Thursday, May 30, 2013

Digression: Angelcynn at Stoke Potteries

Conroi De Vey is a member group of Regia Anglorum, covering life around the turn of the first millenium AD.

A number of us are also members of other groups, however, and so last weekend Toki, Osgyth, Tigwald, Rhelbert and myself headed over to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery to do a 650AD show with Angelcynn. This was a really exciting event for us all to do, as the Potteries is the current home of the Staffordshire Hoard, which is the biggest collection of bling found since Sutton Hoo was discovered in 1939.

650AD is still in the Migration Period i.e. after the Romans have left and when Angles, Saxons and Jutes are coming over from the continent and settling in Britain, or moving around and establishing new territories and relationships.  In contrast, Conroi De Vey's period starts the best part of 200 years later, when the Anglo-Saxons are the settled people, and it is the Vikings and later Normans who are new.

Although political relationships, social structures, religion, and dress  are fairly different to De Vey's period (pagan women don't wear wimples - hooray!), much of the technology we used in our display of daily life are effectively the same, and contingent on ability to transport it, appears at De Vey shows.

Pole-lathe. Photo by Caroline Williams.
Above you can see a pole-lathe, an ancient mechanism for turning wood to make e.g. cups, bowls and other cylindrical objects. At the bottom of the picture you can see the long pole which is the treadle. This  pulls on the long cord attached to the top pole, and turns the item you are turning, which is mounted horizontally.

You can see that better in the photo below, taken at a Regia event last year, and dated about 400 years later (hence Tigwald being attired as Brother Tigwald). The use of the pole-lathe to turn green wood continues today, although the vast majority of woodworkers now use power tools.

Tigwald using a pole-lathe at the St Alfege Millenium Festival, 2012.  Photo by Caroline Williams.

Toki brought along his collection of shoes that need repairing, bone to work, and various weapons. As Toki is a Viking name and we were pre-Viking for this show, he was answering to the name Tobias, which is the closest equivalent.
Tools for leather and bone work. Photo by Lancelot and Carol Robson.

Early medieval drill.  Photo by Caroline Williams.
If you look carefully in the pile of objects above, you will find two bow drills (what look like long spindles with a whorl at the bottom and a cross bar at the top). We don't have direct evidence for them in this period, but they were known in Roman times and they are cited by Theodosius in On Divers Arts  in the early 12th century. We do have finds of drill bits, however, so this is our best guess at what drills of the period would have looked like.

During this show, Toki focussed on making a bone fishing spear-head, shown below, to demonstrate to the public how bone was an every day material. He also worked on one of his bone needle-cases, demonstrating to the public that a poorly wielded drill will go through skin and muscle as bone.

Bone fish hook.  Photo by Caroline Williams.
Here's one he made earlier: a bone needle-case. Photo by Stephen Shepherd.
I was delighted to be able to use Angelcynn's quern stone, shown below. A quern stone is an ancient method of grinding grain, which only went out of use with the introduction of mechanised mills. This is a rotary quern-stone, which means you put the grain in the hole at the top, then turn the top stone (known as a hand-stone), which grinds the grain. The grain then comes out the sides, between the two stones, hence the cloth on the table. 

Quern stone.  Photo by Caroline Williams.
Mechanised mills, both water and wind, do become more common during the Anglo-Saxon period, but quern-stones would still have been in use well into Regia's period, as well as during the Migration Period.

I ground rye, since rye would have been a common grain in the area. From discussion with Osgyth, this ground much more easily than the wheat they have used previously, but it still needed two grindings to make it vaguely smooth. There's nothing quite like actually grinding grain to make you realise how laborious life was 1500 years ago. Approximately half the children who had a go proudly proclaimed that they definitely weren't tired, but I bet there were some sore arms the next day.

In addition to the quern stone, I had a display showing a selection of foods which would have been available, including some leeks, celery, carrots, onions and garlic, which are out of shot. These are all available in De Vey's period as well, as from this point on, we tend to get access to new foods, rather than losing existing ones (in contrast with the previous 500 years, in which we lose Roman foods and spices).

Apples, bread, eggs, salted mackerel, nuts, herbs, sourdough bread, sourdough starter.  Photo by Caroline Williams.
Note that this display is rather generous for the season. May is traditionally known as the "hungry gap" because it is the time when you have eaten your winter stores, but the new season crops aren't ready yet. Particularly with the weather we've been having, this would have been an extremely hungry gap as the new season crops have been significantly delayed by the cold weather. The diet would probably have involved more spring greens like those shown at the front, and distinctly fewer large shiny apples.

