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Living History 2011

March 10, 2011

With all the gloomy news about cutbacks, grant cuts and austerity it seems fair to expect a bleak year ahead for Living History and anything that doesn’t involve the forthcoming Olympics in 2012. However it isn’t by any means all doom and gloom, so especial praise for free events that are still being staged because so many people come and enjoy them and in turn bring business to the area. There are still going to be free open days at certain properties, for example, and the terrific Tewkesbury Medieval Festival, billed as the largest free event in Europe, is being held over the weekend of the 9th-10th July this year. Apart from a huge traders’ market and strolling performers there are living history encampments of both Lancastrians and the York  households and huge pitched battles which take place each afternoon http://www.tewkesburymedievalfestival.org/ If you do go, though, please give more than a smile to the people shaking collection buckets as all the arrangements for everyone’s safety and well being come with a price attached.

The previous month up in Peterborough sees another excellent multi period living history event. The annual Living History Festival on the weekend of 25-26 June takes place in and around the Cathedral precincts, often with special events in the cathedral itself. This is another event which is completely free for visitors to wander around and engage with knowledgeable history interpreters. It’s run in conjunction with the museum which is open at the same time and provides an excellent way, especially for children, to engage with  the past. There is a special Tudor connection for Peterborough as Queen Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII is buried there and the irascible monarch himself will be making an appearance. The varied goods on sale at the historic market are also interesting and it gives a chance to showcase other local attractions and activities such as Flag Fen with its prehistoric sweetway and recreations. The atmosphere around the bustling Cathedral green is always really friendly and sometimes events spill into the town. Last year Saturday shoppers were bemused to see a Dark Ages troop of warriors marching through their precinct while World War 2 came alive again with forces personnel enjoying moments of leisure.

Both English Heritage and the National Trust are still holding events this year, and it’s essential to check the diaries of properties to see what will happen during the Summer months. Kelmarsh Hall, for instance, is still holding its annual Festival of History over its usual mid July weekend http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/events/festival-of-history-2011/ , though this is now moving into the area of ticketed events. Although admission can seem expensive there really is a huge amount to see, with a wide range of arena events taking place throughout each day. It makes sense to look at the time table in advance in order to plan ahead as it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the choice available.

Next a word in favour of events run by private rather than corporate organisations. Once again Black Knight Historical http://www.blackknighthistorical.co.uk/ is behind the organisation of the superb Medieval Spectacular at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve over the August Bank holiday (27th-29th). http://www.pensthorpe.com/Now in its 7th year, this has gone from strength to strength and is one of few medieval events where it is possible to see how things changed and developed over the course of time rather than being simply generic in its use of the word ‘medieval’. It also has the advantage of being set in superb surroundings with the lakes and River Wensum. (To read last year’s review go to http://www.livinghistorytoday.com/?p=202).

Last year Hoveton Hall near Wroxham in Norfolk celebrated its 200th anniversary with a Glorious Britannia weekend and it’s a privilege to be invited to return there this year. The Victorian weekend is over the 6th-7th August when the beautifully planted grounds look magnificent. There is a walled garden with herbaceous beds, a terrific kitchen garden, lake, informal area and restored glasshouse as well as the musicians, story tellers, photographers, explorers, soldiers and others who will be around the site. http://www.hovetonhallgardens.co.uk/index.asp?pid=6

For me the Summer starts in May up in Guisborough, where Prior Pursglove College http://www.pursglove.ac.uk/about-us/450-celebrations is celebrating its 450th anniversary of the charter signed by Queen Elizabeth in 1561. The college has already held a number of celebratory events, and on May 7th there will be a Tudor day with interpreters,  a parade and a picnic as the culmination of the festivities.

Still on a Tudor theme, Blickling Hall in Norfolk is hosting a Tudor weekend over the 18th- 19th June this year. The house has specific links with the Norfolk family and Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, is known to have visited there. However, during this weekend King Henry VIII may have met his match as all six wives will be in attendance as well as interpreters, story tellers and musicians who will bring the 16th century to lfe. This is another event organised by Black Knight Historical.

The season closes in mid October at Mannington Hall http://norfolkcoast.co.uk/articles/mannington.htm with the annual Norfolk Living History Fair. This event grown over the last few years and this year, although there will still be the range of periods on display, there will be a special emphasis on the Second World War with a variety of forces’ personnel and civilians in attendance.

Obviously, as always, this list is extremely selective and really only highlights the events that I will be joining. There are lots more taking place all over the country, so do check the websites of properties and areas you may be visiting to see what’s on offer. One thing that is always guaranteed though, is a memorable and enjoyable day out with lots of photographic opportunities and the chance to engage at first terms with the realities of life in the past.

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