History and Recreation
On Wednesday August 7th, men and women from all over the world will begin to gather in the fields around Kirby Hall, a half-ruined seventeenth-century house near Kettering in Northamptonshire. There to take part in a huge event called History in Action, they will be the first of an estimated 3,000 historical re-enactors who have gathered every year for the last six years to mount what English Heritage, the sponsors of the show, call ‘the world’s largest display of history through the ages’. In the days leading up to the weekend a sprawling city of tented encampments will grow in the grounds around the hall, each one designed to offer the visiting public a detailed and painstakingly researched glimpse into our historical heritage – from the severed head of a Gallic tribesman impaled on a spear outside the leather tent of a Roman legion, to the trench systems of the First World War, or the wreckage of a crashed Me109 languishing beside a British machine gun nest of the 1940s. Within the camps life goes on much as it did during the period portrayed, allowing visitors the chance to get close to many long-extinct crafts and skills that were once essential for a comfortable life. Rush lamps are prepared for the evening, twine is braided into ropes, vegetables and plants are gathered to dye cloth, armour is repaired, muskets and Kalashnikovs are polished. Here you can not only see a pole-lathe turning, you can have it explained by a well-practised operator.
Beyond the camps is a large market with traders selling kit and equipment used by re-enactors from every age, and it is here that visitors are often dazzled by the craftsmanship they encounter. Hand-stitched clothing and uniforms, delicate jewellery, armour and swords can all be had here – for a price, of course. However, a full harness of fifteenth-century plate armour, hand-made to fit you perfectly will take several weeks of a craftsman’s life to make and the enormous amount of research, skill and man-hours spent on it will more than justify the four-figure price tag.
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