Historic tribute to Hereward the Hero by Historians
Historians, Dr Sean Lang, Professor David Roffe, David Maile, Mike Petty and Nigel Amos
at Aldreth Village Hall 'Remembering Hereward' on Friday evening. (image: Kelly ann Maile)
It has long been a misnomer that the man we know as Hereward the Wake has no historical foundation, and at Friday evening's 'Remembering Hereward' commemoration event five historians gathered to extol the virtues and regale the tales and history of an old English warrior now recognised as the 'Folk Hero of the Fens.'
Aldreth Village Hall was filled to capacity to hear official Hereward biographer Professor David Roffe inform an attentive public that a man called Hereward is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Domesday Book, the two most reliable sources of the age, as having held land as a pre-Conquest tenant from Peterborough and Crowland monasteries and who subsequently fled from the Normans at Ely in 1071, King William's final act before claiming control over all England. It had taken five years to dislodge the Fenland rebellion that opposed William's rule,
and the name Hereward passed into legend as the events unfolded.
Aldreth was the epicentre of the rebellion led by Hereward as it was the southern gateway onto the island of Ely. The fortifications at Aldreth are no longer visible, though theories abound, but there is little doubt that the port or hythe at Aldreth was King William's 'Pegasus Bridge'. Two 12th Century sources, both written out of the monastery at Ely, record Hereward's heroic actions at Aldreth Causeway, where hundreds of William's knights perished in a watery grave after Hereward fired the causeway and the peat fen to thwart attacks and prevent the Normans from gaining a foothold on the island.
It was a treacherous act that dislodged Hereward. About 3000 rebels were suddenly surrounded on 27th October 1071 after monks had led the Norman army along a secret path onto the Isle. Over many years Fenland Historian Mike Petty's research and studies have worked on the 'secret pathway' which he offers ran through Stuntney, parts of which are still visible today. The last time any public historical debate was held about Hereward was at Haddenham in 1972, which Mike himself arranged and here almost fifty rears later marked another historical moment in the Hereward story.
The evening's Host was Dr Sean Lang, Senior Lecturer in History at Anglia Ruskin University and a familiar face and voice on the region's media outlets. Doctor Lang proposed Hereward as a true hero, ticking the box of 11 out of 20 attributes of 'the hero', while he drove the evening along in an entertaining fashion, keeping the audience interested, excited and transfixed.
Well-known Medieval re-enactor Nigel Amos offered to join the evening, giving his view of William's attempts at gaining access onto the Isle of Ely, while analysing William's methods of warfare, including his barbaric campaign that came
to be known as the 'Harrying of the North'. First speaker of the evening was David Maile of the WakeHereward Project, who proposed Hereward as a true hero for his protection of the Fen folk, their land and property, and their political and ecclesiastical institutions. The evening was very well received by an audience that came to find out more and support the man they identify as one of their own and the 'Folk Hero of the Fens'.
Hereward (left) on the Aldreth village sign. (Image: David Maile).