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Tackling the Challenge – head on

Black Knight Historical has never been afraid of attempting a new challenge. We have stayed a number of times in the Bronze Age roundhouse, a turf roofed replica sited at Flag Fen Archaeology Park just outside Peterborough so we were sad to hear that it had suffered a partial collapse earlier in the year following the unseasonably wet winter. However, those of us who had stayed there felt rather proprietorial towards it, so were up for the challenge of helping to repair it using what we now understand of Bronze Age methods.

Life, however, has the habit of throwing curved balls so as we were converging on Peterborough we were not to know until we arrived that the building was in rather a worse state than any of us had expected. As challenges go, it would prove to be one that tested our stamina, determination, our teamwork and our endurance.

Fortunately, unlike our bronze Age ancestors, we were able to capture the work in progress. Did we succeed? There we will leave you guessing for a few days, but pop back after the bank holiday to read the story of a roundhouse returning, complete with pictures.


Scything through the Centuries: August Bank Holiday events

At Woburn Abbey the start of the First World War is still very much in people’s minds: amongst the numerous attractions at this wonderful property, its use as a convalescent home has been researched and our wounded soldier and QAIMNS (Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service) sister will be talking about what it was like both to be in the trenches and to nurse those wounded in action in the days before antibiotics and advanced pain relief.

At Duxford Imperial War Museum there is a similar military feel. Throughout the Summer holiday the First World War has been interpreted by a variety of ranks of soldiers and this continues over the bank holiday weekend.

Down in Gloucestershire the beautiful and romantic landscaped ruins of Sudeley Castle are holding a Historical Fun Day on Sunday, 24th August. Various historical characters will pop up here and the day promises, as its name suggests, learning with plenty of fun. Check out the Sudeley Castle website for more information.

However, for many of the team, the August bank holiday means one thing – converging on north Norfolk in the direction of Pensthorpe just outside Fakenham. For a glorious 10th year, the Annual Medieval Spectacular will run from Saturday through to Monday. Regular visitors will know to expect the unexpected: last year the real witch of Pensthorpe was unmasked; none other than the fiery Dominican friar who had denounced so many women. There were coracle paddlers who unexpectedly discovered how deep are the lakes – very dangerous for non swimmers, and around every turn in the paths there were new discoveries awaiting. The very popular mounted Joust! will once again bring the excitement of the thunderous horse charge to visitors, and for many, the event would not be the same without the fabulous flying of Backwoods Falconry. Gary and Jen will loose their beautiful hawks and owls and it is a privilege to see them in action. As always there will be a traders’ row for a little period retail therapy, the restaurant will serve local food, and outlets on site will provide beer and instant refreshment. The magnificent children’s play area at the front will be open (weather permitting) for those who have had their fill of  stories, We look forward to welcoming you to one of Norfolk’s largest events, and the only one where the medieval centuries unfold before your eyes.


We Will Remember

Nursing practice varies little whether military or civilian.

Nursing practice varies little whether military or civilian.

Just one of the stylish ladies' fashions on show at 1914 remembered events

Just one of the stylish ladies’ fashions on show at 1914 remembered events

The wild poppy has been an iconic reminder of the Great War since it was written about in 1915 by John McCrae

The wild poppy has been an iconic reminder of the Great War since it was written about in 1915 by John McCrae

Naval Units represented at Lowestoft

As August 4th draws ever closer, a number of towns and museums have chosen to mark the start of the ‘War to end all Wars’ by remembering the long, hot, perfect Summer that preceded the carnage of the trenches. In so many ways, August 4th marks not just  the start of the 100th anniversary of the Great War, but it marks the end of the way of life that people had followed for centuries. As an entire generation of young men left the land their fathers and grandfathers had farmed and worked on, it was inevitable that land management would change. Girls and young women stepped up to take on the roles that had previously been exclusively male: they worked in factories, on buses, drove cars. The great houses, once staffed by numerous indoor and outdoor staff who left to join up ,which had enabled the luxurious lifestyle of the few, faltered and began to see new roles – as hospitals and convalescent homes,  training centres or rest centres for officers.

