And I’m Back!

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Sorry for the delays in posting, all! Had some trouble with the laptop. But I’m back from the USA and I’ve already got some posts lined up for y’all. Here’s hoping you’ve not gone and left me for some newer, flashier re-enactment blog!

I’ll have the first post up tomorrow, then I’ll be having a Battle Report for Monday. You’ll like this one, I’m sure. Until then, Wæs þu hæl! Be in good health!

Gone Viking

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Alas I have nothing to say today, although to some that may be a good thing that the hot air has deflated somewhat on this windbag. Likewise I shall be unable to post for this week and the next, as I shall be visiting distant and exotic shores, populated by strange and hostile people with unusual dress, customs and speech. Where a man must be brave and of strong soul, or else he shall lose his very mind to the depravity to be found there. A land forsaken by God, and forsaken by civilisation.


That’s right; I’m going to New Jersey.


But fear not, for I leave you in the hands of a friend who’s offered to write his own articles while I’m away for your amusement. So if you derive any sort of enjoyment from this blog, he should be more than capable of holding your attention until my return.


I now leave you with him and this humorous picture.



Re-enactment for Dummies: On Matters of Kit Part 3 — Kit Maintenance

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Something that should be said for kit, as an afterthought, is making sure your equipment is well maintained. For some this is pretty obvious, but it nevertheless bears saying for those who may not realise that even kit that looks pretty solid needs to be carefully checked and repaired. So I’ll spare a few quick words on it here.

For metals, maintenance is pretty straight forward. Keeping your armour from getting wet, dealing with rust as it appears and hammering or filing out dents and marks will keep your armour and weapons going for years. If ever you’re on the field, the sky starts to look gloomy and there’s a cool, damp feel to the air that suggests imminent rain, move at once to your encampment and make sure that anything that could rust is moved into somewhere warm and dry immediately, or else just put a tarp over it if you lack the ability to do so. Never let your weapons rest on moist earth either, always place them on top of a sheet or a wooden shield.

In keeping with, going over your equipment with some wet and dry paper, a scouring pad or a file along with some WD-40 after every show is not a bad idea. Check for areas where rust is gathering and rub the Hell out of it until you’re left with non-oxidised iron. Then rub it down with an oily rag or take some other measure to protect the metal from rust.

maintaining kit

The best friend of re-enactors everywhere.

Some re-enactors like to polish their armour too, so as to get a very Knights of the Round Table shine to it, which I suppose is very convenient if your battle tactics include dazzling the opposition until they fall over. There’s some debate as to just how clean armour worn by knights was, with some thinking that it probably would have been fairly rusted and battered during a campaign while others state that, in the interests of keeping it functional, knights (or their squires anyway) would have spent a lot of time making sure it was clean and buffed. Rusted armour is very brittle, after all. That being said, you should try to skirt along the middle of the two extremes as much as possible. Clean armour is good, but make sure it’s not too shiny. Likewise hints of rust, scuffs and other wear and tear is good if you want to get across the idea that it’s armour with history, but make sure it’s controlled. Certainly all the major hinges and supports should be as rust free and as well oiled as possible.

Chainmail in particular needs to be constantly checked after shows. As you move around in it, the individual links will stretch and start to weaken, and after what can be as little as a few weeks of use you’ll start to see little links pinging off and littering the floor or your kit bag. This sort of wear needs to be seen to sooner rather than later, before the damage becomes extensive and more difficult to repair. Replacing weak links is tedious and time consuming, so you’ll save yourself time if you start the work while the hole is still only a few links large. Riveted chainmail, for the added cost, is in less need of repair because the links are better supported and reinforced. You could wear the stuff for a good few years and lose only a few links in that whole duration. But don’t get complacent; check riveted chainmail as much as non-riveted.

Swords and other edged weapons should also be checked not only for rust, but all for nicks and dents called burrs.

burred sword

See this? You want to avoid this as much as possible.

