Borders battlefields in spotlight

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Two Borders battlefields have made it onto the list of Scotland’s 17 most iconic conflicts - but the Borders most infamous battle at Flodden has not been added to the list as the site lies just over the border in England.

Historic Scotland regard the Battle of Ancrum Moor (1545) and the Battle of Philiphaugh (1645) as crucial in their respective eras. Both resulted in heavy casualties for the respective armies involved in the fighting but have been largely overlooked in recent times and Historic Scotland hope that their inventory of the nation’s battle sites will change all that by highlighting the historical significance of the sites to planning authorities which might have to take decisions that could affect their landscape.

Jim Herbert plays the soldier at the battle of Flodden in Derek Butler's play, 'Sang the grass to the wind' ' part of the Border Tales festival at The Maltings on Sunday 6 June.

Jim Herbert plays the soldier at the battle of Flodden in Derek Butler's play, 'Sang the grass to the wind' ' part of the Border Tales festival at The Maltings on Sunday 6 June.

The Battle of Flodden in 1513 was a devastating defeat for the Scots, with around 10,000 killed, but until the early 1900s the battle site near Branxton also remained very low key. In 1910 the Flodden Cross was erected at Piper’s Hill, and it is visited during the Flodden ride-out as part of Coldstream’s Civic Week celebrations at the beginning of August and every year on September 9, the 1513 Club commemorate the anniversary of the battle.

A clearly marked and signposted battlefield trail, complete with interpretive boards, now make it easy to visualise the battle.

The 1513 Club are working hard to raise awareness of the battle and its site, one of the best preserved Battlefields in the whole of northern Europe, and in recent years they have installed a stained class window in Coldstream Parish Church which depicts the battle, and in 2008 they unveiled a monument at Coldstream’s Tweed Green on the site of the former Coldstream Priory; developing the legend that nuns from Coldstream Priory retrieved the bodies of Scots nobles from the battle site at Flodden field and brought them back to Coldstream to give them decent burial in the consecrated grounds of Coldstream Priory.

Branxton Parish Council is also keen to improve information about the battle and they successfully applied for a £30,000 grant from the Local Heritage Initiative to develop a project, now completed, that involves battlefield walks, footbridges, interpretation boards, audio visual presentations in the village hall, brochures and leaflets, giving a real flavour of the fateful day.

But we are fast approaching the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden and a number of organisations have started working together to ensure that the celebrations encapsulate its historical importance, not just locally but in relations between England and Scotland.

Discussions about how to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden in 2013 have led to the establishment of England’s first named ‘eco-museum’.

With the help of LEADER funding the ‘eco-museum’ – a ‘museum without walls’ - will connect the built, natural and cultural threads that are part of the Flodden story across Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

There are presently around 300 ‘eco-museums’ in the world, 200 of them in Europe (mainly in France, Italy, Spain and Poland), giving a dynamic way to manage, interpret and conserve a community’s heritage in a sustainable way and is based around a community agreement.

Initially the Flodden ‘eco-museum’ will link over 10 physical sites, each of which has strong associations with Flodden, the last and bloodiest battle in Northumberland. Suggestions for these sites cover both sides of the England/Scotland border and include: Flodden Field, Norham Castle, Etal Castle, Heatherslaw Corn Mill, Barmoor Castle, Twizell Bridge, Ladykirk Church, Branxton Church, Coldstream Museum, Coldstream Priory, Weetwood Bridge and The Fletcher Monument in Selkirk.

Lord Joicey, of Ford and Etal Estates, who is leading the project said: “There are many initiatives and developments surrounding the battle which will place the region firmly on the map as far as visitors to the area are concerned. We have strong support from many sectors and local inhabitants and have been greeted with great enthusiasm regarding this new concept.”

Peter Davis, a world-authority on such schemes and professor of museology at the International Centre for Cultural & Heritage Studies at Newcastle University, has given his full support to the project and is being kept up-to-date with developments.

He said: “What excites me particularly about the Flodden project is that it fits exactly the criteria for an ‘eco-museum’ - which I’ve defined as ‘a community-based heritage project that supports sustainable development’. The description of the project to date - especially the widespread community consultation and involvement; the adoption of a ‘split-site’ approach to interpretation; the search for sustainable approaches; an interest in developing low-level tourism; contributing to a sense of pride and identity for local communities; an appreciation of the special nature of the Borders as place; linking nature and culture - all these are true ‘eco-museum’ features. I give my full support to the project and hope that I can remain closely involved with it in the future.”

South of Scotland MSP Christine Grahame (SNP) has welcomed the increased profile of Border battles saying: “I wholeheartedly agree with Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop that our Scottish battlefields provide a valuable educational resource as well as a potential for attracting visitors.

“At Ancrum Moor the Scots were heavily outnumbered by a strong English force which included up to 3,000 German and Spanish mercenaries. But despite the odds the Scottish troops scored a memorable victory, stopping the invading enemy in its tracks. Some 800 English soldiers were killed with another 1,000 taken prisoner.

“The Battle of Philiphaugh during the bloody Civil War saw the Royalist army under the command of the Marquis of Montrose routed and virtually wiped out by the Covenanters led by Sir David Leslie. The battlefield is now home to Selkirk’s rugby and cricket clubs.

“The Borders most famous (some would say infamous) battlefield will be firmly in the spotlight during the next three years. Preparations are already underway for the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden (1513) when up to 10,000 Scots, including King James IV perished on the field near the north Northumberland village of Branxton, a few miles from Coldstream.”

A series of workshops will be held in the spring for the many local people who have already become involved in the Flodden 500 project. Details will follow over the coming months but for further information in the meantime please visit www.iflodden.info