950th anniversary of the Battle of Stamford Bridge Society commemorated with tapestry

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 October 2016

Pic Joan Russell
Town feature on Stamford Bridge,East Yorkshire.

Pic Joan Russell Town feature on Stamford Bridge,East Yorkshire.

Joan Russell Photography

A tapestry is being created in Stamford Bridge to commemorate the other big battle of 1066, writes Paul Mackenzie

Tom Wyles or Einar the ThrallTom Wyles or Einar the Thrall

This month marks the 950th anniversary of a battle that was pivotal in our history. It involved King Harold and there’s a tapestry showing how the events unfolded. The year was 1066 but the battle wasn’t in Hastings, and Harold left with the battlefield with both eyes intact.

And the tapestry? Well, it’s not finished yet but a team of women in the village are working on it. ‘The Bayeux tapestry took ten years to complete and we only started the stitching on ours last September,’ said Jenny Harris who has been involved in the project since its inception.

At that stage the group were enthusiastic about the idea but they have become increasingly determined to see it completed since the death in February of Tom Wyles, who introduced them to the idea at a meeting in the village cricket pavilion early last year.

Tom was heavily involved with the Battle of Stamford Bridge Society and was passionate about raising awareness of the battle – speaking to this magazine months before his death from a heart attack, he said what happened at Hastings was just ‘a small skirmish’. ‘There were two huge battles in 1066,’ he added. ‘They both took place near York.’

Pic Joan Russell
Town feature on Stamford Bridge,East Yorkshire.Pic Joan Russell Town feature on Stamford Bridge,East Yorkshire.

Jenny said: ‘Tom’s death had such a big impact on everybody but it has made us more determined to complete what he started. He was so enthusiastic and we didn’t want all that passion to die with him.’

A battle re-enactment weekend took place in September in the village where the Vikings once again roamed the village. 950 years ago, with King Harold in London waiting for William of Normandy to cross the Channel, his power-hungry brother Tostig sensed an opportunity.

Tostig, an Earl of Northumbria, enlisted the support of a massive Viking army, led by legendary Viking king Harald Hardrada, and attempted to seize control of the north. On September 20 a huge Viking fleet sailed up the Humber and Ouse and thousands of troops attacked the Saxon garrison at Fulford.

When King Harold heard of the invasion he rallied his troops for the march north and thought that with winter on the way, the French would be likely to delay their invasion until the weather was warmer and the sea crossing smoother.

Harold and his weary men arrived in Stamford Bridge five days later and slaughtered the Vikings – and Tostig. About 300 Viking ships had sailed up the Humber, carrying about 20,000 men, but when they made the return journey to Norway they had barely enough men to fill 30 ships.

But Harold could not celebrate for long. As the Vikings left from one end of the country, the King got word that the French had landed at the other end. He and his men turned around for the five day march south and the battle which is today better remembered.

The story of the Stamford Bridge battle is now being told in tapestry and Jenny said: ‘Everyone forgets about Stamford Bridge so we want to make sure everyone sees this. We had the tapestry at the summer fair and we have taken panels to other shows around the area and given talks about it.

‘It is in the style, the manner and the spirit of the Bayeux Tapestry but this is our story. Like the Bayeux Tapestry, it has a central story with borders showing some of the characters of the time. Ours is the same. It will eventually be on 12 panels – each roughly one metre by half a metre – and so far we have completed the central story on three of those and we’re currently working on five more.

‘Many of the ladies involved have done embroidery but this is totally different to anything any of us has done before. No-one is let loose on the tapestry until they have done a practice piece. There’s a hardcore of about eight or nine who have done a lot of the work, but others come and do what they can when they can as well.

‘It won’t be finished in time for the anniversary in September, but we’re hoping it will be complete in about three years and it will last a long time. We want it to become a national treasure.’

The drawings for the tapestry were made by graphic designer Chris Rock who set up the Battle of Stamford Bridge Society with Tom and is its current chairman.

He said: ‘The women doing the stitching have done a fantastic job and it will be a wonderful lasting tribute to everyone involved in the project, and to Tom.

‘He and I had a vision of what we wanted the society to be and his death has brought people together more. His passion continues and if anything it has grown because we want to do Tom justice, especially this year with the anniversary. It’s a great shame that won’t be a part of the events this year but hopefully he’ll look down on us and see what we are doing.’

And Chris added: ‘Most of the important history that happened in 1066 took place up here but all most people know about is the bit that happened near Hastings. We want to help put that right and hopefully, if we can take our tapestry on tour once it is completed, that will help spread our message.’

On September 24 and 25, visitors to Stamford Bridge – including guest of honour, the Archbishop of York John Sentamu – got the message loud and clear as the society hosted their re-enactment weekend. As well as a re-run of the battle (spoiler alert: the Vikings lost), there was traditional arts and crafts, archery, falconry and a march from York to Stamford Bridge.

Battle still rages in Fulford

Before the Vikings were routed at Stamford Bridge, they had their final victory on English soil a few miles away at Fulford and the events of September 20 1066 are remembered in a tapestry which was completed in 2012.

Chas Jones of the Fulford Battlefield Society said the tapestry would be on display and there would be archaeological digs on the Germany Beck site in the run-up to the anniversary. ‘In the actual week we’ll have a re-enactment of the battle featuring children from local schools,’ he said. ‘The 20th – the actual day of the battle here – will be a little more solemn, we’ll be re-dedicating the memorial stone and remembering the lives that were lost.’

But although the events of 950 years ago are the focus of the anniversary, there is a new battle raging in Fulford – to protect the battlefield from development.

Work is due to be completed next March on a new junction off the A19 and there are further plans for hundreds of homes to be built on the site.

Planning permission for the controversial £125m proposal was granted ten years ago and Simon Usher, managing director for Persimmon Homes, said: ‘Over the coming years the Germany Beck development will feature 655 properties ranging from one to five bedroom homes catering for all budgets and lifestyle.

‘In Spring work began on the access roads and flood works and we are working towards starting construction on the first properties in 2017.

‘Many years of extensive archaeological investigations by highly qualified specialist archaeologists – and a thorough investigation by Historic England – have been unable to categorically determine whether the site was the location of the Battle of Fulford. Historic England concluded that the only evidence that exists remains in historic texts in which the battle is described.’

But Chas, who has been fighting the proposals for years, said: ‘Persimmon have put about a catalogue of misinformation to mislead people about this site.

‘This is an important piece of my heritage. We have found lots of bone and iron at the site in the last two years. We have uncovered the ancient road through the ford. No-one has ever seen things like what we are pulling out of the ground. We are finding the remains of what happened after a battle. The clearing up process here was interrupted by the battle of Stamford Bridge and it wasn’t completed. We have found so much iron and horse shoes and many bones, but the iron has destroyed the collagen in the bone which is the material that allows bone to be dated.’

Chas, who lived for many years in York and is now based in Oxford, added: ‘Stone has been dumped on about a third of the ditch where the battle was fought, but the landscape not yet been destroyed. Whatever happens, we will make the bit we have into a very visitable place over the next few years. It’s a chunk of the battlefield, about a quarter.

‘I have two visions of the site – one of a lovely rural site with enhancements so people can stand where their ancestors stood and really get a feel of what it was like to be involved in the last great shield battle on British soil. The other is of a site I’d turn my back on and don’t like to think about.’

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