Black Knight Historical has been and will continue to be busy at sites bringing its uniquely sensitive portrayal of this changing time. Peterborough Museum has opened an exhibition about the First World War, focussing on local people and the City and last weekend this was supplemented by a BKH Tommie and recruiting sergeant well known for his vocal talents.

The Imperial War Museum at Duxford, which has frequently hosted a BKH interpreter, saw both World War 1 and 2 personnel ‘working’ on their planes over the weekend. Woburn Abbey has hosted a series of days with a First World War military nurse (QAIMNs) and a wounded soldier. Do check their websites if you are planning to visit: often listening to a researched narrative or asking questions will bring a distant period of history to life more vividly than watching a screen. No matter how well done a film or documentary, part of us can remain detached in a way that is impossible when you are face to face with a good interpreter.

Speaking of good interpreters, nurse Edith Cavell, a quiet Norfolk heroine who was shot by the Germans in 1915, has also been busy. She first appeared at the tremendously successful Peterborough Living History and Heritage festival in June. With her quiet, authoritative manner and calm demeanour she has been showing children how to administer first aid to parental volunteers and has proven very popular with them, if not their heavily bandaged parents.

We are currently enjoying a fabulous Summer, just like that of 1914, but when term starts again and big events are over, the recruiting sergeant, Nurse Cavell, military nurses and Tommies will again be working in classrooms around the country, trying to help children understand what it was like to be transported from your village first to a training camp to learn to obey orders unquestioningly, form up, march, drill and so on, and then to arrive at a posting, to live and watch others die in the mud, to fear the sweeping chlorine gas and the crump of guns. These sessions are invariably useful for teachers as the stimulus provided and the opportunity to ask questions allows a springboard for creative thought and learning.

The last two weekends have been busy for us on a larger scale, too: last weekend saw the BKH team at St. Neots, joining in their annual event. This time the sea of khaki serge was broken by ladies parading their summer fashions as wives and sweethearts strolled with loved ones before they left for the front. Appreciative thanks to the lovely ladies of Betty Bumbles tearoom for providing gallons of tea and sandwiches to keep everyone going on a warm day

The previous weekend, the 19th of July, we were privileged to be invited to share in the culmination of a huge local community heritage project which was designed to recognise and celebrate the heroism and sacrifice of the Lowestoft fishermen who continued to work and provide food despite the ever present threat of Uboats and the loss of shipping convoys, manned by these sailors. Everyone was so welcoming: we had good audiences for the fashion shows, monologues, reminiscences and poetry readings. The plaques unveiled at the station and the others which will be sited around the town are all designed by local students who have also been engaged in compiling a living archive and record of all the men involved between 1914-1918. We are proud to have been invited to add some period colour and detail to all these events.

Midsummer at Peterborough

This weekend sees one of the best free multi period living history events in the country. The Peterborough Living History Festival takes place in and all around the Cathedral and Green, spilling over into the town centre and the Dean’s garden.
Over 3000 years of our history are represented, beginning with local history from the Bronze Age and the nearby site of Flag Fen, continuing with the Romans, travelling through the Dark and Medieval Ages to the turbulent reign of King Henry VIII who will be giving an audience in the Cathedral with his unfortunate first wife, Katherine of Aragon. The well known local figure of the Tudor grave digger might be glimpsed and later periods are represented right through to the time of the Normandy landings, the 70th Anniversary of which have just been celebrated.
Special events and exhibitions will take place inside the Cathedral during the weekend and there will be a demonstration arena outside the Green in the town centre. The museum nearby will be open all weekend, and in addition to being able to chat to any of the re enactors present, all of whom share a passion for their period, there will be opportunities for unusual period retail therapy (there is also a special visiting market outside in the town). A range of children’s activities are also planned. This tremendous event, hosted by the Cathedral and organised by Vivacity for the City council, has grown year on year into a tremendously enjoyable celebration of history both local and national. Black Knight are proud to be representing both ends of the time scale: both the local team from the Bronze Age site at Flag Fen and the World War 2 interpreters, as well as King Henry VIII and Queen Katherine are being provided by Black Knight Historical. Do come along and share in a day of time travel.

