I've decided to mark the first day of autumn with a review of the momentous month we've just had. On an unknown date in August, (we observe it on the 15th), our beloved Henry Wowler celebrated his fifth birthday. This makes him far and away my most successful and long-lived animal companion - so although his anti-social tendencies can be embarrassing on occasion, I'm grateful that his fear of- well, pretty much everyone and everything that isn't us (and even Hubcap freaks him out sometimes) has thus far kept him safe from danger. Long may it continue - here's to the next five years, Mr Wow!
My new titanium hip-joint also had a birthday in August - it was a year old on the 15th. And I've been celebrating the wonderful freedom, health and strength it's given back to me with lots of gardening labour for Mick, including cutting a school playing field with his ride-on mower - great fun when I got the hang of it! - and
Above: Fun in the sun for our fabulous fat furry cat-son - happy fifth birthday, Henry Wowler!
painting both sides of the 23-panel-long fence you can see in the picture above right. That took 43 hours of work and left me covered in insect bites and sporting a callous on my right thumb - but I really enjoyed doing it and feel pleased with the result (let's hope the customer is, too!).
Alas, the third momentous event isn't one to celebrate: the 34th annual Cawood Craft Festival, which took place on August Bank Holiday weekend, will be the last of the usual format, and possibly the last ever, due to the retirement of Rev. Ian Ellery and impending sale of the Vicarage, (a main hub of the event). This is sad news for the village and local community, and a great disappointment to the Frei Compagnie, as Cawood was always a highlight of our re-enactment season (the picture on the left shows one of our camps on Castle Garth, with the gatehouse in the background). So fingers crossed that the committee manages to deliver some form of event in the future, because over the years the Festival has become very well-loved, has raised thousands of pounds for good causes, and would be deeply missed by participants and public alike - watch this space.
The month of September sees the anniversaries of some important, if often forgotten, historic British battles - including the Battle of Flamborough Head, fought on September 25th, 1779. We learned all about it last week at the Towton Battlefield Society general meeting, courtesy of our friend David Cooke, the well-known author of numerous books on military history. He gave a riveting presentation on this encounter between the 'father of the American Navy', Scottish-born John Paul Jones (pictured on the left), and his British counterpart Richard Pearson - an engagement during the American Wars of Independence which was fought off Flamborough Head on the North Yorkshire coast, and watched by thousands of spectators lining the cliffs. It wasn't a large battle - it involved only four American warships and two Royal Navy vessels, the Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough (escorts of a
small merchant fleet) - but featured one of the most remarkable close-quarters fights in naval history, with Jones' flagship the Bonhomme Richard and Pearson's Serapis entangled and firing into each other at point-blank range for more than three hours (see above right). It must have been an horrendous experience for the crews, and it's incredible that anyone survived; but Pearson and his ship did, although he was eventually obliged to surrender to Jones - whereupon the Bonhomme Richard was evacuated, sank shortly afterwards, and her remains may still lie on the sea-bed off Flamborough, unless they have been destroyed by trawling. Wouldn't it be great if they were discovered and recovered one day?!
I'm writing this on the 950th anniversary of another oft-forgotten, albeit grimly significant, battle: the one that took place at Stamford Bridge between the forces of the Viking king Harald Hardrada, and the English King Harold.
To commemorate this major anniversary, a small team from Towton Battlefield Society and the Frei Compagnie joined Stamford Bridge Battlefield Society on the Saturday of their weekend event - on the left you can see me in our little camp, next to the Towton Tapestry Group display, presided over by Alex, who received the honour of a visit from the Archbishop of York!
It was fascinating to see the kit and displays from an earlier period, including this mounted English warrior (left) and Viking shoe trader (right), and to see the re-enactment of the September 1066 battles. Hardrada, a contender for the English throne, had landed in Yorkshire accompanied by the exiled Earl Tostig, King Harold's brother - while the other claimant, William of Normandy, cunningly delayed his own invasion until Harold was at his most vulnerable. After defeating the Earls Morcar and Edwin at Fulford on 20th September, the Vikings took York, whose citizens capitulated to save the city. Meanwhile the king had to decide whether to deal with Hardrada, or stay in the south ready for a Norman invasion, leaving Hardrada free to consolidate control of the north. Harold chose to march north, hoping to defeat Hardrada and return south in time to confront William.
It was agreed that hostages would be handed to Hardrada at Stamford Bridge, who felt confident enough to leave a third of his troops behind at Riccall. But King Harold’s army reached York on 25th September, and reinforced by the remnants of the defeated earls’ forces, immediately marched to Stamford Bridge and took the Vikings by surprise. Despite their stalwart defence of the river crossing (allegedly by a lone axe-wielding warrior), Stamford Bridge was a decisive victory for the English – although sadly, it’s mainly remembered as the precursor to the crushing defeat at Hastings less than three weeks later. Had Harold not been forced to leave William’s landing on the south coast unopposed, and then face the disciplined and determined Normans with a tired, depleted army, the outcome may have been very different – and Britain today would be a very different place.
Be that as it may, the Battle of Stamford Bridge commemoration is an excellent event and well worth attending, with plenty to see and do; there was also lots of interest in our later medieval displays, with over £30's worth of TBS stock sold and a new member signed up on the spot - so I hope we'll be invited back again next year!