that EH was not planning to designate the site because of the planning situation! Nevertheless the panel ignored the recommendation and said they still wanted the site designated.
This bears repeating: The officers of EH told their experts that they were not going to designatethe site as early as February 2012 because of the mess they were in over the planning ‘situation’. The honest stand by their panel of experts forced EH to organise a process of consultation. There are emails in July 2012 warning the planners that the site might be designated. But in an opaque process that is still the subject of legal action by myself, I have not been able to discover who, and on what basis, EH decided not to designate the site late in November 2012, over-ruling their experts and ignoring the evidence.
I hope the High Court will force them to tell me and explain their actions because so far the EH defence relies upon a claim to infallibility. Their published designation report relied on the same false story about the beck’s location. They ignored the repeated failures of the public archaeologists to force the developers to investigate the battle’s location based on the evidence of weapon recycling along the site and failed to mention many other strands of evidence that support what all experts accept is the only sensible location for the battle.
But haven’t you lost all the legal arguments?
No. My case for Judicial Review went in last February and has been much delayed. A Judge in Chambers has accepted English Heritage’s claim to legal supremacy in judgments about our heritage. I will now seek a hearing to argue that English Heritage must use testable evidence rather than quoting speculation in reaching their decision. This could be a protracted process as a principle is at stake.
Does designation automatically protect a site from development?
No. But the matter does have to be considered by the planners. I suspect that this is why English Heritage has stalled my case for so long with what they claim was a ‘review’. (What EH did was spend nearly 7 months deciding not to review their decision). The City of York and the developers have both gone on record to say that they will have to reconsider the plan if the site is designated. So, in effect, designation would save the site because no planners or Secretaries of State are going to bury a battlesite of 1066 below an access road.
So what is going on?
There are a number of internal emails that I have seen where English Heritage say that once the site has been buried by a road they will not have to designate it because it will no longer be an identifiable battle landscape. There is talk of ‘recognising’ the site after its destruction. So it would appear that EH is preparing for the site’s destruction and the rush is on to get the road built as quickly as possible because this will save English Heritage from having to defend their position in Court. (Destroy the site and my case to get them to designate it is effectively dead!) It is really down to the Media to expose the motives for the delays, inactions and denial that is manifest by the Minster, English Heritage, the York planning officers and local councillors.
We have a desperate need for housing so why should we spare this bit of land?
Apart from the role this land plays in absorbing the regular flood surges, and the fact that it is a habitat for water voles and protected bat species, providing a vital ecological corridor from the river to moors, there is plenty of scope for housing that would not impact the battlefield. It is hard to accept the argument that there is a desperate need for housing on this site since the developers allowed the permission to time-expire, with reserved matters permission being granted after the expiry date. There are many other sites coming forward in York to provide the required housing and at the public inquiry there was no case for this land to be allocated to housing. But we need both heritage and housing – a sensible and honest planning system would accommodate both.
Writing this as the waters lap around Oxford where I live, it is scarcely credible that house building has been approved on land I have seen flood many times. It defies belief that the junction of the planned access has been approved where it has flooded three times in the last 18 month. Now, apparently, it requiring £1.9million of public funds to try and save an extraordinarily bad plan.
It is for democratic representatives to decide if we need houses rather than heritage.
I agree. But they do not have the right to ignore the evidence and pretend that there is no national heritage at stake. Let us have a proper debate where the evidence for the battle is recognised. The democratic process does not allow its officers and representatives to make things up and ignore evidence in order to ‘make’ their case. All I am asking for in an honest debate.
On a personal note, my first job after leaving university was to work for Shelter and I have been a regular volunteer with Crisis and the Salvation Army. I care about the homeless and have worked to help those without homes. There is plenty of space for heritage as well as houses. This is about a bad plan for an access road and housing that encroaches on the Germany Beck flood plain, destroys vital natural habitats and wildlife corridors.
There are lots of theories about where battle took place so how can you be so sure about Fulford?
We are very lucky as the battle is based along a unique geological feature, a deep glacial ditch, where the opposing shieldwalls faced each other while they waited for the tide to fall. Plus, after we had announced our early finding, experts identified so much physical evidence which confirmed the location. The findings have been published, and presented at several international conferences in front of specialists in battlefield research. These include presentations at the British Museum and the Royal Armouries. In the decade since the location was announced nobody has approached me to suggest an alternative or to point out a serious flaw in the evidence that point to Germany beck as the location.