On the bread front, I took along a sourdough and a sourdough starter so that the public could see how even an every day substance such as bread would probably have smelled and felt different. This worked really well, as did having actual ground grain on site, showing how much lumpier and harder on the teeth bread was likely to have been...and why the smoother your bread, the richer you were. 

Butter churn.  Photo by Caroline Williams.
Another popular display was the butter churn, although sadly I didn't actually attempt to make butter due to the sheer volume of mess created as you pump the plunger up and down. This is another object which both dates back to ancient times and remains in use for at least 1000 years after the date of this show.

Again, this was a great hands on exhibit for the kids to have a go at. The butter churn is also worth of note for being the solution to a number of Anglo-Saxon riddles. When Tolkien wrote of hobbits loving riddles, he was drawing directly on the Anglo-Saxon tradition, where they were very popular. The solutions were also often rather rude...

Osgyth in front of her warp-weighted loom. Photo by Lancelot and Carol Robson.

Above, you can see Osgyth with her warp-weighted loom. Note that she is portraying a Christian character so she has covered her hair, although not as much as she would do were we several hundred years later. Sadly for blogging purposes I was so busy talking to people I didn't get the chance to listen to her talking about her loom, or the sprang she also had on display, so for now I shall tantalise you with a photograph, to be returned to another day...

Finally, just because it made me so happy, I can't resist a picture of me as a wimple-free woman. My hair is covered just so that I didn't grind my hair into the flour, but as a happy pagan in 650AD I was free from the Church's requirement that I cover my hair. Hooray! Use of the wimple was already starting to come in among those groups that had converted to Christianity though, and by Regia's period women would always have to cover their hair outside the home.

 Photo by Caroline Williams.

(No Toki's were harmed in the making of this post.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Filming to promote "The Vikings"

Phew, Toki has just got back from filming in London. Regia provided the boats for the US series The Vikings, so this week LOVEFiLM hired Regia to provide some intimidating-looking characters to help promote their UK premiere release.

Fifteen members of Regia, including Toki from Conroi de Vey (orange cloak and green tunic) went down for a hectic two days of filming across London, including Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Picadilly Circus, the Tower of London, and on the Thames.

Toki and some other Regia members promoting LOVEFiLM. Photo copyright Lovefilm.

You can read the Digital Spy article this photo was taken from here, and the series is available for download here. There is another release on The Medium Is Not Enough.

The trailer is available on youtube:

Now to pack for the Viking Spring Thing at Sherwood Pines this weekend! Let's hope it doesn't rain as badly as promised!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Rufford Abbey, behind the rope line

Yesterday's post focussed on our displays at Rufford, but when we do a weekend show we are there for the duration. We arrive Friday night and camp on site until Sunday. The time after what we call "wimples off" (the blessed point at which the public have gone and so we women can remove our wimples") is therefore at least as big a part of re-enactment as the public display.

One of the many things I love about being a re-enactor is that I get to spend so much time at beautiful sites like Rufford.

Rufford is well worth a visit. Parts of it are mostly intact, as in the picture above, but then you wander upstairs and it is just a shell.

A shell with some very limber gargoyles.

You don't get involved in re-enactment if you don't have at least a passing interest in history, and Rufford this year had a great range of other displays. I spent quite a long time talking to Avrelia from the Roman Military Research Society about Roman cookery. Oh for the range of ingredients available half a millenium before our period! Note the rabbit hanging to the right of the picture: the Romans kept them in Britain but they didn't live in the wild until the Normans re-introduced them.

I would also love to have access to their dye palette, but then that's what you can get when you are part of the Roman economic system. Note that I didn't say "have an extensive trading network", because there was far more trade in the early medieval period than many might think as the Vikings travelled and traded throughout Europe and the Middle East. The difference is the lack of unified economic system underlying it which enabled Mediterranean products to make their way to the British Isles in sufficient quantities for regular use.

I'm afraid I have no idea what period the gentleman below is re-enacting, but I liked the cut of his coat.

The English Civil War Society were also here. Below you can see a blacksmith at his forge and a gentleman of the cavalry.

Cavalry man

Moving forward again we come to the Seven Years War, fought in the 18th century by the great powers of the time.  From the little I know, this could also be viewed as one of the first global conflicts, since it was fought in the Americas, Europe, India, and Africa.

