Reliving the past has proved immensely popular for touring groups. Angela Youngman details upcoming re-enactment events hosted at a number of historic sites around the UK
The clash of swords, muskets flying, cannons roaring, as well as the more peaceful sounds of weavers, farmers and trades people going about their daily business are all part of the re-enactment tourism sector. Thousands of people attend battle re-enactments across the UK.
Even more visit living history museums portraying the domestic and social life of bygone eras. 2015 marks several anniversaries; 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the end of the Second World War and the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. All of these are reflected in the range of reenactment events taking place throughout the country. By far the largest event is the Military Odyssey, which takes place during August bank holiday. Taking place at the Kent Showground, it claims to be the world’s largest multi-period re-enactment attracting over 4,000 re-enactors. Groups present cover a vast range of periods including the Romans, Vikings, Medieval, English Civil War, Napoleonic, Wild West, World Wars One and Two and Vietnam.
Visitors can observe battles, talk to living history enthusiasts in their encampments, shop at period markets, as well as enjoy displays of fighting, story telling and discover the secrets of medieval medicine.
Not far away at Battle Abbey, there is an annual re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings during the weekend of October 10-11, 2015. Taking place on the actual site of the battle, it is very atmospheric and involves a set piece battle portraying what happened when William of Normandy encountered the Saxon army led by King Harold. Equally memorable is the re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth, which takes place at Bosworth in Leicestershire every August.
Here, visitors enjoy two set piece battles from different periods of the life of Richard III. The climax of the day is the recreation of the actual Battle of Bosworth, in which the last English warrior king lost his life and crown. Other activities include displays of hawking, jousting, the training of knights, as well as medieval players and story tellers.
Entry to the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre is free of charge during the event and visitors can also follow designated battlefield trails around the site. Over in Evesham, there will be a 750th anniversary recreation of a decisive medieval battle over the weekend of August 8-9, 2015. The 1265 Battle of Evesham saw Henry III’s army defeat the barons gathered under parliament’s Simon de Montfort. Set in a pretty riverside location, there will be a recreation of the battle each day, together with living history and period entertainment. A major English Civil War event is being held at Newark in early May to mark the opening of the town’s new National Civil War Centre.
Described as Fortress Newark, it tells the story of the town’s siege and the way in which the battle became a key turning point in the changing fortunes of King Charles I. Living history, parades and skirmishes take place at several locations around the town.
Jousting has always been one of the most popular forms of re-enactment.
Hever Castle, Blenheim Palace and Warwick Castle are among the many sites that hold jousting tournaments regularly throughout the summer.
Wearing full armour, the horse borne knights demonstrate different techniques before taking part in a joust.
Invariably it results in a melee, where the knights fight on foot with swords, maces and shields. The crowds enjoy cheering on their chosen heroes. Attending a joust at sites like Hever Castle & Gardens can offer extra opportunities for visitors, such as exploring the castle and its grounds.
Union and Confederate soldiers face each other across the battlefields at Tatton Court in Cheshire and the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings in Worcestershire, as they demonstrate just what life was like during the American Civil War. Drill displays, skirmishes and camp life reflecting this turbulent period of US history are brought vividly to life by the UK’s largest American Civil War re-enactment society. The dramatic events of World War One and World War Two have a perennial appeal, which is why numerous re-enactment events are held every year. The 1940’s Weekend at the East Lancashire Railway involves displays, skirmishes, workshops, fashion and music. The Home Guard tends to play a major role in events such as these, which are held at preserved railways across the country. Visitors can enjoy rides on steam trains, as well as period activities within stations that are decked out with sandbags and air raid precautions.
The Tank Museum in Dorset contains the world’s best collection of tanks and armoured vehicles. Many of these vehicles – together with those belonging to hundreds of re-enactors – are shown in action at the annual Tankfest held on June 27 and 28, 2015. This year, the sight and sound of these massive vehicles will be accompanied by flying displays performed by an original Spitfire plane.
In September, the Tank Museum will hold a Warfare Through the Ages event in which the Sealed Knot, Napoleonic Association, Southern Skirmish and many medieval groups will demonstrate military techniques from various periods of history.
Living history encampments, tank demonstrations, First World War battle reenactments plus numerous drills, weaponry displays and mini battles provide activities that appeal to a wide audience.
Salute To The 40’s held at Historic Dockyard Chatham has been described as one of Britain’s best vintage festivals. This year, it aims to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in style. Live music, dancing, military and home front displays, Spitfire planes, vehicles and vintage fairs bring back the wartime years, as well as the period immediately afterwards. Quite apart from all those activities, visitors can also enjoy the vast range of historic buildings, whilst discovering crafts like rope making and sail making, which were essential to the ships built and maintained here.
Dickensian Christmas is always a popular activity at places like Rochester and Portsmouth, where visitors are transported back to a world that Charles Dickens would have known. Ebenezer Scrooge walks through the streets, where there are Victorian markets and costumed carol singers. Visitors can combine the opportunity to do some Christmas shopping while enjoying a period style day out. The attractions of living history are not confined to special events.
There are many museums offering opportunities for groups to experience domestic and social life of a former age, usually the Victorians.
At Morwhellham Quay in Devon, a deserted Victorian village has been brought back to life. It now portrays events from 1865 when the village was experiencing its greatest success as a small port, responsible for the transporting of copper mined in the hills above Morwellham.
Visitors can explore the village, take a lesson within a Victorian schoolroom and discover the horrors of child labour. There is even a tour into a copper mine.
At Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge, visitors can take a ride on a fairground, dress in period costume at the photographers, explore blast furnaces, see traditional skills and discover what life was like for a Victorian housewife. With a site covering 52 acres, there is plenty to do.
A similar experience can be had at Beamish in County Durham, where visitors can explore life from the 1820’s to the 1940’s. Collieries were an important part of life in North East England and thus visitors can see a colliery and its adjacent pit village. The lifestyle of a wealthy farmer during the early 1800’s can be seen at Pockerley Old Hall, while Edwardian times are celebrated at the railway station.
A Victorian town and a 1940’s farm complete the offer.
The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley focuses on the Victorians and the 1930’s, together with a colliery and iron works. You can watch early films in the tiny cinema, have a drink in the Victorian pub and eat fish and chips out of newspaper. For an extra charge, there are canal boat rides into the maze of tunnels underneath Dudley Zoo. With the lights turned out, the water drips continuously into the canal and demonstrations of ‘legging’ a boat through the tunnels brings home vividly how hard life was for the canal users.
Brooklands Museum in Weybridge has an unusual car and aircraft heritage, which is reflected in its re-enactment events.
In May, it has a 1940’s Relived event where visitors are encouraged to dress in period clothing and take part in appropriate activities. Two months later in August, there is a 1930’s event complete with track races and Tick Tack men. At other times of the year, visitors can sit in period cars and aircraft and discover the skills of the early pioneers of road and air. The volunteer guides learned their skills from those who developed them at the start of the industry and now enjoy passing on their knowledge to visitors. It is even possible to discover the secrets of Concorde from a former Concorde pilot.
With group discounts, special facilities for coach drivers and a host of activities at every site, living history has much to offer potential visitors. These are unforgettable days out which have a perennial attraction to all ages.