Heritage: Havering and the Battle of Hastings

Re-enactors before setting off on a 300-mile march to Hastings from Clifford's Tower in York, echoin

Re-enactors before setting off on a 300-mile march to Hastings from Clifford's Tower in York, echoing the journey King Harold made to fight in the Battle of Hastings, to mark the 950th anniversary of the famous clash. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Battle of Hastings, 1066. It’s the one date everybody’s supposed to know. Friday October 14 (today) marks 950 years since the battle that changed English history.

A scene of Harold from the Bayeux Tapestry. Picture: PA

A scene of Harold from the Bayeux Tapestry. Picture: PA - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The crisis of 1066 began when the old king, Edward the Confessor, died without leaving a son.

Legend made him into a saint – remembered in two Romford churches – who retreated to the royal palace at Havering-atte-Bower.

There, it’s claimed, he prayed to get rid of the noisy nightingales that disturbed his devotions. They never sang at Havering again.

But Domesday Book, drawn up in 1086, records that the Confessor had given Havering to his pushy subject, Earl Harold of Wessex.

Harold also owned South Weald and part of Upminster, which he presented to Waltham Abbey in 1062.

The rules of succession to the English throne were fluid. Earl Harold crowned himself king the day after Edward’s death, claiming the Confessor had appointed him.

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But Duke William of Normandy insisted he’d been promised the Crown. King Harald of Norway also made a claim.

In September, a Norwegian army invaded Yorkshire, but Harold defeated Harald at the Battle of Stamford Bridge (not the football ground). Harold’s brother, Tostig, backed the Norwegians – nice crowd, weren’t they?

Harold’s army then marched south, to confront William at Hastings, where mounted Norman knights overwhelmed the Saxons fighting on foot.

Harold was killed by an arrow – probably the origin of our phrase, “getting one in the eye”.

Now the Conqueror, William grabbed the whole of England, gifting estates (“manors”) to his followers.

We know the names of some of the Saxons who lost their property. Sweyn the Swarthy had owned much of Upminster. He probably had a five o’clock shadow. Alwin lost his Cranham home.

Lefstan the Reeve was driven out of Rainham, where Berwick Farm had belonged to Aluard.

Alsi – a “free man” not a peasant – lost a Rainham estate later called South Hall, remembered in South Hall Road.

They were replaced by invaders like Walter of Douai in Upminster, and the odious Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, who’d swung a heavy club in the fight at Hastings. Clergy weren’t allowed to draw blood with swords, but they could bash Saxon skulls.

William himself held the manor of Havering, the modern borough west of the Ingrebourne.

He also briefly owned North Ockendon. The Conqueror wanted to build a fortress to control the Thames valley, and a hill at Windsor seemed the best location.

Windsor belonged to Westminster Abbey. Around 1075, William ordered the monks to exchange it for North Ockendon. A Havering land swap made Windsor Castle possible.

I’m sure Havering’s Saxon inhabitants hated the invaders. In 1086, locals reported that the manor could pay taxes of £40 a year (a huge sum), but the Normans were extorting £80, plus another £10 in “gifts”.

Norman kings enjoyed the royal hunting ground that stretched from Collier Row across to Straight Road. Locals still thought of it as Harold’s property. In 1618, the area was called “Horrolds Wood”.

In 1868, the name was moved to the east, used to promote a new railway station and housing development in Gubbins Lane.

To this day, the name Harold Wood recalls how Havering people defied William the Conqueror and his thuggish Norman crew.

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