Run you hand along the blade after a fight and you’ll feel numerous marks and bits of metal where the edge has met another weapon. As a matter of safety, as well as in the interest of maintaining your blade, you’ll want to hammer and file down these as soon as possible. It’s very easy for a particularly bad burr to catch against someone and tear against fabric, or worse — flesh, if you’re not careful. Because of is, all good shows will safety-check your weapons for such marks before you’re allowed on field. You can also find numerous kits online dedicated to maintaining swords, which will allow you to help keep it rust-free and suitably shiny.

Cloth kit is easy; if you spot tears then move at once to sew them up again before they degrade further. I should not have to say that you should use thread that matches with the material you’re repairing. Make sure your stitching is strong and tight, and that the thread you’ve chosen will be strong enough to hold down your repairs. The same principle applies with shoes, although bear in mind that water can seep in through the holes you’ve made if you’re careless in their repair. If in doubt, send your clothes or shoes to someone who knows what they’re doing.

Unfortunately, as I’m not an archer, I can’t really offer much advice on the maintenance of bows and arrows. What little I know includes things such as never leaving the bow strung. As soon as your bow will no longer be in use, remove the string and slip it and your bow staff back into its case. Failure to do so will warp the wood and stretch the string, both of which will reduce your bow’s strength. You must also make sure that the bowstring remains dry; run it along some beeswax to keep it waterproof and wax the bow to keep it polished and supple. Before using the bow, check for cracks — these can degrade as the bow is used and result in its snapping.

Check authentic tents for mould too. Mould degrades the canvas, encouraging it to rot, and makes it prone to leaking, to say nothing of the health issues that may arise from sleeping in a mouldy tent. If ever a tent is caught in the rain, as soon as you’ve packed it up and gotten it home you should stretch it out to dry, if you’re able. Scrape away any developing mould carefully with a knife.

mouldy tent

Your lungs will thank you later.

You’ll never get your tents dazzling white, nor should you really want to. Bright, vibrant fabrics look out of place in a medieval market. But you should try to keep them as clean as possible nevertheless.

Re-Enactment For Dummies: On Matters of Kit Part 2 — Purchase


Now there are a large number of options available to you with regards to finding where to buy your re-enactment equipment. Chances are, this being an age where the internet is a pretty dominant part of Western life, your first port of call will be looking for a merchant online. Tapping in “re-enactment supplies” or “re-enactment equipment” into your search engine of choice will quickly bring up a large array of websites all of which will be able to offer you the things you need to go medieval (or Roman, Napoleonic, Civil War and so on). Remember that you don’t have to restrict yourself to re-enactment supply websites either; any good LARP (Live-Action Roleplay) website will also have a good number of costumes and props available to help bulk out your kit. My Saxon tunic and a leather-bound book I sometimes sketch in while on field were both bought from LARP suppliers.


Helmets, shoes, gloves and chainmail should be your first purchases.

Helmets, shoes, gloves and chainmail should be your first purchases.


Online retailers are ideal for quickly and reliably giving you pre-made goods that are made to traders’ standards, which as a new re-enactor you’re going to want to focus on at first. While something tailor-made to a design of your own would be very nice indeed, that will be both expensive, time consuming and difficult to find until you have a better idea of the people who make equipment on commission. As a newbie, you just want kit that is both kind to your wallet and looks good on you. Plus, most of the people you’d get tailor made equipment from will be found during shows, so the internet is going to be your first port of call during the winter season or in between events.

The websites I usually look to for re-enactment equipment include Battle Merchant, Jelling Dragon, Get Dressed for Battle and the The latter two will be among the first websites you’ll see if you look up re-enactment supplies on Google, whereas Jelling Dragon and Battle Merchant were referred to me by other re-enactors. Dark Blade is also a good website for cloth kit, belts and accessories. Battle Merchant is actually a German company, but although their prices are initially listed as Euros they have a handy little sidebar that can convert them into pounds stirling, so you don’t need to work anything out yourself. Those like me who are absolutely toxic with maths can breathe a sigh of relief.

