On the Heritage Trail

Daniel Snowman has been tracking down what Britain’s ‘Historic Heritage’ means to some of those in charge of it.

It is five o’clock in the morning. A relentless sun peers up over the horizon as an army of sturdy English soldiery lies abed under canvas awaiting the day’s campaigning. You could be forgiven for thinking this the dawn of Agincourt. Indeed, you would not be far wrong. Except that this tent city lies on an anonymous 200-acre spot of greenery close to the heart of England, and the dormant army will soon materialise not only as sturdy longbowmen but also as Roman centurions, medieval knights and falconers, Tudor yeomen, Georgian fops, sappers from the Somme, the odd cooper, wheelwright, barber-surgeon, ropemaker, ratcatcher and Green Man and happy hordes of equivalently costumed girls and women led by a peripatetic Queen Victoria. We are on the site of a giant Festival of History run by English Heritage. Before this weekend has come and gone, hundreds of re-enactors will have donned their togas and tabards, chain mail and periwigs, tilted their lances, played their sackbuts and citterns, roasted boar and rabbit over a spit, polished bayonets, checked field hospitals and come within a musket shot of winning the Battle of Edgehill for King Charles.

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