Find out where to watch Saxons and Vikings going about their business, see knights in shining armour and witness life-like battles, or spend the day with some Tudors – Naomi Mackay has gathered a selection of attractions for you to choose from.
Bringing history alive, re-enactments are becoming more and more popular. This year is the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. It’s a major landmark, but there are also plenty of other opportunities to witness blasts from the past, from Roman times to the more recent Victorian era.
The National Civil War Centre in Newark is celebrating its first birthday in May with a major English Civil War re-enactment across the town centre. Expect to see hundreds of soldiers invade the town, with a military camp established in Newark Castle’s grounds. Troops will march through the Market Place and visitors can meet them, try on some armour, and see how the camp kitchens work.
Civil War re-enactment in Newark, Nottinghamshire, May 1-2, 11am to 5pm. Re-enactment events are free. Group tickets (10-plus) from April 2016 are £7.20 for the National Civil War Centre. For more information visit www.nationalcivilwarcentre.com.
Another fairly new visitor centre is King Richard III: Dynasty, Death and Discovery, dedicated to the king whose remains were found beneath a car park in Leicester.
At the nearby Bosworth Battlefield in August, a re-enactment event at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre will tell the story of how the famous King was killed in battle. More than 400 people will take part in the event, with living history camps, falconry flying and cannon fire demonstrations completing the experience.
The Bosworth Battlefield re-enactment takes place on August 20–21. Group tickets to the Centre cost £6 for adults, and guided walks for up to 34 people are £50. Free coach parking and driver entry is available. Call 01455 290429, or for more information visit www.bosworthbattlefield.com.
Group visits to the King Richard III Visitor Centre are £7 for adults, with free entry for operator and driver, and free familiarisation visits. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01162 294132. For more information visit www.kriii.com.
A historical event that will also be recreated on the spot where it originally took place is The Battle. While the Welsh village of St Fagan’s is a serene spot today, in the 17th century it was the site of a bloody battle where the Parliamentary army crushed the Royalists. In May, the English Civil War Society will recreate this bi-annual event with the smell of gun smoke and the clash of swords.
The Battle takes place on May 28-29, 6pm to 9pm, at St Fagan’s National History Museum, Cardiff, Wales. Tickets cost £10 for adults and £5 for children (no group discounts). Call 02920 230130, or for more information visit www.ticketlineuk.com/event/st-fagans.
Entry to the museum is free. Groups get 10% off in the museum café and restaurant on a minimum spend of £5 per person. Coach parking is free. For group bookings, call 02920 573500, or for more information visit www.museumwales.ac.uk/stfagans.
If you want to experience a number of eras in one day, head to the Milton Keynes Museum’s History Festival in May.
Visitors will be able to find out how medieval coins were made, and how to fire the guns used in the English Civil War. Discover how people lived, worked and occupied themselves during the early reign of King Henry VIII. Moving back in time, you can also meet Saxons and Vikings going about their daily business, and then come closer to the present day as Harry and Edna recreate wartime Britain in the 1940s.
History Festival, Milton Keynes Museum, May 14-15. Groups of 10-plus receive a £1 discount – entry costs £6.50 for adults. For more information visit www.miltonkeynesmuseum.org.uk.
Another event that aims to take visitors through hundreds of years of history in a weekend is the new History Live 2016 at Stonham Barns, Suffolk, in July.
The weekend will see visitors journey through a historical timeline of life and combat throughout the ages. The Wuffa Saxons and Viking Re-enactment Society will offer archery, knights in armour and combat displays, while the White Rose of Stuart Living History Society will recreate the late 17th century, and early to mid-18th century.
History Live 2016, Stonham Barns, Suffolk, July 2-3. For more information visit www.historyalive2016.weebly.com.
For a more concentrated look at Medieval England, head to Arundel Castle in Sussex. In April, Life in a Medieval Castle will include weapons, clothing, combats, crafts and demonstrations from the 11th to 15th century. Find out how weapons and armour, as well as fashion and crafts changed over 500 years. If you’re after more action, there are Medieval Tournaments in June or August – or see the Norman Knights and Crusaders meet at the castle to prepare for the long journey to the Holy Land.
Life in a Medieval Castle, April 2-3.
Medieval Tournament, June 18-19.
Norman Knight’s Tournament, July 9-10.
Jousting and Medieval Tournament Week, July 26-31.
Medieval Tournament, August 20-21.
History in Action, August 27-29.
Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland covers a wide range of historical eras, from Anglo-Saxons and Vikings to medieval times and the English Civil War.
