The Battle for Chester! 616 AD
For centuries, Chester and its Welsh neighbours have been considered rivals, with residents of the Roman city often accused of having anti-Welsh sentiment.
This has been refelected through a local bylaw, still in existence, that a Welsh person found within the city walls after sunset can be shot with a crossbow, and the belief that Chester town hall clock does not have a face facing Wales so as not to give the Welsh the time of day.
Of course, the bylaw no longer offers protection against murder and the reason for the absence of a Wales-facing clock face is a myth, but where does this animosity come from? And, more importantly, are residents from both Chester and North Wales aware that the city was once part of Wales?
A battle between the Northumbrian army and the Mercians in the early part of the seventh century changed the history of the area for ever. Welsh monks were slain, a monastery was destroyed and land was captured in a move that damaged the relationship between the ancient city and its neighbours beyond repair. It was the battle of Chester in 616.
Legend has it that King Aethelfrith of Northumbria defeated the Mercians and their Welsh allies in a bloody battle at Heronbridge, near the banks of the River Dee, and next to Handbridge. Nearly 1,200 monks are said to have been killed during the clash and witnesses subsequently reported hearing and seeing phantom re-enactments of the fighting at the site.
The venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon chronicler and theologian, recorded that the monks were from nearby Bangor-on-Dee monastery who had come to Chester to pray and chant and were slaughtered by King Aethelfrith, who believed praying against him was as bad as fighting against him. The monastery was also subsequently destroyed.
Following the battle, the Welsh were cut off from their compatriots in Cumbria and Cornwall, and the history of Wales as a separate nation can said to date from this time.
Archaeologists have long had an interest in the Heronbridge site due to its Roman heritage and it was originally excavated in 1930 and 1931. A mass burial site was discovered within an earthwork and skeletons excavated, but these were lost during the Second World War. The site was excavated again between 2002 and 2005 and the war grave was rediscovered by the Chester Archaeological Society.
In 2006, the find was described as the "earliest firmly identified battlefield site in England". Through carbon dating, about 120 corpses, many with horrendous wounds, were dated back to the early part of the seventh century. Archaeologists and historians now believe they may have found the site of the Battle of Chester