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THE NEW BATTLE OF HASTINGS SITE
The Finger of Suspicion
Readers may be surprised at this stage in my book to discover the search for the Battle of Hastings site started in the spring of 1986 when I went to Cambridge to see one of the leading British experts on the Norman Invasion.† I told her that I believed that there was evidence that the Normans had not fought the battle at the traditional battle site located at Battle Abbey in Sussex.† That Abbey is located 5. 5miles from where the port of Hastings was at the time believed to have been; below the castle, where the shopping centre is now built.
It is not appropriate to say at this stage why I was looking for the Battle of Hastings site, since this is a document concerned with historical truth.† My reasons have been published elsewhere and all it is necessary to know is that there were compelling reasons to understand whether this were true.
At the time I knew nothing about Norman history or the Norman Invasion, because my life did not involve academic study.† I had not studied History at school as a specialist subject and had no special interest in it.† I was the owner of a fairly successful UK record label.† My world did not connect with the past in any way, but I felt compelled to investigate.
My first stop was Battle Abbey and the Battle of Hastings battlefield, to have a look around.† At the time there was no English Heritage shop to speak of - more of an entrance with some books on the wall.† I did my due diligence and walked around the path, which was unmarked.† I came away thinking what a miserable show our country had put on for tourists in those days, visiting what I had always thought was an important world history site.
I asked the receptionist if there was anything to show from the battle.† She said that they didnít have anything there, but if I went to the museum across the road I could probably find something of interest.† So, like a good tourist on a day out, I went over the road into a musty old hall.† It looked like it was some sort of scout hut posing as a village hall, with wooden and glass cases, just out of an old Hollywood movie.
There was no-one there, so I waited around and eventually found the curator, who was exceedingly knowledgeable and helpful.† The long and the short of it was that there weren't any battlefield relics at the museum and he didn't know of any.† He told me the much quoted adage that the reason for this was that the soil in the Weald of Sussex was slightly acidic and therefore anything that went into the ground simply disappeared over the period of 1,000 years.† It turns to iron oxide and is lost for ever.† That struck me as strange, as I had seen relics from a number of Roman bloomeries in the area and my suspicions were aroused that this might be a simplification of the truth.
He did say that they had a Norman sword I could look at.† It came from Waltham Abbey, where King Harold was supposed to be buried.† He recommended that I go to the museum in Hastings, as they were sure to have some Norman things from the area to look at.† How strange I thought, that when people who go to the site of the most important battle in English history, and ask to see the relics of the battle, they are shown a sword from Waltham Abbey.
Far from being put off, I felt like a challenge had been thrown down, in that maybe my search for the site of the Battle of Hastings was not such a strange concept.† After all if there were no known relics of the battle at the site, which claimed to be where the battle took place, perhaps it really was located somewhere else.† I could have come away from that first visit with a flea in my ear, after witnessing a glass case or two of the sort of things you would expect to find.
The finger of suspicion was tapping me on the shoulder and saying that it was rather strange that there was nothing found at the abbey site.† This Abbey had been there since the time of the battle.† Surely someone would have found something.† In battles you don't expect people to clean the site of every item.† Buckles and rings are lost, swords are broken, and horses are killed and no-one takes the shoes off a dead horse after battle.† Rings are made with gold, people carry coins into battle - yes some will be taken, but always there will be things that are lost for the archaeologist to recover a thousand years later.
It had been reported that the Normans also lost a lot of men in an incident at the end of the battle called the incident of the Malfosse - bad ditch (in French) - but there was no bad ditch on the site at Battle Abbey or adjacent to it.† At that site there was nothing much except a quite gentle slope leading up to the Abbey.† I therefore resolved to go to the Museum in Hastings and ask some questions there.