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Kelmarsh Festival of History

April 22, 2010

This huge multi period living history event is over two days, the weekend of 17th-18th July. It’s become an annual event, one of English Heritage’s major calender moments, and is one of few places where visitors can quite literally walk through history.  

Groups invited cover the last 2,000 years, and are roughly zoned together. There are arena events, displays and ongoing living history demonstrations of skills. A huge traders’ market in the middle gives the opportunity for unusual retail therapy; after all, it’s not everywhere that you can buy anything from a straw hat to bespoke armour or the pots to cook pottage and the wooden bowls to eat it from.

Last year  the vehicles on display ranged from a longboat copied from the viking period right through to World War II jeeps and transport lorries. But why the enthusiasm for this event? Last year Black Knight Historical was asked to stage a Tudor fashion show in one  of the big marquees. It wasn’t simply a roll call of flashy costumes, but a detailed examination of the many layers worn by both men and women. It showed how fashion subtly changed, how ideas percolated through the stratas of society, the effect of sumptuary laws (which regulated what materials, trims and jewellery could be worn by diferent classes in society), and how garments varied according to the role of the individual. Dress was just as much saying something about the wearer as it is now, so it ranged from the practical – and quite comfortable – through to the luxurious, extravagant, and downright impractical, that allows the wearer to do absolutely nothing except parade their status. The commentary was both relaxed and extremely informative, and it was no surprise that each show was packed out; there wasn’t even standing room left.

This year the aim and the brief has been even more exciting: to take a family and trace their family fortunes through the centuries  by the way they dress. There will, as in life, be ups and downs in the family fortunes. There will be periods of prosperity reflected in their clothes, and leaner times when trade became a necessity. It sounds a novel and ambitious event, and definitely one to include in a day’s visit to this major event.

From → Events

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