The 30th of December is an auspicious day in the War of the Roses and an auspicious day for Wakefield so it seems fitting that the city have established a memorial walk which deserves to be better known. I attended the Cathedral bathed in winter sunshine and here was a small band of re-enactors some dressed as a band who appeared to be awaiting others and sure enough some knights appeared carrying standards. A small crowd of onlookers had assembled in the shadow of the cathedral and soon the Bishop of Wakefield arrived and as the great clock struck the group organised themselves for the attending press and then we were off following the sound of a drum band behind some well dressed knights and the Bishop; an odd sight no doubt for Wakefield.
Remember the fallen
This is a relatively new custom that has arisen and been enlarged upon a simpler affair. Ever since 2005, the battle has been commemorated only by an informal wreath laying ceremony and a minutes silence by the statue of Richard of York near Sandal Castle. The original custom appears to have stopped at some point as in 2017, as in 2018 a Dr Keith Souter, chairman of the Friends of Sandal Castle, said:
“It is the first time that there has been a memorial march on the anniversary and it seems a very apt thing to do.“
Thus I believe the memorial walk has been organised by the Friends of Sandal castle, stopping at key points to remember those lost. Accompanied by drumming the group processed down on their route to Sandal Castle. The site of the Bishop, knights and medieval minstrels is always an odd one when it processes down modern street and here more than much with its conglomeration of concrete an outcome of a more recent conflict. Our first point of pilgrimage was the delightful bridge chapel and here we crammed in to witness one of its members laid a wreath of white flowers in memory of Richard of York’s second son, Edmund, who was also slain at Wakefield aged only 17. It was a very poignant wreath laying. Well, I say poignant the first time was but the assembled scrum of professional photographers did not get it the first time and thus asked for rather staged photos! The press person’s desire to get a good shot meaning once the wreath was laid it repeatedly laid to achieve that all in important shot. It rather ruined the moment I felt but had a rather Two Ronnies feel to it. Here we also stopped for a well-received cup of tea and biscuit. Suitably refreshed we made our way.
The next stopping point was a small piece of green, the supposed last piece of a larger area where the battle took place. Here a large memorial could be found and it was clear this time others had left their respects beforehand. Indeed, before the memorial walk, the Richard III society had always marked the day with wreath laying at this moment and indeed there was evidence of their presence. Here we paused and the Bishop paid his respects and off we went to our final destination – Sandal Castle, an imposing ruin on the edge of the city, Here a large crowd had assembled and the procession snaked its way around the mound to reach to the top where the Bishop again led prayers and thoughts for those slain. Afterwards, the knights posed for some very atmospheric photos around the ruins and the re-enactors entertained the crowds. where Bishop Tony said prayers and laid a posy of white roses at the plaque of Edmond, Earl of Rutland. It then continued along Barnsley Road to Manygates to lay a wreath of white roses and say prayers at the site of the memorial to Richard III, Duke of York. It ended at Sandal Castle where the Re-enactors marched up the hill and down again – before the Bishop laid a wreath of red and white roses and led a short service of remembrance, where 557 years ago on this day, the Battle of Wakefield made the history books for its role in the English Civil War.
The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson had been reported in local press that:
“Battle of Wakefield was a key moment in the War of the Roses and this is an opportunity to commemorate that event but also to think and pray for all those involved in conflict on the world stage today….It is important that we remember the people who lived and died for the causes they believed in. If we can learn from them, then so much the better.”
And one thing equally could be learned by the local tourist board who appeared oblivious to the existence of what was both a moving and evocative event and one which could surely pull in visitors.