Monday, October 26, 2009

Nottingham Robin Hood Pageant

Last weekend I was telling at the annual Robin Hood Pageant in the grounds of Nottingham castle. As you would expect Robin Hood and his merry men are here there and everywhere. As is the cruel Sheriff who battles with Robin many times over the weekend in the main arena up in the top bailey earthwork of the castle.

Entrance to the fayre in Lower bailey
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The main action however is down in the outer baileys, a beautiful setting for the fayre with all the tents nestling amongst the trees; their leaves turning golden brown and scattered all about. Row upon row of lights hang from the trees adding color and light on the dark wintry days of the weekend. Much like Ely It has a Christmas feel to it with many crafts represented in the many colorful tents.

The autumn fayre thru the trees in the lower bailey

There are all sorts of traders dealing in all sorts of historical goods, from hand fletched arrows to spindle whorls for spinning wool and even pewter pilgrim badges. And also lots of swords and and pointy hats for budding Robin Hoods! There is also plenty of entertainment including the Crazy Dutch Regulars who come over from Holland every year and get everyone dancing. It doesn't matter that most can understand what they are singing, and all are encouraged to join in. There are demonstrators like Jim the pot who makes pots from all periods and travels the world demonstrating his craft on a hand driven wheel . He makes replicas used in museums and on many a film. And then there is Jack Greene who is in a league of his own...

The Crazy Dutch folk musicians

For Jack Greene is an Alchemist and all round Renaissance man. You will meet many different and very interesting people in my business. Some who wear costume from long ago are admittedly a bit weird, but many have had many a varied career and all sorts of experiences prior to getting into reenactment. Jack was performing this weekend as Dr John Greene; a celebrated Tudor alchemist, but this is just one of many names Jack goes by. He has many different persona's, both in the Living History world and in the real world as well, from renowned potter to best selling author and inventor.

Dr John Greene's Travelling Laboratory

He brings a real touch of magic to these sort of events; tapping in as he does to children's and some adult's sense of wonder. In a session with jack you might get to assist in the making of a poisonous potion or even some dragons blood. Whilst scattered all around his travelling laboratory are dragon skins, dragon teeth, and even pickled dragon babies! To say nothing of the various potions and powders and strange and curious crystals from far off lands.

The alchemist at work

Dr John Greene with assistant cooking up some dragons Blood!

One of the other more entertaining aspects of the fayre is the nightlife, although this is only for the privileged few allowed to stay on the castle grounds at night. As I've said before about places like Battle Abbey, you get a completely different perspective of venues at night when all the public have gone home. Perhaps as with Battle it might be the wildlife who take over when all have left, or in the case of Nottingham, the wilder side of life off site. On this occasion its more about what can be see looking out from the castle and not looking in! The baileys in which I was camped are surrounded by a high stone wall looking out and over the city. And you are so high up looking down that most of the passers by have no idea that you are there...

Looking down from walls on the 'Trip'

That means that you can see all sorts of sights for the drinkers spilling out of the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem known as the 'Trip' locally, which is said to be the oldest pub in England and definitely a great place to unwind after a long days telling. Their sausage and mash is fantastic, but be sure to get in early as its a popular pub especially with students who fill the place with their love of life and unquenchable thirst for ale!

Robin Hood by day. Standing firm and unmolested!

And just occasionally if you walk round the walls and look down near the entrance you can see a lad or lass making suggestive movements up against the statue of Robin Hood that stands there. They all think that they are the first to have done so and all get embarrassed when they here the laughter from up above!

Nottingham by night from the castle walls

That probably sounds a bit odd spying from the walls at clubbers and pubbers, but most take it in good stead. Some even have a bit of a chat or more correctly a shout with you, for its a long way up. And as i told a small group of passers by this weekend; Its like being Lord of your own castle for a day or two at least!

Thanks to Richard and his staff for yet another great event

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ely Apple Day Festival & Mannington Hall History Day

On Saturday the 17th of October I told autumnal themed tales at the annual Apple Day Festival in Ely and on Sunday all sorts of stories at Mannington Hall in Norfolk.

The gathering crowds at Ely Apple Festival
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The Apple Day was very different to anything I've ever told at before and was a great experience. Not least because it encompasses all I love about my favourite season, autumn. All around the leaves were falling and there was a feel of excitement in the air. You could smell winter and there was even a hint of Christmas and all the feasting and festivities that accompany it.

The Lady Town Crier Calls all to the opening of the Festival

That's because the festival is very much a celebration of natures bounties. Of enjoying all that the woods, gardens and orchards have to offer and all mixed in with some great cakes, pies and cider. What more could you ask for!

More than just apples were for sale this day

There was a real sense of occasion, with the local 'great and good' parading about in their gold chains. They may have looked out of place amongst the greenary had it not been for the very grand surroundings of Ely Cathedral and the other historic buildings that surrounded the festival 'Palace Green'. And as well as the civic elites the visitor could enjoy traditional crafts, folk music, morris dancing and even some traditional games incorporating many an apple!

Cake stalls outside the West Front of Ely Cathedral

In some ways it was a very traditional scene, but there were some world charities represented at the event including Amnesty International and there can't be many cultures that don't celebrate the changing seasons and the coming of the harvest; even if they don't do it in such an English way!

Telling the Green Man

Many thanks to Aileen and Tracy for booking me and I look forward to returning for the Ely Eel Day next year...

Mannington Hall was also a very different sort of event because although I tell at many historic fairs, most are a celebration of one period. Mannington however was like a mini English Heritage Festival of History; a celebration of all English history with the typical medieval and Tudor stalls, but also classic cars, military vehicles, and a world war II band singing many classics from the time. There were even some girl guides reenacting earlier girl guiding! And all in the grounds of a medieval moated manor house. There's not much more I can say about it, other than I enjoyed telling medieval tales beneath a great oak (one of many fine trees on the estate) nearly as much as I enjoyed having a mug of tea from the 1940s tea stand!

Thanks to Ian Pyecroft of Black Knight Historical and of course Lord and Lady Walpole for putting up with the many colorful if somewhat weird characters!