Posted: 05.05.20 at 16:22 by Nick Hudson
TELEVISION viewers will tonight get the chance to judge for themselves what Atherstone Civic Society believe did happen – the area around the Mancetter traffic island was the exact location of Britain’s most important battle before Hastings.
A thousand years before William of Normandy’s 1066 invasion, a warrior queen almost succeeded in driving the Romans from our shores.
East Anglian Iceni tribe leader Boudica’s uprising saw an army of 230,000 men, women and children without protective armour take on the 10,000-strong crack 14th Legion, led by Gaius Suetonius Paulinus.
Boudica’s last stand in 60 AD was just that – as she died following the battle. It also marked the end of resistance to Roman rule in Britain in the southern half of the island, a period that lasted until 410 AD.
But actual spot where Boudica’s great defeat took place – the estimated numbers far outweighing the 50,000 who fought in a snowstorm in the Battle of Towton in Yorkshire in March 1461 – has been the subject of claims over the centuries.
Experts have matched the claims of eight candidates against the archaeological, archival and circumstantial evidence as well as military suitability.
Tonight on Channel Select 5 – the merits of two of them are expected to be picked over by presenter Rob Bell in the third of the six-part Britain’s Lost Battlefields series.
The Battle of Watling Street – as it has been named – follows on from the opening two programmes on Bannockburn and Hastings.
Mancetter’s claim – enhanced by the opening earlier this year of the new Roman & Boudica Heritage Centre in the village church of St Peter’s – is led by civic society secretary Margaret Hughes and history lecturer Eddie Smallwood. It is challenged by John Pegg, who proposes the alternative site of Church Stowe in Northamptonshire.
Her painstaking research over many decades identifies Mancetter as the exact location around the modern-day traffic island on the A5, next to its physical boundary with Atherstone.
Her new book, Boudica at Mancetter , was unveiled as she opened the permanent exhibition on February 15, attended by more than 300 people.
In the first 12 months the exhibition planned to open every Saturday to local groups and schools with packages which include a visit, talk and walk, teas and even a two-course meal. Wednesday openings was also talkd about.
Sadly just over a month later lockdown measures forced the closure of the church, and with it the centre, and coronavirus has also played a big hand in stalling the sales of her book.
Heritage centre curator Martin Saunders is in no doubt about ‘location, location, location’ for the Battle of Watling Street. He says the answer is in the Hartshill-based historian's book, adding: “It did happen here. We believe that.”
And academics on Boudica’s trail back up the theory, suggesting the claim for Manduessesdum (Mancetter’s Roman name) had gained “well-founded support” and “holds up strongly” against several other sites.
Boudica had won decisive victories against the Romans in Colchester, London and St Albans – sacking and burning all before her.
Her methods were bloody in an unashamed bid to "sever links” with the wider European community of the day in the first century AD.
She was seen as the first person to try and stabilise Britain – for the British, the original Brexiteer.
She turned north towards Mancetter to engage Paulinus’s army, fresh from his own triumph in Anglesey.
The night before the fateful clash saw the Romans camp at Hartshill Hayes. Paulinus inflicted terrible losses on the Iceni army on the day of the battle.
The Tuesday transmission of the programme on Select 5 – a premium channel offering high-quality factual series, intelligent documentaries and must-watch drama – is at 9pm and is also on Sky: 153; Freeview: 54; Virgin Media: 152; Freesat: 133.
It will be repeated at 7 pm on the Saturday following each showing.
Next week the programme pitches up at another of the area’s famous battlegrounds – where one king (Richard III) lost his life and his crown as Henry Tudor gained the throne of England and Wales at neighbouring Bosworth Field in 1485.
Some even suggest that the actual battle took place nearer to Atherstone than the site of Bosworth’s heritage centre.
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