Get yourself down to the Living History Museum at the Weald and Downland Living Museum tomorrow – Sunday June 3rd. And if you’re reading this after tomorrow, then put it in your diary for next Summer now!
The Weald and Downland Living Museum (formerly Weald and Downland Open Air Museum) is renowned for their living history and educational events and truly bringing history to life. I’ve been coming to the museum for the last 35 years, and during that time, whilst in many respects it’s just the same, it has grown and developed so much providing the most extraordinary historical experience spanning 1000 years. We’re members and regardless of whether there’s an event or not, this is a wonderful place to spend a day.
The Living History Festival is one event I will not miss and is great for little kids and big kids. In the space of one weekend you get a feel for so many crafts, trades, lives, weapons, people and types of society over the last 1000 years. The whole site is taken over and one day is not enough to see everything at the festival and the museum.
I cannot recommend this festival enough for two reasons. Firstly I’m a major history enthusiast, I think brought about by so many hours spent here as a child. I learn so much every time I come here, and there’s always something new. My also, the hands on experience that children can get, bringing the people and time periods to life so vividly, is something that cannot be taught in a history textbook at school. I hated History at school because we learnt by rote, dates, wars and monarchs – from a textbook, mostly with few pictures. I learnt everything I knew from the places I went to.
My 4 year old, loves Knights and Castles at the moment. I mean LOVES. We have every type of weapon in our house – swords, shields, longbows, crossbows and he can confidently tell you about the Civil War, Henry VIII, The Spanish Armada and the difference between weapons. he’s like a sponge. So this festival is perfect for him as there is a great medieval encampment where you can meet the Knights, learn all about the armour, the weapons and children can try things on too. We watched a knight being dressed and the amount of pieces is incredible, as is the weight of the armour.
Today he got to wear a helmet and gloves, hold a real sword and shield. There was pure delight in his eyes. The historians are so knowledgeable and often whole families are involved in the camp and we had two wonderful conversations today with a young boy who dressed William in a knights outfit and another young boy who told us all about toys in Tudor times from his Tudor Toy Stall! Also, truly inspirational for children to see other children getting involved and learning about history in such a hands on way.
We watched a sword training session which was BRILLIANT and thoroughly inspired William to become a knight when he’s older. They clearly explained the moves and the weapons to the audience and everyone enjoyed seeing one of the knights hit by a sword and dent his chest plate rather badly! And he wasn’t even trying to kill him which shows how badly they would have been battered in a real fight!
There is also a market around the main Tudor Village area where you can see weapons, weavers, cloth makers, printers, hat makers, toy shop. Ruth Goodman, who is a longstanding member of the historical re-enactment group, the Tudor group is a frequent visitor to the events at the museum and she has an incredible knowledge, and always more than happy to chat and share that knowledge.
Wandering around you will also encounter the waifs and strays from the lower end of Victorian society. Slightly scary looking at times with their rough and rugged demeanour, blackened teeth and grimaces. But after looking at the grandeur of the knights and their impressive tents, you are brought back to earth and reminded just how terrible life was for so many people in many of the centuries.
You can also see Saxon knights, a Civil War Encampment, WW1 and WW2 vehicles and this year there were special displays from the Percheron Society, which was a real highlight. Seeing the incredible range of uses for these magnificent horses was wonderful. From ploughing to racing to pulling fire carts and buses, riding and pulling cannons in WW1. These horses are majestic, beautiful and truly magnificent to watch in all their splendour. The British Percheron Horse Society is celebrating 100 years this year, so an extra special celebration for them.
The main arena has a number of displays throughout the day. We enjoyed watching the horses in the morning, followed by a display of medieval gunfire. We then watched the Jousting Tournament and the final grand parade where all the societies can parade. Its fascinating to see the 1000 years of people together. But there were other horse displays this year as well as the St Giles Fire Engine.
The Joust was good fun and they also introduced us to games that would be played in the training of the jousting knights.
There is a great food area for lunch and snacks as well as some stalls as well. The main museum shop is also open and well stocked especially if you’re looking for historical books or swords for the budding young knight in your family.
And if you have time then you can also explore the rest of the museum – we didn’t get much further than the main area today as William wanted to spend a lot of time seeing the knights and fight training! Which was okay by me – as he’s come home inspired, with more knowledge and loving history even more than he did this morning.
For more information on the programme of events then click here
And if you can’t get here for this Festival, then do check out their website as there are many more exciting events coming your way this year! We can’t wait until the next one.