Will ministers pave over the site of the Battle of Hastings?

13 October: Evidence from a new book claims that a proposed bypass in Sussex would cut through the site of England's most historic battle.

Bayeux tapestry image - by batigolix on flickr

Looking through the 'best and final bid' documents for East Sussex County Council's proposed Bexhill-Hastings Link Road, there's an interesting line in the project's 'risk register'. Item 119 is the risk of an 'unexpected archaeological discovery'. The chances of this event are listed as 50%, and the most likely cost of investigations resulting from such a discovery is down as £500,000.

This risk is noted in the register because the Combe Haven Valley, which the new Link Road would cut through, is no ordinary piece of countryside. A former estuary, and the port for Hastings in medieval times, the valley is rich in history and - according to a new book out tomorrow - could even be the real site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Sussex Coast 1066

Historian Nick Austin has been studying this subject for more than two decades and has recently discovered new evidence that points to the famous battle site being Crowhurst at the top of the valley, rather than the supposed location at nearby Battle.

This new evidence, found in the Chronicle of Battle Abbey, indicates that the monks who built the abbey decided to switch its location to a more strategic site soon after starting work, but did not tell William I because he had ordered it to be placed at the exact hillside spot where his childhood friend King Harold had fallen. 

As well as written evidence, the book 'Secrets of the Norman Invasion'  also details a convincing set of clues gleaned from a close study of landmarks depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. These can be used to trace a route from the likely landing site of the Norman troops at Wilting Manor, all the way along the valley to the proposed new battle site at Crowhurst.

Route of Link Road and battle site, Hastings

If all this turns out to be true, then the proposed £86 million Link Road would pass straight through the route of this historic journey and finish up on the outskirts of Hastings almost exactly where William's troops landed nearly 1,000 years ago. All of which makes that 'unexpected archaeological discovery', and the likely half a million pound cost look like serious underestimates by the council.

By coincidence, both the deadline for comments on the Development Pool of major schemes (in which the Link Road is competing with other projects for funding) and the 945th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings are tomorrow (14th October).
 
So, if you want to mark this historic event by making sure its physical traces are not buried under a bypass, make sure to submit your comments on this scheme to the DfT!

Find out more about the Link Road here: Bexhill-Hastings Link Road

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