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The Battle of Fulford is a missing piece of English heritage. On Wednesday, 26 May at 2pm, the City of York Council decided this battlesite from the momentous year 1066 could be converted to a road leading to 750+ houses. Fulford was of a similar size and scale as the clash which followed a few weeks later near Hastings.

This news brief reflects my passion and determination to prevent the site of the Battle of Fulford being destroyed. There are many stories: The links are provided to help your research and write your story.

Chas Jones

Images for media use

Finding the battle site

Is there any doubt about the site? No. Even the developers acknowledged it in their early studies (then subtlety changed their minds to claim ‘there is no evidence’ or the ‘exact location is not know’). This is what English Heritage says:

Can we ‘prove’ that this is the site? That is more difficult. There is no recognised method to define, let alone prove, the location of an ancient battlefield. This is one reason English Heritage effectively closed its small Register of Battlefield some decades ago. English Heritage is working hard on this problem and will be publishing a new strategy for battlefields.

However, we have identified evidence of extensive metal-working on the Fulford site. Given time, and some more resources, we might be able to show that the weapon fragments left after the battle were re-cycled. If we can show that the battle debris of this era was removed it will help explain why no fragments have been found at Hastings or Stamford Bridge.

Our research might require us to re-consider what we recognise as evidence of ancient battlefields.

Over 100 soil core samples have been taken to identify the land surface of 1066. The conclusion is that, over the main part of the site, the 1066 surface is very close to the present land surface. And we have identified the wet areas mentioned in the chronicles and sagas.

Who’s Responsible?

Why should ordinary members of the public have to prove the case? The site of the battle is accepted by all informed opinion. The onus of investigation should be on those who want to destroy this piece of our heritage.

The answer is that the planning system has institutionalised the role of planning consultative bodies such as English Heritage and circumscribed what they can do with planning applications. Our group has received generous support from the Lottery, Local Heritage Initiative and the academic community which has guided and interpreted our work but it is alarming that there is no national support for such important work.

Why are the developers allowed to set the agenda? They did some good, conventional archaeology but have resisted appeals to research into the battlesite even though their own desktop study said this should be undertaken.

Do developers have a sense of humour? When the would-be developers say, without any sense of irony, that we have not produced any evidence, they neglect to mention that they have actually banned us from conducting any work on the site and have refused to undertake relevant work themselves. This would be comic if the planning authorities were not accepting the absurd claims made by the developers. I’m not laughing.

The planning officer have little room for manoeuvre. Fortunately, the final decisions do not rest with the technocrats but with the elected members of the Council.

So the story could be about the planning system.

In the correspondence (published on the website) you can read just how hard it is to hold a developer to account when they are allowed to withhold information that their application relies on. Developers do not have to reveal their reference material and can cloak their calculations under the guise of commercial confidentiality. The developer’s claims have to be accepted as the Council has neither the resource nor the remit to check the facts.

Another angle is accountability. A lawyer owes their first duty to the Court and your accountant must serve the financial authorities before you. But when it comes to planning, there is no obligation to tell the whole truth. Anybody can carry out archaeological work and are not subject to any professional sanction for the poor quality of their work.

Read what the country’s leading expert on battlefields has to say when asked to comment on one of the developer’s archaeology reports.

Nobody regulates the planning experts who should be providing independent advice. Nobody seems to owe the public a duty of care for the consequences of ‘optimistic’ planning claims. (Statement of case for public enquiry)

How the Planning System Favours Heritage Destruction

If planning law is your area of expertise you will know that the proposal to change the planning laws to make it simpler for house-builders produced by the ODPM would already have sacrificed this battle site to achieve ‘targets’. How can outline approvals be granted in weeks unless all the necessary research work has been anticipated and completed nationwide? How will this work get done unless the community pays for the work and how could they achieve it in the few weeks proposed - It takes years? If the community needs to fund this preliminary work why should they hand-over the windfall benefit of planning approval to a developer? Why not go for public auction of planning permits to provide a fairer model for liberating land for development?

There is no formal provision in the planning system to assess the cost and losses of an application. Some account of ‘planning gain’ is undertaken but this is a closed process. A study of the potential benefits to the community of the battlesite has not been undertaken by either the developers or the city’s officers. When questioned, the Council expressed the opinion that such work should be undertaken by the un-funded members of the community. We really do have a rotten planning system!

Forgotten History?

Why is so little known about this battle that was a prelude to the clash at Hastings? It was the same size and just as ferocious. Are we still studying the victor’s history? Read all the references in the chronicles and see the part that Fulford played in the eventful weeks of autumn 1066.

The battle of Fulford reads like a Hollywood script. While king Harold of England kept guard on the south coast, waiting for the Norman invasion, his brother, ousted as earl of Northumbria in a coup the year before, was now conspiring with the Vikings and Normans. Harold would soon have to kill his own brother at Stamford Bridge. The two young, brother earls of Mercia and Northumbria were faced by the greatest warrior of the age, king Harald of Norway. The earls’ granny, Lady Godiva, would live to see northern resistance crushed by William.

We cannot re-make this piece of our heritage so please help us preserve it. A book will be published by Tempus this spring about the battle of Fulford.

Local People Value the Site

At present, the site of the battle enjoys excellent public access with an extensive Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) nearby. The existing network of footpaths connect the site to the Park & Ride and onto the city centre which are just a 10 or 20 minute walk away.

You will find many heart-warming stories and images of the members of the community working in the wet and cold to gather the thousands of finds and take soil samples. You could tell a story about how a grant from the Local Heritage Initiative unleashed thousands of hours of hard work.

Please write your story. It is only through bringing this to the attention of the public that we will be able to save the site.

For more information please contact

Chas Jones 07798 606438

Here are a few other contacts related to these stories:

The developer: Persimmon Homes (Yorkshire) Ltd, part of Persimmon PLC 01904 642199

City of York Council: 01904 551352

The Battlefield Trust: Michael Rayner, 01508 558145

English Heritage (North East): Keith Emerick 01904 601901