Whereas Battle Merchant, and Get Dressed for Battle cater to a wide variety of time periods, Jelling Dragon focuses exclusively on Viking crafts, costume and weapons. That said, the work they do is absolutely stunning, and it’s quite easy to adapt it to Anglo-Saxon kit in general. After all, they would have been trading with Nordic countries to begin with, and after the 9th century the Danelaw, and subsequent Danish and Norwegian invasions would have seen a lot of Scandinavian influence exerted on Anglo-Saxon people. Their goods are not unreasonably priced, either, although when you do see a high price tag you can be assured that it’s worth the cost.

Look at this and tell me this isn't worth the price tag.

Look at this and tell me this isn’t worth the price tag.

One thing you’ll immediately notice with these websites is that the equipment is pretty expensive. Most stuff you’ll be buying will be around or over the £50 mark, while weapons and armour will quickly see you into the £100 mark and beyond. Alas, this is something true to re-enactment in general and websites have the added expense of shipping that you’ll need to be aware of. Spend some time flicking between the suggested websites to find a price that agrees with you.

Another place to look at would be eBay; however that carries its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, bids being lost at the last second (often literally) by someone who places in a higher price than you just before the timer runs out. You’re also more likely to run aground of dodgey equipment or accidentally buying something that turns out not to be what you expected. Once, a member of the Free Men placed a bid for something that he believed to be an authentically made war horn, only to find out upon its arrival that it was more of a novelty party blower. Needless to say the duck-like squawk it emitted inspired neither fear nor bravery.

Stalls are the next place to look for and have a significant advantage over online retailers in that you can actually see, handle and discuss what you’re about to buy with the stall owner. This allows you to work out in advance how well it will compliment your outfit, any adjustments you might need to make, and discover flaws that you would not be able to discern over the internet. It’s not uncommon to see and purchase things you’d never have considered having, as well. Most stalls will also attend multiple shows throughout the year, so even if you can’t afford something now you can easily check with the stall owner about where they’ll be next, and save up to purchase it there if it’s a show you’ll be attending as well. If you get on particularly well with them and know you’re reliable, they may even offer to place it to one side for you to stop other people from buying it.

Prepareth thine purses.

Prepareth thine purses.

Second hand stalls are a good place to find cheap equipment for those whose budgets are tight. You’ll often find bargain bins filled with things such as drinking horns, old shoes, gauntlets or even swords and helmets, most of which will be at or under £50 in price.

This also brings along the great medieval mercantile tradition of haggling, which is something that some stalls are quite happy to engage in. Remember that most stall owners want to get rid of the things they’re selling and want to make a return on the money they’d have spent setting up shop at that event. Not only have they had to shell out securing their right to sell things during the show, but they’d probably have spent a lot just on petrol as well. As such if you spot a nice cloak or a tankard that you’d like, but aren’t quite sure of the price, try to offer something at, say, £5 or £10 less. You’re more likely to be successful during the last hours on Sunday, as there’ll be a greater desire to offload as much stock as possible before leaving. Having a good rapport or connections with people the stall owner might know also helps.

Of course, do not assume that every stall owner will be open to haggling. Indeed it would not be unreasonable for them to consider it to be very rude, as it suggests that you think they’re overcharging for their goods. If ever you’re uncertain, just look around the stall in case there’s a sign that says something along the lines of “Listed prices are final”, or else just ask. Barter is common enough amongst re-enactors that they’d probably not take offense.

If you’re really strapped for cash and find that looking at first-hand equipment does nothing but make you wish for greater financial independence, then there’s still an alternative.


God knows, a lot of the stuff is old enough…

Charity shops are a good, cheap and easy to find source of small pieces of clothing and equipment that you may not automatically consider. A cheap pair of plain brown leather shoes, although they won’t impress people who strive for authenticity, will usually pass unnoticed by the Average Public. Likewise a cheap pair of nicely-patterned curtains can easily be repurposed to make a Suitably Gay medieval doublet. Have a browse, and use your imagination and initiative. Doing so may save you a bundle that you would otherwise have spent on something you may not have easily been able to afford.

