The Redesign of Flodden Car Park, 1980

.One of the first projects  I was involved with was the redesign of the battlefield site of the Battle of Flodden, which took place in the north of Northumberland. I love history, and this was a plum job for me. It involved designing a new car park, with drainage details, a new set of steps from the car park up to the battlefield, and a huge interpretation panel showing the disposition of the armies on the day of the battle. I had to research the battle to determine what happened, and then work out from the viewing point where the armies would have been. A local historian helped me with this, and I prepared a full colour design for the panel.

I got very absorbed in the project. James IV was irritating the English by supporting Perkin Warbeck, and renewing the Auld Alliance with France. In 1513, Henry VIII sent the Earl of Surrey north to stop the advance of the Scots Army through Northern England. Henry was engaged on campaign in France, otherwise detained. The result was a disaster for the Scots, as they lost their King, three bishops, eleven Earls, fifteen Lords and some ten thousand men.

Although it was a Northumberland County Council project, it still had to receive Planning Permission, and although I was involved in vetting Planning Applications, I could not be involved in determining the application. Part of the process involved publicising the scheme in the local press, and it was also decided to advertise it in the Scottish press too as it was so close to the Scottish border. A notice was placed in the Scotsman advising of a proposal to refurbish the battlefield. I assumed it would be a simple formality.

One day my boss, the Senior Landscape Architect came up to my drawing board holding a copy of the “Scotsman”. Inside, a woman who claimed to be the reincarnation of James IV, the King slain at Flodden, was condemning Northumberland County Council for desecrating her grave. At first I thought it was a joke, but then he told me that the Chief Planning Officer had in fact received representations from her already in the form of letters. She was absolutely livid about the proposals for a Visitors’ Car Park, even when reassured that it would not interfere with the battlefield itself. It was the spirit of the place that was being violated in her opinion.

One article in a newspaper advised that archaeologists and historians had examined her evidence, her statements, and were surprised that she could recall scenes and events with astonishing accuracy. She would describe detail of events or objects or procedures which she could not possibly have known, and recited other descriptions which could not be verified, but had a weird consistency with what was already known. In other words, they seemed to be suggesting that it was just possible that she was indeed the reincarnation of James IV.

Next thing I knew Northumberland County Council was hit by a hurricane of vitriol from north of the border. A woman, J.Stewart, who claimed to be the reincarnation of James IV who died at Flodden poured out her fury at having the place of her “murder” desecrated by the English County Council. There was an article in the Scotsman.  It caused a stir at work.

“It isn’t a registered graveyard,” said Geoff, my Line Manager, “and there is no record of bodies still being buried there, so technically there is nothing she can do about it.”

“So what do we do then? Just go ahead?” I asked.

“We’ll give it a few weeks to blow over and then quietly proceed,” he said with a twinkle.

J. Stewart.  Born Ada Kay in 1929, worked as a dramatist for the BBC in London before finding herself increasingly drawn to Scotland. When visiting certain Scottish locales for the first time, she claimed to feel that they were adapted in some way, as if she had be there before. From her early childhood, she has had strange dreams, featuring scenes from medieval court enthusiasm and, gradually, it dawned on her that these were memories of a former life span.
Stewart, a name she acquired through marriage, took up residence in Scotland permanently and became intensely patriotic. She wrote a few books, presenting them as autobiographies of King James IV, including “Falcon – The Autobiography of His Grace James the IV King of Scots” and “Died 1513 – Born 1929,” recalling her life as it was later and correcting some of the mistakes she claimed had been made by historians.

Ada F Kay, also known as A.J. Stewart, (born 1929) is a British writer with a particularly complex personal history. She grew up in Lancashire but lived much of her adult life in Scotland. In the 1960s she was planning to write a play about the life of King James IV of Scotland. In the course of her research she planned to visit the site of the Battle of Flodden Field where the king was killed in 1513. The night before her visit she experienced what she believed to be a traumatic flashback of being hacked to death by English spears during the battle, which led her to believe that she was a reincarnation of the king.

Around 1972 she published Falcon, an “autobiography” of the king under the name of “A.J. Stewart” (a combination of her married name and the king’s). Although much of it reflected known historical facts about James IV, it also included some surprising new revelations about the events of the time e.g. that James III of Scotland was a homosexual, and that James IV had built his warship the Michael to sail it up the River Thames and bombard the royal palaces in London.

This account received some attention in Scotland when it was published. Ada Kay appeared on BBC Scotland to discuss her claims; one historian who the BBC asked for his opinion said that the book repeated some popular misconceptions about the reign of James IV. Another historian has commented that “her ‘autobiography’ of the king is most safely read as a highly colourful and entertaining historical novel” The Scotsman’s reviewer concluded that, if it had not been for the bizarre circumstances in which it was written, then it might have gained recognition as a minor addition to the genre pioneered by Robert Graves of works supposedly penned as a first-person account by an actual historical figure, but added that it was at its best where a woman’s touch might be strongest. It has also been suggested that it may have been influenced by previously published accounts of the king’s life, including Gentle Eagle by Christine Orr, R.L. Mackie’s biography and Walter Scott’s Marmion.

She later wrote an autobiography of her own 20th century life, King’s Memory (originally published as Died 1513 – Born 1929). This did not receive much attention, and The Scotsman’s reviewer concluded that unlike Falcon there was little here to interest the general reader.

In the end, my scheme went ahead and my new design was built, and I was permanently cursed by this lady for desecrating the site of her death.

%d bloggers like this: