Historians are mustering their forces to protect one of English history’s most iconic sites – the famous battlefield that gave birth to Tudor England.
Sections of the killing fields where the founder of the Tudor dynasty, Henry Tudor, defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field will become part of a vast, partly government-funded driverless car testing facility – if the area’s local authority, Hinckley and Bosworth in Leicestershire, gives the project the green light at a planning committee meeting on Tuesday evening.
Council officers have recommended planning permission be granted subject to conditions, meeting papers showed.
The Richard III Society, the main organisation devoted to the study and commemoration of the king who perished in the battle, has written to the local authority imploring them not to allow the developer to encroach onto the officially protected area of the battlefield.
“I ask the council to think again,” said the society’s chairman, Dr Philip Stone.
Another key organisation, the Battlefields Trust, which has carried out detailed archaeological investigations at Bosworth Field, has also officially objected to the development and has asked the council to reject it.
The well-known historical researcher, Philippa Langley MBE, who led the successful search for the grave of Richard III is also calling on the council to reject the planning application. She has advised them that the development is in “an area that may well have played an important part in the actual battle”.
Two other leading experts, both authors of important books on the battle, Mike Jones and Mike Ingram, are also urging the council to think again.
Over 50 acres of what is potentially an important part of the battlefield – including a 25 acre area which has officially protected status – is included in the scheme before councillors.
The area is earmarked for development by a Japanese-owned automotive company, Horiba Mira, and includes the zone of the battlefield where Henry first began to deploy his troops in battle formation.
It is also just 300m from the place where Richard III is believed to have personally killed Henry Tudor’s standard-bearer. Part of that historic standard was discovered there less than a decade ago.
And the development is just 500m from where archaeologists believe Richard III was finally killed. Archaeological work back in 2009 succeeded in unearthing one of the gilt silver insignias worn by Richard’s personal retinue.
Nobody knows the precise boundaries of the battlefield – but because the development area is so close, it is likely that it featured in the fighting. It is therefore of potentially great archaeological importance for further understanding the ebb and flow of that crucial battle.
The Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 was the final major military engagement of the Wars of the Roses and arguably one of the three most historically significant battles ever fought on English soil, the others being William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings in 1066 and Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell’s victory over Charles I at Naseby in 1645.
Bosworth Field represents the end of the Middle Ages and the birth of the Tudor dynasty and early modern Britain. It started a Tudor political dynamic which led to the Reformation under Henry VIII and the acceleration of England’s maritime and colonial expansion under Elizabeth I.
The development raises not only key questions of heritage conservation but also questions of how best to maintain a suitable ambience in the zones surrounding major heritage areas.
The official Bosworth Field conservation plan, adopted by Leicestershire County Council in 2013, undertakes to “retain and enhance the varied landscape character and special landscape qualities of the Bosworth battlefield area” and to do so by ensuring “sensitive management of the landscape, conserving its varied character and local sense of place”. It also pledges to ensure that “topographic views across the battlefield and within its setting are conserved” and to protect the area from “activity and development which undermines tranquillity – in particular noise [and] visual intrusion”.
Key stakeholders appeared not to have been told that the planning application had been recommended for approval appeared. They included the Battlefields Trust, which excavated parts of the battlefield; the neighbouring local authority, which, along with Hinkley and Bosworth jointly promotes the battlefield as a major tourist attraction; and the Richard III Society, whose main subject of study and commemoration, Richard III, was killed just a few hundred metres from the proposed development site.
The Bosworth Field battlefield and its visitor centre is a major regional tourist attraction of considerable economic value to the area – but the £26m driverless car test track project would create 250 direct jobs and many hundreds of indirect additional ones.
“The planning committee will consider all the representations made regarding the development’s impingement and impact on the registered battle site and will consider the level of potential harm prior to making a decision. Alternatively, they have the option to defer their decision to a later date,” said the council’s chief executive, Bill Cullen.
“A condition of any planning consent for this project will be that archaeological investigations should take place in advance of the proposed development,” he said.
Dr Michael Jones, author of Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle, believes that it is “highly regrettable that the proposed development encroaches upon a registered battlefield – indeed one of major historical importance”.
“It is vital that we protect the integrity of the Bosworth site,” he added.
“As a number of important finds have been uncovered in the surrounding area, further archaeological work would be of considerable value, but only alongside a commitment to fully preserve this crucial sector of the battlefield..”
And historian Mike Ingram, the author of Battle Story: Bosworth 1485, urged the council to at least defer its decision. He said: “It is beyond belief that anyone would even consider building on a single square metre of such a nationally iconic battlefield as Bosworth.
“The site in question is close to the heart of the fighting and it has been my long-held belief that it is not only where Henry’s French mercenaries gathered before the battle but also close to where he positioned his cannons.
“There are still many questions to be answered about the battle and how it fitted into the landscape. It is therefore essential that it is preserved intact, without further disruption to the surrounding landscape for future generations to study and understand.
“We must also not forget that as well as the site of the death of Richard III, many more lost their lives during the fighting and rout. Their bodies have never been found and may still lie under the quiet Leicestershire countryside.
“The proposed development with its associated noise and structures will irrevocably change the sense of place currently experienced when visiting the actual battlefield.”