Sunday, 26 May 2013

Not a tour of the car parks in St Albans

Joined the Battlefields Trust. Had to do it. We took the walk-and-talk round St Albans.

The tour was so brilliant, that stumping up the cash to join the soc was the least I could do to repay our guides. And they're right, dammit! We lose so many of these bare and brutal bloodfields to a shopping precinct and the M6, we need to ensure the remainders of these historic sites of triumph, struggle, death and glory don't all end up as another branch of Primark.

Here, come with us. Meet our guides. They are about to show us the main London-St Albans road, blocked to defend the town on the night of 22 May 1455. (Takes horse and cart and watch for a nasty right-hand turn ahead.)

Two thousand Lancastrians had arrived at St Albans, and they were defending the town. Three thousand Yorkists arrived to sit outside, camping here, and getting upset at this car park at Keyfields.

After negotiations failed, Richard Duke of York attacked. Fighting was heavy on all access roads into the town. But the young Warwick, aged 19 years, on the Yorkist side, spied a way in - an unguarded run down the ditch, up the bank, and through the back alleys into the centre of town. Here it is. The very spot.

I do not know whether to be proud or dismayed that I have parked the car on it. (If you look carefully, you can see the dent in the back of that silver Berlingo. I would just like to say, that was done to me. I am innocent.) Next, the Maltings Shopping Centre car park, to view the back of the building where Warwick burst his way through to the very centre of the town.

There, that small red-backed building. Imagine Warwick bursting through the wall! (Wattle and daub, obviously, not brick. He wasn't a Transformer or anything.)

Fighting moved to the town centre. Somerset, on the Lancastrian side, and arch-rival to Richard, was killed here. In the doorway of Connells estate agents. (I don't consider that a plug for them, incidentally.)

The triumphant Yorks finally raised the flag outside Boots the chemist. Our guides pause to say, dramatically, 'See that gutter? It ran with blood.'

Not a tour of car parks and shopping centres. The first Battle of St Albans kicked off the Wars of the Roses which in turn gave rise to Richard III, the Battle of Bosworth, the Tudor dynasty, and the recent discovery under yet another sodding car park.

All of which shows to me why we need local historians prepared to put in the foot slog, and why I feel the need to support the Battlefields Trust.

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