I'm not sure what group they belong to, but they were camping near the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards 1815 (Napoleonic).  Of all the groups I've seen, the Coldstream Guards seem to stay in kit for the duration, not just during public hours.  
Coldstream Foot Guards, marching with their muskets and bayonets.

In contrast to De Vey's period, we are now into the era of the permanent standing army with standardised uniform, training and protocols, hence the endless marching. Although Regia Anglorum often participates in shows such as Detling Military Odyssey, the early medieval period doesn't have a "military" as such. Conflict and violence are endemic and you do get armies such as the ninth century Great Army (one of the Viking invasions), but these are merely temporary allegiances between powerful lords. The fyrd which Harold raised in 1066 (an obligation to serve the king for a period of time) exists precisely because there is no permanent national army.

Coldstream Guards playing catch in the evening

Their cooking equipment isn't vastly different from ours, but note the kettle: they have tea and coffee! America is now long since discovered so their beef stew was served with potatoes, whereas ours had dumplings. Their site is also a lot more metal-heavy than ours: it is no longer such a precious commodity.

Not everybody stays in their groups out of hours. An interesting mix of eras appeared to be involved of an extensive game of "Bang! You're dead!" 

Back on our own wic, a key element of the morning is bacon. There has been some discussion within Regia recently about whether or not they would have eaten bacon. If you think of bacon as salted pork then yes, certainly. Pork was a key meat, and salted was how it was preserved. Would they have eaten it cut like this and fried? Probably not. Regardless of whether or not they fried things much, meat simply wasn't so cheaply and widely available that it would be the key element of a dish in the way it is today. Re-enactors, however, tend to like a bacon butty in the morning, so Toki and I did a honey and apple cure for the weekend. We brought 2.2kg. We didn't take any home.

Finally, the picture below sums up re-enactment for me: the view across a smoking fire. I always tell people that if you're cooking over a fire, you won't even notice the onions making your eyes water. Smoke permeates everything, so much so that you stop noticing it. It covers a multitude of other sins as well, which is helpful in an era when half your clothes were made of wool, and therefore you didn't really want to wash it.

Well, that was Rufford. Roll on the Viking Spring Thing!

Please note that all of the photos taken above were taken out of hours and so may therefore include anachronisms that would not be there when the public were on site. All photographs taken by Caroline Williams.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Rufford Abbey, 2013

Last weekend saw De Vey at Rufford for EventPlan's Grand Historical and Vintage Bazaar, our first local show of the year.

Sadly the weather wasn't entirely in our favour the whole weekend; hopefully this doesn't augur badly for the rest of the season.

Our warriors bravely fending off the hail. Photo by Jane H Smith.

The warriors put on a great show though, despite getting hailed on torrentially.

Anlaf Swerkirsson did a good job of terrorising the local children:

Photo by Jane H Smith.

He also got into a dispute with Tancred the Tall:

Photo by Jane H Smith.

I think Tancred regretted getting into the dispute, especially since the local children took Anlaf's side and started mocking him as Tancred the Small.  Interestingly it was primarily men who were named by contraries. A man named the Tall was likely to be short; a woman known as the Beautiful was likely to be stunning.

Photo by Jane H Smith.

Tancred subsequently attempted to salve his ego by defeating somebody smaller than him in combat:

Photo by Jane H Smith.

Note that Tancred is carrying a sword. This is the mark of a wealthy man, since the sword is a weapon with no other purpose than combat. Swords are very expensive, and owning one is a marker of social status.

Photo by Jane H Smith.

Tancred also tried his luck against Toki the archer. You would think he would know better really, since his betrothed is also handy with a bow. 

Roswyn showing that men were not the only ones to wield bows. Photo by Jane H Smith.

 There was plenty of activity on the wic as well, with mutton stew for lunch on Saturday and onion soup for lunch on Sunday. We are currently in the hungry gap, so called because it's the time of year when the winter stores have run out but the summer's food isn't ready to harvest yet. In choosing these meals we therefore went for foods which we think would likely be available at this time of year.

Photo by Jane H Smith.
Anlaf is less blood-thirsty on the wic. Here you can see him chopping wood for the fire. This photo is also a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of early medieval underwear. Anlaf has hoist up his tunic so it doesn't get in the way while he works, so you can see his red hose tied over his braies. Behind him is Brother Tigwald, ramming in stakes. We unfortunately have to rope off our displays since we have things like fire and sharp edges, but with the weather we had I think some of the public would have given anything to be on the other side, huddled next to the fire.

 Another post to follow, looking at life out of hours...