Preparations for an archaeological dig are finally under way after the Hadley Trust stepped in with a pledge of £50,000 in funding to allow work to start on the project following a fresh initiative by Barnet Museum.
Barnet was among the grisliest battles of the Wars of the Roses and one of those taking part was the eighteen-year-old Duke of Gloucester, later to become King Richard III, who was killed in the Battle of Bosworth of 1485, and whose remains are being reburied in Leicester Cathedral.
Historians have failed to agree on the precise location of the battle that took place on 14 April 1471 in fields half a mile, or even up to a mile north, of High Barnet, on either side of the Great North Road.
Currently the only visual reminder is Hadley Highstone, an obelisk commemorating the battle that was erected in 1740 – but Barnet’s battlefield fails to get the recognition it deserves largely because of uncertainty over the exact site and a lack of vantage points for visitors.
Dr Glenn Foard, Huddersfield University’s celebrated military archaeologist, is to supervise the survey and any resulting excavations with the assistance of another of the university’s archaeologists, Sam Wilson.
They hope their two-year project will confirm not only the precise site of the conflict, but also reveal far more about what might be the first British battlefield where hand-guns were used.
Initial work would involve studying aerial photography and site surveys in preparation for detailed investigations by a team of military archaeologists and volunteer metal detectorists.
Dr Foard, who is best known for discovering the location of the final phases of the Battle of Bosworth, believes the boundaries of the battlefield site are to the north of those indicated by English Heritage and probably include Wrotham Park and nearby farmland owned by the Wrotham Estates.
A go-ahead for a thorough investigation of the likely battlefield area follows a decision by Barnet Museum, with the support of the Hadley Trust, to take the lead in sponsoring the project in conjunction with Huddersfield University.
Together with the Barnet Society and the Battlefields Trust, the museum has opened discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund for possible future funding.
HLF officials met the museum’s trustees and other representatives (23.3.2015) to explore ideas for a range of community-based heritage projects to widen awareness of and engagement in Barnet’s role in one of the decisive battles of the Wars of the Roses.
Mike Noronha, a museum trustee, welcomed the HLF officials and explained to them that any artefacts found during the excavation would be displayed at the museum. It would become the main focal point for presentations and local engagement.
An interactive Battle of Barnet website, information boards, an app for battlefield walks and promotional materials for schools are some of the initiatives that the museum hopes to take forward with the support of the Barnet Society and the Battlefields Trust.
If the museum is successful in obtaining financial support from the HLF, a second application will be made for help in funding a two-storey extension at the rear of the museum to provide an additional display area, disabled access and extra space to accommodate work on the Battle of Barnet project.
Mr Noronha said a heritage trail and an exhibition of any finds could be the catalyst for much wider support and interest within the local community, and provide a long-term legacy to explain what happened when the armies of the House of York and the House of Lancaster clashed on the fields surrounding what is now Hadley Green and Monken Hadley.
Banners and shields could be created and painted by volunteers and school children showing the coats-of-arms of the main protagonists and a battlefield day might include a local re-enactment.
In its section on the Battle of Barnet, the museum currently displays two cannon balls thought to have been fired on the battlefield, but military archaeologists hope they might find many other artefacts, including lead shot used in early hand guns.
Howard Simmons, who leads for the Battlefields Trust on the Battle of Barnet project, said there was a desperate need for a proper interpretative trail of the battlefield site.
“We know that Edward IV brought 1,000 Burgundian soldiers with him. They had hand-guns with them, and if we can find any of the small bullets that would prove they were used at Barnet, as Huddersfield University proved at the Battle of Bosworth.
We now have the chance to investigate privately owned land at Wrotham Park which has not been thoroughly surveyed before.
“The Battlefields Trust is already taking steps to ensure there is no illegal metal- detecting in the area. We are already in touch with local metal detectorists and we hope they will become part of the project and act as policemen to ensure that any artefacts are properly preserved and recorded.
“Glenn Foard and his team at last have the chance to try to answer some of the unanswered questions about what after all is one of only two battlefield sites in Greater London, the other being at Brentford where in 1642 at the start of the English Civil War a small Parliamentarian force of 3,500 men was defeated by the Royalist main army of 14,000 men, and the town of Brentford then sacked.”