Comments on revised landscape study for Germany Beck proposal

The response is in three parts.

I did not receive a copy of the report on the initial distribution and have been moving house so I apologise for the inevitable deficiencies in this response due to shortage of time and limited access to my papers.

Part One

The references are to the paragraph numbers in the revised landscape study.

5.2.14 This overstates the case. Some parts of the dyke have been without a doubt been modified by those using this land over the millennia. The earliest were in Neolithic times, and the process continues as a part of flood control measures. However, the sections of the dyke referred to are nearly a mile from the site. At the core of the battle site, the changes to the relevant area are marginal as the work outline in part two will illustrate.

The dating of the length of dyke is also at variance with the original desktop study provided by the proposer of this development (at that time, Hogg the Builder) which gave a date of 1000 years to the section of the dyke flowing towards the golf course. Although the hedge in question has been removed, other areas of hedge along the line of the Beck would seem to imply that the route has been stable back to the time of the battle. (See Hedge Building in Section Two below)

The precise location of the dyke referred to in the discussion is also unclear. A dyke mentioned appears to be the one at the northern end of the area we now know as Walmgate Stray as this also served as the limiting marker for cattle from the city. In 1484 the City and the Abbot and Covent of St Mary’s, who were the ‘landlords’ at Fulford, concluded an agreement relating to the grazing rights.

The bounds of the grazing franchise ran along Green Dykes (probably the modern Greendykes Lane), ‘Siwardhowfield’, and then along a dyke to the road ‘and there a cross to be set and called the Franchise Cross the sump of which is now in front of the Aldi/Iceland stores. ‘Then north to a stone bridge to a causeway leading to Fishergate butting upon Kingsdyke to the river’. Behind the cross there is one section of the ancient Green Lane, down which cattle from both parishes could be driven to the river for transport to distant markets. This landing was very near the site of the modern Millennium Bridge.

As it is unlikely that the grazing rights had changed significantly, I suggest that this might be the dyke referred to in the revised landscape study. If this is correct, the information provided is of no relevance to the landscape of the battle. This dyke is not connected to what we know as Germany Beck and is a mile away from the centre of the battle.

This might be the document referred to but the sources quoted for the ‘new dyke’ are not clear. However, it is clear that the grazing boundary does not relate in any way to Germany Beck. Changes here are irrelevant to the battle landscape.

5.2.15 There is little to be gained from analysing the name as no place name for the battle is recorded in the literature that we take to refer to the battle of Fulford, apart from one saga that refers to the battle on the Humber. Reliance on a name such as ‘New Dyke’ to indicate it was created contemporary with the reference is unsound, as inhabitant of New York will testify.

However, for interest and completeness, on the subject of names, a deed covering 1258 to 1270 in St Mary’s cartulary mentions ‘German de Brettgate’. Two centuries later there is a mention of a Nicholas de Brettgate who had ‘a toft and a croft in Fuelford near the bridge’. This might link the name of German as a post-conquest name for the Beck. Other names encountered in the literature around the battle area we now know as Fulford include ‘Daynhylle’ (Danehill?).

The Saxton maps (1577 and 1607) refer to the area as ‘Foule Sutton’. The use of Sutton in this, as well as later maps, is reminiscent of the Anglo-Saxon term for a farming community south of the city. My own conclusion is that all names must be treated as clues and that physical investigation is a stronger guide. I recognise that this was a landscape study but it is short of any evidence-base. The Fulford Battlefield Society has been attempting to rectify this deficiency and an outline of their work appears in part 2 of this response.

The reliability and value of literary sources.

Pages 12 & 13 of the Kelly DeVires volume, much quoted in the study to illustrate that the location of the site is uncertain, has this to say about the saga evidence. ‘Furthermore, Snoori Sturluson acknowledges the problems that all historians face when assembling their histories’ and notes that these are acknowledged in Snoori’s own introduction to his work. DeVires says that he will use the sagas as historical sources alongside the others.

