Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wychurst summer show 2013

Regia Anglorum is incredibly lucky to have its own permanent site in Kent. Over the last decade or so, members of the society have devoted vast amounts of time and energy to building an Anglo-Saxon long hall.

The long hall. Photo by Caroline Williams.

The hall is the centrepiece of the burgh, which is surrounded by a palisade and ditch.
View from the gate house. Photo by Caroline Williams.

Long hall from outside the palisade. Photo by Caroline Williams.
Very definitely a ditch. Photo by Caroline Williams

Regia is very lucky to have so many talented and committed people who have designed and executed the project, from the site clearance, to construction of the hall, to detail work such as decorating it with friezes.

A smoky view of the inside of the hall. Photo by Caroline Williams.

The thegn's chair in the long hall. The friezes run round the hall and show the activities associated with each season. Photo by Caroline Williams.

Last weekend, Tigwald, Toki, Aebbe and myself had the opportunity to go down for the summer show in which Regia opens the site to the public.

Regia's biggest boat, the Bear, couldn't be there, but one of our smaller boats was on display. Note that she is clinker built i.e. the hull is built from overlapping strakes, rather than carvel constructed as in most modern wooden boats, where short planks are butted up against each other. Clinker-building was the Vikings' key construction method whereas carvel construction was popular in the Mediterranean due to scarcity of trees which grew tall and straight enough.

She is also square-rigged rather than fore-and-aft. Square rigging is the oldest method of rigging sails.
Photo by Caroline Williams.
As it's our own site, we got to have fun with archery before the public arrived, practising lob shots across the burgh.

Archers attempting to shoot the warriors. Photo by Caroline Williams.
The warriors weren't feeling terribly threatened. Photo by Caroline Williams.
Toki, Aebbe and I did some shooting as well, albeit after hours, hence my lack of wimple.

Toki, Aebbe, Leofwyn shooting in the evening. Photo by Caroline Williams.

The living history displays were organised thematically, and I teamed up with Gunwaru from Sceaftesige to do a food display.

I have a slight flour addiction, so my primary contribution was bread-making. On Saturday I attempted to make a sourdough, but was foiled by my complete failure to get the bread oven hot enough. I then made a mess of my starter culture so on Sunday I took a different tack: using Saturday's left-over dough as a starter for Sunday's dough. 

Both this and sourdough rely on the yeasts and bacteria developing in an existing dough, which, when mixed in with flour and water, will raise the new dough. They would probably have been making bread in the same trough on a daily basis, so the cultures and yeasts would set up home in the trough and thus be readily available.

Saturday's doughs. Photo by Caroline Williams.

About to mix together to make a fresh batch. Photo by Caroline Williams.
One of the ways they baked bread was in an oven like the one shown below. These days we would just turn on the gas or electricity, but in this kind of oven the heat has to come from lighting a fire. The trick, which I have not yet mastered, is to get the fire really hot so that the oven heats up, then to rake out the fire so that the bread can bake without catching fire, while still retaining enough heat to actually bake the bread.

Oven. Photo by Caroline Williams.

Bread in the oven. Photo by Caroline Williams.
The result (of the attempts that worked!) was a small, dense, not particularly flavourful bun, slightly burned on top. Size-wise, I think it will be possible to get them a bit bigger but not terribly so because it's so difficult to generate/maintain enough heat. Too much bigger and I think you would struggle to get it to cook through. As for dense, that is because I was basically making a pseudo-flatbread. The dough didn't really have much time to prove so with more practice, I should be able to make something which rises more, although it is unlikely to have the same degree of oven-spring as a modern loaf. Flavour will be solved the same way: through actually giving it time to develop flavour. I did start to experiment with adding honey and herbs, but then I accidentally put the fire go out...

Bread! Photo by Caroline Williams.

When I wasn't pulling faces at my dough or the oven, I was watching Gunwaru dairying, which was the other highlight of my weekend. She made butter by hand, which I absolutely have to do, if only because that looks infinitely preferable to cleaning a butter churn.

Gunwaru's butter. Photo by Caroline Williams.
 She also made a couple of cheeses using both rennet and acid.

Curds and whey. Photo by Caroline Williams.

Cheese number 1 being hung to dry. Photo by Caroline Williams.
Cheese number 2 being pressed in a cheese press. Gunwaru has flavoured it with herbs. Photo by Caroline Williams.
While I was slaving away in our kitchen, Aebbe was working on the tapestries for the long hall inside, of which sadly I have no photos. There are eleven panels in total, each representing a stage in the history of Wychurst, e.g. finding the site, getting permission to build etc. All of the wool used in it has been hand spun by members of the society and hand dyed with natural dyes. Natural dyes fade easily so when complete, the tapestry will only be displayed on special occasions. It has been designed in the style of and uses the same stitches as the Bayeux Tapestry.

Tigwald was in attendance because he had been asked to re-enact a christening for Osric, son of Bishop Caedmon of Selsey. He was therefore portraying Eadnoth, Bishop of Dorchester, Abbot of Romsey. You'll note that this is a christening for a bishop's son: although it had been against church law for bishops to marry for a good five hundred years, it was not to be until the later middle ages that an unmarried clergy came to be the norm. The christening is done primarily in Latin and involves blessing everything involved in the ceremony (oil, water, salt, and a candle), and then anointing the child.

Tigwald was also involved in Sunday's battle, as part of his Eadnoth persona. Regia tries to maintain an ongoing story from show to show, and last year's season closed with a blood feud between Ulf Corfesson and the family of the now deceased Thegn Styrbjorn. Since her husband's death over the winter, Freydis had taken control of the burgh and was defending it against all comers, but Vikings had recently been raiding the countryside, and she suspected Ulf of employing them. A bishop was sent to settle the matter, and on Sunday, that bishop was Tigwald.

One of the raiders was captured by Freydis so Tigwald questioned him to find out who had hired him. They decided to solve the matter by trial by combat with Ulf, which Ulf won. Freydis was not satisfied, however, so she stabbed and killed him, and was then forced to flee to find safety among her mercenaries.

Angered by the death of the man who was paying them, it came to a battle, which Ulf's men won. Who knows what will happen next...?

You can read more about Wychurst at the Wychurst website, on the Regia page, and at the current coordinator's blog.

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