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Sad news for Wakefield book-lovers: our local branch of Waterstones has closed down. I'm particularly sad about it, as that's where my history books and Lay of Angor were launched, and a place I always enjoyed browsing. However, there are plans for it to re-locate to a new site; and in the meantime, Herstory has got another excellent local outlet for the non-fiction: Rickaro Books on the picturesque High Street in Horbury, on the south-west edge of Wakefield. It's a lovely, traditional shop with a great range of titles including historical/military works - and its very knowledgeable proprietor, Richard Knowles, is extremely helpful when it comes to tracking down obscure titles. So you can now find Wakefield Revisited, Walk Wakefield 1460 and Walk Towton 1461 there - along with loads of other goodies. And as you can see from this charming watercolour by Richard Bell, (reproduced with the kind permission of Richard Knowles), Rickaro is well worth a pre-Christmas visit if you're in the Wakefield area! (If you're not, you can find a full catalogue of stock on the website).
But good news for medieval history fans: on Monday, 21st October, the Yesterday channel will start screening the eagerly-awaited series 'Medieval Dead', starring Towton Battlefield Society's media archaeologist-in-residence, Tim Sutherland. The series will include an episode on skeletons excavated from Tadcaster Castle, (left), which everyone hoped might be victims of the Towton rout (they turned out not to be - although the story they tell is just as interesting). But the episode I can't wait to see is the one on Richard III's 'lost' chapel at Towton - which now, like the king himself, has been found! Yes - Tim has unearthed masonry and stained glass fragments he believes to be from St Mary's, a decrepit chapel repaired by Edward IV in memory of the battle dead. It was subsequently restored or rebuilt by Richard III, who endowed it with an annual grant of seven marks for masses to be said for the slain of Towton, as well as for Richard's wife, Queen Anne Neville, and their son Prince Edward. People have speculated on the chapel's whereabouts and tried vainly for years to pinpoint its location - but now, thanks to Tim, we have another momentous discovery in Ricardian archaeology to look forward to.
Some deeply disappointing news for Towton battlefield (left, in one of Roger Keech's magnificently evocative photographs): Towton Battlefield Society has recently learned that since a planning application for change of use on part of the Burn Airfield has been rejected, Selby Council will be unable to go ahead with a project to create 15 new traveller pitches at the site (the first tranche of a total of 33 new pitches required by 2028). This is a major set-back for the travelling community, whose needs are seriously under-met in the Selby area; and of course it's a real worry for the Battlefield Society, because our site (among others) may now be under greater threat of development from travellers desperate to find somewhere to live. (It also means that there is nowhere to re-house the traveller currently based at the site known as The Gallops within Towton village, increasing the likelihood that permanent planning permission will be granted within this archaeologically-sensitive area). So bad news all round - after all the years of expensive consultation, planning and help from central Government, the area is no further forward in terms of providing pitches for the travelling community.
Bloody Meadow under snow, New Year 2010: copyright Roger Keech
Site of the long-lost Chapel of St Mary's: Towton Hall (visible in the background of this Palm Sunday image)
It's official: in last Monday's episode of Medieval Dead, (screened on the Yesterday Freeview channel at 9 pm) archaeologist Tim Sutherland revealed that the chapel restored or rebuilt by Richard III stood on the site of the present Towton Hall. Tim spent years investigating sites around Towton, including Chapel Hill, but found no trace of an ecclesiastical building - until he opened a trench in the Hall's garden, and turned up some fragments of finely-worked building stone consistent with a chapel endowed by the Plantagenet kings. Since there are also some medieval masonry remains in the Hall cellar, Tim concludes that whatever remained of St Mary's by the 18th century was enveloped by the later building. This certainly explains why so many battle-dead were found in that location, interred in east-west aligned graves - they were originally laid to rest in the consecrated ground around the chapel. It's rather frustrating that nothing is now visible of a building mentioned in a Papal Bull of 1467 and Richard III's signet letter of 23rd February 1484, so we can only guess what it originally looked like... but it's good to know where it was, and that some of it probably still stands encased in Towton Hall. A fascinating programme - I look forward to the rest of the series.
There have also been interesting developments at another Yorkshire Wars of the Roses heritage site: Sandal Castle (where the Frei Compagnie will be appearing for a Battle of Wakefield commemoration on Sunday 29th December). On Wednesday 23rd, I went along with the Friends group for the official opening of two new sets of steps giving access to the inner and outer moats (see left). This means that for the first time, visitors can safely walk a 'moat trail' through the foundations of the gatehouse and all round the motte, which looks particularly impressive from ground level (see right), and also into the barbican moat to take a closer look at the drum towers and sally-port. Consolidation and repointing work has also been carried out on several areas of the standing remains, to strengthen the stonework and make it less climbable; and the project will be completed by the re-surfacing of the paths, replacement of all the old notice boards and addition of several more. I'll be reporting on this in detail in the Winter issue of the TBS Herald - meanwhile it's great to see Wakefield Council making such investment in this important and well-loved historic monument.
Finally, for the benefit of anyone who wonders where re-enactors get their kit from, here's one of the answers: the pics below show our recent outing to the International Living History Fair at Bruntingthorpe Proving Grounds near Leicester (below, centre). This is just one of the numerous fairs around the country where traders and craftspeople sell their wares, from raw materials to finished goods, to re-enactors of all periods and live-action role-players - and there's an even bigger one (The Original Re-enactors' Market) coming up on 15th - 17th November at Ryton-on-Dunsmore. I came away with an armful of fabric and a set of buttons to make Hubcap a new livery jacket, plus some medieval pins for myself - very modest purchases compared to the boys! Below right, our resident peacocks Lord Clifford and Sir Wayne pose in their newly-acquired furry gorgeousness; and below left, Bill shows off an excellent archer's jack, complete with jack-chains, which he picked up for the bargain price of £250. So whether you're looking for serious kit, treats for yourself or quality, hand-made gifts, these markets are excellent places to browse.