As 2016 draws to a close, we've seen some great changes on land that means a lot to us: our beloved battlefield at Towton, and our own patch at Beckside.
Thanks to Towton Parish Council's successful Lottery bid, archaeological investigations were carried out on Old London Road during the summer, and now a substantial length of it - the start of the Battlefield Trail from the village up onto the plateau - has been resurfaced. On the left is how it looked last autumn after rain: a rutted, muddy mess impossible to tackle without wellies or stout walking boots, hence often a major deterrent to walking the Trail; and on the right, how it looks now: a dry, smooth aggregate surface which is a pleasure to walk on. This massive improvement will be an asset for the local community and visitors to the battlefield, and make the Trail much safer and more accessible for pedestrians whatever the weather.
Meanwhile Beckside has been alive with the sound of chainsaws. Yes, the beginning of December saw some major forestry action - a team of tree surgeons has carried out our first coppicing initiative on some unwieldy and overgrown willows (below left)! It looks rather alarming to the untutored eye, as if the trees are being cut down and killed - but that's far from the case. It's a necessary part of woodland management, and a bit like a hard pruning of any woody plant - the removal of the main trunks and branches will cause the stumps to put all their energy into producing new shoots; Mick estimates that by this time next year, the sad stubs you can see below centre will have put on about 12 feet of fresh growth, the kind of small poles which can be used for kindling or weaving into hurdles. They've also generated enough big logs to provide us with firewood for two whole winters - plus a certain amount of pyromaniac entertainment as we had to gather up and burn all the small 'brash' (below right)! It's certainly made a difference to the look of the field - not to mention the adjacent houses and gardens, which will now benefit from a lot more natural light - and I'm looking forward to seeing our traditional coppice develop.
12th December R.I.P. A.A. Gill
Today I’m extremely sad to report the death of one of Towton Battlefield Society’s patrons, the renowned author and critic Adrian ‘AA’ Gill.
Along with a number of TBS members, I was lucky enough to meet Adrian at The Crooked Billet in 2008, when he came up on a research trip to write a piece on Towton for the Sunday Times Magazine (see left). From the tone of some of his controversial and provocative reviews, I was afraid I might find him arrogant or patronising – and I think we were all afraid of what his article might say about us. However, he turned out to be perfectly charming: warm, funny, clever, interested in everything we had to show and tell him, and engagingly keen to get into some kit and try his skill with the longbow (see below). I liked him, and I think he liked us, too; at any rate, he described us as ‘instantly attractive,’ and although (naturally) he took the mickey, the fun he poked at us was very gentle - and indeed quite flattering - compared to some of his writing. We were ‘the sort of men and occasional woman’ (ie me, the only female re-enactor present that day!) who inhabit ‘that mocked attic of England’s hobbyists, aware that their interest tiptoes across the line between leisure activity and loopy obsession;’ and ‘people who can still raise lumps of emotion over the misrepresentation of Richard III, which may well be mildly bonkers but is also endearing, and as valid and important as anything done in a university library.’
Altogether, Adrian's 6-page feature, published on August 24th 2008 and beautifully illustrated by Tom Craig's photographs, was a real journalistic gem; his account of Towton was powerfully evocative and so moving that it brought a lump to my throat, and it ended with the lines that the battlefield is ‘kept by the quiet, respectful community and by this small band, this happy breed of marvellously eccentric enthusiasts, who, as we walk through the corn, I see are the yeoman of England walking back through our history… They honour this blessed land, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars.’ We couldn't have hoped for a finer accolade, and I felt profoundly grateful to him.
It was a great privilege to have met AA Gill on that memorable day, and his wonderful article did a great deal to raise the profile of Towton and TBS. So I feel deeply grieved that Adrian is no longer with us – his untimely death is a sad loss to our Society as well as to the world of journalism, and my heart goes out to his family and friends in their bereavement.
Above left: AA Gill in the TBS Visitor Information Centre with (L-R) battlefield archaeologist Tim Sutherland, author Andrew Boardman, Neil Wilson, metal detectorist Simon Richardson, and TBS Chairman Mark Taylor.
Above centre: Adrian (left) shooting, with Mick Weaver and photographer Tom Craig.
Above right: Arming up, with (L-R) Mick Weaver, Graham Darbyshire, AA Gill, Bill Bamford and Mark Taylor