Remember that your group will (or should) want you to get the most out of your hobby and won’t stand idly by while you’re languishing from kit woes. As well as loaning kit out to you, many older members may be willing to sell you their equipment second-hand. As they’re a part of your group, they should also be willing to offer you a very generous discount, because by helping you they’re helping the group at large. If you look good, the group looks good. Suddenly, a helmet that would have cost you £65 online or at a stall will only cost you half that much. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility for them to waive payment entirely, or substitute it for drinks or a favour, but don’t expect that. As a rule of thumb, always assume that you’ll have to pay.

Another thing they’ll be able to do is to point you in the direction of cheap stalls during shows, or else work their own contacts to try and get you a better deal. Over the time re-enactors will come to know and make connections with a wide variety of people, and as is often the case who you know can be far more rewarding that what you know.

Once your basic kit is sorted you can start looking for more expensive, personal kit, such as swords forged especially for you, costumes made to your specifications or even your own canvas tent so you don’t have to put up with everyone’s snoring and flatulence. It does not take long before your bare-bones chainmail-and-helmet job is accentuated with a fur cloak, rosaries, a drinking horn, a seax or a specially designed tabard showing off your family’s crest. Remember to try and space out your purchases as much as you can, and not to fall to the temptation of thinking that you need to look fantastic straight out of the box. The time it takes for you to acquire even the most basic elements of your kit is time you’re spending training, and learning the ropes of your group and the hobby. Once you’re properly equipped and start looking good, you should be trained and confident enough to start taking larger roles during the show, where your new kit and training both can best be shown off.

Re-Enactment for Dummies: Matters of Kit Part 1 — Planning Your Outfit

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So you want to be a re-enactor. You’ve decided on the historical period you’d most like to focus on, looked around and found a local group, attended one of their meetings or training sessions, swung around a sword or held a musket, and have decided that this is the hobby for you. Upon being welcomed to the group you may have been told of upcoming shows and training events, maybe even given a brief starters’ handbook, and paid up your membership fee (if you have one) and your insurance. If you have been given a handbook, and even if you haven’t someone will probably talk this through with you, chances are you’ll immediately be made aware of the equipment you’ll need to buy. Things like costume, weapons, armour, authentic eating utensils, shoes, belts, and all and sundry.

Looks expensive doesn't it?

Looks expensive doesn’t it?

One of the first things that should come immediately to mind is: where do I get all this stuff from? How much will it cost me? What if I can’t get it all?

This is actually a rather lengthy topic, so I’ll be dividing it into two sections, first how to plan your kit so as to make it as cost effective as possible, and then advice on where to look for kit and tips on purchase.

First of all, as a completely new member, do not panic. No one is going to expect you to go out and buy all this stuff in one sitting, especially not if you’re a student or don’t have an income that can support such a splurge. A lot of this stuff costs and chances are it’ll be a season or two before you’ve gathered the basics of the equipment you need. Until then, you can rely on your group to help kit you out until you can acquire your own stuff; most re-enactors who’ve been in the hobby for a while gather surplus kit rather rapidly, of which they’d be more than happy to loan for shows or training sessions. Larger groups may even have a collection of group kit set aside precisely for that purpose, especially amongst Napoleonic, Civil War and Revolutionary War groups, where soldiers fought in specific uniforms.

Of course, such kit runs afoul of the One-Size-Fits-None nature that is typical of clothing and equipment being loaned out. It’s also less likely to be in good repair, although it should still be serviceable. As such unless you’re exceedingly lucky and just happen to fit the exact size of jacket or boot you’re borrowing, or if you’re able to make adjustments for a more comfortable fit, chances are you’ll never be quite at ease with the equipment you’re using. However that’s largely due to the fact that this is equipment is not intended to be a permanent arrangement; at some point you’ll be expected to start buying your own kit.

There’s no two ways about it. This is going to cost you a pretty penny.

Fortunately, as I’ve said, you don’t have to buy it all at once. At most all you’ll need to do is buy one piece of kit for every show you attend (assuming there are stalls there) and maybe some larger pieces over the Christmas season. Try to orientate your purchases to the show you’ll next be doing. For example, if you’re going to Templecombe, then look at getting a Templar-style bucket helm or some chainmail. If you’re doing Agincourt, maybe look at an open-faced salet or a breastplate. Spread out this way, you won’t feel the strain as much as you would if you tried to buy it all in one go. There is no particular period that is cheap, although there are periods that are easier to deal with than others.

