When Mick and I got married on Richard III's birthday in 2007, little did we suspect that our fifth anniversary would coincide with the real possibility that his remains have been unearthed in Leicester. Now debate is waxing hot and hard over what should happen to the skeleton if it proves to be our last, long-lost medieval king: a state funeral? Reinterment in Leicester Cathedral? Or a return to 'his' city of York to be buried in the Minster?
I hope for the latter - mainly because it was Richard's own wish, but also from the purely selfish perspective that it would be closer for us to visit! If you're a UK resident and feel the same way, you can vote for him to come 'home' by signing this on-line petition. In the meantime, my breath is bated as I await the announcement of analytical results... and also look forward to Saturday, when we'll be celebrating the anniversary of our marriage blessing on 6th October 2007 (see pics below and left).
Being entertained by the sword tournament... The bridegroom (right) in action... ...and the unforgettable 'joust', complete with coconut-shell hoofbeats!
But returning to the present, last weekend we had another chance to get into costume for the Frei Compagnie's penultimate outing of the season - a repeat visit to Bolling Hall in Bradford (one of England's most famously haunted houses). It was a poignant occasion, held in memory of our late good friend and Bolling family member, the author George Peter Algar. Peter had played a huge part in the success of our first appearance there last September (including rushing out for a consignment of bacon butties to sustain us as we set up camp), and we'd started discussing plans for this year's event only a week before he died. So it felt very strange and sad to be there without him... nonetheless we did our best to put on a good show. Doc Neil (below, centre) set up his clinic in the house-body, next to Dawn with her tablet- weaving; and outside we had an armoury in Pete's pavilion, Alex cooking in the kitchen, the archery range for firepower shows and have-a-go, Stu and Dean arming up and demonstrating combat techniques, and the other lads bill-drilling with the children:
Ah, the joys of re-enactment! As you can see, it was an altogether spectacular weekend thanks to our re-enactor chums... and the whole thing, including medieval lunch and dinner at the Crooked Billet for 80-odd people, with Trouvere to entertain us, cost less than some brides spend on their flowers! (I proudly boast that my own bouquet cost £6 for a half-dozen white roses - the other flowers came from our garden). Great memories indeed.
Above: Dean and Stu mix it up outside the Hall
Below: the camp, with kitchen in foreground and armoury behind
Above: Pete and Alan wait to be called for the bill-drill
Below: Mrs Doggett shoots
All went very well, under the circumstances... despite Sunday's rain, which curtailed some of the outdoor activities, the visitor figures were up 100 on last year. And if you'd like to see some more superb photographs by Roy Pritchard, who took the lovely shot of me shooting, click here!
Towton Battlefield (see right) has been in the news again recently, with an item in the Yorkshire Post about its inclusion on the English Heritage 'Heritage At Risk' register (HAR) - and an interview with yours truly on Jonathan Cowap's show on Radio York last Friday (at 2.16.50 into the programme if you'd like to listen - you can catch it until the 26th).
The HAR register was set up in 1998, initially just for the built heritage but now expanded to include things like monuments, gardens, archaeology and battlefields, with recommendations for their future preservation. Unsurprisingly, the two main threats to Towton are developments of any kind which could change land-use/affect a landscape marvellously unspoilt since 1461 - and of course unauthorised metal-detecting. Any archaeological find removed from the site without proper recording means that a unit of vital information is lost forever. So it's great that English Heritage uphold the necessity to protect Towton from these activities - but it's a shame they didn't speak to the Battlefield Society and our resident archaeologist and authorised detectorist, Tim Sutherland and Simon Richardson, before speaking out in the press about metal-detecting on the
battlefield! Although it's perfectly true that metal-detecting has a very important part to play in recovering artefacts and understanding/interpreting the site and what went on there, the recent news item incorrectly implied that English Heritage is monitoring and controlling it. For the record, the current position is that ALL METAL DETECTING IS PROHIBITED ON TOWTON BATTLEFIELD, AND ANYONE CAUGHT DETECTING THERE WILL BE REPORTED TO THE POLICE AND PROSECUTED. This is based on an agreement brokered last year between all the battlefield landowners, Towton Battlefield Society, Towton Battlefield Archaeology Project and the local police force in an attempt to eliminate the unscrupulous 'night-hawkers' who steal our collective heritage to line their own pockets. English Heritage itself would not be allowed to detect on the battlefield at present, and is unable to authorise any other individual or group to do so. So if you see ANYONE on battlefield land with a metal-detector, please ring Selby Police on 0845 6060247 - because they shouldn't be there!
