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.

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