Investigating the locations for the battle of Fulford

The name Fulford, or something similar, has been attached to this place through all recorded history.

The place name 'Fulford'

Water Fulford and Gate Fulford are both names used for this area. Early maps often call the area nearer the city as Foule Sutton. In 1828 the 2 villages were called Fulford Ambro (i.e. Both Fulfords) In 1086 the Domesday Book referred to Foleford and Fuletrop. According to Joan Pikering in her History of Fulford the place was also called Fulleford, Foulforth, Fowforth, Magna Foulford, Fuleford Parva and Overfolforth in various documents.

The source of the name is uncertain. The long term existence of this piece of flood land to the south of York can be deduced from the non-existence of any tithe information for an area that covers the Beck. This marshy area was regularly flooded and crossed by a ford which leads easily to the name foul-ford.

The word FORD is variously referred to as of middle English or Icelandic origin and means a shallow place where water can be crossed.

The name Fulford Gate appears in response to searches at the Public Record Office but can safely be located elsewhere. Another ancient Fulford has been located in Staffordshire.

The following can be gleaned from 'English Place Names' by Kenneth Cameron (1996 Batsford 0713473789).

"Gate has also been prefixed to two village-names, Gate Fulford, and Gate Helmsley, in each case from their situations on a Roman road". However, the identity of the roads has yet to be confirmed.

"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 it crossed but more often with the type of road crossing there. The type of tree or the main crop or animal using the ford provided the likes of Ashford and  Gosford.

"It has been shown that the commonest word 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."

The earlier form of ford, (wœd) wade, is seldom found but the Scandinavian form vaõ is found in Wath and Langwith.

"The earliest recorded spelling of York, Eborakon, Eburacum and Eboracum, are found in Greek and Latin sources. This is in origin a Celtic name perhaps meaning 'yew grove'. By the time of the earliest Anglo-Saxon settlement there is had probably become Evorõg and the newcomers seem to have taken the first part of the name as being identified with Old English eofor 'wild boar' as so substituted their own word for the Celtic one."

" To it they added a common place-name element wĩc 'trading centre, dairy farm', so giving Eoforwĩc. During the Scandinavian occupation of the city further changes took place and the Old English name was adapted by them to Eórvik, later becoming Jórvik, York being the modern reflex of the later. "

"Latin Eboracum, however, continued to be the usual spelling in official documents and is still in ecclesiastical use when the Archbishop of York signs himself 'X Ebor'".

Germany Beck

A possible source of the name of Germany Beck is a Celtic word, Germani which derives from the Celtic word for 'shouters' while Gairm is a 'loud cry'.  Could the Celts have named this dyke to commemorate their ability to defend this ditch. No other traces of the origin of the Beck's name have been traced.

The name of the battle

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles variously record a battle fought at York. None mention Fulford. 

Geoffrey Gaimar refers to 'apud' Fulford or 'beside' Fulford

The work attributed to Florence of Worcester records the battle 'on the north bank of the Ouse'. As the present course of the river is north-south, this reference is hard to interpret. However, any ditch would have run east-west with the defenders on the north bank.

None of these named location are inconsistent with a battle site along Germany Beck.

Other studies

· Guy Schofield in his article 'The third battle of 1066' (History Today Oct 1966) take the Beck as the location and calculates the invasion force at 14,000. It was the size of this army, he suggests, that prompted Harold to rush north and ignore the smaller force mustered by William the bastard.

· K Penn, the author of the 1973 report evaluating routes for the Outer Ring Road, placed the battle along Germany Beck.

· Broadhead in his article gives the location of the Battle on Fulford Ings (Grid reference 609 488) which is 50 m south of the present Beck. His use of the place name, 'Fulford Ings' has led to some confusion. The modern Ings are understood to start about 50 m north of the Beck and extend for 800 m. towards York. The Beck is within the Ings SSSI, although it is not part of the scheduled area. However, the grid reference can be taken as the 'centre of mass' for the 10 to 20 thousand soldiers disputing the battle (Which makes it a bigger battle than Hastings!).

The terrain described

"The one arm of this line stood at the outer edge of the river, the other turned up towards the land along a ditch; and there was also a morass, deep, broad, and full of water."(SS)

"The only other dyke within the survey area was noted east of Hedge 1. This is a fairly modern drainage feature that does not appear on 1930's or County Series O.S. maps" (MAP1)

Trenches dug by MAP along the line of the Beck, east of the A19, indicate that its route has wandered little and has stayed within easily defined bounds since the last geological upheaval. The land is covered by between .2 and .8 of a metre of silt and modern topsoil. Fluid sand prevented deeper or more extensive work in some trenches. (MAP2)


SS - From Heimskringla written in Old Norse, about 1225 by the poet and historian Snorri Sturluson translated by Samuel Laing in 1844.

MAP1 - Desktop evaluation for proposed housing development carried out by MAP and held by York City Council.

MAP2 - Interim report of archaeological sample excavations.

© 2002 Charles Jones