The Napoleonic period, for example, requires a specific style of uniform, specific weapons that would have been used in the period and a specific style of dress. You can’t, for example, have long hair and a beard (unless you were part of a specific part of the Army or Navy). Sometimes you may also be required to be part of a specific regiment, depending on the group or show, which further limits how much improvisation you can do. Similar constraints surround American/English Civil War re-enactors and Roman re-enactors. If you have a group uniform, you will be given all the advice you need on how to procure it.

However Early Medieval (450AD-1000AD) is much more flexible; all you need is chainmail, a tunic, trousers, a belt and shoes, an appropriate helmet, and a weapon, most probably a sword and shield, a spear or a Dane-axe. Add a tabard and a slightly later helmet, such as a kettle helm, and you can carry that up to the High Middle Ages (1000AD-1299AD). This will cover most Western and Northern European countries of those periods. You can also have a little more freedom with your hair and facial growth too, although remember that no period before the 1970’s will allow for a giant neon pink mohawk. Most medieval groups also have a uniform tabard or design, but this is relatively cheap and easy to get hold of. EKHO’s cost around £15 for a simple sleeveless design, while a slightly more posh sleeved one was £30.

The first thing you should do before doing any planning is to do decide what exactly you envision yourself doing and role you intend to fill. If you want to be a nobleman, for example, you’re going to need a lot of nice looking and probably expensive stuff, as well as very good equipment if you’ll be doing combat. In addition, you’ll need to be aware of medieval fashion trends and plan your outfit accordingly. Before the 1300s, for example, robes and loose fitting tunics were very much in fashion, but the time of Edward III’s reign noblemen started wearing much tighter-fitting hoses and jerkins that emphasized their body shape. Peasant classes, meanwhile, didn’t see as much radical changes to their clothes and you can keep it a lot cheaper. If you want to be a priest or a monk, you can actually just buy one costume and leave it at that for the rest of your period. A Benedictine costume will last for the whole duration of the Middle Ages, whereas Franciscan and Cistercian habits come in a bit later around the 1200s and 1100s respectively. They’ve changed very little since their founding.

A great resource in that regard would be pictures and images from the time period you’re focusing on, such as the Bayeux Tapestry or medieval Bibles, or illustrated history books for children. Many of the later contain beautifully portrayed pictures of people in historical garb, all of which would have been painstakingly researched. Check out your local bookstore’s historical section and have a flick through; doing so will give you a good mental image of how your costume will look when completed.


Pictures like these are a fantastic primary source for medieval artefacts, costume and weapons

Once you’ve planned your role, you can start planning the things you need. A farmer’s wife, for example, will want a plain, homespun dress, headdress, a belt and shoes, whereas an ordinary foot soldier can get away with hoses, chainmail, a hauberk, a kettle helm, some shoes, a belt, a weapon of his choice and a padded coif.

Ultimately the key to purchasing re-enactment kit is learning to be utilitarian, to be practical and being able to get the most out of your equipment. Try to figure out what you can get away with. There are some cases where you can substitute authentic clothing for more easily acquired modern clothing. For example my group is fond of turning jogging pants inside out, so that the more fuzzy side of the material is visible and giving the impression of a rough, homespun fabric. Sometimes we might lightly bleach black ones to make a more natural-looking brown colour as well. Another member of our group buys women’s shoes, not because of some sordid perversion (I think) but because they look rather medieval in their design and materials. You can get plain leather belts from any clothing store, but remember to go with brown — black dye for leather didn’t arise until the Early Modern period. This won’t work with every group or event; a good number will demand clothing that is made with historical materials and methods, even going so far as to check the stitching to make sure that it isn’t machine-stitched, or that the pattern is in period. But for a group like mine, which is happy to cut corners, it’ll do in a pinch.

