Friday, 13 February 2015

Moment of History

The Northampton Battlefields Society held a press conference on Thursday. After a year of research we finally have an answer on the only known artefact dug up on or near the battlefield of Northampton.

There's a bit of a tale behind this artefact. It's a cannon ball and it was found, then lost or forgotten about and then found again. Once the NBS had found out about it the ball was sent off to be dated by Dr Glenn Foard at Huddersfield University. Anyone with an interest in British battlefields should have heard of Glenn due to his ground breaking work on Naseby and Bosworth. How Huddersfield came to be a centre for battlefield archaeology I can't say, but it's a nice place.

When you take all the caveats into account it turns out that the ball was most likely fired by the Yorkists at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. That makes it the oldest cannon ball fired on a battlefield in Britain. So, based on this evidence the Battle of Northampton was the first battle in Britain where artillery was fired.

And people want to put a football pitch and a car park on it.

The BBC jumped the gun a bit and published their story a bit early, but it's worth a look. Here's the link as it is buried in the local news section, despite this being a nationally significant find: Oldest Cannon Ball Found. A fuller explanation and pictures is on the NBS blog: NBS Blog.

There are a number of important things here. First use of artillery is pretty damn important from a historical point of view, but this shouldn't make us obsess about the artefacts that can be dug up. They just show us where the battle was. The ground itself is the real artefact.

It made the local news on TV & radio, and also got 3 lines on page 17 of The Sun as well as proper coverage in the local papers and elsewhere on the net.

 So, what does it look like? Well, there are better pictures on line, but this one shows our very pleased Chairman holding it up.


Not very big, is it? However it is having a huge impact.

One of our local councillors even said the battlefield was safe. Whether we believe him or not we shall have to see. Most importantly this gives a lie to the criticism we repeatedly get that there's no archaeology on the site. That's only because we haven't looked yet.





Thursday, 5 February 2015

Working from home

Having gone down with the winter cold doing the rounds in the office I have retreated to the study to work from home. It would help enormously if I had the instructions about how to log on, but as soon as I've had those e-mailed to me I'm sound as a pound. In the meantime an opportunity to write a blog entry, which have been few and far between recently.

The main, if not only, benefit of a long commute each day is that it puts aside time to both listen to new music and read books that would otherwise be unread. Whilst I read and have read extensively over a wide range and type of books, both factual and fictional, I succeeded in avoiding English Literature at school. This meant that my familiarity with the great writers of the 19th century is thin, but also that I have not been bored by them in the classroom.  During my first contract in 2012 I read most of Austen, and was thoroughly entertained. My chosen author for this contract is Scott, who is entertaining me, although not as much as JA.

So far I have worked my way through The Antiquary, Ivanhoe and most recently Waverley. The latter is Scott's hymn to Highland nobility and culture which highlights also the idiocy of the indolent youth. Set during the Jacobite Rising of 1745-6 it is full of colour and background for those interested in the people who tried to impose the restoration of the wretched Stuarts on the rest of the Nation. There's also a lot of words in it you don't really need, but hey, it's Scott, isn't it?

When I finished it I was reminded of my youthful obsession with all things Scottish and the Battle of Culloden that I acquired during a family motoring holiday in the Highlands in the mid-70's. I think I was either 15 or 16 at the time, and we had a lovely time in unseasonably warm weather one March, visiting all points north of Perth. This included, of course, a visit to Culloden and the acquisition of John Prebble's book of the same name.

In any event, I soon grew out of the desire to have Highland forebears and a personal Clan Trebian tartan and consigned Culloden and some of Prebble's other books to the corner of my bookshelf reserved for books I'm unlikely ever to read again.

Reading Waverley prompted me to go back to Prebble's book. Although it covers the '45 the only serious battle in the novel is Prestonpans, where Johnny Cope's Flanders Veterans are scattered by the wild Highland charge (look, that's just what the book says, - I am aware it was a fairly scratch force with limited training). So, why not re-read Prebble's Culloden to get the end of the story, so to speak?

Although it is nearly 30 years since I last opened its pages, it was still very familiar in some areas. However, what I had forgotten was the meticulously detailed opening sequence that describes the British Army breaking camp and forming up. The book is completely un-footnoted so you can't verify any of the information but it has the feeling of verisimilitude. What's more if you want to understand how an 18th Century Army formed up and deployed for battle it's a good description and eminently readable. I can see now why I enjoyed the book so many years ago. Probably the reason I didn't buy the armies was that Airfix didn't do any figures you could readily covert to the wild Highlander. All those Waterloo guys have got musters. And the wrong bonnets.

After that it then goes off to describe the Stuart forces in enormous detail, with lots of references to the hierarchy and clan names and so on and so on. Interesting in its own way, but not so much of general applicability as the section on Cumberland's Army.

I'm still working my way through it, - the battle has just started - but the whole purpose of the book as far as I can tell is to describe the effect the battle and the clan culture had on the "ordinary" highlander. There are people that'll tell you that Prebble's works have an inappropriate sentimentality in respect of a Scotland that no longer exists, but he's a dead-eyed realist compared to many of those who hanker for an earlier age, and strut about in kilts. As he points out fairly early on the "Clan Tartans" are a Victorian invention, for which Scott must carry much of the blame. In fairness to Scott, "Waverley" makes a stronger case for the wearing of trews than the petticoated plaid (as he describes it at times) that has rolled out as a national dress.

Anyway, as I said, supposedly working from home today. Better go and see if I can make this remote connection work again, although I fear I am locked out. Looks like I'll be lucky to claim a half day, let alone a full day to day.

Perhaps I'll just go back to bed and feel sorry for myself.