It is perhaps unfortunate that we attach the word ‘saga’ to the Nordic tradition rather than the word chronicle which seems to imply greater credibility. DeVires does not admit such a distinction. The sagas in De Vires opinion provide a useful source and the site under investigation is an extraordinarily good match to the landscape described in the sagas and helped us to focus on the area we have been researching for the last five years.

Having commended DeVires, I am critical of the sketch map he provides for the battle of Fulford. It is not possible to relate his sketch to the known, local geography. It is, sadly, typical of the way historians deal with battles. Historians are rather like football fans who are only concerned with ‘the team list’ and the ‘final score’ rather than the process of the struggle. All De Vires demonstrates in the quotations employed in the revised study are the limitations of relying on literary sources alone. Ultimately, the sources can only be a guide. Fieldwork must be undertaken to investigate the location.

Another historian writing about the battle said "The site of the battle that followed is still miraculously clear of urban development which has halted a few hundred yards north of the battlefield. The area is a challenge to the civil conscience as a site for permanent presentation - An eternal reminder of an interesting fragment of Yorkshire history." Edwin Tetlow 'The Enigma of Hastings' pp 103 (Peter Owen 1974)


Part Two

This outlines some parts of the work of the Fulford Battlefield Society to remedy the lack of evidence. The revised landscape study supplied by the developers makes no mention of any relevant investigation to support its contentions. They have indeed been hostile to our work and refused us access to any of the land under consideration. The work was supported by a Lottery grant from the Local Heritage Initiative. This has allowed us to involve a range of experts and most of the universities of Yorkshire are involved in one project or another. A preliminary report of the work is scheduled for April 2006.

This summary is included to illustrate the sort of work that should have been undertaken and outlines some of the promising results. Many have been published on our website but they have been ignored in the landscape study supplied. Our many attempts to engage the developers or their agents have been rebuffed or simply ignored.

Soil survey work

Over a hundred soil cores have been taken over the site. The aim has been to reconstruct the land surface of 1066. The preliminary conclusion totally contradict those implied in the revised landscape study. The land to the east of the A19 has been remarkably stable since the ice sheet retreated about 15,000 BP. This was also the conclusion of the developer’s agents in an earlier report which included a map that showed the Roman and Medieval flood levels in the area of the battle is almost the same as today. (The illustration should be in the SMR and was based on work by University of York)

The soil surveys have been used to guide the metal survey as there was little point in looking at areas where the 1066 layer was below the range of the detectors. The existence of a clearly identifiable layer of sandstone laid down during past glaciations has provided a valuable marker. Over much of the agricultural land, this layer is less than a metre below the surface. In the area of the Beck, the moraine can be found 40-60 cm below the present surface. There is no evidence that any major engineering work has ever been undertaken to modify this solid surface that underlies the area under investigation. It can therefore be safely asserted even at this stage of the work that, to the east of the A19, we are looking at a landscape that is very close to the 1066 surface.

On the Ings, there has been a gradual build-up of silt. This was analysed by a team from Manchester University in July 2002. Using two analytical methods, the 1066 layer was determined to be about 2000cm BP. Permission has been obtained to publish the full report on the web site and it should be available soon. Subsequent work with a team from Leeds University, which is ongoing, indicates that the channel in which the Ouse runs has been remarkably stable since prehistoric times. The Ings were a feature of the 1066 landscape and therefore unsuitable as a site for the battle as some have suggested.

The present line of Germany Beck, west of the A19, makes sense when the moraine level is probed. At 3m BP there is a clear channel cut into the moraine material by the water flowing from the eastern catchment. This channel heads NNE. The material being flushed through this constriction would have been flowing roughly counter to the Ouse creating the alluvial ‘delta’ which eventually drains into the Ouse. The present course of the channel would have evolved naturally although it has certainly been improved over the years. During, and for some years after the war, the ‘delta’ area was used for agriculture.

