There’s a reason why it’s called Slay Pits Lane

St Lawrence Church, Hatfield.
St Lawrence Church, Hatfield.

Few people could possibly believe seeing this peaceful church scene, the bloody events which once scarred the peaceful landscape around the village of Hatfield.

But it was not always such a tranquil district.

The Battle of Hatfield took place in the year AD 633. The final departure of the Romans from Britain had taken place about AD 410 and their occupation of the country is well recorded. However, there are very few detailed records of the next 200 years, which were known as the Dark Ages.

The Angles and The Saxons were two of the tribes who had crossed the North Sea, even before the Romans had left, It was not a military invasion as such. They came over in small groups with their families, taking over land from the Britons and building villages wherever they settled.

Penda was King of the Kingdom of Mercia and was envious of the success of Edwin, who had converted to Christianity. Penda was a heathen and was opposed to the spread of Christianity and decided to challenge Edwin’s rule with the help of Cadwallader, King of North Wales. The situation reached a climax and the decisive battle was scheduled to take place at Hatfield.

The combatants gathered on the outskirts of Doncaster and the king addressed his troops and warned them they must stand and fight, The king then placed his archers in the woods and clumps of trees which stretched almost into Doncaster. By October 3 the enemy had reached Doncaster.

Many Doncastrians had fled towards the King’s camp at Hatfield and those who remained were killed. Reinforcements were on the way to Edwin from the north.

Edwin’s army was commanded by himself, his young son Prince Osfrid and several experienced lords and nobles. The enemy’s army was commanded by the two kings Penda and Cadwallader with their captains.

The enemy forces began their attack two days later with their soldiers stretching from one side of the heath to the other. They drove back Edwin’s archers as they advanced. The two armies were in sight of each other by midday and the trumpeters sounded the charge. The archers on both sides let fly their arrows but it soon became fierce hand to hand combat with axes and other weapons. One of the first casualties was King Edwin’s son, Prince Osfrid.

Several of Edwin’s nobles and courtiers were also killed. The brutal fighting continued until almost sunset when King Edwin’s army was overpowered and he was surrounded by the enemy and, despite putting up a fierce struggle, he too was killed.

The enemy turned on the village, murdering everyone they could find. The church, the palace and all the houses were looted after which they were set on fire and burnt down. Only the stone altar of the church survived.

More than 10,000 bodies, including King Edwin and Prince Osfrid, were left. The King’s head was cut off and sent to York for burial in St Peter’s Church.

Perhaps the only reminder of this momentous event is the name Slay Pits Lane, reputed to have been the resting place of all those who perished in the Battle of Hatfield.