Another example of how to get the most from your kit would be my sword, sometimes called Mercy, which I chose precisely because it straddled between two different time periods. First appearing around 1050AD and being very simple in its design, I can reasonably use it for Early and High Medieval events, and it won’t look out of place in a Late Medieval event, either. Try to buy kit that gives you as much coverage as you can; go for the plain and undecorated. A plain white linen shirt with no specific patterns or decoration is unobtrusive enough to last from the Early Medieval through to the Regency period. Likewise medieval turn-shoes can last from the Viking invasions up until the Tudor period.

You don’t even need to buy kit specifically for re-enactment. LARP costume often contains many cheap and highly effective pieces that can be used to make your own outfit a little more unique, from tunics to belts to pouches.

Through such planning you can start to piece together a rough idea of what your final costume will look like, largely by deciding on the sort of things you’ll need to buy, whether there’s anything you can do to make your costume cheaper and getting an idea of what the final product will look like. Try to think of things for your costume that are easy and cheap to obtain while still looking good at a distance, and try to buy costume that can give you as much historical mileage as possible. Once you’ve got the basics of your kit down, you can start planning on how to branch out and add to it.

Battle Report: Grove Ferry Inn Charity Raft Race

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So this Sunday the Freemen of the Blean were asked to do something rather unusual by our standards by the fine folks of Grove Ferry Inn, a rather gorgeous pub just a quarter of an hour away from Canterbury. As you may have gathered from my past posts the Free Men usually deal with history only as far back as the abandonment of Britain by the Roman legions and only as far forward as the Fall of Constantinople. However this weekend we’ve jumped forward another two centuries, donning tricorner hats, shouldering muskets and practising our sea shanties (or I did, anyway) and took on the role of pirates for the day.

We're much more photogenic, of course.


Look! Pictures! This blog is going up in the world!

The occasion in question was a charitable raft race down the canal just bordering the public house’s lands, all in aid of SNAAP (Special Needs Advisory and Activities Project), as well as a BBQ, belly dancers, a raffle, a children’s costume competition and some live music. As there was a pirate theme and we had been planning something similar for the Whitstable Regatta, we decided to give the 17th century a go. All in all the day went very well. The weather held just fine, even if there was a brief drizzle around midday, and towards the end of the day we had some nice warm sunshine going, which was just what was needed after the amount of dips people have had in the canal.

The raft race itself is actually more accurately called a time trial, but in the latter case you’d lose the alliteration and it just doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily. There were some really well made rafts out there considering they were all made by young students who have about as much knowledge of ship building as I do nuclear physics, and I think most of them managed to make it down the canal to the finishing line. There were some slip ups, of course. Initially the race was to start on the other end of the canal by a bridge, with the rafts paddling towards our encampment. However the tides changed and the water started flowing in the other direction, which meant the rafts would be paddling against the current. As there was no suitable launching point near the encampment, the boats had to be towed up the river so the competitors could embark from that end.

Row, row, row your raft, gently down the stream

And they say Britain isn’t a maritime nation anymore…

Then there was also the matter of our own raft. First she sank on her first test run the day before, warranting some much needed repairs and adjustments before she was properly (canal)worthy. Then, on the actual day, there was the small event of her suddenly tugging loose of her moorings and drifting down the canal towards Canterbury. Fortunately we managed to interrupt her maiden voyage and drag her back, but by that time we were too late to participate ourselves.

Put your legs into it, Anthony!

…then again…

At least you can’t say nothing happened.

The fight itself was unusual for me, not so much because I was unarmoured — I’ve fought in only cloth once or twice before — but because of the fighting style. Our usual about-the-head swings had been replaced with a much more Errol Flynn-style fencing technique that ran off the wrists more. Honestly it’s a technique I enjoyed, if only for its novelty, but it was difficult to do with an 11th century longsword. Against the faster rapiers I was essentially a sitting duck, but I gave my all.

What? You mean that point when I was on the floor and apparently begging for mercy? That was a ploy. I was totally bluffing. Honest, guv.

I was just resting!

You can’t prove anything!

