Sunday, 5 May 2013

Medieval and Canal Fair

When I was eleven years old, I went on holiday with my family to the Isle of Man, and we made the bus journey across the island from Douglas to Peel to see the Viking Festival. Sitting on the bus just in front of me, close enough that I could have reached out and touched his fur collar, was one of the Vikings. Looking back on it, the kit he was wearing owed more to Hollywood than history, but I was hooked. I wanted to grow up and do that!
So these days, I travel on buses and trains in kit as much as I can. You never know who will be inspired.

This weekend, I was able to go to Droitwich Spa for one day of a three day show. As it's Bank Holiday, and a busy time in the shop, I couldn't take any more time off. I went to Droitwich Spa last year, and loved it. The show was put on in a little park next to the canal, and I got chatting to some lovely Indian grannies, who saw the group's quernstone and remembered grinding corn like that in their villages back in India when they were young. There were no Indian grannies this year, but three young boys took over the quernstone, and made so much flour that they ended up making flat breads with it, and having them cooked over our open fire.
Over on the other side of the tref (the modern Welsh word for town, which we use to describe our encampment), people were trying on chainmail and handling weapons. Re-enactment weapons are exactly like medieval weapons, apart from being blunted. When we re-enact battles we don't actually want to kill the people on the other side - but we are still holding swords which are basically big lumps of steel, or swinging axes and spears, so we have to be trained to do it as safely as possible. We like to give members of the public an up-close view of the weapons that were used, so they can feel the weight, and understand more of what it felt like to fight. Callum the Callous also does a very good talk on the different sorts of arrow heads available.
I was doing spinning and weaving and making cords with a lucet, and my new venture of bringing along examples of natural dyes and talking about them was a great success. Talking about what people wore - and how long it took to make cloth - also gets people thinking about what it was like to live in the Middle Ages. I got several people commenting on how good it was that there were some people who were carrying on the old traditions - just in case civilisation as we know it fell apart, in which case we would need people who knew how to do things in the old ways. I even sold one lady a lucet. She thought cord making would be something relaxing to do while she was watching telly in the evenings.

The rest of the fair (there was another medieval group at the far end, but they seemed to be from the Wars of the Roses period, about a hundred years after us) was made up mostly of local groups and canal related groups. There were some very small Scouts - I'm sure they had to be eleven to join when I was young, but these seemed younger than that. There were charities relating to different waterways, as well as ferret racing (they were raising money for animal charities). Those were some very laid back ferrets, who loved being handled between races!
There was also a big real ale tent - I had a very nice pint from there while we were putting the tents up, but we don't drink alcohol during shows, and I had to disguise my Fairtrade milky coffee in a wooden goblet!
One tent was publicising the Canal and River Trust. They were set up quite recently when British Waterways stopped having responsibility for maintaining the rivers and canals as a cost-cutting measure by the government, leaving the work in the hands of volunteers and local charities. The young man who was manning the stall feared a return to the 1960s, when a lot of canals were derelict because of lack of maintenance. A lot of them have been brought back into use, but without regular maintenance they could be lost again.

I had to pack up and leave the show early, so I came back on the train and bus in my medieval dress - though I did take my sharp eating knife off my belt (it's surprising how useful a knife can be on camp, when you would never think of carrying one around in daily life!). I also removed my medieval head-dress, a hairnet which is held in place by a length of silk under my chin, and with a linen 'crown' topping it off - this is the fashion that Gerald of Wales described for the Welshwomen of his day, and it also means I am portraying a respectable woman. Another lady of the group, Rowan, always goes bareheaded, and takes great delight in pointing out to the public that she is not a respectable woman!

Here I am in last year's costume, a linen dress with a wool over-tunic. This year I have a new black wool dress with 'angel' sleeves. I embroidered round the neck and the edges of the sleeves with the brightest colours I could find in my sewing box - red, yellow and green - only for one of the ladies at the local Stitch and Bitch group to exclaim; "Rasta colours!"

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