Towton Battlefield, Palm Sunday 2013:

the iconic burr tree, marking the area of Lord Dacre's fall, under snow on March 24th - not really what we'd been hoping for on the day of our major event!

palm sunday non-event 13
tbs 003

Mick examines Finds Liaison Officer Amy Downes' handling collection of typical archaeological finds

13th March

I'm busy washing kit, sending out warning orders and dealing with replies from guest re-enactors and traders... yes, it's that time again. Palm Sunday will soon be upon us, and with it Towton Battlefield Society's biggest event of the year: our annual battle commemoration in the grounds of Towton Hall. Look out for our posters all around Yorkshire (left, another lovely design by the Frei Compagnie's own Frances Perry) - and if you fancy a grand day out with the family, wrap up warm, put your stout walking-boots on, and come and see us on the 24th! It promises to be another good day, with at least a dozen Wars of the Roses re-enactment households joining the Frei Compagnie in the living history camp; a great show of medieval craftspeople and traders on the field, including House of Freyja, Trinity Court Potteries, Alison and Hugh's Hand-made Things and Douggie the Wood with his fabulous furniture; and a barn-full of other stalls, among them the Richard III Society Yorkshire Branch, acclaimed Wars of the Roses artist Graham Turner, the Battlefields Trust, Tewkesbury and Stamford Bridge Battlefield Societies, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and much more (including myself and Su Harrison launching our latest novels!). You can get hot potatoes, coffee, hot fruit punch and hot-cross-buns to sustain you on site, buy a drink from the bar in the barn, or nip down the lane for a full meal in the recently refurbished and reopened Rockingham Arms; and round your day off with a battle - this year, the troops will perform a vignette of the opening stages of Towton, and the death of Lord Dacre. (According to tradition, Dacre was shot in the throat by an archer perched in a burr-tree near the one currently growing on the battlefield - a feat which, as an archer myself, I've always been a bit sceptical about!).

So it should be an action-packed day from the moment the guided battlefield walks start at 9.30 am to Lord Dacre's fall at 4 pm... I'm just crossing my fingers that we don't get authentically snowy weather to go with it...

Towton Poster 2013d

5th March

In an unexpected change to Towton Battlefield Society's lecture programme, we were treated last night to a presentation by battlefield archaeologist Tim Sutherland (on the right of the picture with 'dream-team' partner, TBS Chairman Mark Taylor). Tim kicked off proceedings with a sneak preview of the new 6-part TV series he's been working on, due to be screened on the Yesterday channel in a few months: Medieval Dead (the title is a play on the 1980's classic 'Evil Dead' horror movies, which none of us picked up until he pointed it out!). The series will feature Tim's projects at home and abroad, including work at Agincourt and Tadcaster Castle; there will also be an episode on Towton, which promises fresh revelations. More than that I cannot say - you'll have to wait for the series to find out what they are!

After this appetiser, we moved on to an even tastier main course. As I've previously reported on this page, Tim and Mark have been energetically campaigning to protect Towton battlefield from the ongoing threats of unauthorised metal-detecting and agricultural damage, along with the recent threat of development at The Gallops in Towton village. This led, in December 2012, to Tim being invited to the House of Lords to address the All-Party Parliamentary War Heritage Committee on the real and present dangers faced by our battlefield; and now he delivered the same presentation to us.

It was interesting to hear that Baroness Andrews, the Chair of English Heritage (EH), left the meeting before Tim started to speak... perhaps chickening out of the grilling she knew she was bound to receive afterwards! Because, as Tim so eloquently explained, many of our current problems stem from EH failing in its remit of protection...

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Mark and Tim at the opening of the TBS Visitor Information Centre at the Crooked Billet in 2007 - we've come a long way since then!

The battlefield was listed on EH's 'Heritage at Risk' register back in 1995 - although the boundaries of the designated battlefield area did not extend to important associated sites like St Mary's Chapel and the deserted medieval village of Lead, All Saints' Church in Saxton, (where Lord Dacre is buried), and Towton village itself; and notwithstanding the excavation of the mass battle graves around Towton Hall (right), these boundaries have never been extended. (Nor have they been at Marston Moor or Northampton battlefields, both currently affected by development issues, or indeed at any of EH's 'battlefields at risk' over the past 18 years!). EH did, however, commission a report by Dr. Glenn Foard, who agreed that Towton was under increasing threat and recommended that the battlefield boundaries should be extended - but have since failed to act on these recommendations, or even to register an objection on heritage grounds to the extended planning permission application at The Gallops! No wonder the battlefield is 'at risk', given such a gutless response from the body supposed to protect it.

The good news is that things will change... Mark and Tim's lobbying of local councillors and MPs, together with Facebook campaigns supported by TBS members and friends, have caused embarrassing questions to be asked at the highest levels within EH - with the result that a fast-track review process is now under way. As they remarked last night, this is an example of the 'Big Society' at work - collectively, small voices can make big changes, and we are all

Cross and house

Outside the battlefield boundary: Towton Hall, site of the mass graves

perfectly entitled to call institutions like EH to account when they're not doing their jobs properly - after all, we fund them through our taxes. So, despite coming under pressure to do so from certain quarters, our battlefield champions Tim and Mark are not about to shut up and go away... and if you would like to find out more about the background to all this, the Freedom of Information Act entitles anyone to demand copies of all documentation pertaining to Towton currently held by EH; you'll find details of how to make an application on their website. Roll on the next instalment of the saga!

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