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Welcome to Living History Today. This site  aims to share the author’s fascination with everyday life in the past from the perspective of a practical multi period re enactor. It is slowly growing to span a wide range of centuries, skills and ideas. It started because anyone can pick up a history book and find the clearly documented lives of the famous, but discovering how ordinary people lived is not as easy.  In teaching, it was never the important ‘facts’ that fascinated classes, but the details; what people ate, what their homes might have been like, and how they viewed the world. These are the sorts of issues that I hope to cover. There won’t be that much on the fashions of the various periods for two reasons: there are already plenty of excellent resources available and several informative blogs, and also because for ordinary people fashion was not really an issue – the fact that ‘second best’ clothes are mentioned and passed on in wills indicates that until relatively recently in the nineteenth century clothes were worn until they wore out, not changed because they were no longer in fashion. What people wore in the country could lag decades behind the garments currently popular amongst fashionable londoners. I do hope you enjoy cruising around the articles.

Pensthorpe Medieval Spectacular 2013: Hereward awakes

The end of August approaches. It’s been a busy year for events and this year things will not slow down with the approach of Autumn. The bank holiday long weekend sees the ninth multi period medieval event at Pensthorpe up in North Norfolk. This is a terrific event which has grown and developed year on year. This weekend the event is highlighting an English folk hero with roots in reality: Hereward the Wake. He lived in the mid 11th century, based somewhere around the then Isle of Ely, and led popular opposition to the Normans who had become the ruling class following the defeat of Harold and the Saxon army at the
Battle of Hastings in 1066.
When he was alive his nickname seems to have been ‘exile’ or ‘outlaw’, thought to have been imposed by the Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, for his unruly behaviour as a young man which forced him across the sea, perhaps to Flanders. In many ways his activities rival those of a later figure, Robin Hood, but whereas Robin has survived in popular myth and TV adaptation, Hereward has become a vague, mysterious character who receives little popular acknowledgement. The epithet ‘Wake’ was not recorded until much later, perhaps the 14th century and means watchful or wakeful – in other words that he was awake to the threat of change wrought by the Normans. At the time he lived the Fenland areas around Cambridgeshire and parts of Norfolk were sparsely populated, and the sudden mists and little known safe ways through the marshy area allowed him to operate a guerilla war against the Norman forces. According to legend he became violently opposed to the Normans after they murdered his brother and stuck his head on a spike, but since legend also entangles him with maidens, dragons and giants it is difficult now to know where fact ends and the embroidery of myth begins. Doubtless Pensthorpe will see both battles and myth from the storytellers this weekend.
As the event covers the whole of the Medieval period it is not only Hereward who will be celebrated. There will be Vikings and later medieval figures and the afternoons will host a formal joust which has become a popular finale to the day’s activities.

The Celts – Simplified

Obviously there are numerous and far more scholarly commentaries on the Celts than this will be, so for anyone looking for detailed information this will be a disappointment as it is intended for young school students. This is a simple introduction to a complex and still unfolding part of our history and I’ve set it out as the FAQs I get asked.
So who were the Celts? Read more…

Is This Lunch or Dinner?

I overheard this child’s innocent question when we were having lunch in a pub recently. The parent gave a vague answer, but little did they realise that this simple question opens a can of worms that involves History, Geography and that terrifying beast – social class in England. Until the early nineteenth century it would have been easier to answer. Read more…

Our Months and Days – the origins of their names


Although I tend not to subscribe to the view that the English have the Romans to thank for everything that smacks of early civilisation, they are the ones to thank for our way of working out the days of the year. Originally they calculated that a year should generally have 355 days in it, but that to average out occasional anomalies (things that didn’t fit) there should be an additional month of 22 or 23 days every two years. This system worked well for a time, Read more…

Mind your Manners – a look at late Medieval and Tudor mealtimes and The Banquet

Anyone who has ever seen an old film about the late Medieval/Tudor period can be forgiven for coming away with the idea that feasts were riotous chances to eat and drink far too much, as rowdily as possible. It would seem that everyone present tried to cram as much meat into their mouths as possible before hurling their bones at hungry dogs who prowled in the rushes on the floor. In fact, the only bit of this message that holds any truth at all are the rushes on the floor, and by Queen Elizabeth’s day rush matting which could be taken outside and shaken or swept was becoming far more fashionable. Read more…

Pensthorpe Medieval Spectacular 2012

This year has been a roller coaster for outdoor heritage events. The wettest drought in memory  led to many established events being cancelled as sites disappeared under water; spectacularly so at Kelmarsh when their Festival of History site flooded as particpants arrived to set up.

The main outdoor season, which tends to end with the Bank Holiday events, is poised to go out with a spectacular bang up in Norfolk. The well established Pensthorpe Medieval Spectacular promises to be the best ever.

Climax of the witch hunt at Pensthorpe 2012, with spectacular natural lighting for effect

An unforgettable moment in the 2012 Pensthorpe Medieval Spectacular. Photos: Black Knight Historical


Read more…

QAIMNS: Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service

Although QAIMNS (The Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service) was founded 110 years ago in 1902 its real origins lay further back in the nineteenth century and it owes a debt to Florence Nightingale. Read more…