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Nick Austin and a colleague examine helmet rings excavated at the site in Crowhurst Valley where he believes the Battle of Hastings took place. (Photo: Bill Coney)

New battlesite theory collides with road plans

Recent research by local historian Nick Austin points to Crowhurst Valley as the site of the Battle of Hastings – just where the Bexhill to Hastings link road is due to be built. If the road goes ahead on the currently planned route, he fears it will destroy what could become a World Heritage Site and a major attraction for Hastings, writes Nick Terdre.

Nick Austin started his researches 26 years ago, but made a big breakthrough in the last couple of years, when rereading the Chronicle of Battle Abbey, he tells HOT. This makes it clear that the present abbey is not on the originally intended site, which was at a place called Hurst.

The site of the abbey is important because King William made a vow before the battle that if he was victorious, he would build an abbey on the battlefield, which it why it is traditionally taken to be the hillside to the south of Battle Abbey.

Mr Austin’s researches lead him to believe that in fact the building of the abbey began on what is now farmland in Crowhurst Valley, which is also where both armies were camped, the Saxons under King Harold at the north end and the Normans at the south end. The battle would have taken place between the two campsites.

Excavation in Crowhurst Valley has turned up some supporting evidence in the form of helmet rings and a cross-bow or foot-bow from that period – whereas no artefacts have ever been found in the vicinity of Battle Abbey.

Mr Austin’s theory also fits with accounts that both sides were camped within sight of each other. This means, he tells HOT, that both parties must have been camped south of the Ridge, whereas Battle Abbey is well to the north.

Mr Austen has accumulated a lot of additional evidence which supports his theory and casts doubt on the currently accepted version of events. Professional historians have not rushed to embrace his ideas – “They are sitting on the fence,” in his words. But the appearance of another theory disputing that the Battle of Hastings was fought at Battle Abbey – this one put forward in a recent book by John Grehan – throws further doubt on the traditional version.

Road versus heritage site

For Mr Austin this is not merely a battle to establish what really did happen and where the battle took place. If he is right, Hastings and East Sussex could have a potential World Heritage Site right under their feet.

Unfortunately a substantial part of this potential site could be concreted over by the Bexhill to Hasting link road which, as currently projected, will pass through where Mr Austen believes the Normans had their campsite (see map).

Crowhurst Valley as it may have looked in 1066, with an inlet of the sea reaching far inland. The link road will pass through the presumed site of the Normans' camp, shown in bottom right-hand corner. (Map: Nick Austin)

“The new road destroys the integrity of the battle site by dividing it in two,” says Mr Austin. The solution, he says, is not to scrap the road but to reroute it. “We should return to the route which was agreed in 1998, which has the least environmental impact, was the cheapest and avoids Combe Haven valley altogether.”

Mr Austen now wants to call in the Battlefields Trust to take over the archeological investigation. “This story needs to be concluded by experts,” he says. “We’re not experts.” The Battlefields Trust was founded in 1991 to preserve historic battle sites for the nation after a motorway was driven over the civil war battle site of Naseby. They are well aware of the significance of new ideas about the Battle of Hastings, which they refer to as “…arguably the most important battlefield in England…”

Mr Austin is now in the process of supplying the trust with full information on his theory and is due to give them a lecture on it in the New Year.

In early December BBC South-East is due to broadcast a programme examining both Nick Austin’s and John Grehan’s theories about the real site of the Battle of Hastings.

A video of Mr Austin’s recent presentation of his theory at the White Rock Hotel can be seen here.

Posted 10:28 Wednesday, Nov 21, 2012 In: 1067 & All That

1 Comment

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Rebecca James

    Nick Austen’s theories are more than guesswork. They are based on evidence and deserve to be acted on.

    The desecration of Crowhurst Valley must be stopped in its tracks.

    Comment by Rebecca James — Saturday, Jan 19, 2013 @ 00:03

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