What a fantastic climax to the Frei Co's event season... yesterday we took part in the event 'Richard III at Sheriff Hutton - Revealed!' held at the beautiful church of St Helen and the Holy Cross in Sheriff Hutton. St Helen's is a Grade 1 listed church dating to c. 1100, the earliest building phases including this stunning Norman tower (left). In the 13th century it came under the control of the Neville dynasty, and was considerably extended with a chancel, aisle and clerestory in the Perpendicular style, together with chantry chapels built by important local families like the Dacres of Lilling and the Nevilles themselves. It contains many interesting features including 15th century heraldic stained glass, and a tomb of Nottingham alabaster (below left) popularly believed to house the remains of Edward of Middleham, (only child of Richard III and Anne Neville, who died in 1484 at the age of 7). The carefully-managed churchyard also gives views of the nearby 12th century motte-and-bailey castle, and the soaring ruins of the Nevilles' castle (c.1400). So it's well worth a visit if you're in the area - the church is open every day until 6pm or dusk (if earlier), and visitors can even help themselves to tea and coffee from the hostess trolley!
We were privileged to see St Helen's looking particularly lovely for this event: beautifully decked out with flowers and fresh greenery (below centre), and smelling heavenly thanks to the lavender strewn all over the floor. So it was a real treat for the Compagnie's girlie contingent to join the Friends of Richard III in period costume, and set out our stall in one of the Georgian box-pews in the south aisle (there's Alex and Su, below right), leaving the boys in our armoury and surgery out in the chilly churchyard!
On the left you can see (L - R), Pete, Rob, Mick, me and hubcap posing in the armoury before the morning mist (or should I say dense pea-souper fog!) burnt off into a glorious autumn afternoon. The lads did us proud - and made the day of a couple of families out for a Sunday stroll, who hadn't expected to meet lordly Big Mick and Mark Harrison, a squad of medieval soldiers and Doctor Neil outside their parish church, let alone to handle their weapons and instruments and try on their helmets!
Meanwhile I was enjoying the highlight of my day: the rather scary honour of being the 'warm-up act' for a real eminent historian, Professor AJ Pollard, in the afternoon presentations. I spoke on 'Richard III and the Battle of Wakefield' (the 8-year-old Richard hadn't been there, of course, but it had a massive impact on his life). Luckily it seemed to go down well, and then I could relax and enjoy Prof Pollard's fascinating examination of Richard's relationship with the north in general and Sheriff Hutton in particular, both as Duke of Gloucester and King. Great stuff - and afterwards he was even kind enough to buy a copy of 'Wakefield Revisited'. I do hope he likes it!
With that it was time to pack up, head off to the pub for a quick drink then head back into the twilight and thickening fog for the drive home to Wakefield (and a rapurous welcome from Henry Wowler). So that's that for our 2012 event season - but we hope at some point to come back for a summer event at Sheriff Hutton Castle... and in the meantime return for a better look around this beautiful historic village.
TOWTON UNDER THREAT - AGAIN! We've just been notified that Selby District Council has received an application for permanent planning permission for structures placed on The Gallops in Towton village by Mr. Reginald Robshaw. The Planning Application files can be viewed on the Council's 'Public Access' website on www.selby.gov.uk , and if you would like to comment or object, you can email [email protected] or write to Claire Richards at Development Management, Selby District Council, Civic Centre, Doncaster Road, Selby YO8 9FT. I'll certainly be objecting on heritage protection grounds, and also because I believe it would set a disastrous precedent - that anyone could plant a mobile home, portacabin or other building in this internationally significant battlefield zone, apply for retrospective planning permission - and succeed! So if YOU would like to make sure the Towton area stays as beautiful and unspoilt as in Roger Keech's stunning photo (right), please make your comments by 17th November.
On a lighter Towton note, last Wednesday I had the great pleasure to be hired as a guide for the day by this lovely Tennessee gentleman, James Turner. James is a great afficionado of battlefields and military history, and as you can tell by his smile (left), even the dreary, grey, misty, drizzly weather failed to dampen his enthusiasm! Still, I felt very sorry that his trip to the UK coincided with such dreadful conditions for viewing battlefield sites as we squished around Sandal Castle in the morning and couldn't even see Wakefield (only a mile away) from the top of the keep. Then after a reviving pork buttie in the Crooked Billet, we paid a quick visit to St Mary's before going on to Dacre's Cross, and walking the short stretch of Battlefield Trail to Board 1 (where the picture was taken) in the heart of the Yorkist lines. We also did the little walk - or should I say, squelch - from the Cross to Bloody Meadow (above); the track was such a quagmire that I felt very relieved when James didn't want to do the full trek around Towton plateau! But in every respect bar the weather it was a lovely day; and since James is an American Civil War re-enactor, we certainly found plenty to talk about - and some fascinating parallels between our respective histories and hobbies.
And I'll be talking about Towton again at the AGM of the Friends of Sandal Castle at the Visitor Centre on Saturday 17th November. The FoSC was set up to promote and engage the local community at this extremely important Wars of the Roses site (right), and have organised a number of very well-received public events including lectures in the Visitor Centre and a band concert in the grounds. However, the group's future is uncertain because it desperately needs more active volunteers, committee members and officers... so if you, or anyone you know, live in the Wakefield or Sandal area and could spare a few hours a month to help out, please come along to the meeting and sign up as a Friend - Sandal Castle needs YOU!