A local historian has overcome personal adversity to shed light on a little-known but critical medieval battle that took place in the County Durham dales.

John Bailey, 61, of Darlington, who suffers from a wasting muscle disease, this weekend unveiled a plaque marking the Battle of Stanhope Park of 1327, in the Weardale town on Saturday (November 18).

Research on the culminating battle of the First Scottish War of Independence, began in earnest a decade ago, a number ofd years after Mr Bailey had to give up his job as a butcher because of ill health.

The Northern Echo: From left, John Bailey and Christine Henderson of the Battlefields Trust and Kathryn Lowe-Oliver of

Mr Bailey said, with the help of his partner Christine Henderson, the project had given him a sense of purpose.

He said: “It is with a sense of relief I have been able to unveil this plaque because at one point at the beginning of last year, I nearly died.

“It had heart failure, pneumonia and I had been in a care home for quite, after breaking my leg which reduced my walking.

“I was at a really low point. It was touch and go. But I didn't want to leave the project unfinished. I thought I wasn’t going anywhere, so I had better get better and get on with it.

The Northern Echo: Plaque marking the Battle of Stanh ope Park of 1327

“So it is with a sense of relief that have managed to do it in time, before I am incapable."

He added: “I am very pleased with myself being able to do it.

"I didn't do it for myself. I wanted it for the people of Weardale and my mother's family. It's an important piece of history that has been being ignored or forgotten about and overlooked. 

"Its consequences would have been huge. Because Edward III was possibly our greatest king. He ensured many of our rights and led us to victory against the French. History could have been so different had he been killed on the day of the battle."The Northern Echo: From left, John Bailey and Christine Henderson of the Battlefields Trust and Kathryn Lowe-Oliver of

Mr Bailey accurately located the battlefield where between 200 and 500 cavalrymen Scottish army converged on the English camp.

When they reached King Edward they cut the ropes of his pavilion in an attempted to kill him.

His priest took mortal blows, defending the king. With English troops gathering fast the Scots fled having failed to kill the king, but left many English slain and the camping disarray." 

In 1328, the English were forced to sign the treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which became known as the Turpis Pax (shameful peace), relinquishing their claim to Scotland.

Mr Bailey said: “My mother first mentioned the battle to me in the 1960s and it's something I have always been intrigued by it.

“There wasn't any information available on it and only found one small reference.

“I spent years researching archives on the Internet going to the primary sources of the time including contemporary accounts.

Mr Bailey tracked down an account by a Flanders soldier who witnessed the battle, which was also mentioned in the epic poem The Bruce. 

He said: “I had one or two Eureka moments, such as when I was recovering from a broken leg in the care home. 

"Staff heard me shouting when I found an account that helped me pinpoint the day of the battle and the location." 

Helped by Ms Henderson, who did cartography, Mr Bailey's research was scrutinised by The Battlefields Trust, before a narrative was drawn up for the plaque. 

Some did not "make the cut" on the plaque plague, but he plans to write a book of the battle. 

Mr Bailey said Geoffrey Chaucer's father took part in the campaign as a soldier with the Bedfords, raised in London. He was knighted at Stanhope and became the King's vintner.

It was because of his father’s position that Geoffrey was able embark on his career. 

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Most academics believe that his father's part in the battle formed the basis of the first book of Canterbury Tales - The Knight's Tale, which is about two cousins who have gone to war but fought over the hand of a woman.

The Battle of Stanley Park was the first time the St George Flag was flown in battle as the English flag and is believed it was the first time cannon was used on the battlefield - not at Crecy as conventionally thought.

Mr Bailey said: "I would not have been able to do this project without the help of my partner Christine, the Battlefield Trust and Kathryn Lowe-Oliver of Durham Dales Centre and would like to thank them all."