St Albans – a bloody history!

Yesterday I jumped on a train and stepped off in a city that has been the site of plenty of murderous history in its time. I was in St. Albans. I was surprised to learn it was a city, being that it started and remained for most of it’s life a ‘one street town’. By that I mean, like many places in Britain, it grew up around a through road, and in this case the famous Roman road of Watling Street.

The city was named after Saint Alban, the first British Christian martyr who was beheaded by the Romans for refusing to give up his new faith. Alban, originally a Romano-British pagan, was so impressed with the piety of a Christian priest that he sheltered from religious persecution that he cast off his pagan beliefs and became a Christian convert. When the Romans came calling, Alban offered himself up in the place of the other priest. As a result, when this was discovered, the Romans became so angry they beheaded him. Later, when invaders returned home to Rome, the Roman City of Verulamium became known as St. Albans.

Before that, Boudicca, queen of the British Iceni tribe, led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. She and her tribe of warriors went on the rampage against the invaders attacking what is now called Colchester, London and St Albans. It took place in AD 60-61. Below the ground of these three towns archeologists have discovered a layer of carbon and ash. It is the remains from the sacking (burning down to the ground) of these Roman occupied centers.

battlefield-bookI was here, not to attack or rampage the place, but to meet up with author Robert Bard and his assistant Leslie Abrahams, to talk about the two battles from the War of the Roses that also took place on this historic site. Robert’s book, London’s Lost Battlefields, explains that there were two important conflicts fought here. The first, on 22nd May 1455, kicked off the numerous battles of the 32 year feud between the most powerful families in England at the time. Each side, represented by the colour of a rose, was vying for right to be King.

This war should have been called the War of the Car Parks; it is hard to believe that in an unassuming St Alban’s car park (one that Robert found a unique way of getting his car into – through the closed of bollards) opposite a pub, the first confrontation of the War of the Roses began. It would eventually lead to the death of Richard the Third and a burial in another car park in Grey Friars Street, Leicester. However, as you stand in the first car park, picturing how the Yorkists faced up to the Lancastrians for the first time, there is no official plaque or marker to tell the visitor of this important historical moment.

A great amount of detail from the two battles that took place during the War of the Roses in St Albans has been recorded. There is plenty of gory descriptions by those that took part, and also from observers living in or visiting the town. You may walk up the high street, between St. Peter’s church, at one end, and the Abbey at the other, with a 15th century clock tower near the middle, and picture the carnage and death that was happening 558 years ago. Many of the original buildings remain standing.

I am planning to return with my camera and make an episode of the Bald Explorer in the new year (2014) and tell part of that story.

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Lost Battlefields of London

Every now and then someone sends me an email to say they have a great idea or subject for the Bald Explorer. Sadly, I am not always able to follow up these ideas because the location is too far away or the cost to make such a show, for me at the moment, too prohibitive. On other occasions, I get in touch with someone I happened to have spotted either on a website or via Twitter that takes my fancy.

Robert Bard is one such person I am meeting up this week to discuss a possible collaboration on an episode about the lost battlefields of London. His book, Lost Battlefields of London, I believe recently published, gives a terrific insight to numerous key places where fatal disputes have played out between the Crown and aggressor over the years from the Roman era to the First World War.

Robert obviously has a healthy interest in death, destruction and conflict in our capital city, having written a number of books the subject, including a search for the plague pits, lost graveyards, the Tyburn Tree (the site at Marble Arch where many a felon was hanged, often dragged from Newgate Prison on a hurdle and later disemboweled and hacked to pieces and distributed either around London or the country), and other places of execution.

Looking at his profile on Amazon, it tells us: Robert Bard PhD was born in London, 1956. The author attended University of Liverpool, then preferring something glamorous to work, he became an airline pilot. After a number of years discovering that it was actually hard work, he went into the family confectionery manufacturing company where he remained until 1990.

He has also written a number of local history books about the towns close to where he lives in North London.

I have yet to tackle a Bald Explorer episode in the capital city. There is so much to explore it has been a difficult decision to know where to start. Filming on such busy streets is also a problem, especially when it comes to recording sound. Having tried to shoot a few pieces here in the past, I have been surprised by the deafening noises from pedestrians, trains, buses, taxis and aeroplanes. That is not to say it is impossible – there are plenty of TV shows that are based in the great city and they do not have problems.

Stories obviously abound and it is knowing which to concentrate on within the limited 45 minute format that the Bald Explorer series takes. With the help of an expert on hand to guide me to the sites of old battles, I am sure we shall manage. I am fascinated to see where, for example, Wat Tyler was beheaded at the end of the Peasants Revolt of 1381, the bloody battle for London Bridge took place during the rebellion of Jack Cade in 1450 and learn more about the plundering and burning of Newgate Prison during the Gordon Riots of 1780.

London’s Lost Battlefields is a great introduction to gory events that took place on the Capital’s streets (not really forgotten) but often lost from our minds as we rush about trying to get from important meeting to new exhibition when visiting London. Many of the original buildings have disappeared or have been rebuilt over the past 2000 years and so you need to bring your imagination with you as you follow in the footsteps and picture the struggles that went on in our glorious and impressive past. It is a super book and has some cracking photographs too to help you explore these macabre sites.

You can purchase Robert Bard’s book, London’s Lost Battlefields by following this link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Londons-Lost-Battlefields-Robert-Bard/dp/1781552487/ref=la_B0034Q983W_1_1/279-3321448-2869943?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1384156505&sr=1-1

The Battlefields Trust

As part of my Bald Explorer episode about our crumbling churches I have been working with Julian Humphrys from the Battlefield Trust. The reason was to explore a rather nasty clash between the Roundheads and Cavilers during the English Civil War (1642–1651) at a church in Alton in Hampshire. I further wanted to find out more information about the Trust and their work so I popped over to see him at his house in Surrey and filmed a short interview.

Julian suggests that nearly everyone in the UK lives within half an hour’s drive of a battlefield. Some, like Hastings, Bosworth and Culloden, are familiar to most of us. Others are relatively unknown. Yet the battles fought on them all played their part in shaping the way that we live today. How much do we know about these important fields where dreadful battles were fought, arguments were settle and Kingdoms were won and lost.

More information about the trust and how to join can be found on their website: The Battlefields Trust