Northumberland battlefields project will help understand events that shaped our history

A project launched to raise profile of Northumberland battlefields will help give a better understanding of the events that shaped history and heritage

Actor Robert Hardy, patron of the Battlefields Trust, pictured with Clive Hallam-Baker
Actor Robert Hardy, patron of the Battlefields Trust, pictured with Clive Hallam-Baker

The commemoration of the passing of 500 years since the Battle of Flodden in Northumberland was more than the marking of a significant anniversary.

It also represented the midway point in a narrative which has been running for the last 1,000 years.

In four years’ time, the 1,000th anniversary of the Battle of Carham, which is held to have established the River Tweed as the border between England and Scotland, will be observed.

And with the current debate over Scottish independence, the story is still unfolding.

Carham and Flodden are just two of the many battles which have swept over Northumberland and down to Tyneside and Durham over the centuries.

Anglo-Scottish division and conflict goes back even further if the building of Hadrian’s Wall is taken into account.

Clive Hallam-Baker is closer than most to this intensity of history, as the view from his home in Branxton in Northumberland is of the Flodden battlefield.

“History oozes out of the ground up here,” says Clive, who chaired the Remembering Flodden project and is a trustee of the Battlefields Trust.

But he believes that the dramatic battlefields history of what for so long was frontier land has been allowed to drift to the sidelines.

Little is known by most people about the battles themselves or the influence they had on local, national and international history.

Centuries of conflict meant that there was little incentive to invest in Northumberland, apart from castles.

Clive feels that there are echoes of this “lost land” attitude today.

“Why is the North East still pretty much forgotten? Why can’t we get the A1 dualled?” he asks.

At the same time, the visitor potential of such a story has never been fully developed.

The publicity surrounding the Flodden events shows what can happen.

According to Clive, 10 years ago when thoughts were turning to Flodden, there were 600 visitors to the battlefield memorial.

Last year, with the anniversary profile and events, there were 46,000.

“We are quite dependent on tourism, and many people who came to Flodden collect battlefields like walkers collect Munros mountains over 3,000ft,” says Clive.

“We want to spark more interest in the history on our doorstep.” Tonight, the first step will be taken in a wider project to explore the Northumberland and Borders battlefield legacy.

Attention will now turn from Flodden to the 1402 Battle of Homildon Hill, near Wooler in Northumberland.

The battle, which is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1, involved Harry Hotspur and resulted in defeat for the Scots.

It is a clash which particularly interests actor Robert Hardy, who is an expert on the longbow, since it was a battle won entirely by archers.

At 7.30pm tonight, a public meeting will be held in the Tankerville Arms in Wooler to discuss the battle and how its profile and that of the site can be raised for visitors.

It is one of a list of 32 battles which Clive has drawn up from Northumberland and the Borders to the clashes of Newburn Ford outside Newcastle and Neville’s Cross at Durham.

“With the help of the Battlefields Trust we are looking to encourage local groups and individuals to become involved with these projects, and to help towards a better understanding of the events that shaped our history and heritage,” says Clive.

“Not just the battles will be researched, but also the events leading to conflict, why they happened close to here, and how the results affected both our local and national history.

“It is hoped that any person or organisation with an interest in local history will attend and find out both what is planned, and also be able to bring their own local knowledge to add to the story. Several local firms have agreed to sponsor the project and a great deal of interest has already been shown.” Tonight’s agenda will include a review of work done so far by various groups, including Glendale Middle School in Wooler, a discussion about the site and conduct of the battle and the role of Harry Hotspur.

Future plans and how to promote the Battle of Homildon Hill as part of local heritage will also be discussed.

The Battle of Carham is next on the list.

In 1018, Symeon of Durham wrote about the “great battle between the Scots and the Angles between Huctred, Earl of the Northumbrians and Malcolm, King of the Scots.”

A one-day mini-conference on the Battle of Carham will be held in Cornhill Village Hall on Saturday, April 26.

Dr Alex Woolf from the University of St Andrews will share the results of his research into the battle, which helped to define the shape of the Borders. “Enthusiasm for this project has been shown from both sides of the border,” says Clive.

“The goal in the medium term is to build an integrated picture of our Borders history and the ways in which our local culture and heritage were shaped by conflict.”

Future projects will cover the battles of Halidon Hill, near Berwick, Otterburn, and Hedgeley Moor south of Wooler.

Northumbrian battlefield project launch

The Battle of Homildon Hill – alternatively known as Humbleton – happened after a Scots force of 10,000 men raided across the North East in 1402.

As the Scottish army, under Archibald, Earl of Douglas, returned home with their booty, it was confronted by a force commanded by Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and his son Harry Hotspur.

Douglas drew his men up on the slopes of Homildon Hill, near Wooler.

The Northumbrian army included a large contigent of archers, whose longbows had proved a devastating weapon in previous battles.

Percy ordered a sizeable section of his archers to climb the adjacent Harehope Hill, with the other bowmen fronting the Northumbrian army on the plain.

The archers on Harehope rained arrows down on the Scots.

Accounts of the event speak of arrows falling “like a storm of rain” which pinned “the hands and arms of the Scots to their own lances.”

Eventually, around 100 leading Scots advanced down the hill to tackle the English but were, in turn, cut down by the archers.

Earl Douglas suffered five wounds and was taken prisoner, along with a number of other high-ranking Scots.

The remainder of the Scottish army fled, with an estimated 500 drowning as they tried to cross the River Tweed.

The battle had wide ramifications.

The Percys anticipated rich pickings from the ransoms for their prisoners.

But so did Henry IV, who broke with tradition and demanded that the prisoners be handed over to him.

The outraged Hotspur rebelled, and was part of a force which met Henry’s army at Shrewsbury 10 months later.

Hotspur, who was accompanied by his former enemy, Earl Douglas, was killed as the king’s larger army claimed victory.


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