There is more work to be done on the cores and a full analysis of the material will require more financial resources than our community group can raise. However, the stability of the channels in this relevant region is remarkable. The work is continuing and is focused on locating the crossing point of 1066 and investigating the 1066 line of the Beck as it drains towards the Ouse. A team from the university of Leeds will be returning to the site to take more deep cores on 20 May.

Metal finds

Before the project began, we were aware that no battlefield of this era in Britain had yielded identifiable weapons. The approach adopted was therefore a statistical one. The concept has been to collect all metal from as many areas within the 40 hectares identified for investigation as a part of the possible battlefield. A battle is a dynamic event so the hope was to plot the density of finds over the area in the hope of identifying area of battle activity. This has never been attempted before. The results so far are encouraging. However without access to the whole area this work is inconclusive.

It is hoped to try to collate the density plot to the number of horseshoes found to see if the density is linked to agricultural activity alone. Discussions have taken place with English Heritage and others to carry out a full analysis of the finds and perhaps extend the project round York to see if it is possible to provide a model for historic land usage based on the density and type of metal finds analogous the techniques employed with pottery shards. Clearly, the work we are undertaken has significant potential for interpreting the landscape.

The detectorists from the York Metal Detectorists Club were asked to scan for all metals. Because of the recording system used it was possible to identify the very few who forgot or were unable to detect ferrous material. All of what follows, focuses on the ferrous finds. The battle was fought with iron weapons by men clad with iron.

Ferrous material represents half of the metal recovered. The balance was lead, cuprous alloy and modern aluminium debris. Most of this material has been passed through the Small Finds Service operated by the British Museum. It has produced some very interesting results including items of treasure trove and cloth seals which have been given to the national collection with permission of the land owners. All the non-ferrous finds are consistent with the information listed in the revised report relating to the post-conquest Water Fulford.

All the areas survey by metal detectorists had previously been investigated with a soil probe to ensure that surface of 1066 is not beyond the limit of the detection technology. As a general rule, in ploughed areas, 80 cm was taken as a guide depth. For areas that have not been disturbed, 40 cm was taken as the limit. This has excluded any work to the west of the A19 as material would have been buried too far below the present surface to be detectable but a project is under consideration to examine the cores for a magnetic signature 2m below the surface.

Method used

In order to record the location of metal finds:

The finds can therefore be related to a surface context.

Two areas have been revisited to test how effective the team were in their work. The rate of finds from the second visit (at least a year later) produced a very low rate of finds. Both of these survey areas were on unploughed land. The results imply that the team is extremely thorough.

A second comparative test was undertaken as a part of this project. Two areas believed to be outside the battle area have been tested for comparison. The results were interesting as the find rate was dramatically lower. Further comparative work is needed.

The work of analysing the 2000+ ferrous finds is progressing slowly. It has turned out to be a might bigger task than anticipated. After inspection and counting, the material was stored in a desiccating environment provided by York Archaeological Trust.


Preliminary results obtained from plotting the density of ferrous finds are encouraging. Some results can be seen on our website but the real benefit will only emerge when all areas of the site have been surveyed. So far about 30% have been visited and 40% area inaccessible for various practical reasons such as modern development. It would be tragic if the remaining 30% was not investigated before any planning permission was determined. Our access to the core of the site as this has been blocked by the developer.

The findings will mean little until the central area is systematically surveyed. At a national conference of battlefield archaeologists in July 2003, I believe that all the delegates signed a petition addressed to the City of York Council asking that no permission be granted for building work on the area of Germany Beck until a proper assessment had been completed. This petition was presented to the City in February this year when consideration of the planning application appeared imminent.

The ferrous material was finally inspected earlier this year. The most significant finding was extensive evidence of metal working. There has been a suspicion that battle sites were effective cleared of all reusable material but no direct evidence for this belief has so far been found. Under normal circumstances, this information we have found would not be disclosed until all of the analytical work was complete. However, the threat to the site and the need to stimulate debate about the significance of this evidence has persuaded me to into this early disclosure.