It was a bit too short for my liking, however, and others amongst the Blean said the same. Then again, it wasn’t a usual show and I guess you’d expect it to be short. None of us were armoured, and the combat back then was quick, sudden and brutally short. Unlike when fighting in plate or chain, you can’t pretend to shrug off blows; if you got stabbed or shot, you would definitely feel it. So if the fighting dragged on for more than a few minutes it’d probably look odd. It still left me wanting afterwards, however, with the adrenaline I’d built up during the initial clash left burning with no outlet. An attempt to start up a post-battle duel with Joe, the chap with the beard, was suddenly interrupted when a boot full of canal water was dumped over my opponent’s head.

My joke of “You, sir, are all WASHED UP!” was not well received by the audience. I guess the world isn’t ready for my rapier wit.

See? So much more photogenic!

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

I decided not to join the others in jumping (whether willingly or not) into the canal afterwards. One because I can’t swim, so that’d just be awkward for everyone if I drowned, and two because the water didn’t exactly look like it’d do wonders to the skin. The world just isn’t ready for diesel-based skin lotion, either.

Unfortunately I had to quite the show shortly afterwards, as I had a Sunday gaming session in Canterbury that I’d still have had time to attend if I hurried. I’d tell you about that too, but sod having to write another blog about my life as a pen-and-paper roleplayer. One is enough.

Show Spotlight: Templecombe Medieval Pageant


Every now and then I’ll be posting a brief analysis of the various national and international shows I’ve attended, offering my thoughts, feedback and experiences regarding them for newbie re-enactors looking for shows to attend. Bear in mind, as always, that my opinion should not be regarded as the final authority on whether the show is good or bad. Just look at it as a sort of gauging method for you to arrive at your own opinion.

The first of these Show Spotlights will be, rather fittingly, the first re-enactment event I myself attended, years ago when I was still young, impressionable and yet to be corrupted by my peers (ish).

Templecombe Medieval Pageant is actually one of the smaller annual events I’ve attended, attracting about two hundred or so re-enactors and boasting an audience of about a similar size, although I’d say in total it can draw in a thousand people or so. It’s usually hosted on the first weekend of June in Somerset, set just on the outskirts of Templecombe village along the A357, which itself is picturesque and frequently sports medieval banners and flags hanging from every window. It’s always good seeing the locals get enthusiastic about events like this, and certainly makes for a colourful drive up the main road. The event is usually set on three fields, one set aside for authentic tents and stalls, one for plastic tents and caravans and the last for the battlefield. The battlefield is notable, in my eyes at any rate, for featuring a replicated wooden fort on it, composed of a wooden wall set upon a steep rise, a gatehouse and several towers.

Within the field set aside for stalls and canvas tents you’ll also find a small café and some toilets, which are both highly welcome in their own ways. The café cooks breakfast for the re-enactors each morning at reasonable prices, and is always stocked with cold drinks, Cornish ice cream and light meals throughout the day. The beer tent is actually more accurately dubbed a beer shack, being a permanent wooden building that serves cheap drinks until late into the night, including Hobgoblin ale. It’s also where the commanders’ meeting discussing the layout of the battle is held each day. There’s also a pub, the Royal Wessex, down the road for those wanting to get away from the show at large or a game of pool, and you’ll probably pass several large supermarkets on the way into Templecombe if you want to cook your own meals.

As the name implies, Templecombe has a rather extensive history with the Poor Fellow Knights of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon, or Knights Templar for those who don’t like to show off as much, and this forms the core theme of the Templecombe show.

The running script for every event that I’ve attended for the battlefield is that, during the Dissolution of the Knights Templar, Lord Somerset has arrived at a small fortress held by the Templars demanding their peaceful surrender so that they can be turned over to the authorities and their lands seized by the Crown (and by Crown, Lord Somerset means him). The Templars tell him to naff off and bugger a Welshman and the fight plays out. The attacking Lord Somerset tries to assail the walls twice but each time is driven off, which allows the re-enactors some fun and games trying to remain up the steep slope upon which the walls are fixed as long as they can, while the defenders try to nudge him backwards so he falls off in a comical fashion. It all finishes off with a final last stand outside the fortress walls and, on Sunday, the destruction of the latter by the attackers.

The battle requires that everyone on the field, including water bearers, wear helmets for their safety, while combatants also require gauntlets, and their weapons safety-checked by the marshals. You should check your weapons for burrs, chips and other damages before going on field and try to file and hammer them out.