Didn’t Tony Robinson prove that Hastings was in the wrong place so how can you be so certain about this battlefield?
The less said about that Time Team episode the better. The title about a ‘Lost battle ’ came from Fulford as Time Team had originally planned to come to research Fulford. I would be happy to provide all the emails from early 2013 especially the one where I ask them if they have sold out to English Heritage - I had been told that there was ‘panic’ in their office at the thought that Time Team were going to explore the evidence at Fulford.
At Fulford every bit of the evidence, literature, geology, landscape, tide, vegetation, land use, and all the physical evidence locates the battle along Germany Beck. We researched all of the other locations that have been suggested over the years. However, they all fail as possible battle sites. Because we researched such a wide area and found no battle debris except along the beck, and exactly where the literature says the battle took place, we can be very confident that we know where the battle was fought. I don’t know anybody who has looked at the evidence who does not recognise Germany Beck as the only possible location for this important battle.
If they build the road will it really destroy all of the evidence?
Half of the ford is on public land that forms the Fulford Parish playing field. In August we dug a trial trench and recovered some remarkable material. We are planning to extend the work of this trail trench as soon as we can. It’s a real shame that we trusted the archaeology provided by the developers otherwise we might have looked at this area earlier. Whatever happens we will eventually be able to expose the shameful failures of all of the public bodies involved in destroying an irreplaceable piece of our heritage.
Battlefields are so big and so vaguely defined that it could stop us building anywhere.
This is not right. The battlefield can be very closely defined along the beck. The shieldwalls themselves were only 500m from flank to flank. The land where we found all of the recycling sites, in what we call ‘the retreat field’ is still beside the beck and floods regularly so should be recognised as unsuitable for houses. There are good reasons why very few buildings have encroached on the beck so it is very much the way it was in 1066.
Once we get to the era of cavalry and the use of ballistic projectiles, battlefields expand dramatically in size. But Fulford was up close and personal fighting at the muddy ford and along the line of the ditch we know as Germany Beck.
Who cares about battlefields? Why bother to save them?
Battle sites attract tens of thousands of visitors. Battles are not remote history because battles involved ordinary people. I have taken about 50 tours round the site and when I line them up, standing on the very surface where the English faced the Vikings in 1066, many have told me how it sends a shiver down their spine. We also organise that each cohort from the local primary schools comes to learn about the seminal year in our national story.
Won’t it cost a fortune to maintain?
The battlesite is already open for business. It is fully accessible mostly on tarmaced paths, within easy walking distance of the centre of York or a nearby Park & Ride. Several bus routes will drop you beside the site and the area already has some excellent family-friendly pubs for refreshments. All we need to do is put up more signs and some interpretive boards but these can quickly be put in place.
So beside the heritage value, the site has great economic potential. It will earn rather than cost money. As I say, it is open for business and will be conducting my next tour on Sunday 23rd February 2013. We meet on the playing field, opposite Fulford Cemetery at 11am. There is no charge and everybody is welcome. Walking shoes are recommended.
So who is responsible for allowing this, The Minister or the Local Planning Authority?
The York planners will tell you it is the Secretary of State - Ruth Kelley granted permission in 2007.I have written several times to Minister Pickles but he is passing the buck back to the local planners, boasting how he wants these decisions to be made locally. But he ignores the fact that the original ministerial decision was based on false information. He also refuses to address my complaint that the local planners continue to say they are powerless because the matter was all decided by the Minister. This is buck-passing at its best (or worst).
The planners have told me many times that the archaeology has been decided andsay they can’t and won’t consider the matter further because it was a ministerial decision. When the developers held their compulsory open day their leaflet told visitors it excluded any discussion of the archaeology. At the reserved matters hearing (featured on BBC ‘One Show’), the Chair warned me not to talk about the battle archaeology. Nobody in local or national government wants to be responsible which suits them both as it covers up their repeated failures to address the evidence.
But what about Court action? Don’t they hold the powerful accountable for their decisions?
