Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Part of the booklet's covers, captioned Here King Harold is killed.

King Harold is killed: one of the author’s illustrations, based on the Bayeux Tapestry, which adorn the booklet’s cover.

Celebrating 1066

On the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, local historian Heather Grief has published a handy booklet providing an interesting account of the battle and its background and suggesting a variety of ways it could be celebrated. Nick Terdre took a read.

Bringing the Battle of Hastings to life 950 years after it changed the course of our history is clearly important for Heather, who devotes the first chapter to her ideas for activities. And though the historical chapters occupy some 25 of the booklet’s 32 pages, the final two also discuss modern-day remembrance, including the 900th anniversary commemorations in 1966 and the author’s own idea for a 1066 Centre in Hastings.

‘Official’ events this year consist of the Root 1066 Arts Festival organised by the council and the museum’s exhibition entitled, The Story of Hastings in 66 Objects. Heather’s suggestions for activities include a medieval beer festival and meals, pub quizzes, walks (Pevensey to Hastings sounds more viable than Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire to Hastings!), an archery event (the Horntye Park sports complex is home to an archery club), and so on.

Before anyone objects that it’s far too late to do anything now, it should be pointed out that the booklet had been written by early 2015, but only saw the light of day early this year due to the limited resources of the Hastings Local History Group which published it. And it only reached HOT’s sweaty hands a couple of weeks ago.

So the ideas were being circulated in good time, but the grassroots activities Heather was hoping to encourage appear to be rather thin on the ground, with a few exceptions such as the Hastings Tapestry. She had thought that 1066 might prove a source of inspiration for runners in the Hastings Half Marathon, and sent copies of the booklet to the organiser, but the only sighting was apparently a lone Norman knight.

This year would have been a fine occasion to bring out of storage the Hastings Embroidery, a pictorial history of England and Britain produced for the 1966 commemorations, but it is not to be. With the exception of two panels on display in the old town hall, the rest has not been seen by the public for 15 years. A brief description of the 27 panels which comprise the work is given in the booklet.

Meanwhile the idea of a 1066 Centre still remains just that, despite all the talk about the vast potential this heritage offers the town. Such a centre would prove a big attraction for visitors keen on finding out more about the history-changing event; Heather suggests it could house a specialist library and a lecture theatre as well as providing facilities for school parties. She also envisages it providing a permanent home for an embroidered replica of the Bayeau Tapestry.

She took the idea to the council several years ago, but heard nothing until she recently reminded them and was told that it was still on the table – gathering dust, as she supposes. Money of course is a problem, but if the council could provide a site – the disused bowling green area to the east of Falaise Road has, among others, been mooted – it would open the way to seeking funding from sources such as English Heritage and the Lottery.

The booklet’s historical section is also an interesting read, not least because Heather provides a full account of the context in which the battle for the English crown took place, starting from the various invasions from the Continent and Scandinavia that followed the departure of the Romans in the early 5th century. She also fills in the social background, describing for example the houses people lived in, the food they ate and the clothing they wore, their health (it turns out the Anglo-Saxons were the same height as we are), the social structure and the role of the church.

Short biographies of the main characters then preface a description of the events of 1066 and the aftermath. The author does not doubt that the battle took place at Battle – when the monks charged afterwards with building the abbey asked to move it from the sloping site, William turned down the request, she says, as the choice of the place of Harold’s death as its exact location was part of the penance he had accepted to pay for the atrocities committed by his men during the invasion – not that this seems to have been any hindrance to further atrocities being committed when they moved on to pacify the rest of the country.

A further chapter describes the profound changes suffered by English society following the Norman victory, not least due to the installation of an arrogant foreign ruling class. One could argue, the author says, that “the depth of English social class divisions, down to the present day, is the result of 1066.” A sobering thought. In all the booklet is a fascinating read and, at a mere £1, great value for money.


1066-2016: The Battle of Hastings’ 950th Anniversary By Heather Grief, published by Hastings Local History Group. £1. Available from Hastings Museum, the History House, the Fishermen’s Museum, Aquila House Information Centre, Bookbuster, Horntye Park Sports Complex, Cooper’s Newsagents (77 Mount Road, Ore) and James McAlister Newsagents (5A Bexhill Road, St Leonards-on-Sea).


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Posted 06:58 Monday, Aug 8, 2016 In: Home Ground

1 Comment

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  1. barney

    Has somebody given the statue of Harold and his common law wife (which is situated in Grosvenor Gardens) a coat of white emulsion? Something looks different and not sure it is a good look….or perhaps it was the sunlight? All answers gratefully received!

    Comment by barney — Thursday, Aug 11, 2016 @ 09:14

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