Other shows include dancers, a falconer, jousts, musicians and a touch-tourney, held throughout the day, although that varies from show to show depending on availability and whatnot.

All in all the show is something of a favourite of mine, although I’ve been unable to attend the last two years due to finance difficulties and other commitments. It’s a nice and easy start to the year; the show isn’t too taxing, the standards for entry are none too strict in terms of kit and you can find some good stalls as well. It’s very easy to find small, cheap pieces of equipment to add to your growing armoury and most the stalls and groups you’ll see will be found at other major shows throughout the country as well, giving you a good chance to meet and exchange news. Most years I’ve attended the weather has been fairly warm and sunny, as befitting early June in the south-west, and the local village is always welcoming and, as previously noted, enthusiastic. As something to begin a re-enactment season, there are few shows that are better to attend. It truly does get you into the mood for the rest of the summer.

For similar reasons, I strongly recommend this show to people who are new to the hobby and want an idea of your typical re-enactment show is like. Due to the presence of some major players in the re-enactment scene, Templecombe is a fantastic opportunity to make those contacts early and start making connections. Knowing other groups ensures more satisfying fights on the field, because you can arrange beforehand to meet and have a quick play with each other, and later on can also get you invited to other shows that they themselves are attending. You can also talk with some stall owners who specialise in certain goods, like clothing, and make orders to pick up later in the year. I myself ordered and paid for a doublet from a costume maker and picked it up later at Tewksbury. The plethora of bargain-bin stalls also means it’s easy to pick up the essentials, like helmets, gauntlets and shoes.

However that’s not to say that there aren’t things that I’ve found wrong with it. By and large, the show has become a little stagnant, I think, with no major revamps or improvements that I’ve seen during the years I’ve attended, and others amongst the Free Men haven’t noted any differently for the past two. The battle has more or less played out exactly the same way each year, and although there have been small additions with things such as the inclusion of a battering ram to destroy the fort’s gates and some pyrotechnics on the towers, the overall structure has remained unchanged for years.

Likewise the battle itself, according to family members watching from the sides, is rather dull to watch. The narration is lacklustre, the battle is confusing and somewhat repetitive and some of the events that take place during it make no sense. For example, it’s quite obvious that Lord Somerset’s forces can’t take the walls. Why then do the Templars leave the safety of their fortress and make a last stand in the open? Things aren’t helped by the fact that the battle is all focused at the walls of the fortress in the first place, so members of the audience on the opposite end of the field won’t see anything of interest. It was actually noted that people were leaving halfway during the battle out of boredom, which is the mortal bane of any re-enactment battle.

Another thing that sticks out is that, despite the Templar theme, you actually get a wide variety of costume on the field, and that sort of ruins the immersion. It’s hard to get into the idea that you’re watching a fight between Templars and a local English lord when you can see Vikings and War of the Roses-period knights in Italian full-plate clustered amongst the Templar and Somerset’s ranks. It’d be nice if Templecombe’s organisers tried to encourage participants to array themselves with Templar-themed clothing, such as tabards with a red cross on them and Crusader-period great helms. The exception to this is Shah, a Mongolian re-enactor who fights in Mongolian attire, on the qualification that Shah is awesome. That’s a small complaint, though, and I’m not certain that the public are as entirely irritated by anachronisms as I might be.

Once again, this is a show you should attend if you want to get a taste of re-enactment as a hobby, or as a starter to the season. The atmosphere is relaxed, friendly and easy-going, which is exactly what you want to get started on the hobby. There’s a lot to do, a lot to see and a lot to buy, even if the battle itself could use some updating and rearrangement for the benefit of the audience. Templecome has a lot of potential in it and could easily, should the show’s organisers ever wanted to, become as big as some other national shows, like Hastings or Tewksbury with very little effort. However, its charm lies in its small and informal nature and, honestly, I think it may lose some of itself if it did try to become bigger. Be sure to visit Templecombe Medieval Pageant 2014 and see for yourself why I regret not being able to attend this year.

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