Flodden Field

Flodden Field

On my recent holiday, one of the places I stayed was Crookham in Northumberland. It is just around the corner from Flodden Field. The area has witnessed many battles between the Scots and the English over the years. The battle took place on 9th September 1513 and my stay coincided with the 500th anniversary of the conflict. Various activities and ceremonies were taking place to commemorate the sombre occasion.

Looking at the peaceful fields today, it is hard to imagine that Flodden witnessed one of the bloodiest battles in British history where, in only a few hours, Scotland lost nearly a whole generation of its ruling elite. This was the Battle of Branxton Moor which is more commonly known as the Battle of Flodden Field.

King James IV of Scotland had made an alliance with Louis XII of France promising mutual support if either should be attacked by England. So, when King Henry VIII of England took his army to fight in France King James crossed the border into England. The fact that Henry was in France meant that seasoned veteran the Earl of Surrey was left to lead the English army and defend English territory.

King James crossed the Tweed and took several castles, including the partially destroying Norham Castle before establishing a position on Flodden Hill. On their march to the battlefield the English managed to outflank the Scots and take up a position that put them between the Scots and their homeland.

The movements of various elements of both the English and Scottish armies (some arriving and some departing) forced James to relinquish his army’s favourable position on the high ground for a lower position. Even though the Scottish army was far greater in number than the English army this put them at a disadvantage; the ground was boggy and their weapons were unsuitable for the territory. The unfortunate circumstances led to the ultimate defeat of the Scottish army and the death of King James IV who became the last British monarch to die in battle.

By some accounts it is estimated that 4000 Englishmen and 9000 Scotsmen lost their lives. The Scots lost their King and many of their nobility and youth. Hardly a family was untouched by the tragedy, which had lasting effects for years to come.

I visited the memorial on the battlefield on the morning of the 500th anniversary (whilst it was still quiet). When I am in the area I always feel drawn to visit the fields where the conflict took place. The fields have a strange atmosphere about them which can’t be explained; it has to be felt…

~~~

Sir Walter Scott describes the battle of Flodden in his poem Marmion:

From Flodden ridge,

The Scots beheld the English host

Leave Barmoor Wood, their evening post

And headful watched them as they crossed

The Till by Twizell Bridge.

High sight it is, and haughty, while

They dive into the deep defile;

Beneath the cavern’d cliff they fall,

Beneath the castle’s airy wall.

By rock, by oak, by Hawthorn tree,

Troop after troop are disappearing;

Troop after troop their banners rearing

Upon the eastern bank you see.

Still pouring down the rocky glen,

Where flows the sullen Till,

And rising from the dim-wood glen,

Standards on standards, men on men,

In slow procession still,

And sweeping o’er the Gothic arch,

And pressing on in ceaseless march,

To gain the opposing hill.

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A Chance to Meet

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Ginnie.  One of her recent posts mentioned that she was about to visit England and was meeting up with photo bloggers from the Shutterchance community not far away from where I live.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet her.

On the day, there was initially a bit of a mix up about the exact place to meet but we found each other eventually.  As a result of the mix up, I got the chance to sit in an authentic 1910 pub, which was a bit like stepping back in time.  Children under the age of eighteen were not allowed in the bar area.  Most people don’t realise that children are still not legally allowed in a public bar.  Also, a comment was passed that it wasn’t seemly for ladies to be in the bar area…

We had a wonderful day and, amongst our conversations, we talked about the history of the region and also the women chainmakers and their struggle for a decent basic wage.

The Black Country Museum gives a great insight into the social history of the Black Country.  Old buildings have been moved from their original location and been rebuilt brick by brick authentically within the museum to recreate a village that is centred around a canal.  The museum is a living history of the traditional skills of the area where skilled craftsmen and costumed demonstrators bring history alive.  There was a special event taking place that celebrated the metal industries that brought fame to the Black Country.  This meant that we were able to see amongst other things; chain making demonstrations, brass foundry demonstrations, the rolling mill in action and the Cradley Heath women chainmakers’ strike exhibition.

The museum has been host the annual women chainmakers’ festival. A couple of years ago I attended the event with friends (a theme seems to be emerging).  The event commemorates the struggle of the women chainmakers to earn a decent living wage.

In 1910 the women chainmakers of Cradley Heath successfully fought a a 10 week dispute to establish a minimum wage for their labour.  The dispute was led by union organiser and campaigner Mary MacArthur.  By the end of the dispute the women chainmakers had managed to increase their earnings from 5 shillings (25p) to 11 shillings (55p) a week.  The victory helped to make the possibility of a national minimum wage a reality.

Women chainmakers were a good example of ‘sweated labour’ manning hours of toil for minimal wages.  The women chainmakers’ pamphlet, which gives extensive information about the dispute, quotes the following about the working conditions of chainmakers:

“Author Robert Harborough Sherard visited Cradley Heath to collect evidence for one of a series of articles, later published as a book ‘The White Slaves of England’ (1898), on the sweated trades of the land. He was taken by James Smith, secretary of the Chainmakers’ Union, to a place called Anvil Yard. Sherard Wrote:”

“Two of the girls working in the shed were suckling babes and could work but slowly. Those who could work at their best being unencumbered could make a hundredweight of chain in two and a half days. Their owner walked serene and grey-haired among them, checking conversation, and being, at times, abusive. She was but one of a numerous class of human leeches fast to a gangrened sore.

I enjoyed the history of the museum and my visit was all the more pleasurable for spending time with Ginnie, Astrid and the Shutterchancers.  The memory will stay with me for a long time to come.