The Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 made William the Conqueror’s truimph at Hastings seem like a skirmish

Armies clash: As it happened: note the way the crowd stands behind a rope to avoid rape, pillage and

Armies clash: As it happened: note the way the crowd stands behind a rope to avoid rape, pillage and slaughter - Credit: not Archant

The people of Stamford Bridge are fighting for the historic significance of their village to be recognised, writes Paul Mackenzie

Wreath laying: The two sides come together to remember their forebears

Wreath laying: The two sides come together to remember their forebears - Credit: not Archant

There’s one date in English history that everyone knows: in 1066 Harold took one in the eye at the Battle of Hastings and William of Normandy earned himself the rather grand nickname, The Conqueror.

But it could all have been so different had Harold’s brother Tostig not been so desperate for power himself. With Harold and his troops waiting on the south coast for William’s ships to appear, Tostig, an Earl of Northumbria, realised the north was effectively up for grabs. Once he had enlisted the support of a massive Viking army he attempted to seize control.

It didn’t end well. Tostig and his ally, the legendary Viking king Harald Hadrada ended up dead and we all know what happened to Harold.

But through the mists of time a few key facts seem to have been forgotten. Next year will mark the 950th anniversary of that most famous of English battles, but according to Tom Wyles, what happened at Hastings was just ‘a small skirmish’. ‘There were two huge battles in 1066,’ he adds. ‘They both took place near York.’

On September 20 a huge Viking fleet sailed up the Humber and Ouse and thousands of troops attacked the Saxon garrison at Fulford.

Down on the Sussex coast with his eyes trained on the horizon, King Harold received word of the invasion and, believing that with winter on the way the French would not now be coming, rallied his men for the march north. They arrived five days later and confronted the Vikings at Stamford Bridge.

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‘The Vikings were slaughtered,’ says Tom who is the secretary of the Battle of Stamford Bridge Society. ‘They had arrived with 300 ships and about 20,000 men but when they fled back to Norway they barely had enough men to fill 30 ships.

‘And while it was a famous victory for Harold, he then heard that the French troops had landed and he and his men had to march the five days back to the south coast. The battle there involved just 7,500 men on each side, so in comparison with the battle here it was just a small skirmish.

‘But the battle of Stamford Bridge is largely forgotten and we want people to realise the significance of what happened here. There are lots of ifs and buts – what would have happened if the Vikings had won, or if the battle here had not taken place. History would have been very different, but history is written by the victors and the victor was William.’

Tom takes part in the annual re-enactments of the Stamford Bridge battle which take place on the village cricket field and which last year featured a descendant of Harald Hadrada in the role of his ancestor.

‘We are trying to raise awareness of what happened,’ he adds. ‘We hold a series of talks throughout the year and we are constantly doing research. We also hold battlefield walks and eventually we would like to create a signposted battle trail and a heritage centre where we could hold talks and displays– whatever we can do to get the message across about the significance of the battle.’

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