Last weekend, I revisited the Medieval Village in the River Hamble Country Park, set up as part of the Medieval Weekend arranged by the Road to Agincourt Project.
Image Credit: All pictures taken by Allison Symes at the 2017 Medieval Weekend
The weekend was fun. I learned all sorts of things from the “villagers” I talked to such as the cook and her girls once being camp followers and having to change their back story as they were “ladies who provided a service” (and not food either!).
I learned a little about the origins of pubs and the history of games. There were some wonderful costumes and swords and the like on display. The owls were lovely (I hear owls in my garden, it was nice to see some!). The owl display was new for this year and included an Indian Eagle Owl, a snowy owl, and a little owl. I was with family for this visit and we all love the Harry Potter stories so naturally on seeing the snowy owl, we all thought “Hedwig”!
It was nice to meet Matt Beames and Marcus Pullen of Blood and Valour fame. Always good to put faces to the names! I found out from Matt that inside the old Bargate Museum, there are pictures of Sir Bevis of Hampton. I must check this out next time I’m passing. (I also understand from Matt the Museum is open when the guided walks around the old town are carried out). I couldn’t tell you how often I’ve walked past the Bargate in my time, seeing the fine sculptures on it but having no idea they related to Sir Bevis until these series of posts for CFT. And seeing the pictures of Sir Bevis is firmly on my To Do list.
The theatre company Melford Hys Companie were there again this year but I didn’t get to see their performances this time. I was busy having lovely conversations with the basket maker, the cook, the scrivener (appropriately) and the taverner and the time whizzed by.
The village is made up of people who formed a Free Companie who were mercenaries back from the wars and were now looking out for themselves. They formed themselves into a group (which gave them a much better chance of succeeding in surviving, yet alone in making a living) and they would go from village to village offering services from writing and reading letters to the herbalist offering medicines to the cooks showing new recipe ideas and so on. Sometimes they had to leave again in a hurry!
The Free Companies remind me of the old trades guilds (and Terry Pratchett used the idea of these wonderfully in his Discworld novels. Never ever cross his Guild of Assassins!). The medieval Free Companies also made me think of army regiments with people from the same army background banding together to help one another.
The Free Company would be made up of the former soldiers, their wives etc and would have a Hedge Knight to lead them. This would usually be the third or fourth son of nobility so they would have the title and really be a Sir but with no expectations of inheriting the land, full noble title and so on. If it wasn’t for the offering of services a village might need, you could argue that this was a protection racket!
I went to the talk given by archaeologist Grant Cox in the main tent at 12.30 about the processes behind designing 3D models of 15th Century Ships. The images on screen of what Henry V’s flagship The Grace Dieu would have looked like were amazing and I was stunned to discover how big she was. At 218 foot long, Henry V’s flagship dwarfed Henry VIII’s one, The Mary Rose (which is a mere 105 feet long!). It is thought some of Henry V’s sailors thought his ship was too big to be manageable and this was a reason for their mutiny. The Grace Dieu did not have a long service. Not only was there the mutiny, it was hit by lightning and badly damaged. It also sailed the once! Just the once! Not a great record…
Unlike last year, I did get to “meet the soldier” this time. He was an archer who embarked on Henry V’s campaign and explained what that would have been like. I should add those who took on the different roles of the Medieval Village were very well informed. All re-enact historical roles professionally (and all over the country too) and many of them cover more than one time period. This means having to have an incredible depth of knowledge because they can’t know in advance what the public will think of to ask them!
The soldier’s talk on what the different arrowheads were used for was informative. There was graphic information on what each would do to a human or an animal. Not for the squeamish (but then I guess that’s appropriate given I think the whole of the Middle Ages is also not for the fainthearted!).
One of the more gentle arts on display was shown by the basket maker, who weaved with willow and other rushes and who learned the skill at evening classes, as she wanted to join in with the medieval re-enactments but needed a skill not already covered! Now there’s dedication. She also made hats and other members of the Companie were wearing these.
Naturally I had to visit the Scrivener who showed us the oak apples from which he made ink. The oak apples are left until there is a hole in them (which is where the wasp has got out). Rusty iron is added to the oak apple and water mix as this generates a chemical reaction, which produces a watery black ink. Gum arabic is then added. He also showed us the cochineal beetles used to produce red ink). Incidentally Scriveners could read and write. Scribes could write and copy but not necessarily be able to read/understand what it was they were writing out.
Did you know we get a lot of our pub names such as The Oak, The Bush etc from medieval times where Free Companies would have a tavern in their midst and to differentiate this from the other tents, a branch of a tree or a sprig from the bush would be tied to the top of the tent? Nobody drank the water, everybody was on light ale (much safer, the water in it had been boiled) and going to the tavern meant taking your own drinking pot. You would buy a jug of ale from the tavern keeper.
The tavern keeper showed us a wide range of games played including one that reminded me of a cross between backgammon and ludo. Some of these games have their origins going back thousands of years. He showed us early playing cards too which were coming in during the period he represented here (1440s or thereabouts). Our cards tended to have King, Queen, huntsman on them. Cards in Southern Europe had hearts and other patterns on them and eventually the cards “merged” so you would get the Queen of Hearts etc.
The Virtual Museum was officially opened by the Mayor of Eastleigh, Councillor Maureen Sollitt, on the Saturday. I missed this but I understand the idea behind the Virtual Museum is to let people tour a range of virtual galleries as they would in a real bricks and mortar museum. (My feet get tired after a while going round real museums. Do you think they would get tired virtually here? Just a thought…). The Museum ties in with the King’s Great Ships Trail (which was a joy to walk again and one I am glad to highly recommend. The walk is suitable for all abilities and so easy to do in a wheelchair as the paths are wide and the slope down to the Hamble is a gentle one. The views across the water are great. Oh and off the pontoon there is another ages old pastime going on – crabbing!
I always learn a great deal from days like this, not least of which is to be thankful I live in the era we do, regardless of its problems (as I’ve discussed before). I would have been of peasant stock had I lived then. I am 51. There’s a very good chance I would not have got to that age (repeated childbearing often led to early death). And there’s no way I would have been able to write this post (how many women could read and write then? Only noble women at best and even Elizabeth I was remarked upon for her skills with languages. Given she came to the throne in 1558, there was still an expectation then, most women would have been illiterate).
So if the Medieval Weekend does happen again next year, and I hope it does, and you get the chance to go, I would recommend a visit.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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