Cricket Field, Low Catton Road, Stamford Bridge
September 19-20, 11am-4pm
If there’s one date that we can all be relied on to remember, it’s 1066 – the Battle of Hastings, when Harold got an arrow in his eye and the French took over the monarchy.
But did you know there were actually three important battles that year, two of them near York?
The Battle of Stamford Bridge Society works hard to try to educate people about the second of these forgotten battles, including a yearly re-enactment every September. And now they’re launching a new initiative: the Stamford Bridge Tapestry.
Like the Bayeux Tapestry, which commemorates the Battle of Hastings, it won’t actually be a tapestry, but an embroidery.
Planning has been going on all year and now the design, materials and stitchers are all ready for the official launch on the weekend of the 19th and 20th of September, alongside this year’s re-enactment.
The tapestry will be in the exact style of the Bayeux Tapestry, and to the same scale, although only 12 metres long, rather than the 72 metres of the original!
The intention is for it to become a national heirloom, and a great deal of money will have to be raised to build a visitor centre in the village, where it can be displayed in climate-controlled conditions. Photographic copies of the 12 metre-long panels will be displayed around the village.
Stitchers in Fulford recently completed their own embroidered tapestry, telling the story of how Harald Hardrada, the Norwegian king, attacked Yorkshire forces at Fulford and defeated them, marching into York to claim it as his own.
The Stamford Bridge tapestry will complete the story of the two northern battles, beginning with news of the fall of York reaching King Harold Godwinson in London, when he and his army set off to show these upstart Vikings that they couldn’t just waltz in and take over.
The Vikings had demanded York hostages, who were to be taken to Stamford Bridge on Monday September 25th. Most of the Vikings were waiting there, but were not expecting a battle, and didn’t have all their weapons.
As they waited by the river in the sunshine, they saw clouds of dust and the glint of helmets coming towards them from the west.
They soon realised that this was not hostages from York, but the Saxon army led by King Harold Godwinson, who had marched from London in 4 days and caught the Vikings by surprise.
Let battle commence
Harald Hardrada decided to fight. He sent a messenger to summon the rest of his army, on their ships at Riccall some 12 miles away.
In the battle that followed, Harald Hardrada was killed, along with 90% of his men. The reinforcements from Riccall came far too late to have an effect on the outcome, and the Vikings were defeated.
It was the end of an era: the Vikings had arrived in 300 ships, but went back in 24. It took many generations to replenish the lost men.
Three days later, as King Harold and his battered army celebrated the victory, news came that the Norman Duke William had landed at Pevensey, on the south coast.
When King Harold’s army reached Hastings, many of them wounded, and exhausted from the long march from Stamford Bridge, they were in no condition for another battle, especially against the well-rested, well-fed French troops.
The battle was actually the smallest of the three 1066 battles and, despite his depleted forces, King Harold came very close to winning.
Changing the course of history
The difference these three battles made to our history is immense. What if King Harold had decided not to come north to rout the Vikings? What would that have meant for York?
And if he had stayed in London, and been more prepared for meeting Duke William at Hastings, our language, legal system and history could have been very different.
The Stamford Bridge stitchers hope to have their 12 metre long tapestry finished for the 950th anniversary of the battle, next September.
Anyone who would like to see the launch of the tapestry is very welcome to attend the re-enactment weekend in Stamford Bridge, on September 19th and 20th.