THERE WAS real ding-dong of a battle battle going on in the historic setting of York's Merchant Adventurers' Hall.

In one corner was Beau Gascoigne, representing York's Roman legionaries. Opposing him - and sporting a Viking helmet tilted rakishly over one eyebrow - was Ellen York, standing up for the Vikings.

The two St Wilfrid's Primary School pupils were going at it head to head over who'd win in a straight-up fight between a Roman soldier and a Viking warrior.

"The Romans would win! Thank you, and have a good evening!" began Beau.

"Beau, please!" retorted Ellen. "We have five minutes. We have to go a bit deeper into it than that!"

Beau was clearly up for the fight. The Romans conquered most of Europe, he pointed out, then came here and built York's first city walls. He even got in a Brexit joke. Under the Romans, Europe was united, he said. Ellen looked sceptical. Beau responded quick as a flash: "Are you telling me we haven't always had a smooth relationship with Europe?"

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Icelandic low-blow: Beau Gascoigne and Ellen York of St Wilfrid's

Ellen wasn't about to let herself be beaten by such an underhand joke. The Vikings had a fearsome reputation as warriors, she pointed out. The proof? "Didn't you see the Iceland football team?"

"Low blow!" said Beau.

Welcome to the York Civic Trust's fourth annual primary school public speaking competition, held at the Merchant Adventurers Hall on Wednesday night.

Twenty-eight children from 14 York primary schools took part, debating everything from the merits of Roman and Viking warriors to what made York so special - and how they'd spend £1 million to make the city a better place.

Josh ffrench-Adam from Lord Deramore's had a strong opinion on that: he would use the £1 million to build a football stadium in the city centre instead of out in the suburbs, he said.

That prompted a derisive snort from his fellow Lord Deramore's pupil, Scarlett Smith. "What about shopping?" she suggested. "You must have been in York in the early evening and been disappointed to see so many shops closed."

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Josh ffrench-Adam and Scarlett Smith from Lord Deramore's

Josh's face was a picture. "Not really," he said, drawing the words out to emphasise just how much he didn't care about shopping.

Millie Tindall and Amelia Walker from St Lawrence's Primary School had a completely different idea about how they'd use £1million in York: they'd spend it on homeless people. "Homelessness is rising - especially in the 16-19 age group," said Millie. "They have no family, no home - nobody to care for them!"

It was a cry from the heart. So how would they send the money? Half on Arclight, and half on a new shelter for 16-19-year-olds, came the answer.

Other schools debated whether it was true that York was really no more than just a giant museum.

Not at all, said Hannah Langford and Rosa Kilbane from Scarcroft Primary: there was much more to the city than that.

"People aren't just flying to York to see the history," said Rosa. "More than 30,000 people come to see the races. We had the Tour de France, and the record for the York Parkrun is held by Olympian Jonathan Brownlee."

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Not a Viking helmet in sight: Hannah Langford and Rosa Kilbane from Scarcroft Primary

Then there was was York city centre on a Saturday night. "It's very much alive and kicking - and not a Viking helmet in sight!" said Rosa.

The aim of the public speaking competition is to encourage York's young people to love the city's history and heritage, says York Civic Trust's Verna Campbell - and also to give them the chance experience speaking and debating in public, a skill that will stand them in good stead.

There were certainly plenty of skilled debaters taking to the floor on Wednesday night.

Children began to arrive at the Merchant Adventurer' Hall just before 6pm. Soon the great medieval hall was buzzing with excited pupils - and even more excited parents and teachers.

There didn't seem to be much evidence of nerves on the part of the young debaters themselves.

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The audience in the Merchant Adventurers' Hall

"I'm quite calm," said 11-year-old Leah McKenzie from Skelton Primary - specialist topic 'Why I think York is special' - calmly. And why is York special? "Because we live here!" she said. "And because it is full of the world's history, from Romans to Saxons and stuff."

Finley Henderson-Howard admitted to feeling 'quite excited' about the prospect of discussing which were tougher, the Romans or the Vikings. But his mum Niki Howard was unashamedly thrilled that he was taking part. "He's always been extremely shy," she said. "This for him is quite a change." After having gone through heats at school to get selected, he'd told her he already felt like a winner, she added. "This is just the icing on the cake."

They were all winners on Wednesday night. Chief judge Darrell Buttery - no mean public speaker himself - said it had been an 'electrifyingly good evening'.

But he and his panel had to choose the three teams who would take the top three places, he said. He announced them in reverse order.

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Chief judge Darrell Buttery announces the winners

Third: Scarlet Smith and Josh ffrench-Adam from Lord Deramore's. Second, Alexandra Bonfield and Ella-Faye Burns from Huntington Primary. And first... Ellen York and Beau Gascoigne from St Wilfrid's.

It was St Wilfrid's second victory in a row - and the two young winners were thrilled.

"I couldn't stop smiling when I heard my name!" said Ellen.

Beau, meanwhile, like a Hollywood actor on Oscar night, wanted to pay tribute to the man who had inspired him.

"My big inspiration is my dad," he said.

Dad was standing there right beside him, beaming. "I'm very proud," said businessman Richard Gascoigne.

He had every right to be...

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Beau Gascoigne and Ellen York of St Wilfrid's receive their winners' trophy from the Lady Mayoress Susan Ridley

The questions up for debate:

  • Is York no more than a museum for tourists?
  • Who is your favourite character in York’s Mystery Plays?
  • Why is York special?
  • If I had £1 million to spend in York city centre, I would spend it on…
  • Roman soldier or Viking warrior - which would win?

The children and schools taking part

  • Archbishop’s Junior School: Jamie Lett and Finley Henderson-Howard
  • Bootham Junior School: Charlotte Brown and Quitterie Jourdier
  • Copmanthorpe Primary School: Lucy-Alice Wheeler and Olivia Hoegh
  • Dringhouses Primary School: Oscar Dewire and Thomas Wardley
  • Headlands Primary School: Faith Varlow and Nicole Pang
  • Huntington Primary School: Alexandra Bonfield and Ella-Faye Burns
  • Lord Deramore’s School: Scarlett Smith and Josh ffrench-Adam
  • Naburn Primary School: Esme Kirby and Ethan Hewitt
  • Rufforth Primary School: Ellie Cofield and Anna Lewis
  • Scarcroft Primary School: Hannah Langford and Rosa James Kilbane
  • Skelton Primary School: Sally Faulkner and Leah McKenzie
  • St Lawrence’s Primary School: Millie Tindall and Amelia Walker
  • St Wilfrid’s RC Primary School: Ellen York/Beau Gascoigne
  • Westfield School: Emily Thornton/Mia Stainer

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The great debaters: all the contestants gather for a group photo