The material comes from two contexts at the heart of the battle site. The two contexts are about 200m apart. Site A is the richer of the two. Site B is adjacent to two separate, extensive areas of charcoal staining 1.3 m below the present level.  This staining lies above a layer of peat that has been dated to the century before the battle referred to in the revised study.

The shape of some of the billets suggests weapon manufacture. These might be trade shapes for later manufacture. When the source material was revisited, 15 more possible billets were identified among the items excluded as 'modern scrap' but from the same find context. A scan of material from other areas did not reveal any similar items. This suggests that the metal working was localised.

What are the possible explanations?

It is hard to overstate the possible importance of this evidence. On the one hand it might provide a way to identify battle sites. On the other, it might require us to reappraise what we regard as evidence of battle activity. No weapons have been recovered from either Hastings or Stamford Bridge. This might be taken to indicate that material was thoroughly re-cycled. We might have discovered how the debris of battle was recycled. This provides a unique opportunity to test this hypothesis.

This material is certainly evidence of early metal working. However, until further investigations have been conducted on these finds, and the site re-visited, we are in the area of speculation.

Hedge dating

The early desktop study accompanying the first proposal for housing in this area, gave some dates for the hedges. Dates provided along the section of Germany Beck running east towards the golf course, ranged from 600 to 1000 years.

The Fulford Battlefield Society began work last year to extend this work. Because no work has been done to calibrate the number of species to the age of the hedge in this area, it would be premature to publish any results. However, using Hooper’s Rule, several hedges along the Beck would appear to be contemporary with the battle.

Part Three

Summary and conclusions

I am extremely critical of the analytical work and inferences of this revised study, which conflict with the work the Fulford Battlefield Society is undertaking. The study is careful to always use the formula that ‘the exact location’ of the battle is unknown. Previously the developers have claimed that ‘no evidence has been produced’ for this location. Both claims are disingenuous and misleading.

Since no formal definition for a battlefield has yet been agreed, and the methodology for identifying sites is still being developed, the terms ‘exact’ and ‘evidence’ are meaningless in the context that they have been employed. It allows the impression to be created that there is some uncertainty about the site of the battle. All responsible parties accept that the battle probably took place along the line of Germany Beck. Even the developers when asked directly accept that this is the probable site of the battle of Fulford.

The balanced study does not reflect a balanced or impartial approach to the available evidence, has overlooked the evidence the FBS have produced and the developers have ignored the chance to discover more.

This is not simply unfortunate but unacceptable. The planning system relies upon the impartial advice of experts. This new report would be suitable for a scenario where the contents were to be contested in an open debate. This is not the way the panning system is designed to work.

I am alarmed that there is no duty of care imposed upon the professionals reporting. I have confirmed with various Council officers and English Heritage that it is not their job to check the facts set out in the reports. It is unrealistic to expect volunteers such as myself to undertake this task. All parties should be able to rely on the impartiality and thoroughness of the supporting documents produced. I hope I have shown that the revised landscape study fails on both counts.

The report makes much of its professional credentials of its authors. I have had the pleasure, as an amateur, of attending national IFA meetings where I have raised the issue of accountability. It is now my firm resolve to pursue this matter with the IFA and ask them how they are going to ensure that their members are subject to some disciplinary system.

The matters was addressed last year when it was agreed during a consultation with one of the Council’s Scrutiny Boards that there was a case for requiring peer review of contentious reports. Such a report was indeed undertaken for an earlier version of the developer’s application. The result was damming. It went on to outline how a proper investigation should be undertaken. However, this authoritative report has never been referenced by the developer’s agents nor have any of the recommendations been followed.

I would ask that the questions raised here are placed alongside the revised landscape study so that responsible readers are better able to assess the truth about the location of the battle of Fulford

Chas Jones

Fulford Battlefield Society

April 05