The battle between the Northumbrians, led by King Edwin, against the Pagans is known as the Battle of Hatfield and was originally thought to have taken place in the town of Hatfield, located to the north east of Doncaster.
However, the discovery of a large number of skeletons in mass burial pits at St Mary’s Church, Cuckney in 1950-51 has led historians to question whether the battle could, in fact, have taken place in the small village near Warsop.
According to Paul Jameson from the Battle of Hatfield Investigation Society (BOHIS), there have been clues before; at the time of the battle, the Cuckney area was known as Hatfield, while nearby Edwinstowe mean’s Edwin’s resting place.
Mr Jameson explains: “We hope to rewrite the history of the Battle of Hatfield and relocate the site of the death of Edwin - England’s first Christian king - from Doncaster to Cuckney.
“The group has spent several years trying to resolve the mystery of the skeletons discovered in mass burial pits by subsidence contractors at St Mary’s in the early fifties.
"Contractors found hundreds - maybe up to 200 souls, all laid out in rows, all with their feet facing to the east.
"Compellingly, ‘Hatfield’ has long been associated with the Cuckney area, at least as far back as the 12th century ‘Cukeney upon Hattfeild’ and Edwinstowe (meaning Edwin’s resting or holy place) is less than seven miles away.”
The macabre discovery by a group of workmen found the bodies buried in three or four mass burial pits with their feet pointing east in the christian tradition, and all supposedly with perfect sets of teeth.
Some villagers who remember the discovery have described skulls being piled up in the corner of the church for weeks after they were unearthed, before records refer to them being reburied.
The Battle of Hatfield Investigation Society’s first Heritage Lottery funding in 2015 enabled ground penetrating radar and magnetometry performance to help locate both where the bodies had been re-buried (reinterred), plus the sites of the original pits which had been identified by contractors, Adam Eastwood and Sons 70 or-so years ago..
Eastwood’s were in the process of underpinning the church due to imminent mining operations, which were about to adversely impact the minimal foundations from the early to mid 12th Century church when the discovery was made.
Sadly, in November 2017, the Diocese of Southwell informally rejected a faculty request to exhume and test bones from one of the reinterment sites.
This left BOHIS with no real choice but to divert attention to a search for the battlefield itself, although an initial bone sampling would have helped determine whether a battlefield search was necessary.
In 2018, BOHIS were awarded an additional £54,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £4,000 from a company called Solarcentury to perform a variety of tasks, all carried out by Mercian Archaeology and aided by around thirty BOHIS supporters.
This involved research and a dedicated book about Norton and Carburton prisoner of war camps plus an invasive search for Cuckney Castle and an examination of Cuckney Water Meadows, contained in a second book called ‘Explain The Terrain’.
Whilst no compelling castle evidence was revealed, the lowest and earliest finds were dated to around the time the castle was constructed (c.1135 – 54), whilst not being of a military nature.
Mr Jameson continued: “It was hoped that, in searching for the castle, that evidence from the Battle of Hatfield might be unearthed – but this was not the case.
“Another trench was dug at the bottom of the motte (castle mound) and revealed items including late Saxon pottery.
“In early 2020, Mercian kindly offered a competitive rate to allow us to further engage them to help supervise and record and document the results from field walking and detecting in five fields in the Cuckney area, which included the fabulous free efforts of Chesterfield Metal Detecting Club.
“Many items through the ages were found, including what is believed to be a Viking gaming piece and an obituary token from 1778, yet nothing that conclusively pertains to the Battle of Hatfield.
“The full Mercian finds report is due at the end of 2021.”
The society’s current focus is on obtaining permissions from the Welbeck Estates Company for further field work in the High Hatfield area of Cuckney, as the society believes that this may be the true battle site and that the burials of dead relating to the victors were very unlikely to be included in the mass burial pits discovered at St. Mary’s.
“We are holding our annual meeting later this week and will go over the findings so far and make plans for the upcoming investigations,” Mr Jameson continued.
“If permissions are granted, this work would take place between November 21 and mid March 22 and ideally involve ground penetrating radar (GPR) if funds can be raised, as field walking and metal detecting would not reveal bones from alternative burial sites.”
Their 15th meeting is set to take place at Cuckney Village Hall on Friday October 22 at 7:30pm, entry to the meeting is free.
Follow them on Facebook or, for full meeting details and much more, see www.battleofhatfieldsociety.co.uk