When I was growing up, I always said that if I couldn’t live in a castle, I wanted to play in one – and bringing these places to life for English Heritage is definitely the closest you can get to doing that all the time! As Head of Events my main role is lead the team responsible for planning and running our living history re-enactments, hands-on activities, shows and displays at properties across the country.
There are hundreds of events that will bring our properties to life this summer with the clash of steel or the smell of woodsmoke, but I’ve selected my top ten picks.
Edit: Please note – events mentioned in this blog relate to summer 2014 – for the most up to date English Heritage events, please visit our What’s On page
1. History Live!
19-20 July , Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire
I can’t think of any other place where you can meet a Roman soldier, take a stroll through a medieval encampment, watch a Civil War battle, or get up close to a First World War biplane, all on the same day. History Live! is the biggest event in our calendar, and your chance to take a trip through 2,000 years of English history. We’ve got living history displays, battle re-enactments, family shows, plus historic traders, music and much more. If you’ve never been, this is definitely one not to miss!
2. Muskets & Masques: Charles I at Bolsover
26-27 July, Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire
This year English Heritage restored William Cavendish’s wall walk at Bolsover Castle, allowing visitors to take in the views for the first time in centuries. Cavendish was a true cavalier courtier, spending heavily to enjoy a lavish lifestyle and gain royal favour. To mark the exciting changes we’ve made, this summer we’re recreating a royal visit by King Charles I – complete with theatrical delights and entertainment fit for a king. There’s always something very glamorous about Stuart era events – I think the dashing costumes help – and this should really give a sense of what life at Bolsover was like.
3. A Women’s War
2-3 August, Brodsworth Hall, South Yorkshire
I think it’s often important to remind ourselves that history wasn’t just about kings and queens, or knights and generals, but about people from all walks of life. Like most of the country, Brodsworth Hall was severely affected by the First World War, with members of the family and staff serving on the front lines. This summer, we’re using a cast of actors to tell the story of how the war changed the lives of women, from wealthy upper class ladies living in grand countryside estates to munitions girls doing their bit for the war effort, and how it affected their status in society.
4. Clash of Knights
2-3 August, Beeston Castle, Cheshire, 9-10 August, Framlingham Castle, Suffolk and 24-25, Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire
Based on a medieval tournament event called a melee, Clash of Knights is exactly as described; as four teams of twelve battle it out with shield and club using skill and strength to beat the opposition. It’s a combination that our visitors (and staff!) all seem to love, and the competitive element means it’s just like a modern day sporting event at times, with people identifying their favourites and roaring them on. Beeston is a fantastic location, a ruined castle perched high above the surrounding countryside, and there’s surely no better place to enjoy the living history experience and some medieval action!
5. Small Adventures for Royal Children
Every day in August, Osborne, Isle of Wight
Thinking about the setting is always important when we plan an event, but none more so than at Osborne, where we have our very own beach to play with! The whole property is linked to Queen Victoria, and the beach was where she first learned to swim, so for us it’s the perfect place to host some traditional Victorian family fun. Every day this August we’ll have Punch and Judy shows, quoits and skittles, plus activities for kids such as soldier drills and hobby horse relays, to ensure there’s plenty to do if visitors ever tire of time on the beach.
6. Castle Comes Alive!
Every Weekday in summer holidays, Dover Castle, Kent
Everybody loves a castle – and as one of the grandest in England, Dover is definitely no exception. At its heart is the Great Tower, built by King Henry II, and it is his time of royal power that we have recreated inside the tower with lavish furnishings and decorations. Spaces like this are ideal for historic characters to bring to life, and it’s a great way to really engage kids with learning about the story of the site, and they even learn new things too (don’t tell them!). This summer, we’ll be inviting young visitors to join King Henry II’s campaign and learn all about siege warfare, with plenty of activities and challenges to keep them busy. If they’re successful, they may catch the eye of the great king himself!
7. Grand Medieval Jousts
Throughout summer, properties across the country
I’m cheating slightly but I just can’t leave out our jousts, which are definitely one of the best parts of our summer events programme. All our jousting events are completely authentic, which means that it’s a genuine competition between all the knights, who have spent years in training, and really do want to win. The joust was the highlight of the medieval tournament and our aim is for our Grand Medieval Joust events to reflect this, with entertainment, food, music and activities that really make this a great family day out. And because it’s a competition, you never know if your chosen knight is going to win, so even for us it’s an exciting prospect of seeing what will happen!
8. Vikings Attack!
2-3 August, Lindisfarne Priory, Northumberland
Just as when the first raid took place over a thousand years ago, Lindisfarne is a lovely, peaceful spot… until the Vikings arrive! There’s something about this time of history that seems to fascinate people, and our enthusiastic re-enactors are great at giving a sense of the terror and turmoil the Vikings could create. It’s all very welcoming today though, and visitors can explore the encampments and find out about Viking life and weaponry – although they may want to step clear in time for the final battle!
9. WWII: Soldiers and Spies
24-25 August, Audley End House and Gardens, Essex
Our World War II event in August is an opportunity to explore a lesser-known side of Audley End’s history, when it was transformed into a wartime base for Polish troops in the Special Operations Executive, or SOE. This is a really good example of how we can use our events programme to tell stories that we can’t tell through our regular interpretation, in this case because little evidence remains inside the house. It’s definitely one of my favourite events because we turn the grounds of a stately home into Station 43, a Second World War training camp, complete with explosive training drills such as a dramatic river assault – definitely not your average day out!
10. Pirates Attack!
27-29 August, Pendennis Castle, Cornwall
I think this is one of the events I am most excited about this summer as we man the cannons at Pendennis Castle in preparation for a pirate attack from a nearby tall ship! At this event we take a step back into Elizabethan England as Governor John Killigrew readies his Garrison for the upcoming onslaught and we discover the secrets of a fortress braced for attack. There’s no better surrounding than that of Pendennis Castle, one of the finest of the mighty fortresses built by Henry VIII to defend the country against invasion… how will it fare under explosive siege?