Battles renewed on the fields of history

Tewkesbury torn between homes and its heritage
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Fields on which Edward IV routed the Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury in one of the decisive engagements of the Wars of the Roses could soon disappear under a rash of executive homes.

Opposition to a plan to build 77 houses on what experts believe to be the epicentre of the battle on 4 May 1471 is gathering force, marshalled by 15th-century re-enactment groups.

Tewkesbury Borough Council is in the dilemma of following its plan, which earmarks the Gastons area for housing, or acknowledging the significance of the battlefield in attracting visitors to the Gloucestershire town, which each summer is the venue for one of the biggest medieval festivals, when the battle is re- enacted.

David Cubbage, of the Companions of the Black Bear, the organisers of the festival, said: "We know you cannot preserve everything, but the battlefield has already been eroded by housing. What is left was the centre of the action."

Tewkesbury was a crushing defeat for the Lancastrians under Margaret of Anjou. The place where many of her fleeing soldiers were slaughtered by the Yorkists is still known as Bloody Meadow (not part of the building site). The 17-year-old Lancastrian Prince Edward was killed, Queen Margaret was imprisoned and her husband, Henry VI, executed.

One of her commanders, Lord Wenlock, suffered a grislier end. According to one chronicler, the retreating Duke of Somerset denounced Wenlock as a traitor, took up his axe and "strake y braynes out of his hedde".

Bryant Homes Mercia Ltd, of Droitwich, want to build the houses on land owned by the Tewkesbury Grammar School Trust. Most would be three-bedroom detached houses.

English Heritage may join the re-enactment groups and residents in opposing the planning application.

The site is included on English Heritage's Battlefield Register, which, although it has no statutory backing, stresses the importance of their preservation - not least as the last resting place of thousands of unknown soldiers, nobles and commoners alike.

"If, as Winston Churchill wrote, battles are `the punctuation marks of history', then battlefields are the fragmentary pages on which those punctuation marks were written in blood," states the register.

Objections are pouring in to the planning office at Tewkesbury and councillors are not expected to consider the application until March.

Bryant Homes said it was working with the council to "preserve the history of the site".

An interpretation centre would be provided at the company's expenses, including a "battle trail", and an archaeological investigation would be carried out.

But such palliatives are unlikely to have much effect. Kay Rouse, of the Medieval Siege Society, said a piece of the real history of England would be lost - "not a stately home you pay pounds 10 to get in to but the history of the English people. And to add insult to injury, they'll probably give us an Anjou Close."