The Parish Council did take a case to the High Court. The judgement in their case seems to say that the democratic representatives have an absolute right to decide what facts and opinions to accept. This is being appealed. The Court does not deal in whether the facts are right or wrong but only in the process.
English Heritage are also asserting their absolute right to decide according to the defence they have filed for my own case against them. The Court will have to decide if such an absolute right exists in law to permits a secret cabal inside English Heritage to make decisions that defy and ignore the evidence and over-rules their experts.
These cases could take time to settle since I want to challenge the notion that officials are infallible. I cannot accept that when it can be shown that elected representatives and planning officials have been misinformed, the planning process does not allow them to revise their view.
Why hasn’t the media taken this up?
When we put the battle debris on display at York University in 2009, a picture of the axe head was the most clicked image for a short while on the National Geographic website. There have been several pieces in nationals such as The Independent, Daily Telegraph and a great cartoon in the Financial Times. There have also been several pieces on BBC, the last was by Dan Snow for the ‘One Show’ which used footage from previous films when we mustered a Viking army to re-enact the battle. The Yorkshire Post has been a great supporter in airing the debate.
Relations with the local paper have been difficult: Balance is a wonderful principle for the press. But if one side is presenting testable evidence, it is not ‘balanced’ just to allow the other double the space to repeat the lie that there is no evidence (their archaeologist is more careful and only claims they found no evidence). Good journalism would ask the developers to explain why they have blocked work or pose one of the other difficult questions that the evidence provokes such as:
· When English Heritage wrote in 2003 that Germany Beck was the probable site of the battle, why did you ignore them?
· When English Heritage said your work was ‘inadequately specified’ in 2004, why didn’t you address the problem?
· Why do you repeat the fallacy that ‘the absence of proof is proof of absence’ when you know you have done no work to look for the battlefield?
· Why have you blocked access to the recycling hearth areas?
· Why have you never inspected the hearth material?
· Why did you move the ‘red line’ for the planning zone to include the first of the recycling hearths just after we told you what we had found there? I note that you are not putting any buildings or earth works there but designating it a wood so no archaeology can be required.
· Why did you not conduct a full metal detecting survey of the site since your own analysis had identified the likelihood that the battle took place on the site? It is the most obvious piece of work if you are looking for evidence of iron-clad warriors fighting with iron weapons. Were you afraid of what you might find? How can you justify this failure to investigate?
· When you were told to address all of the evidence in the battlefield report, Finding Fulford’ why did you fail to do so?
· Why did you originally claim you had dated the peat that fills much of the Germany Beck ditch? When you were forced to do the work, why have you ignored the Carbon-14 evidence that proves the beck was in its current location well before 1066?
· Why do you claim that the land has been significantly altered since your own research shows that it is almost unchanged since 1066?
· Why have you failed to respect agreements entered between the City planners and Chas Jones in respect of three different projects where you were supposed to cooperate?
· Why have you tried to pass off one of the drainage ditches that connect to Germany Beck as representing the beck itself? You know Germany Beck was carved during the last ice age.
· Why did you submit a list of alternative sites for the battle that were nowhere near Fulford as a part of the site designation consultation? You worked with English Heritage to concoct ‘evidence’ to support your ‘story’ in the revised Heritage landscape Appraisal of 2005. So was this another cooperative effort with them because your suggestions were all complete rubbish even though English Heritage cite them as a reason for their uncertainty? How can you justify this behaviour as a professional archaeologist?
· Why has your work adjacent to the A19 along the line of the access road failed to report the stone surface that lines the ford?
· Why was the site archaeologist prevented from answering my questions about the surface of the ford when you were forced to give me a tour of your site in 2003?
· Why does your report on the work adjacent to the A19 make the contradictory claims that the land was surprisingly firm and also that it was too soft to dig? My own trench was just .9m deep and reached the stone surface of the ford.
· Can you suggest another location for the battle of Fulford which fits the facts?
I could prepare another set of tough questions for English Heritage but I will save them until the Court case is complete. Many are set out in the ‘Court Bundles’ (available on request). And I would be happy to supply a similar list of questions to be put to John Oxley, the City’s archaeologist.
20 February 2014
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The author of the content is Charles Jones - firstname.lastname@example.org Last updated April 2015
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