Members of the Battle of Fulford Society, led by Chas Jones, have unearthed more archaeology beside Germany Beck in Fulford, near York, England. I had the pleasure of joining them in their trench today – and they even allowed me to use a trowel for a while.
The group has been digging at Fulford, a couple of miles south of York, for years, in efforts to better understand the battle that took place there on 20 Sept 1066.
On that day, King Harald ‘Hardrada’ of Norway led his army up the road heading for York. He had a fearsome reputation, and with him was Tostig Godwinson, who had been Earl in York, but was so unpopular, an armed uprising had led to his exile.
Hardrada had a fearsome reputation – he’d fought for the Byzantine Emperor in the Varangian Guard and amassed a fortune before returning home to Norway to claim the crown.
Bravely, the men of York marched out to face Hardrada’s army. At first, they thought they were winning. But then they were surrounded, and defeated. Thousands were killed. Hardrada entered York, and planned to march south and take England.
But shortly afterwards, William ‘the Conqueror’ landed near Hastings, and memories of Fulford were overwhelmed by the trauma of the Norman Conquest.
The inspiration behind the Battle of Fulford society is Chas Jones, who has led archaeological investigations at Fulford. He is aided by many people: specialists, volunteers both local and from further afield, and York Metal Detectors Club, who have unearthed thousands of items at the site. They claim to have found remnants of weapons at Fulford, while none have (so far) been discovered at Hastings.
Chas believes that they have also found portable anvils, probably used by the victors to re-purpose weapons and other metal from the battle site. It’s something not seen on other sites, possibly because the plundering was interrupted by the Battle of Stamford Bridge, six days later.
When I met them this year, they had unearthed pieces of wood. The wood bears signs of having been cut, indicating human activity. The finds follow a line alongside the beck, which in previous centuries was tidal, hence rising and falling daily.
A carbon date for one of the recovered pieces of wood is around 300 CE – during the Roman era. York was an important city then, with a Fort and civilian settlement.
When I asked what purpose of the pieces of wood might have had, I was told ‘that’s a journalist’s question. We don’t have sufficient evidence to say what it was.”
But ideas for why there might be posts and planks alongside a water course included “the remains of a boat and somewhere to tie it”, “fish traps”, or “a walkway”
Despite his Roman finds, Chas is still fascinated by the battle at Fulford, and its effect upon European history. What if the thousands of Englishmen killed at Fulford had lived, and could have fought at Hastings?