24 Hour Museum's Re-enactment Recommendations For August 2008

By Marian Cleary | 06 August 2008
A photograph of a girlwearing an Anglo-Saxon helmet

Image courtesy National Trust

You never grow out of the fun of dressing up perhaps. This might explain why re-enactments are bigger than ever at our heritage sites this summer.

It's summer so here at 24 Hour Museum we're putting on our wimples, dusting down our gas masks and taking a well aimed musket shot (with purely theatrical weaponry of course) to come up with what we think will be the best re-enactment and living history events during August 2008.

Below you will find just a taster of some of the many events going on at open air museums and historic properties around the UK this August. So if dressing up - or even watching other people get dressed up for your (historically accurate and educational) entertainment - is your thing, then read on...


A photograph of man dressed as a Roman with lots of kids with shields and spears

Image courtesy Caldicot Castle

You will arrive at Caldicot Castle during the weekend of August 9 or 10 a citizen of the 21st century.

But you won’t stay that way for long.

The Vicus re-enactment group will be taking us back to the 1st century AD.

In the dramatic grounds of this beautiful castle, life under Roman occupation will be explored as well as what it was like to be a Roman in Britain.

Both days start with exploring the camp or ‘vicus’ then it’s time to get dressed for battle. A display of some serious Roman and British weaponry follows. Next, it’s fashion show time – what did a well-dressed, or not so well-dressed, Roman or Britain wear?

Children can become Roman legionnaires with a Kids Drill (make sure you book a place by 2.30 for this) and round off the day by watching the professionals show us how it’s done with a Native Britons versus Romans battle re-enactment.

The entrance fee is only £3.75 for adults and children get in for £2.50. Under-fives are free and a family ticket costs £12.


A photograph of two men dressed as pirates

Image courtesy English Heritage

Whitby Abbey will let us swash our buckles and stand and deliver during their Pirates of Land and Sea weekend during August 9 and 10.

While there is obviously a great deal of fun to be had with the romantic image given to us most recently by Pirates of the Carribean, there will be historical accuracy in how these outlaws lived, and died. Yes, highwaymen were literally cut throats and anyone found guilty of piracy on the high seas would have been hanged.

With such criminality, the King’s men would be in pursuit so the life of a highwayman or pirate was one of running for your life, by boat or horse, or fighting.

So with the sound of sea shanties and cannon fire in the background, you can learn the ways of banditry and piracy in the grounds of this beautiful abbey.

Both days run from 11.00. Admission is £5.50 for adults, £4.50 for concessions and £3.00 for children. £14 buys a family ticket (two adults and 3 children).


A photograph of two men dressed as Anglo-Saxons fighting

Image courtesy National Trust

Sutton Hoo is synonymous with all things Anglo-Saxon – particularly burials and stories of ancient kings and warriors. It’s not all Beowulf and mead halls however. This year, 1,500 years of history is being packed into the weekend of August 9 and 10.

From the Romans, through to the early Germanic invasions, to Vikings, the Normans and, with a Dr Who-style leap in time, we also see how WWII affected the area. At this time, National Defence took priority over archaeology – anti-German glider trenches were dug among the burials.

With over 100 re-enactors taking part and many re-enactment groups, this is going to be a feast and festival of history.

Entrance is £4 for adults, £2.50 for children or a family ticket for £10.50 if you are NT members. Non-members will pay £10, £5 and £25 respectively.


Shows a photograph of two men and a woman dressed in Victorian-style clothing.

Photo: James Maskrey

This ‘lost’ festival day was celebrated in Smithfield in London and in other parts of the country from 1133 to 1855 with some areas still putting on St Bartholomew Day festivities until the 1880s.

If you were a printer’s apprentice, this was the day when your master would treat you to entertainment and feasting known as Wayzgoose. No, we don’t know what that means either, but it was clearly good fun.

Blists Hill Victorian Town near Ironbridge is using its wonderful setting as a backdrop to a Bank Holiday weekend (August 23 - 25) of celebrations. Donkey rides, games of skittles and china smashing stalls will be on offer so you can immerse yourself in all the fun of a Victorian Fayre. Actors from Kaleidoscope Theatre and Blists Hill’s Prince Albert Players will be putting on entertainment.