In May, the Erskine Regiment recreate the life of soldiers of the 1640s in the English Civil War, followed by Vikings invading the castle with a tented camp, talks and demonstrations. Find out how Anglo Saxons lived, ate and fought with St Cuthbert’s Land in July, and during August, discover the secrets of medieval life, with this living history event from the Clarence Household.
Erskine Regiment, May 1-2.
Vikings Are Coming, May 29-30.
Living History with St Cuthbert’s Land, July 16-17.
The Clarence Household, August 27-29.
Call 01668 214208 for group visits. For more information visit www.bamburghcastle.com.
For a taste of Tudor life, Suffolk’s Kentwell Hall is the place to go. It offers the country’s largest Tudor re-enactments, with up to 250 characters recreating life in a manor house. The first large event runs at Easter, with Tudor-style music and dancing, hot cross bun making, and activities for children. Other major events are staged on May Day, Midsummer, Michaelmas and Apple Weekend, and Christmas.
In May, visitors can be taken Through the Ages, when Medieval, Tudor, Victorian and World War Two times are covered. Finally, there’s a 1916 wartime event in August.
May Day Celebrations, April 30-May 2.
Kentwell Through the Ages, May 28-30.
Tudor Midsummer at Kentwell, June 25-July 3.
1916: The House at War, plus Tudor Archery, August 6-7.
Tudor High Summer, August 27-29.
Tudor Michaelmas and Apple Weekend, September 24-25.
Kentwell‘s Magical Christmas, December 10-11 and 17-18.
There’s a 5% discount for groups of 15-plus, and 10% for 50-plus or more. Guided tours are available at times when the house is otherwise closed, and catering options are available. Call 01787 310207. For more information visit www.kentwell.co.uk.
St Alban’s Last Hours
A re-enactment of a different kind takes place in June at St Albans in Herts, where you are likely to see a rather grisly public ‘execution’. The ancient market city will re-enact the last few hours of Britain’s first saint, Alban. It’s a gory tale that will delight bloodthirsty children!
Over the weekend, enormous carnival puppets, Roman chariots and children dressed as lions, centurions, roses and executioners parade through the city, ending up at the cathedral where Alban is ‘executed’ in front of thousands of people. There will also be street festivals, magic, circus workshops and more.
Alban Weekend, June 18-19.
There are three coach parking points, as well as set-down points for passengers. For more information visit www.enjoystalbans.com.
For more on Roman life, head to Chedworth Villa in Gloucestershire, which offers a number of exciting events throughout the summer.
For Father’s Day (June 18-19), there is a Gladiator arena where you can witness gladiatorial fighting – children can take dad along and see him sold as a slave to fight in the arena! There are military displays, and a chance to see how Romans lived, thanks to the Roman Military Society, which takes up residence from July 30 to August 5.
Call 01242 890256, or for more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chedworth-roman-villa.
Battle of Hastings
As mentioned earlier, this year sees the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, and during September and October there will be cultural events marking the anniversary, including the re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings on October 15 and 16 at Battle Abbey.
Each afternoon, the Battle of Hastings will feature hundreds of troops, including mounted knights on horseback, who will recreate the tactics used by an exhausted King Harold and his weary troops who had marched from Yorkshire to face their enemy. There will also be author talks and panel discussions, book signings and a play explaining events leading up to the battle. Falconry displays, Norman and Saxon encampments, a traders’ market, along with have-a-go archery and the chance for kids to take part in mock battles, completes the fun.
Adult: £13.60, Concession: £11.65, Child: £8.10. Groups of 11-plus get a 15% discount, with free entry for tour leader and coach driver. Pre-book from mid-March on 03703 331183, or for more information visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/battleabbey.
Days of Elegance
If you want something altogether more genteel, fans of Jane Austen will be delighted with a visit to Gunby Hall and Gardens in Lincolnshire, which hosts a Regency Day on May 2. Transport your group back to the days of elegance and etiquette with lots of costumed visitors and activities for the whole family.
Call 01754 890102, or for more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gunby-estate-hall-and-gardens.
Finally, there are two chances to head back to Wartime Britain. Upton House and Gardens in Warwickshire hosts VE Day Celebrations on May 7-8, with re-enactments, music, food and even a themed pub! The celebrations carry on into the evening with a special tea dance.
Call 01295 670266, or for more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/upton-house-and-gardens.
At Blists Hill Victorian Town, near Ironbridge, visitors can travel forward in time for a 1940s summer evening on June 18 from 6pm to 9pm, when visitors can meet costumed characters, and enjoy entertainment, music and activities. Find out how food rationing worked and enjoy a spam fritter from the chip shop before joining in the Home Guard’s drill.
*Please note: all dates given in this article are for 2016 events.