So much to do – so choose your period

Bank holidays are a time for rest, relaxation, perhaps a spot of gardening or a barbeque if the weather is good. Not if you are part of Black Knight Historical: the team has its busiest weekend ever, with interpreters covering a huge time range over 5 different sites.
The earliest period we visit is at the fabulous Flag Fen archaeology park, just on the edge of Peterborough, where, weather permitting, work will continue on the dug out canoe. Vivacity for the City Council have organised a major weekend of events, including hands on activities for children where they can try their hand at archaeology, or make their own ‘bronze age’ blade. Many of the BKH team took part in the recent Time Team special which showcased the recent sea edge excavations in Northumberland, and they will be living, cooking and eating in the roundhouse. Flint knapping, spinning and weaving are all on going skills.
We then take a huge leap forward a couple of millennia to the late Middle Ages. At Blickling Hall in north Norfolk the period will be the 1450s when the first house was built and owned by Nicholas Dagworthy, the predecessor of the more famous residents, the Boleyn family. All sorts of Medieval fun and games will be going on there – fighting, trading and demonstrations of skills of the period. Check out the National Trust website for more information, and how to get there.
In many ways Gressenhall workhouse, also in Norfolk, was a model for its time. It’s another beautiful site, with its own farm, rare breed animals and working horses as well as a museum of social life. Over the Bank holiday, however, it will come back to life in a period of social need and deprivation: the 1860s. BKH are providing warders and inmates, so if you are in the area come to Gressenhall for the day and meet the inhabitants and learn their stories.
Both the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and Woburn Abbey move us into the last century, a time of two World Wars and conflicts. Both sites are well known and this weekend will have costumed members of Black Knight Historical in residence to bring to life the stories behind the history. Following the recent TV series, Woburn is reprising its time as a convalescent home during World War 1 and has a member of the army nursing service, QAIMNs, along with a wounded soldier reliving their experiences at the front. So it depends where you are and what your interest, but it is true that this weekend BKH are offering a huge range of events and knowledge, and we would love to share it with visitors.

King’s Lynn is the Place to Be

This weekend (17-18th May) it all happens in King’s Lynn. The Black Knight team are bringing medieval artisans, tradesmen and demonstrators to join a day of celebration here in honour of the Hanseatic League, a trading organisation formed in the early Middle Ages to protect and facilitate trading throughout northern Europe. Only the City of Kingston upon Hull and King’s Lynn belong to this amongst all the English ports, and the day is being celebrated simultaneously in other Hanse towns as far away as Latvia, Poland and Russia. The theme of this free festival is song and dance, and other Hanse towns are sending groups to join with King’s Lynn, so expect lots of music and dancing as well as story telling, fire eaters and characters from the late Middle Ages who would have populated the Quay.
The fun and festivities start with a parade at midday and continue along the Quay and around the Hanse warehouse, the only remaining building of its kind in England, throughout the afternoon and evening. During the evening the well known group the Medieval Baebes will perform and the day ends with fireworks as darkness falls. Celebrations continue throughout the weekend

Hurrah for St. George

St George battling with the fire belching dragon

St George battling with the fire belching dragon

Today may be Saint George’s Day, but the patron saint of England (and a number of other countries) will be truly celebrated in London on Saturday 26th April.
Come along to Vauxhall Gardens between Noon and 6pm and share in the fun and celebrations. The renowned Yarnsmith of Norwich will be retelling the ancient tale in his inimitable and entertaining style, helped in his narration by the main characters: St. George, the Dragon (complete with fiery breath which is enough to pot roast any armoured knight) and even a fair princess. There will be archery, battles and combat demonstrations, maidens and knights. Morris dancers, a falconry display and a Punch and Judy show will all combine to celebrate this ancient battling saint. It is said that even the puppets can breathe fire, but to discover the truth you will need to join us to find out. With a craft market, food and an English beer tent, all that we need is a proper Spring day of sunshine to make this community event complete.!/vauxhalltrust?fref=ts

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