As well as the usual Victorians mingling around, there will also be a few notable characters to talk to such as Major Mordecai Manley-Harthrobbe and Professor Augustus Sidebottom-Farquar. They will be on hand to tell you all about Empire and serving The Queen. We are sure you will be amused!

It’s £10.50 for adults, £7.50 for children and £9.50 for senior citizens. The under-fives go free. (But since there are nine other museums in Ironbridge, why not get a year-long ‘passport’ that gets you in to them all for just a few pounds more?) Go to www.ironbridge.org.uk for more details.


and you thought Spurs and Arsenal was the capital's toughest contest. 50 denarii each way anyone? © Museum of London

Two Gladiators, Vulpus the Barbarian and Ferrox, will be showing visitors to Colchester Castle their moves and tricks that allowed them to live to fight another day.

Between Monday August 11 and Friday August 15, they will be on hand to explain their weapons and armour and how these can be used to maximum effect.

Vulpus and Ferrox get their reward in glory and coins of the Roman Empire, so there is no cost to visitors for this fantastic living history treat, apart from the admission price to the castle.


a photo of two women on bicycles dressed as land army girls

The weekend of August 9 - 10 you can go back to WWII at Crich Tramway Village near Matlock in Derbyshire.

They will be preparing for war and you can help. As well as people preparing themselves, the famous trams will get the wartime treatment too with anti-blast netting, blanked out destination boards (so as not to help enemy spies) and blackout masks on the lights.

So queue up for your sandbags, listen out for air raid sirens and beware low flying aircraft. Christine Brown is the person who has organised all this and she promises that: "Visitors will feel as if they have stepped through a time portal back to the 1940s."

And if you want to step back before you get there by putting on some 1940s costume of your own, you will get a discount on the usual entry price of £11.00 for adults, £5.50 for children between 3 and 15 years old or a family ticket (2 adults, 3 children for £30.


A photograph of two knights jousting

Image by kind permission of Blenheim Palace

Ours isn't the only era that has enjoyed re-enactments.

Blenheim Palace near Woodstock, Oxfordshire has a recreation of a Victorian jousting re-enactment! So that's a re-enactment of a re-enactment!

This event takes place during August 8, 9 and 10. To the sound of brass bands, knights will challenge the mighty 9th Duke of Marlborough in feats of combat using medieval codes of chivalry.

Horses will also be centre stage, so this is a must for anyone who wants to witness amazing feats of horsemanship.

Jousting at the tilt, lancing of the rings, foot combat using swords and maces, displays of hunting with birds of prey and the essential knightly game of spearing the peasant’s head will make for a lively, noisy and impressive day out.

Visit the Blenheim Palace website for ticket information – there are different prices depending on what else you want to see on your visit.


a photo of three men in Home Guard uniforms

We often talk about the ‘war effort’ but forget what the word effort really means...

A trip to Anglesey Abbey during the weekend of August 30 and 31 will give us all a chance to see the mighty contribution made by volunteers on home soil during World War II.

Find out what local people did in the area as a part of the Home Guard, as Civil Defenders and in the Women’s Voluntary Royal Service (WVRS).

On Saturday, there will be a spectacular spitfire flypast.

Entrance is £12.25 for adults, £5.65 for children (6 – 16). If you are a NT member, the price is only £3 and £1 respectively.


A photograph of some people in Civil War costume and some cannons

The Society of the Open Rope will be encamping at Donington le Heath Manor during the weekend of August 9 and 10.

The venue is appropriate because the manor, although originally built in the 13th century, was remodelled in around 1620 - not long before the English Civil War. The grounds have been restored to reflect how they would have looked in the 17th century.

So, with Civil War soldiers in residence, there will be musket ball making, textiles, pole lathing, candle making and camp cooking. If there are any problems, an apothecary will be on hand.

Entrance is free and the event runs from 11am to 4pm each of the two days.

Nothing here to tickle your fancy? There’s sure to be some dressing up going on in your locality – check the 24 Hour Museum listings for a living history event near you!

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